How to Keep Volunteers

Continuing my series on stuff I learned at the Arts Conference, today we'll talk about volunteers. More specifically, we'll talk about how to keep them happy and serving for a long time. We all know the importance of this; and we all have had key volunteers leave our ministries, often inexplicably. I love to see people serving in the church, and I feel it's my duty to make their lives easier. Occasionally, a volunteer tech will introduce me to a friend as the Tech Arts Director, "He's my boss," they'll say. I normally correct them and say, "No, I work for you. My job is to make your job easier." And I really mean that. I see my job as one who empowers volunteers to serve, not do all the tech stuff myself.

What follows are the thoughts and notes I took during Dennis Choy's breakout session. Dennis is the TD at Northcoast Church in Vista, CA. It's a pretty unique place--they actually have multiple services running at the same time every Sunday. If you like old-school traditional, they have that. If you like contemporary, they have that, if you like coffee house, they have that. He said it takes 61(I think that's right) tech volunteers to run a weekend! That's a lot of people to manage. Here's how he does it (with some of my thoughts thrown in for good measure...)

Pre-screen Your Volunteers

They use an application to begin to get to know new volunteers. They also use the Meyers-Briggs assessment tool. Doing so helps them find people who fit the churches personality. After the application, it's time to set up an observation time--a time for the new recruit to observe what they'll be doing. They think it's for them, but you can observe them, too. How do they fit in? Watch for their heart. See if they are willing to serve in a non-glamorous position. Find out if they're teachable. It's important to find this (and as much other stuff as you can) out before putting them in the rotation. It's a lot harder to fire people than to hire them.

Simplify Things For Them

This is something I've been doing for a while, and it's worked out really well. When I got to Upper Room, the presentation tech was responsible for building the entire Media Shout program, and creating the sermon graphics in PowerPoint and running the songs during rehearsal, basically all at the same time. It was too much and we often were still building things as the doors opened. After a few weeks, I started pre-building the Media Shout (now ProPresenter) and setting up the templates in Keynote. Now all they need to do is drop the sermon note text into the templates, and they are freed up to run lyrics during rehearsal.

Another important item, especially if you have multiple venues, is to keep all the equipment the same. It's important to remember that they are not at the church all week working on this stuff. They may not even have jobs that are remotely related to technology. We need to consider them when making changes. Tossing in a new piece of gear every week is fun when you do it for a living. It can be terrifying for a volunteer who hasn't been there in 3 weeks.

Fire Them

Yeah, that was our reaction, too. But here's the deal. When you have someone on the team who is just not cutting it, they are bringing the whole team down. The rest of the team feels less successful. We don't help people by letting them continue doing a bad job. It's important for the good of the team to find good people, train them well, and keep them there. When you do need to fire someone, always do it in person (never by e-mail, and by phone only under extreme circumstances). Do your best to relocate them to another area if you can. Make sure you are completely open and honest about the reasons why not only with them, but with the rest of the team. We tend to run pretty quickly in this line of work, and it's easy to ignore these issues, but for the good of the church, we need to deal with them. It's that important.

Tomorrow, we'll cover the rest of the list