Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

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.

6 Comments

  1. phil@philrowley.net

    Very well said. I (as a volunteer) often forget that our TD has the toughest job of all. Its one thing to put people in schedule slots, totally different thing for them to be effective ministers. As the team leader, I tend to focus more on the former than the latter. I need to change that. Thanks for the fresh perspective.

  2. phil@philrowley.net

    Very well said. I (as a volunteer) often forget that our TD has the toughest job of all. Its one thing to put people in schedule slots, totally different thing for them to be effective ministers. As the team leader, I tend to focus more on the former than the latter. I need to change that. Thanks for the fresh perspective.

  3. petermbishop@gmail.com

    Hi Mike. Great Post. Over time my team has found some interesting (but not new or profound ) ways of dealing with this opportunity that faces tech areas of ministry.

    1. Make volunteers who make volunteers. We expect all of our techs to be able to make other techs or they don’t get to be techs :). For sure they won’t have “all” of the skill tact and knowledge as a pro but after initial training, they can apprentice, guide and give you insight as to where they need additional training.

    2. Just to reiterate what you said….Come to the realization that not everyone is made to do this., we do kind of long hello’s and very quick good byes ( or transitions to other teams) We are very honest up front about what it will take. That way we get around ” Im interested people”.

    3. Set expectations with your boss and pastor for your authority around this, I have been environments where the focus is on ” I want a pro level production performance”. I’ve been in others where it is ” I want the best we can do, but I want to use the people we have”… two very different mindsets. The person who has authority over you and your expectations need to match when it comes to dealing with people. Otherwise there will be frustration on both sides.

    4. Work with your boss, pastor whoever to delineate where the positions are that have to have a pro in them ( not meaning in terms of pay, put in performance and execution). Then chunk all the opportunities out around that position .. meaning look at all the things you have to do in that area and then delegate the tasks that anyone can do or be quickly trained to do….this allow a volunteer to serve more “around” someone with experience and skill and gives them the chance to apprentice.

    Thanks for your insights Mike. They Rock

  4. petermbishop@gmail.com

    Hi Mike. Great Post. Over time my team has found some interesting (but not new or profound ) ways of dealing with this opportunity that faces tech areas of ministry.

    1. Make volunteers who make volunteers. We expect all of our techs to be able to make other techs or they don’t get to be techs :). For sure they won’t have “all” of the skill tact and knowledge as a pro but after initial training, they can apprentice, guide and give you insight as to where they need additional training.

    2. Just to reiterate what you said….Come to the realization that not everyone is made to do this., we do kind of long hello’s and very quick good byes ( or transitions to other teams) We are very honest up front about what it will take. That way we get around ” Im interested people”.

    3. Set expectations with your boss and pastor for your authority around this, I have been environments where the focus is on ” I want a pro level production performance”. I’ve been in others where it is ” I want the best we can do, but I want to use the people we have”… two very different mindsets. The person who has authority over you and your expectations need to match when it comes to dealing with people. Otherwise there will be frustration on both sides.

    4. Work with your boss, pastor whoever to delineate where the positions are that have to have a pro in them ( not meaning in terms of pay, put in performance and execution). Then chunk all the opportunities out around that position .. meaning look at all the things you have to do in that area and then delegate the tasks that anyone can do or be quickly trained to do….this allow a volunteer to serve more “around” someone with experience and skill and gives them the chance to apprentice.

    Thanks for your insights Mike. They Rock

  5. isaacn@sandalschurch.com

    Mike,
    So glad you brought this up. The tech ministry whether it be sound, I-Mag, or lighting can be a very technical and confusing place. It often takes alot of time, effort, training, love, trail, error, heat, ect. to get from “I’m interested” to running your first service solo. You really have to sift through new volunteers to get to the ones that really are around for the long haul. Lots of rehearsals and services of running cables, changing gels, aiming fixtures, hands on tutorials, shadowing, patching, basic maintenance, and various other aspects of training before a hand is even laid on “The Equipment”.
    If you ask any lead pastor of a mid-size to large church how long it took for that congregation to grow it would probably be responded with 4-7 years. I’m sure a lot of bad sermons were preached in that time, or doubts about whether to continue surfaced from time to time. The point is it takes training and practice to build up to something proficient and to a high quality level that is consistently maintained especially in more demanding ministries (i.e. pastoring and tech ministires).
    Anyways hope that makes sense. Thanks for posting. Being a volunteer in a leadership role in this arena makes the problem that much more compounded so its nice to hear it is even a problem where there are staff that have similar issues and it not just me.
    I hope to come down and hang out with you and Isaiah again soon and finally get a chance to check out your new lighting setup, the DigiCo, and the Roland stuff.

  6. isaacn@sandalschurch.com

    Mike,
    So glad you brought this up. The tech ministry whether it be sound, I-Mag, or lighting can be a very technical and confusing place. It often takes alot of time, effort, training, love, trail, error, heat, ect. to get from “I’m interested” to running your first service solo. You really have to sift through new volunteers to get to the ones that really are around for the long haul. Lots of rehearsals and services of running cables, changing gels, aiming fixtures, hands on tutorials, shadowing, patching, basic maintenance, and various other aspects of training before a hand is even laid on “The Equipment”.
    If you ask any lead pastor of a mid-size to large church how long it took for that congregation to grow it would probably be responded with 4-7 years. I’m sure a lot of bad sermons were preached in that time, or doubts about whether to continue surfaced from time to time. The point is it takes training and practice to build up to something proficient and to a high quality level that is consistently maintained especially in more demanding ministries (i.e. pastoring and tech ministires).
    Anyways hope that makes sense. Thanks for posting. Being a volunteer in a leadership role in this arena makes the problem that much more compounded so its nice to hear it is even a problem where there are staff that have similar issues and it not just me.
    I hope to come down and hang out with you and Isaiah again soon and finally get a chance to check out your new lighting setup, the DigiCo, and the Roland stuff.

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