Once a month I get together with our Connections staff from all of our campuses. It’s a way-too-early discussion fueled by way-too-awful coffee that always yields way-too-awesome conversations. This morning was one of those.

The question of “who gets to serve?” was brought up. In other words, if an unbeliever comes to your church, should they be allowed to volunteer for various ministries? Or if a believer attends your church but have not yet submitted to membership, can they serve?

Although there are great and valid points on both sides of the issue, my opinion (and it is only that) is a resounding YES. Here’s why:

  1. Allowing non-members to serve allows them to take a safe first step. I’ve seen it hundreds of time in my tenure at the Summit: people think the church is a good fit for them, they think it’s a place where they want to put down roots, but they’re still timid. Unsure. “Prayerfully considering.” And so allowing them to join a team where they’ll get to know like-minded believers is a good thing. They build relationships, build community, and ultimately make a move towards formalized membership.
  2. Allowing unbelievers to serve immerses them in evangelistic environments. You will never see a Christian in their most authentic form until you put ’em in a parking vest and send them to an asphalt lot on a 95 degree day while they’re trying to dodge insane people with fish on their bumper. Mixing unbelievers with believers gives them the opportunity to live life with one another, and seeds are planted for the gospel.
  3. Allowing unbelievers to serve gives them a chance to see the “one anothers” in action. The New Testament is filled with “one anothers”…we’re to love one another, encourage one another, rebuke one another, send Farmville requests to one another (oh wait, that’s entirely unbiblical). Serving alongside one another lets them see a Christlike community in progress. Yes, they’re exposed to the bad as well as the good, but it seeds the ground for faith to grow.
  4. Allowing unbelievers to serve communicates “you matter.” We should never relegate unbelievers to the non-serving sidelines, as if they’re second tier citizens in the church world. True, they’re not yet citizens of the kingdom, yet they’ve already been gifted with talents, skill sets, and giftings that can be used for the kingdom. Our job as leaders is to develop all people – believers and unbelievers alike – but developing unbelievers with an eye towards moving them closer to Jesus.

Are there potential pitfalls in allowing unbelievers or non-members to serve? In the words of that great theologian Sarah Palin, you betcha. Not everyone should have access everywhere. I don’t want a non-member serving as a host in a membership class. That seems sort of hypocritical. And while an unbeliever would absolutely be allowed to park cars, help people find seats, or set up and tear down, we’d obviously restrict them from leading a small group or taking on a team leadership role.

I think the bottom line in this discussion is that we allow unbelievers and non-members to serve with intentionality. And that intentionality comes from us more than it comes from them. If we maintain an “anybody can serve” mentality, then ministry leaders need to know the status of everyone on their team. Who’s not a believer? Who needs to (eventually) become a member? Regular audits of our team will keep us from being lulled into a false sense of security that our teams have “arrived.”

I’d love your thoughts. Fire away. Comment below.