Practical Advice for Churches Interested in Work Readiness Ministry
Restoring people to sustaining work is a key component of poverty alleviation. One of the most effective ways to work toward this is by starting a holistic work readiness ministry.
But launching a work readiness ministry is a major undertaking that involves a lot of moving parts. To run your first class, you need to get training, find participants, equip volunteers, connect with local employers, and have a system to support graduates.
The Chalmers Center is fortunate to have a group of experienced trainers who walk alongside churches and nonprofits as they prepare to launch a work preparedness ministry. We recently talked with Rev. Robert and Jessie Turner about the practical realities of starting a work readiness ministry. Pastor Turner is Senior Pastor of Bridgeport Bible Fellowship Church and Director of I Care Outreach in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Jessie is one of the lead trainers for our Work Life site certification program.
Rallying support for Work Life in your church
When it comes to rallying support for a work readiness program like Work Life, the Turners recommend starting with a small group of committed people and growing from there.
Jessie shared, “You don’t need a whole lot of people to get started. You can start with two or three people from your church and then find a few other people in your community to join with you.”
Over time, the Turners have seen increased support for Work Life in their church because people are seeing the value. But they caution that churches be sure that the people they recruit to help are humble. People who appear to have everything together often don’t make good volunteers. Instead, look for those who are willing to give freely of their expertise, experience, and connections.
Recruiting volunteers for Work Life
When the Turners first launched their Work Life ministry, they began slowly. As they ministered in their community, they discovered others who were interested in working alongside them. Pastor Turner told us, “In our volunteer orientation, we tell them we’re looking for those who are life givers, who have a heart for others and can use their gifts and skills and abilities to help.”
Another important point that Jessie added was that they’re “looking for volunteers who are willing to be on the margins so that our participants can be at the center. It is exciting to see the gifts and skills and abilities of our participants come to the forefront in our Work Life classes.”
In ministry, there’s a real temptation to try to grow a massive program. Pastor Turner cautions churches against this. “Work Life is focused on authentic relationships, and these relationships take time to build. That’s why we suggest starting small and building organically.”
Finding participants for Work Life
Many churches who are considering a program like Work Life wonder where they can find participants for their classes. The Turners shared that their first attempt to recruit participants by more traditional means, like sending out flyers and going door to door, didn’t get much response.
This lack of response caused them to rethink their approach. They began to connect with other local ministries who served people in need of work. By partnering with local reentry and recovery centers they were able to find participants.
Jessie also pointed out that “Work Life is a great way for churches to connect with the community and collaborate with community organizations. The church doesn’t have the same roles as community organizations, and these organizations can’t be the church. But if we bring all these groups together, then we can fill the gaps.”
Pastor Turner emphasized that the church shouldn’t compromise as they work on social issues in the community. Work Life is Christ centered, but “we don’t beat you in the head with religion.”
Identifying potential partner organizations in your community
There are various ways to find partner organizations in your community. The Turners joined local collaboratives where they were able to connect with, identify, and hear what was happening in their community and what other organizations were doing.
Another benefit to building a network is that you don’t have to build a massive organization. Instead of having to create multiple ministries to address the various challenges your participants are facing, you can find other ministries to come alongside you.
Words of encouragement for pastors and ministry leaders looking for solutions to challenges in their community
Encouragement from Pastor Turner:
Our society is so prone to highlight those who have higher degrees of education. But Work Life challenges us to recognize that we have an opportunity to help others and encourage them to get their GED, finish high school, develop soft skills and technical skills, and pursue technical training.
In other words, it’s inclusive of everyone. It’s not just seeing those who have a doctorate or a master’s degree as successful. There are also technical skills that are needed. We can encourage our participants to accomplish their dreams and use their God given talents and also equip them in how to succeed in the workplace or get a start somewhere and then move to wherever their next goal is.
I really believe that pastors and ministry leaders can see this as a way to challenge the people in the community and to equip people in the community to move forward and not just be stuck where they are in their lives.Pastor Turner
Encouragement from Jessie Turner:
I would add that for the church, Work Life is an opportunity to look beyond the pews and look out the windows and the door and see this as an invitation, an invitation to reconcile humanity in a very practical way that’s extremely powerful.
There are other job training programs out there. Many of them are good, but Work Life gives us an opportunity to breathe into the spirit of the person. Work Life focuses on the technical skills, the social, and the soft skills. It helps people understand why they have a passion for creativity and where their gifts come from. I see Work Life as an invitation to be a part of reconciling humanity in such a practical way.Jessie Turner
Next Steps for Your Church or Organization
Restoring people to sustaining work transforms individuals, families, and communities. If you’re interested in learning more about launching a work readiness ministry at your church or nonprofit, you can book a call with a Chalmers staff member to discuss whether Work Life is a good fit for you.
Work Life Site Certification is created for ministries based in the U.S. and Canada.