Building up the Body

Encouraging, equipping and enabling volunteers in the church

Richard Steel

Currently out of print £7.99

Volunteering is crucial to how we work as church, and how many church members express their service of Christ in the world. The focus of this book is on volunteering in church but applies more widely. Richard Steel offers a theological foundation and framework for volunteering. He also shares wisdom from a wide range of experience in tackling the many aspects required in volunteering in our post modern world. Anyone involved in developing volunteering will gain much from this book.
Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham


Richard Steel, rector of Kirkheaton Parish Church near Huddersfield, made news across the world earlier this year with his 10 pound handout money-making idea. Richard gave away 550 pounds of his own money in 10 pound notes to his congregation, encouraging them to invest it to raise funds for developments at their church. Money-making ideas ranging from organising walks to baking and buying and selling on eBay have now raised over 11,500 pounds.

The idea, based on the biblical parable of the talents, sprang from Richard's firm belief that volunteers, from treasurer to flower arranger, play a vital role in the ministry and mission of the church and within many Christian organisations. They are a force overflowing with ability and creativity but a force that can often be managed poorly and deserves far better.

Drawing on his wide experience of managing volunteers successfully in both a church and a community context, Richard provides, in his new book Building up the Body a practical guide for church and Christian organisation leaders.

My hope is that, by sharing in what I have learnt, others may become better leaders of volunteers, whether they are volunteers themselves or are paid for their work. The latter have a special duty towards those they lead, since, as well as giving their time, the volunteers are often providing the money that pays for their leaders. That is true of churches but equally of many Christian organisations and indeed many charities, large and small.

Starting with a theology for volunteering, Building up the Body offers tried-and-tested ways of recognising the God-given gifts that everyone has, and shows how these gifts can contribute to work in and beyond church. Using them is an important element of personal Christian discipleship. Richard explains how volunteers' expectations differ between different generations, highlighting the fact that leaders today need to provide more flexibility and less micromanagement than in the past. Volunteers today are less tolerant of incompetence and inefficient meetings. They want a 'job' experience that is not taken for granted but definitely makes a difference.

A wide range of ideas are presented for recruiting volunteers from all age groups and abilities (and 'disabilities'). There is guidance on training, risk assessment, providing expenses, health and safety, role descriptions, volunteer agreements, probationary periods, appraisals and solving conflicts, as well as the vital importance of saying 'thank you' and the many ways this can be done.

Richard also looks closely at the role of the leader of volunteers - the need to provide not just resources but also motivation through the use of emotional intelligence. He offers helpful direction on how to avoid a poor leadership style that loses the goodwill of the volunteer.

The book concludes with appendices that provide sample role descriptions and volunteer agreements, along with websites for more resources and suggestions for further reading.

Richard is hoping the book will stimulate interest and discussion across denominations and beyond church circles to Christian organisations. He is establishing a blog that leaders and volunteers can engage with to help improve the volunteer experience further and to guide those who manage volunteers to continually improve practices:

Download Bible study notes linked to Building up the Body and view useful websites mentioned in the book

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Volunteering is crucial to how we work as church, and how many church members express their service of Christ in the world. The focus of this book is on volunteering in church but applies more widely. Richard Steel offers a theological foundation and framework for volunteering. He also shares wisdom from a wide range of experience in tackling the many aspects required in volunteering in our post modern world. Anyone involved in developing volunteering will gain much from this book.
Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham

Our understanding of leadership and management has mushroomed exponentially over recent years. It's wonderful how, even in faith organisations, enlightened notions such as leadership development, communities of practice, whole systems thinking, employee engagement, empowerment and alignment are now commonplace. I have noticed however, that there are two areas that have not kept up with the times. One is governance; and the other, the subject of this book, the organising of volunteers. Finally, a book that brings our understanding and practice of mobilising volunteers right up to date. And what's more, it's from a Christian perspective! In an era where people have become disillusioned with institutions, volunteers play a key role in helping transform churches from 'monuments' to 'movements'. If you are excited by this notion, this insightful book is a 'must read'.
Patrick Goh, Head of Global Human Resources, Tearfund

Author info

Richard Steel is rector of a Huddersfield Anglican church and also Rural Dean. He has led teams of volunteers as a producer and presenter of religious programmes for local radio, as Communications Officer for the Blackburn Diocese and Communications Director at the Church Mission Society. He has also been involved in the Scouting movement.


From Modem

The Introduction briefly and usefully alerts readers to the different spheres in which volunteers operate, their varied motivations and the need to treat them well.

Why people volunteer: and what it offers them in return. The opening chapter gives some statistics, some examples, and what's different about today's volunteers. The last point is taken up in Ch. 2, which gives a general description of the characteristics of people born in different periods (from the 1920s; 1945; early 1960s; mid 1980s). This is necessarily brief and simplified but could be useful in providing ideas to test against one's experience of certain age groups.

Then comes a more theological section: Building up the Body of Christ. This is, in a way, the heart of the book as is reflected in the book's title. There follows a brief, pertinent section on what the Bible says about volunteering. Those who have studied theology in any depth will be familiar with this material, but it will serve as a reminder, and it remains focused on the practical application of the biblical teaching for today. The book then moves on to a series of more 'how to' chapters.

Wider ways of volunteering offers a handy list and ideas for involving more people; Recruiting is a practical chapter with suggestions for getting the right number of the right kind of volunteers;- and taking risks faces up to some of the challenges of working in a team and developing those skills which are necessary - but missing. It sketches in some basic information about different personality Teams, training, trust types and group dynamics and refers to other works for more detail. My experience suggests that these matters are much more important than is usually realized: living out Christian humility, forbearance, forgiveness and co-operation (especially with those from whom we differ) provides a vitally important witness. Neglect can lead to disaster. This point is underlined in Ch. 7: A [very pertinent] word to leaders. The emphasis is on modelling: essentially modelling selfless service (cf. Mark 10:42-45).

Further chapters deal with The professional problem, Practicalities (including legal or quasi-legal issues such as safeguarding and expenses), and Saying 'thank you' (I can't estimate the number of times I have heard people express their pleasure at being appreciated or sorrow at not being). Problems, conflict and ending well starts with a brief and appropriate exposition of Matthew 18:15-17 as a basis for settling disputes and personal clashes, with application to people like Private Fraser and Harry Potter's Dementors.

At the end of the book there is an invitation to continue the conversation by visiting the blog At the time of writing there is very little there, but it seems like a Good Idea that I hope will take off. Two appendices give web resources and sample policies.

The book is not and could not be a handbook or training manual. It does bring to the reader some vitally important material and should be extremely useful to those who want to develop a shared church ministry and are keen to reflect on and apply its ideas. I warmly commend it.

About the reviewer: Mike Butterworth has spent many years in ministerial training in India and Britain. His specialist area is Old Testament. He has always been involved in pastoral ministry and is now, after retiring, an associate member of a Ministry Team in Bucks.

From The Church Times - 27 September 2013

Many years ago, as a young curate, I was given a very sage piece of advice by the verger at the church: never interfere with flower-ladies. These devoted souls of quite firm aesthetic opinions were, in his view, to be left alone to do what they did. The alternative could lead to war. I have heeded this advice ever since.

Flower-arranging is, of course, only one example of the plethora of jobs that need doing to make a church look beautiful, loved, and used. Churches need churchwardens, PCC members, group leaders of all shapes and sizes, musicians, fund-raisers, bell-ringers, administrators. And for most churches most of the time, all these jobs will be done by volunteers - people who do not have to be there, but who for one reason or another choose to be.

And this is where the busy parish priest's troubles can begin. What about the loud bass in the choir who has faithfully given decades of service, but who can't sing any more? What about the treasurer who hangs on to his position, but does not actually do the job? What about the ones who say they are going to tidy up the churchyard, and then don't?

And then there is the opposite problem: what about a situation when keen faithful people turn up to help with something that is disorganised and wasteful of their precious time (I am dealing with just such a situation as I write this review)?

Richard Steel is a parish priest in Yorkshire, and has considerable experience of working with volunteers. His focus is on smaller churches with limited resources, and is particularly directed to those of us who have to identify and encourage men and women to give something of themselves to God's service in the Church. He deals with issues to do with recruiting, training, dealing with conflict, and so on.

What are the highlights of this book? For me, there are three. First, it is important to understand the "psychology" of volunteers - why people bother in the first place, and what keeps up their interest - as this may vary greatly, often on generational lines.

Second, it is important to ensure that your volunteers see what they do as part of something much bigger: the mission of the Church. Being a flower lady is about much more than just arranging flowers. And, third, don't forget to say "Thank you."

The last book I was asked to review for these pages was, among other things, about the importance of living the Christian life outside the walls of church. This book is about getting things done in church. It is a very readable and practical help for leaders who might be tempted from time to time to think that volunteers are more trouble than they are worth.

Reviewed by The Revd Peter McGeary, Vicar of St Mary's, Cable Street, East London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.

This is not a book to entertain you. Nor is it devotional , or expository, but it is practical, and that is its strength.

Most churches and Christian organisations depend on volunteers but the leaders of such groups often have little training in how to recruit, manage and motivate their helpers. Richard Steel comes with a wealth of experience in both the church context and the voluntary sector to encourage us towards 'best practice'. This, he believes, will make for happier volunteers and enhanced contributions.

Steel lays a good foundation in Scripture, a kind of 'theology of volunteering' before launching in to the many practical questions that arise - how to recruit people, the importance of training them, and the relationship between those who lead and their volunteers.

He deals head on with some classic situations that arise. How do we confront poor performance? What to do with the person who is no longer capable of doing the job, but won't give up? Part of his answer is to make sure that there is a clear volunteer agreement in place, with role descriptions and reviews. He also stresses the importance of regularly thanking people for their contribution, and making it possible for the busiest volunteers to have sabbatical.

To those in smaller churches this may sound a bit top heavy and feel like a lot of extra work, but to invest time in laying a good foundation for our volunteers can actually help us to avoid a lot of the conflict and heartache that so often arises because of 'informal' arrangements, differing expectations and confused communication. There is no doubt that volunteers who are in the right roles, who know what is expected of them, and are well-supported, can make an outstanding contribution to any church or organisation.

This will not be the most exciting book you have ever read, but if you are responsible for volunteers, it may be the most essential.

Reviewed by Tony Horsfall

Book details

  • ISBN: 9780857461759
  • Published: 19 July 2013
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 176
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