Excellence with Volunteers

Excellence with Volunteers

As leaders that provide technical oversight, we have all asked ourselves this question: “Can excellence be attained with volunteers?
More and more churches are hiring staff to “fix” an issue, but then realize hiring staff comes with its own set of problems. Many times they can make the issue you are trying to fix worse. Excellence can be attained with volunteers, but if you decide you need to hire, make sure that person has a volunteer heart. In my experience, excellence is defined by a person’s attitude or heart for the church.
Excellence means to be outstanding or extremely good. In a church environment, this means to have an outstanding attitude in all things. The person you are looking for needs to have a heart for your church and be saturated in its culture. Many times those people are already inside your church and ready to serve. Sometimes we tend to pull the trigger on hiring from the outside before we take a hard look internally and find the gem that is right in front of us.

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A volunteer heart is important, but technical team members still need to have talent. I understand the need to find high tech talent that can drive our services towards an environment that invites our congregants to enter into worship. To do this you need a system. The secular world has already figured this out. Look at professional sports teams. How do they find someone who has a heart for their sport as well as the talent needed to perform? They start by inviting people into a system that determines not only talent but heart. For example, community sports teams help develop talents that progress through school age and college.
In the church environment, this is an orientation program that will set the table for finding people with a strong foundation. This meeting should allow you to provide the vision of your church and clearly communicate who you are looking for. This volunteer orientation program is designed with the intention of weeding out people who can’t meet your set standards. Here are some basic characteristics to look for:
• Positive attitude
• Commitment to the specific mission
• Understands that showing up on time is key
• Respects the church
• Has a heart for your church
• Willingness to learn
• Even tempered and patient

In the orientation, use a few minutes of teaching, paperwork and videos to communicate the need for the above characteristics in order to serve in the technical areas. The next step is important. Allow an escape route. One way I’ve done this is by stating, “if this is not for you, that’s ok.” I factor in a time period between Orientation and Training, typically a week or two. This allows a time period where they can walk away or make sure everything we are asking for works with their schedule and personality. If you don’t allow this “escape route,” you will have people volunteering that may not be able to meet the set standards.
The next step is training and talent assessment. This requires an organized system of training that moves people towards serving as well as tracking progress and looking for talent. Looking for talent is probably the most important part of the process. Sometimes the talent you are looking for is not always technically skilled. To use another sports example, it takes far more people without athletic talent to put on a sporting event. This includes ball boys/girls, ticket takers, parking attendants, ushers, etc.
All of these positions help facilitate the sporting event, but not all operate with the talent of the actual athlete. The most important person on the team may not be the technically talented superstar, but the person that coaches or encourages people to strive for the next level. For example, a volunteer coordinator that may not have technical talent, but can multitask, motivate and organize may be a more integral part of your team than the front of house sound engineer or other high tech talent positions. Often, talented technicians don’t have the ability to find other high tech talent and organize them effectively. Volunteer coordinator type personalities most likely do have this ability.

Achieving excellence with volunteers means you need a system that sets a standard and then trains that standard, while looking for talented superstars. Create coaches, trainers, farm team, minor league team and pro team. Are you going to get this right the first try? Nope, you will make mistakes, but your reaction to the mistake is more important than the mistake itself. In Nehemiah 4, the Israelites were rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem. They were weary and discouraged. Their enemies conspired against them. The Israelites complained and stopped building. Then Nehemiah changed his plan and reorganized the people into teams. These teams were made up of families who encouraged and supported each other to accomplish the goal of rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah learned from the issue, implemented what he learned, created a system that encouraged each other and moved forward with the mission. This is excellence defined. Organizing volunteers in this manner will bring you a successful and excellent technical ministry.