The United Methodist Church has reported an "incredible" 455 percent increase in mission volunteers over a 15-year period.
"This is an incredible growth of voluntary mission service," said the Rev. Clinton Rabb, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, according to the United Methodist News Service on Monday. "The growth and the appeal come from the grassroots nature of the volunteer movement."
In 1992, there were just under 20,000 volunteers in mission compared to nearly 111,000 participants in 2006.
Most of the participants are part of a church-based volunteer team that engages in short-term construction, medical and educational service around the world.
The short-term volunteer opportunities is considered by many to be the primary way United Methodist youth and young adults experience the mission mandate of the church nowadays, according to UMNS.
Organizers attribute the growth in part to different disasters occurring in the United States and elsewhere – as seen by spikes in volunteers during years of natural disasters.
For example, volunteers increased in late 1998 to 2000 in response to Hurricane Mitch which heavily damaged large areas in Central America, such as Honduras and Nicaragua, before hitting Florida.
Phenomenal growth in volunteers was also observed when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005.
Participants in the United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) reached an all-time high of 135,000 in 2005 which organizers ascribed to the devastating hurricanes in the Gulf Coast.
Rabb noted, however, that it "strained the system" by challenging the church to coordinate between UMVIM and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the humanitarian arm of the United Methodist Church.
"As a network, we are always looking for ways to improve our outcomes and the experiences of mission service without doing damage to the very concept of voluntarism," said Rabb.
Yet the ministry noted that its growth was not always consistent over the past 15 years, but instead experienced several drastic drops and spurts over the period.
For instance, there was a sharp drop in 2001 as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and in 2003 and 2004 volunteers fell to the mid-60,000 range, down from 96,000 in 2000.
"The figures, of course, vary with what is happening in the world," explained Rabb.
There are some 8.5 million United Methodists in the United States and an additional 1.5 million members in the world. UVIM is the largest part of the volunteer ministries of the United Methodist Church.