Congregational Care: A Guide to Building a Caring and Effective Ministry

Congregational Care: A Guide to Building a Caring and Effective Ministry

Pastoral care is a core element of pastoring. 

Hence the keyword “pastoral.” 

It’s a part of who you are (identity) and what you do (calling). 

As a church leader, you’re an under-shepherd of Jesus. 

Said another way, Jesus is the head of the Church—not you.  

I don’t mean for this to sound brazen. Instead, I want to emphasize that Jesus is the leader of his Church and that he takes care of his people through you. Practically speaking, you (church leader) are to care for your church in a way that reflects Jesus’ care. 

Not only are you an under-shepherd. But God has called you to shepherd his people (1 Pet 5:2). God personally etched this responsibility directly into your job description. 

But here’s the deal: 

It’s impossible for one person to provide all of the congregational care. 

The Bible doesn’t support this belief, and it’s practically impossible for any single human being to provide care to a large group of people. 

Think about it. 

Let’s say you have 75 church members. 

To tend to your people, let’s say you decide to spend 30 minutes with everyone—every week. In this example, this means you’ll spend 37.5 hours per week keeping in touch with your church members, hearing what’s going on in their lives, and helping them to live and love like Jesus. 

Add this on top of your other duties, and you have a recipe for a 100-hour workweek. 

Sure, you might be able to maintain this for a few weeks. Or, if you’re really a go-getter, you might be able to keep up with this pace for several months without burning out. 

Or you may be thinking, “Well, that’s not necessary to spend that much time with everyone in my church.” 

If so, I understand where you’re coming from. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. What I’d love for you to take away is that you should care for your people—but not entirely by yourself. 

As a pastor, you’ll always be in a position to provide care. But as you aim to tend to the needs of your church, you’ll need to focus on building a congregational care ministry.

Before we get into the practical details, let’s take a moment to explore this point since it informs the practical strategy. 

There are three groups of people who can provide care for your church:

  1. Church members
  2. Church leadership
  3. Small groups

First, you have to know your church members to take care of them. In other words, when you offer church membership, you provide a way for people to be a part of your church, and for you to know who’s a member of your church (Acts 20:28). 

Does this mean you can only care for your church members? 


That’s not the case at all. 

In writing to the Church at Galatia, Paul said: 

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). 

Yes, you want to help as many people as you can. But you’re also called to “especially” care for the “household of faith”—your church members. 

Not only do you want to know your church members, but you also want to empower your church members to care for one another. 

This is far from a practical matter—this advice is loaded with dozens of commands from the Bible. 

In the New Testament, dozens of verses emphasize this point in what’s known as the “one another” verses. For example, we read:

  • “Be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50)
  • “Bear with and forgive one another” (Col 3:13)
  • “Love one another” (John 13:34)
  • “Serve one another” (Gal 5:13)
  • “Pray for one another” (Jas 5:16)

From a sermon series on this topic to Bible studies about taking care of one another, there are several ways you can encourage your church to serve “one another.” This is one part of cultivating a healthy church culture.

In short, your church—the body of Christ—was created by God to be just that—a body, a family of brothers and sisters in Christ who encourage and support one another to live and love like Jesus. What is more, the Bible does not say that only pastors can take care of people. 

The second group of people who are called out to care for the Church are elders. 

Now, I understand there are differences between church traditions in how you define the role of elders in your church, and that’s all good. Regardless if you have a board, session, or deacons who serve in some sort of leadership capacity in your church, the essence of church leadership is about serving. 

In serving your church, your church’s leadership will exemplify serving, and they can also provide oversight for your care ministry. As we’ll see below, you’ll need to delegate responsibility to oversee the care of your church members to ensure everyone is taken care of. So, you’ll need to rely upon your church’s leadership to help you care for your church. 

The third group of people who can help you care for your church members is small groups.

A small group ministry is a great way you, your staff, or your church’s leadership can learn about the needs of your church community. 

In many ways, a small group that regularly meets is arguably one of the best ways to place your church members in a position to love “one another.” After spending time together throughout the week, sharing meals, and discussing life and faith, it’s natural to anticipate things to come up during this time. 

Depending on the situation, your small group can care for the individual member of your church. Or, if the situation requires additional help (counseling, financial support, etc.), then your small group leader can share this with your church’s leadership. 

Build a team for congregational care

Your church is a peculiar organization. 

It’s a combination of flesh (people) and bones (organization). 

As you build a church culture that emphasizes taking care of “one another,” you’ll naturally see your church members helping out. People will serve without being asked, and others will volunteer to provide support. Even though this is the case, you’ll still need to put a structure in place to ensure that everyone in your church is cared for.  

This isn’t something you want to overlook. 

Lack of structure was a problem that plagued the early church. 

In recounting the history of the church, Luke shared:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’” (Acts 6:1–4, emphasis mine). 

What we observe here is a simple trajectory:

  • The church grew
  • People in the church were overlooked
  • The church acknowledged the problem and its limitations
  • The church reorganized itself to take care of its people

In the same way, as your church grows, it’ll be easy f to overlook the needs of your people. I’m not saying you’re a terrible person or that your church will do this on purpose. As your church grows, you’ll become busier and busier, and when you have more people to shepherd, it’s hard to know who’s who and what’s going on unless you have a team and structure in place. 

Thankfully, organizing your care ministry isn’t too complicated. 

Depending upon your church’s leadership structure (elders, deacons, board) and size, the structure of your congregational care may look something like this:

  • Pastor
  • Assistant/associate pastor, volunteer leader, or team of leaders
  • Support staff or volunteers

To tend to everyone, your senior pastor (maybe you?) will need to be relieved of the administrative duties of congregational care. He or she can and should continue to provide pastoral care. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be their job to take care of all of the details. 

In this scenario, hire an additional staff member or identify a volunteer leader who can help oversee the care of your congregation. The role of this person or team is to provide oversight and leadership for congregational care. 

Finally, you’ll need additional staff or volunteers to help provide care for your church members. Again, the size and needs of your church will determine how many people you’ll need to recruit to provide support when needed. 

To help you think through the details a bit more, let’s take a look at the type of care you’ll need to prepare to provide. 

Know the care you’ll need to provide

In the life of your church, there are two types of care you’ll need to provide:

  1. Emergency
  2. Support and encouragement

I’ll be the first to admit that everything doesn’t fit that nice and neat into these two categories. But to help you practically think through empowering your church to provide care, you’ll find these two categories helpful. 

Here’s how to differentiate between these two categories:

Emergencies are entirely unplanned situations. From accidents to the sudden death of a church member, these are things you cannot plan for in advance.

Support and encouragement care is the type of thing you can plan for in your church. This includes visiting shut-ins, providing financial help, counseling, weddings, prayer, or births. 

Regardless of how you classify congregational care in your church, the biggest takeaway is to be prepared to handle both emergencies and expected caring situations. The best way to do this is to create a process, which leads us to the next point.

Congregational care process and tools

Creating processes for providing congregational care is essential. 

Processes help to ensure your church members receive care, and they make it a whole lot easier to empower volunteers to provide support too. 

Here are a couple of ways you can create a process around the different types of congregational care you’ll provide, and a few tools to help you along the way. 

Emergency care

As a church leader, you have to prepare for emergencies. This is an unfortunate reality you have to embrace to serve your church well. 

Instead of getting caught off guard, it’s best to prepare how you’ll handle emergencies when—not if—they happen. 

Here are three things you must have in place:

  1. Accessible contact information
  2. Teamwork
  3. Follow-up

Let’s explore these in detail.

#1 – Accessible contact information

Do your church members know how to get in touch with your church’s leadership when there’s an emergency? 

Can they directly contact the pastor?

Do they contact their small group leader? 

Can they find the information online? 

In some situations, there’s a good chance someone in the midst of an emergency will reach out to a friend in the church, who will then contact your church to ask for help.

Regardless of the situation, make sure your church members know how to contact you during an emergency situation, which will require this information to be easily accessible. 

So, for your church, this may involve including a number and email address online, as well as your church’s bulletin. If you go this route, you don’t have to provide your personal contact information. Instead, you can use a service like Google Voice to create a phone number you can share with the public that’ll forward to a different number to protect your identity. 

What is more, you can use a tool like this to change what number it forwards to when you have a team in place to help out with providing pastoral care. 

Why stress this point?

In an emergency, timeliness is vitally important. As a church leader, you want your church to be accessible and present for your church members in any emergency situation to provide comfort and support during times of need.

#2 – Teamwork

Let me reemphasize this point:

You’ll need a team of people to help you provide care. 

For emergency situations, it’s best to create a schedule for people to follow. By creating a schedule, you can protect one pastor, staff member, or volunteer from getting burned out. 

As you develop a process to provide emergency care, revisit the organization you developed in the previous step, and create a plan to delegate responsibility for who’s “on-call” to handle emergency situations. 

#3 – Follow-up

The final component you need to create in your emergency care plan is how you’ll follow up. For this process, identify “common” emergency situations, and create a general follow-up process to follow for each. 

Here are some ideas you can include:

  • Phone calls
  • Handwritten notes
  • Flowers
  • Food
  • Prayer
  • Church announcement
  • Everyday support

Before making a public announcement, be sure whoever is in the midst of an emergency is okay with you making such an announcement to your church. 

In the end, for the follow-up process, it’s best to work through whoever is serving as the point person to identify the best way to care for the individual and his or her family during and after their emergency situation. 

Support and encouragement care

The process for providing support and encouragement care is fairly similar to emergency care. But there’s one tool you can use to make this process a whole lot easier: church-management software. 

For example, many church-management software tools allow you to create forms you can publish on your website, and after someone completes the form, it can be sent to a member of your congregational care team for processing. 

Here are common care-request forms you can create:

  • Prayer
  • Weddings
  • Premarital counseling
  • Building requests
  • Care

With church-management software, you can create whatever form you need to help you gather the necessary information to serve your church members well. 

After you gather this initial information, then a member of your congregational care team can review the request, identify the follow-up process (for example, does a pastor need to be involved?), and follow through with providing the care someone needs. 

The last form suggestion, “care,” can serve as a catchall. For example, if someone is on your website and they’re not sure what form they should submit, then they can click on this form to provide a general request for support or encouragement. 

So, for this form, it’s a good idea to gather information like:

  • Contact information
  • Relationship to your church—e.g., member, regular attendee, or visitor
  • Name of his or her small group leader
  • Reason for contact (this can be an open-ended question)

Providing meals

Providing food will be one practical and ongoing way you can support and encourage your church members. For people in emergency situations or for those experiencing illness or for those welcoming a new baby, this ministry is a tremendous blessing. 

To schedule meals for people, you may be able to use certain features within a church-management software, or you can use one of several online tools, such as:

In general, all three of these services enable you to schedule meals for someone in your church and easily invite people to lend a helping hand. 

To provide meals for someone, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  • Nail down how long you’ll provide meals
  • Contact the individual or family to find out preferences or dietary restrictions
  • Clarify when food needs to be delivered 
  • Invite people to provide a meal

This simple process will provide practical support for your church members, and help your church members love “one another.” 

Providing congregational care for your church

This three-step process will empower your entire church to care for “one another”:

  1. Build a team for congregational care
  2. Know the care you’ll need to provide
  3. Create an easy-to-use process

As you think through how to care for your congregation, I encourage you to prayerfully consider your church’s unique situation to see how best you can support and encourage your church members.

3 Things Every Volunteer Needs to Know

3 Things Every Volunteer Needs to Know

The need for volunteers in church isn’t going away anytime soon. Even though people are busier than ever, churches still need volunteers to do the work of the ministry.

That’s why it’s always a great time to take a look at your volunteer ministry: how you recruit, how you train, and how you lead.

When we talk about volunteer training, it’s easy to think about handbooks and meetings.

But training your volunteers involves so much more than that.

Whether they are serving with guest services, family ministry, or the worship team, every volunteer in your church needs to know these three things.


#1 – The purpose and mission of the church.

Every volunteer needs to know why your church exists and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Your purpose is the eternal reason your church exists. It’s your deep sense of why. It’s the big-picture and the fundamental calling God has on your church. It might sound something like this:

  • We’re here to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus.
  • We help people love God and love others.
  • We make more and better disciples who make more and better disciples.

Each of those phrases is really big picture. But when you look at them closely, they are never going to really be accomplished. They are long-term, even eternal in nature.

You’re never going to call a meeting and say, “Hey everyone…there are no more potential disciples to make. We’re done with that. So, what’s next?”

Your purpose is like an anchor your church, but what that looks like today can be hard to grasp.

That’s why every church needs a second statement, a mission statement.

While your purpose statement is forever, your mission statement is about now. It’s what you are trying to specifically accomplish in this next season of ministry. If your purpose statement is really broad, your mission statement is specific.

Here’s an example.

NASA might say its purpose is to explore space. That’s their big picture, but it’s always going to be ahead of them. They are never really going to accomplish that.

NASA’s current mission might be to land someone on Mars. That has a timeline and a deadline. They can measure progress and one day, they will check it off the list.

See the difference? The purpose is big, but the mission is current.

Here’s another example.

A church might say its purpose is to help people far from God experience new life in Christ. That’s a “forever” purpose because it’s always going to out there.

That same church might say their current mission is to start a second campus in the next 24 months. That’s much more specific and in a way, it’s much more relatable.

I know some people use purpose, mission, and vision differently, but don’t let the specific terminology confuse you. You need to clarify and communicate a big picture purpose but also a time-bound, specific mission.


#2 – How they fit with that purpose and mission.

Once your volunteers know the purpose and mission of your church, the next most important thing to clarify is where they fit.

Don Simmons and Steve Caton write, “People want to get involved where expectations are high. They want to know they play an important role in the work of the church. If you can’t validate them through the ministries of the church, they will find a place that does.”

Your volunteers must be able to draw a clear line from what they do to the purpose and mission of the church. They need to know what they do, but they need to know why it matters.

If you lead people, one of your most important roles is not just casting vision but casting clarity. Your people are looking to you to clarify their roles.

Answer questions like…

  • What I do actually do?
  • When do I show up?
  • What training is required?
  • How long is my “term of service?

And beyond tasks, they need to continually hear stories about how their tasks connect to the greater story. Greeters need to know how saying hello to guests is connected to the purpose of your church.  Small group leaders need to know how their activities help the church with the current mission.

The best place to clarify this information is on a simple, one-page volunteer job description.  Every single volunteer who serves in your church needs one.

Clarity like this won’t keep people from serving; it will help them say yes. And clear expectations are a sign of value.

If you’re a Church Fuel member, we have dozens of job descriptions available for you.


#3 – Where they go for help.

Lastly, every volunteer needs to know where to go if they have a question, concern, prayer request, need, or problem.  They need a single point of contact.

You can include this information in your volunteer job descriptions.

It’s also helpful to visualize your leadership structure by creating a volunteer org chart.

The org chart lets us visualize who was serving, who was leading them, and where we needed help. It helped us ensure that everyone serving had a volunteer leader responsible for their care.

  • Orange cards represented family ministry.
  • Yellow was the worship team.
  • Red was guest services.
  • And white was our new small group ministry.

Org charts aren’t just to show your direct reports; they are there to show your direct supports.


How to Thank Your Key Donors

How to Thank Your Key Donors

Dan Glaze from the National Christian Foundation says the six most important words in fundraising are “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Just like a personal “thank you” can go a long way, no show of thanks or gratitude is a recipe for disaster.

Everyone who is giving to your church in some shape or form needs regular communication, sharing stories of success, and letting them know where the money goes. You should be thanking first-time givers when they give for the very first time and regular givers who are supporting the ministry year-round.

Saying Thank You to Church Donors

It’s also appropriate to say a special thank you to those who have funded the ministry in a big way. Today, I want to challenge you to personally thank some of your key donors.

Here are some ideas.

#1 – Send a personal note.

When you want to thank a key donor, do NOT send an e-mail and don’t send a formal letter.

Handwrite a thank you note and make it personal.  Put it in an old-fashioned envelope, use an old-fashioned pen to handwrite the address, and use an old-fashioned stamp to send it in the old-fashioned mail.

Hand-written note cards work great because they stand out in the mailbox.  They don’t go in the trashcan with the other junk mail and they don’t go on the desk with the other bills.  They are usually opened right away and sometimes kept out for days.

In other words, personal note cards are meaningful.

Thanking your donors also goes a long way towards keeping them engaged throughout the year and will help you create a culture of generosity.

#2 – Send a small gift.

Once a year, consider sending a small gift to your donors.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, but a small token of appreciation goes a long way when it comes to donor development.

  • A good book that was meaningful to you last year. Let people know why it was special and how you think it could encourage them. One book I’ve sent to others is Soul Keeping by John Ortberg.
  • A custom moleskin notebook embossed with your church logo. You can find those here.
  • A box of the hot, cheesy gooey stuff. Pizza!! You can order a pizza from Lou Malniti’s, one of the best pizzas in Chicago, and they will ship it to whatever address is provided. This will definitely make a positive impression.

#3 – Share inside information.

If people know what’s coming or know the results of what happened, they sometimes feel special.

Information is a form of appreciation.

The people funding your ministry should get a slightly different look at things than everyone else.  They should know how their contributions are making a difference.

Once a quarter, or maybe even once a month, send a donor update email.  You can share a few statistics or an image or two.

This isn’t a church-wide email – it’s just an update to your donors.

It won’t cost you any money and it will just take a little bit of time but sharing information with your donors is a great way to say thanks.

Thank Your Church Donors

When people give to your church, particularly for the first time or in an unusual way, make sure you say thanks.  It’s always appropriate and it’s nearly impossible to overdo.