Get the most out of your volunteer staff for your church’s production.
Volunteers are a huge part of church production. They’re the behind-the-scenes unassuming superheros who pull off every weekend service—many, if not all of them, unpaid. Pastors often push for more people to get involved, while those who are already serving, especially in production, cringe at the word “volunteer.” Typically, what comes to mind is sub-par work, creativity, and commitment—and sometimes it’s tough to find people who have any experience in production at all.
It can be discouraging to pastors and staff when churchgoers consistently reject the offer to get plugged in, and even more frustrating when you put time and effort into training volunteers, only for them to quickly get burnt out. But it is possible to recruit the right people, retain them, and use them to the best of their abilities.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CONGREGATION
Your congregation is filled with people who have the untapped potential to serve at some capacity. You’d be surprised at how many of them have skills and gifts they could use in ministry, but have never been asked to serve. As you get to know your church and have casual conversations with them, ask them what they’re passionate about. Their responses should indicate in which area of ministry they would fit best.
This is also a great time to learn about their jobs and hobbies. You could meet a software engineer, a front-end developer, or a part-time DJ—any type of technical, digital, or musical job could indicate the ability to handle some aspect of production. Or, you might find those who are more aspiring—where their nine-to-five is a desk job, but they have a heart for music or a keen eye for graphic design. Your church’s production could be the time and place for them to embrace and refine those skills.
Planning well is crucial to retaining volunteers. When you demonstrate a structured, organized grasp on production and the volunteer schedule, you create a space where your helpers can fit seamlessly into the plan. They feel less like the production will fall apart if they get sick or something comes up and they have to miss service one weekend. That being said, always have a Plan B. As you develop systems and schedules, make sure you have a backup plan in place for when things inevitably don’t go as planned.
One aspect of planning well is planning meetings. Schedule kick off meetings throughout the year where old volunteers can meet new ones. This is a great time to gather around some good food, share contact information, integrate the newbies, and communicate vision.
VISION OVER NEED
Big-picture dreamers of the church leadership team: Listen up, because this one’s for you. Pastors and leadership staff often get on stage and start talking about what they need help with, hoping that the audience will feel so inclined to help simply because they were called upon. However, this is unfortunately rare. People are less inclined to surrender their free time to meet the needs of the church because, as they see it, their lives already have plenty of needs that require their attention (kids, work, chores, you name it).
Instead of communicating need, talk vision. Get up there and express the connection between the needs of the church and the bigger picture. Make the needs sound more like exciting opportunities. For example, if your church is lacking children’s ministry volunteers, don’t just say you need help teaching kids—explain that there are so many children in your congregation who just need someone to look up to, someone who can share the message of God’s love to them. Communicate that you’re passionate about serving these kids because they will grow up to be the next generation of leaders in the church and in the world. A message like that is one that others can get behind.
There’s a catch, though. While you’re at it, try not to push your passion too hard. Rather, in addition to expressing where your heart lies, as you conversate with your church, find out what stirs their affections. Then embrace, encourage, and harness those passions and place them accordingly in the different areas of your ministry. Using this strategy, you’ll find that your volunteers will stick around longer and they’ll feel more fulfilled in their volunteer positions.
RECRUIT THOSE OFTEN OVERLOOKED
Youth and newcomers are two, often overlooked groups of people when considering volunteer positions in the church. We tend to think of volunteers as those who have been church attendees for a long time, those who are theologically savvy, or, for the sake of AV production, technologically savvy. We want to challenge you to abandon that notion and believe that anyone can volunteer.
Church newcomers are a ripe bunch just waiting to get involved. Now, maybe you shouldn’t ask them to get involved on the first Sunday they attend, but by the third or fourth time you speak to them, just drop the open offer to serve and see what they say. You might be surprised at how many newcomers are excited to learn that they’re wanted in a new place.
Your youth also wants to be wanted. A lot of times, they’re just looking for something to do. Maybe their parents drag them to church every weekend and it feels more like an obligation than anything. When you see a bored teen, offer them something to do. Adolescents like to act like they’re too cool, but once you give them something to do with their hands, a purpose, and a reason to feel important, you’ll have a chance to see them flourish and mature.
Even more in your favor is the fact that today’s youth knows technology better than anyone else. They’re fluent in basic tech-speak. If they know their way around a smartphone, it’s safe to say they have working knowledge that will help them at least get started in the booth. Give them some responsibility while they’re young and they could grow into some of your most loyal, lifelong volunteers.
Whether it’s teens or newcomers, remember that people learn quickly. And it’s likely that they’ll put excellence into whatever they do when they realize the success of the church service production relies on them.
RECRUIT THOSE ALREADY FAITHFUL
Round up your leaders and ask about their current volunteers. Are they early or on time? How well do they follow directions or pay attention to details? Do they seem interested in where they’re serving or like they’re just going through the motions? The answers to these questions will tell you who is committed to their role in ministry and who could use a change of pace. It might be worth asking the latter if they want to try serving in the tech department for a while.
COMMUNICATE COMMITMENT UP FRONT
Once you’re ready to ask a person if they’re interested in serving, it’s critically important to communicate the level of time commitment that’s required. Be as specific as possible so you can give them an accurate estimate—and don’t be afraid of scaring them away. When you hold back on the true time a volunteer position requires, it skews their expectations and proves to be a disappointment for your later when the work becomes too much and they have to back out. All volunteer positions have a time commitment, but AV tends to require the most programming and practicing. Try not to intimidate them, yet be honest about the level of involvement.
REWARD GOOD WORK
There’s a reason why companies incentivize their employees—it works. Remember when we said the word “volunteer” can be associated with sub-par quality of work? That’s because, sometimes, volunteers give half effort when they don’t feel like their work is incentivized. Unpaid volunteers are no different from paid staff in that they want to be compensated. The difference is that the former expect that it won’t come.
You may assume that your volunteers will have high energy all the time, like an infinite spiritual battery power supply. But just like anyone else, they get worn out. When you show some appreciation for their contribution (even if it’s lacking in some areas) you propel them forward.
If you’ve never heard of the Five Love Languages, you might want to get familiar with them. There are many ways to say thanks and show that you care for your volunteers. We suggest using three of these love languages when you’re coming up with ways to show some love to your team.
Words of affirmation:
- Write them a card for no special occasion to say thanks and point out what they’re doing right.
- Get together and compliment them in person. This could be a one-on-one coffee or lunch date or you could host a group lunch at the church and address the entire team with encouragement.
- On major holidays (Christmas, birthdays, etc.) give them a small gift. This could be anything from a coffee mug to a $5 gift card to a book. Anything small that says, “I was thinking of you.”
- Host a pizza party at the church. Hey, food can definitely be considered a gift.
Acts of service:
- Ask, “What can I help you with?” When you express a desire to meet a tangible need of theirs, there’s an instant feeling that the relationship has become mutual—that you’re not just taking from them without a thought about giving back. Things they might need help with could be anything from moving furniture into their new home to yard work.
- Ask, “How can I be praying for you?” This simple question is so underestimated and, yet again, it immediately creates a two-way street of mutual care for their wellbeing.
MAKING THE MOST OF THEM
Always remember that, when you’re dealing with volunteers, you’re working with imperfect people. This guide should at least improve your chances of finding committed people who are willing to get involved, learn the ropes, and stick around long enough to become key components of your production squad.