I’m not JUST a volunteer

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I’m not JUST a volunteer. No. Far from it. I’ve chosen my opportunities in life and ministry. I am a volunteer by choice and in mindset. I choose to serve. And I’m not alone.

In the many years I served in volunteer leadership at two different churches, I was privileged to have other high caliber colleagues come alongside me. By choice. They weren’t coerced, guilted, manipulated, or otherwise condescendingly queued into the ministry volunteer pipeline. Perhaps that explains the service longevity of so many of them, even after my departure from both leadership positions. It was never about my charming personality. It was always about their singular commitment to serve God to the very best of their ability.

Want to find people like this in your church? Open your eyes, your heart, your mind, even your home. Get to know people.

1. Start with gatekeepers and networkers. They will provide introductions. I always maintained close connections with these relational influencers throughout my leadership tenures.

2. Invite people to join you for a meal and/or just conversation. Give them a glimpse into your life. Accept their invitations to enter theirs. Nurture lifelong friendships.

3. Give away responsibility and authority. Risky, I know. Obviously, maintain oversight. But do you really need or want to make every decision, especially when you have emerging and existing strong leaders on your team? Trust them. Hold them accountable, but empower them to thrive.

4. Rid yourself of preconceptions about people. Many people are far more willing to sacrifice time, resources, and energy for a greater ministry cause than we we often assume. Cast a big ole freakishly audacious vision and invite others to help you refine it, own it, and implement it.

5. Those people sitting in the adult service every week? Sure they love their weekly worship experience. Now think about how you might inspire and resource them to fulfill their God-given dreams. Hint: if they are anything like me, the fulfillment of their dreams might not occur on the church campus or as something directly and primarily benefitting church people; indeed, they may be the very people poised to help your church impact those who will never voluntarily choose to attend your campus experiences.

I love my pastor and worshipping with my friends in our adult venue. Precious people. But I am not content to be a pew sitter. Nor am I JUST a volunteer, grudgingly agreeing to perform ecclesial community service so I can get the church leaders off my back on a monthly basis. I want to serve significantly with profound impact in my faith community, my neighborhood, and my city.

I know I’m not alone. There are others like me in my church and yours. Your job, leaders? Identify, equip, empower, and unleash them.

frontline frustration

For most of my working career I have had the privilege of managing managers, owners, middle-managers, and so on. I write that statement tongue-in-cheek, given that I have been a frontline low-level employee throughout the years. I affectionally call myself the Chief-Grunt-in-Charge-of-Nothing. While the managers sometimes run around contradicting each other due to a lack of ability to get on the same page, I correspondingly find myself in the position of managing their expectations, putting up with their scoldings, and generally growing in frustration. It tends to happen in work places where there are more managers than frontline workers. Over the years, however, I have learned to speak up for myself and express my concerns, even my frustration. Continue reading

when volunteer recruiting produces hints of dread

There is a feeling of dread that can occur when you realize that you have tapped out your resources for volunteer recruiting. You have a shortfall of workers and Sunday morning looms just a day away. You don’t feel panic yet. However, daydreams about life after recruiting responsibility tease the edge of your awareness. But something happens as you go through the list of prospective workers one more time. “Why didn’t I see their name before?” you ask yourself. The couple in question has not yet volunteered their time in their child’s classroom. You make the call. They answer. You explain your need. They respond positively. And the feeling of dread abates as you realize that due diligence and kindness produces encouraging results.

Are you struggling with the weekly grind of finding workers to fill ministry roles? I know the feeling. It is hard sometimes. Honestly, it can be a thankless task. But it can also be joyful. Yes, I said it. Joyful. Connecting with people, communicating clearly with them, following up on their questions and concerns, taking care of administrative tasks like background checks and interviews, and making the need known is all a part of the stuff which makes up due diligence in recruiting. As a volunteer leader in a small church (or large!)  it can seem overwhelming at times. Be encouraged in knowing that God will help you as you do the right things to inspire, equip, and support fellow workers. He will even help you as Sunday morning approaches and the feeling of dread threatens.

After all, he did it for me this evening. I write not in theory, but from personal experience.

Five Things That CM Volunteers Need

What do CM volunteers need?

  • Affirmation. We all need encouragement. Volunteers are no different. Honor them. Brag about them in their presence to others. Deflect praise to them. Shoulder the burden of criticism so as to minimize its impact on them. (This is a necessary task of leadership. There is a time for volunteers to hear and deal with constructive criticism, but it can be demoralizing if they get hit with it week after week without any kind of filter or support system.) If they do not feel appreciated, then they typically will migrate to opportunities which yield consistent positive feedback. It is a fact of human nature. Ignore it at your church’s peril.
  • Resources. Ministry to children requires basic supplies and tools. It also needs various knock-your-socks-off cool props and set pieces to capture the imaginations of children and those volunteers that get to work with them. Even if you have little or no budget in your church, start small and build a treasure chest of cool stuff for your workers to use in the ministry. You might even network with other local churches to see if they would loan you their cool stuff. I bet they would be willing to give it if they no longer have a need for it!
  • Clear expectations. Never assume your volunteers know every policy or procedure in your church. This relates to taking children to the restroom, check-in/check-out procedures,  appropriate physical touch, sanitizing toys and tools and general cleanup, and so on. Do they know what to do? Are you sure? Write it down. Post critical information on walls in conspicuous places. Have a handbook full of the information which is given to each teacher and ask them to sign that they have read and understood it (I am currently developing this for my church, both for leaders and for parents. It is hard, but necessary).
  • Training. Learn the culture of your church and train your people using appropriate means. In my context, much of the training currently occurs using just-in-time training and mentoring. In the past we have done seminars, classes, and sent people to events. We try to have current leaders training rising leaders.
  • Communication. Be in contact with your leaders in various ways. This is not hard to do in the current environment with social technologies, handheld devices, email, cell phones, and–dare I mention it–the ability actually to speak face-to-face (rumors of this method’s demise are highly exaggerated).

What would you add?

Insight from a Professional Project Manager

I spent the afternoon with a few families from my church. One of the neighbors of the host family was also present. He is a professional corporate project manager in the IT sector. He made a statement which I think deserves attention in the ministry leadership context. To paraphrase him, he said that project management is changing. It is becoming less about directing people what to do and when to do it, and becoming more about removing obstacles so that they can perform their roles optimally. In essence, therefore, leadership direction should function hand-in-hand with servant-based problem solving and trust.

Ask yourself what obstacles stand in the way of your staff and volunteers. What might you do to identify the problems, develop solutions to resolve them ,and then execute those solutions? What are the things that only you can do because of your role and skillset?

Leadership Decisions: Inviting Fellow Ministers

In the coming weeks I have some important leadership decisions to make concerning the children’s ministry. Chief among them will be the opportunity to invite and select others to come alongside the current staff in teaching and ministering with the children. The temptation in a smaller church is to feel like the options for potential fellow workers are too limited. While it is true that I have gone over the list over and over again, I cannot assume that the situation is static and that God is not working on the hearts of his people. So, I revisit who is available and explore whether they sense God’s leading to influence their own children within the children’s ministry on campus. It is always an interesting, frustrating and — sometimes — even exciting time as I watch God move on hearts. There are other decisions on the horizon as well. Perhaps I will blog on them as they unfold.

Tips for Recruiting Volunteers

This is a partial list of key tips for recruiting volunteers for your children’s ministry. They are randomly selected from my fragmented mind as I prepare to dive into yet another writing project.

1. Be better known for care calls, than for recruiting calls.
2. Recruit positively, rather than negatively.
3. Follow procedures thoroughly, no matter how well you know prospects.
4. Recruit for all ministries of the church, not just your own.
5. Celebrate faithfulness, excellence, and participation publicly and generously.
6. Recruit children and youth by giving them meaningful tasks and ministries.
7. Never beg for volunteers from the pulpit, lectern, or any other stage furniture. Better yet, don’t beg at all.
8. Recruit networkers and key influencers, who in turn, can help you recruit a broader range of workers.
9. Set a positive message for the ministry. Highlight the cool stuff that is going on, plus the level of excellence which takes place in the ministry. But make sure you deliver on what you promise. Word will get out in a viral kind of way. Influence them to them want to participate.
10. Model participation. Don’t lead from a distance. At some level, participate directly. See if you can get your senior leaders to do the same in the children’s ministry, if only occasionally. Their high level exposure will ignite a movement in your congregation if the people see the pastor working directly with the kids. Make sure you position your pastor to look good in the process. Set him or her up for success by giving them something to do where they can excel.

There is more I could say, and indeed I might soon. What would you add?