The tone of your community is important to attracting and
maintaining volunteers to your HIV ministry. If you are starting or growing a
HIV ministry in your church, you help set the tone by the way you treat all the
people your ministry touches. We’ve noticed that people need to feel 3 things
when they come to our group – safe, valued, and heard.
People in Your Ministry Want to Feel Safe
When new people come to check out your ministry, they need
to feel safe. This goes beyond physical safety to the idea of feeling safe in
community. People joining our community may be harboring past hurts, preconceived
ideas, or unspoken fears. We don’t always know how much courage it took for
someone just to show up. For some people living with HIV, even the church
environment in general may feel unsafe. For example, at our last ministry
meeting, a new person showed up and the first question he wanted answered was: “I’ve
heard people say that AIDS is a punishment from God – how do you feel about
that?” Basically what he was really asking was, “Am I safe here? Will I be
We help create an atmosphere of safety in several ways:
Create a community of acceptance. I love what
our Pastor Rick Warren says, “We don’t have to see eye to eye to walk hand in
hand.” We want people to know that no matter your background or your walk of
life, you are welcomed in our HIV ministry. We don’t have to agree on
everything in order for us to care about you as a person. We care because Jesus
cares! It’s important to note here that accepting everyone doesn’t mean that we
have to change our beliefs or water them down to the common denominator – it
means that even if we don’t share your same beliefs, you are still welcomed and
loved in our community.
Have fun! One of the most effective community
builders we’ve discovered is playing games together as a ministry. It shifts
the tone of meetings and creates opportunities for people to immediately jump
in and get to know each other. We take God seriously, but we try not to take
ourselves too seriously.
Stop the gossip. Nothing can kill community
faster than gossip. Particularly in a ministry where so many members carry
relational hurts, it has been helpful to create an environment where we will
not tolerate gossip. At Saddleback, we are big on the Matthew 18 principle – if
you have a conflict with someone, take it directly to that person. If needed,
invite a ministry leader to speak into the situation. If you are talking to
someone who isn’t a part of the problem or a part of solving the problem, you
may be gossiping. Stopping gossip goes a long way towards helping people feel
safe to share in community.
People in Your Ministry Want to Feel Valued
People want to know that their presence matters to your
ministry. We try to find the right serving opportunity for every person who
comes to us, where they can put their unique skills and interests to use in our
ministry. Sometimes their serving sweet spot may not be apparent right away – it’s
okay to let people “test drive” different service opportunities in your
ministry to see what fits with their passions.
Helping our members live out the purposes of God in their
lives is our main mission, so we’re always looking for ways that our people
living with HIV can serve and give back, even as they receive from our ministry.
A great recent example is one gentleman in our ministry who is living with HIV and
didn’t feel he had much to offer in terms of serving. When we asked him to help
with follow up phone calls for the ministry, he realized he’s great with people
and does a fantastic job helping people get connected by phone!
When people do step up to serve, we try to make sure that
service is recognized and appreciated. Time is one of the most valuable commodities
someone can give to our ministry, so we recognize and honor people for giving
of their time to the ministry. We do this in several ways:
Thank you cards. Don’t forget the power of a
handwritten note! In today’s world of a billion emails, there’s something
special about the novelty of a card in the mail.
Phone calls. Again, in the world of technology,
don’t underestimate the power of picking up the phone.
Food. There’s something special about sharing a
meal that helps facilitate relationship.
Leadership. If someone is consistent and
reliable in serving, we always have an eye out for how we can empower them with
greater responsibility. Helping members lead helps the ministry grow!
People in Your Ministry Want to Feel Heard
Everyone wants to be known. In our ministry we take the time
to get to know people. We want to know their story. We want to celebrate their
birthdays and major life events. We want to know how we can be praying for them
It’s all about relationship. People may come to your
ministry because of a passion God has placed on their heart, but it’s been my
experience that most people stick around because of relationship. We’re always looking
for how we can foster those individual relationships where people feel known
and understood. One of the best compliments someone can can give our community
is, “I just feel so loved here.”
In the end, its about people more than programs. Our HIV
ministry will test out a lot of ideas, and some of them may work and some of
them may not, but if we continue investing in people, the relationships will
If you would like more information on how you can start or
grow a HIV ministry in your church, call the HIV&AIDS Initiative at
949-609-8555 or email HIV@saddleback.com.