The Volunteer Difference

This post was inspired by my boss, Todd, who is a pretty smart guy who often says pretty profound things that turn into blog posts. One day he was standing in my office and our conversation turned to developing volunteers. He said, “What we do in worship arts is so different from other ministries in the church. Most ministries get their volunteers to do their work for them. We spend a ton of time with our volunteers and do the work with them.” Think about that for a minute, then pause to consider what it means for our volunteer development programs. When our church leaders say we need to bring more volunteers into our ministries, we have a much tougher road ahead of us than most do. This is not to knock what other ministries do; on the contrary, I’m simply pointing out how different our ministry process is.

Consider children’s ministry as an example. To bring a new volunteer in to teach a Sunday school class (or whatever your church calls them), you might sit down with them, lay out the expectations, the rules and show them the teaching materials. You might give them a mentor to work with for a few weeks, but after a relatively short time, you send them down the hall to lead their class.

Now contrast that process with bringing a new FOH engineer on board. Taking someone from, “I’m interested in learning to run sound” to actually being able to run a service on their own can easily take a year, depending on the complexity of your system, your band, and services. Someone who has some experience may be able to get up to speed in a few months. Either way, you’ll spend a ton of time with that person one-on-one helping them learn the system, develop their skills and improve their mixes. Along the way, there may be mistakes that you’ll take heat for and you will probably spend dozens if not hundreds of hours with that volunteer.

Again, this is not to minimize what other ministries do; however bringing on a new FOH engineer or lighting tech is not the same as bringing on a new usher. That’s an important distinction to make when you start getting heat from leadership about why you don’t have more volunteers on your team. What we do takes a lot more time and investment; and the truth is there aren’t a whole lot of people in our congregations who even want to make that investment.

Now, none of this should dissuade us from wanting to develop volunteers. In fact, it should be one of our primary missions. It simply means we must be way more intentional about doing it, and we have to have the right expectations. We need to be the ones developing training programs, improving our systems to make them as volunteer-friendly as possible and keeping an eye out for people who have an interest in what we do.

It’s easy to get discouraged about all this, especially when you see other ministries having their fall kickoff with dozens new volunteers and you’re still struggling to get one or two up to speed. Just remember, what we do is hard. It takes a lot of time to become really proficient in the technical arts (not unlike musicians or vocalists), and we need to pour into those volunteers until they get there.