Working with Volunteers

Working with Volunteers: One Simple Step That Changes Everything

I have a huge passion for ProPresenter – worship slides in general. In fact, I used to be the guy on stage with the acoustic guitar, questionable fashion sense, and center mic stand leading worship. But I felt hindered. No matter how good our band performed or how well I led, I could always tell how good the response to worship was going to be based on who was at the lyrics computer. If it was one particular guy or girl, worship would go well. If it was anyone else, it would be mediocre.

Because of this, I decided my time on stage was over for a while. I moved back to the tech booth to work with the tech team. And worship got better. So did the sound. So did the visuals. It was the right move for the church.

There’s one fundamental thing I changed about the way I worked with volunteers that I believe made all the difference.

I invited them to a mission, not to a role.

It’s tempting to think that a slide operator is merely the person who clicks the next slide in ProPresenter. Or that the sound engineer is the person who makes sure everything gets heard and eliminates feedback. Or that the lighting designer moves the lights in an aesthetically pleasing way.

The problem with those approaches is that they’re role-focused. And for gearheads and geek-types, that works for a while. We all love playing with technology. Unfortunately, that doesn’t hold up months into the job when external pressures are pushing in or we’re feeling discouraged.

I changed the way I recruited for all of those roles to this.

“I want you to help me lead worship at church through:

– operating the slides.”

– running sound.”

– operating and programming the lights.”

The mission was to help us lead worship in the room. Or to help our pastor preach more effectively. Or to help remove distractions so people could focus on God. Or to create an atmosphere for the eyes similar to what music does for the ears.

That one subtle change made a huge difference.

– We got more people to volunteer because the invitation was more compelling.

– We got more people to stay because they felt like their contribution was more than just pushing buttons and sliding faders.

– We had a better product from our volunteers because they knew the ultimate goal and they felt the burden for something bigger.

There are quite a few other things I did that I believe made our volunteer teams more effective (I wrote about them in my book, The Volunteer Effect). But I think that one subtle change made the biggest difference. I invited them to a mission, I reminded them of the mission, and I trained them for the mission.

So often, those of us who work in churches think the mission is obvious. We’re in all-day staff meetings about the mission. We felt the call to ministry based on the mission. It feels obvious. But it isn’t obvious for our volunteers. And it certainly doesn’t stay obvious.

For instance, parking cars:

Nobody really wants to help park cars. Weather is rarely perfect and parking lots are boring places. But we do feel the burden when we realize we’re the first smiling face people see when they get to church. We’re the first welcome they get. And people often make the decision whether or not to return to a church within the first few minutes of their visit. So the parking lot team is probably more effective at church retention than the pastor or worship team are.

We might have that vision in the beginning, but if there isn’t someone reminding us of the vision, it’s easy to slip into the motions over the mission. We wave our parking wand disinterestedly and spend all our time talking to our friends. We check our cell phones instead of making eye contact with drivers. We do the minimum.

This is the same thing that happens in every volunteer role. We have to cast the vision initially and then repeat it often. We have to show the vision and repeat the vision.

That one small change will yield huge results.

Jonathan Malm

Jonathan Malm is the co-author of The Volunteer Effect and The Come Back Effect. He runs ChurchStageDesignIdeas and from his home in San Antonio, Texas.

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