Volunteer Development: A Recap from ENGAGE Conference 2020

Stephen Brewster makes a powerful statement in his session at ENGAGE Conference 2020: “The inability to develop volunteers stifles growth.” I had to think about the implications of this statement and came to some scary realizations. If I have a revolving door of volunteers who aren’t able to “stick” on their teams, not only will that ministry suffer, but there is a high chance they may leave the church altogether. As a society, we do not handle conflict well and when a person leaves a ministry within the church (teams, groups, etc.) – it feels uncomfortable for them to see those ministry leaders on Sunday. The unfortunate truth, then, is that people will leave a church instead of deal with the awkwardness. So, Stephen’s call to create an engaging and enjoyable onboarding process for volunteers has much bigger implications than developing a fully staffed team.

Stephen also talks about the importance of volunteer teams in shrinking the gap for care concerns within our community. There is nothing worse than for a coordinator to be texting and calling someone to confirm their schedule and then find out later that their mother had died. We want to care for our people, to love on them, to make sure they know they are loved and appreciated – unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen automatically. And depending on your individual church and community culture – it may be harder than in other communities. 

This video is timely as our church is getting ready to launch a Serve Team recruitment and at the same time, we have been working on strategies to shorten the care concern gap. It is inspiring that Stephen’s process elegantly intertwines the two. 

I learned a lot in this video, felt a few convictions, and found inspiration for how we can do what we do better in our community. Even though we have a fairly robust volunteer onboarding process, Stephen’s step by step process helped me assess where we may be able to add or tweak things to create the best onboarding process possible and increase the culture of care in our community. Below are some of my thoughts and insights on the steps he provided.

Step 1: Create a matrix using a spreadsheet. 

Make a list of every position needed to pull off a Sunday morning and add the names of those who are filling them (including leaders). Make a separate list for everyone needed to get through the week.

His process starts with a spreadsheet.  I can think of several people whose eyes glazed over at this point, so I appreciate his assurance that he has help and templates available. Spreadsheets don’t scare me; I am a spreadsheet fiend. I find them helpful in organizing information and in this case, organizing information about people with the purpose of caring for them better.

Spreadsheets aren’t often associated with care, but this is exactly how Stephen lays out his volunteer development plan. And whatever your relationship is with spreadsheets (love or hate), we can all agree that we want to care for the people God has brought into our churches well and his system is designed to do just that. So, if you are a spreadsheet hater, you may accept them as a necessary evil after you focus on the “why” for using them.

We are not a big church and so we often use 2 lists – a skeleton crew list and a dream team list. The skeleton crew shows us the minimum number of people needed to do what we need to do well and without dropping any balls. This often means that people are serving more often than what is ideal or on multiple teams. The dream team is our list of a fully staffed team with all the extra positions we think would enable outstanding ministry to others. For instance, on our greeter team, we have 3 positions on our skeleton crew – but on our dream team we would add more positions and have people floating around as “secret agents” in plain clothes to meet new people, chat them up and hear their story.

Step 2: Create a Profile for every position in your Matrix.  

Describe the position, the requirements, the expectations, what they will put into it and what they will get out of it.

This is a place where I can really dig in and make some changes. We have profiles for key positions but not every position. We do a good job of including expectations and requirements, but we are missing some of the things he suggested. After listening to Stephen, I want to include what the volunteer will get out of their role as well as what a “win” looks like for that position. This is an important piece of the puzzle because we have all heard people say, “I get just as much out of it when I serve”. 

I want our profiles to help cast vision for why we do what we do, inspire involvement, and equip our volunteers with expectations for their position. 

Step 3: Identify your Leaders – create profiles for coaches, coordinators and directors. 

The most intriguing part of Stephen’s matrix to me is the coach position. We already have directors and coordinators and their roles are well defined. They cast vision, inspire, appreciate, schedule and train our volunteers. Our model isn’t unlike many corporate models. 

Stephen’s explanation of the magical mystical #6 is intriguing. It infuses the matrix with an “ooey gooey” center, it infuses “family” and a place to belong. If I am being honest, I love, love, love the concept – but when I imagine how that would look in our current environment, it doesn’t seem so easy. 

Many of our leaders are hardworking individuals who take their responsibilities seriously, but they aren’t the naturally social type. I am not sure if it is because we are on the west coast, but the people in our community seem more independent than interdependent by nature. We have had discussions as a staff about the social aspect of Christian living and it is an identified area of needed growth for us. Perhaps, using coaches in our matrix will move us closer to our goal of creating more connection within our community. 

At this point, I am feeling a little convicted because our core values are to “Live like Jesus, as family in faith.” Our current matrix doesn’t fully embrace the “family” part of our values. 

I recently saw an ad for a company that was hiring.  The slogan they used was “Make our Family, your Family.” I don’t usually associate the workplace with “family.” In fact, I grew up with a different mandate, “Keep your work life separate from your home life”. I can see how my concept of the “work” of ministry has been sabotaging my ability to prioritize connection in our serve teams (a little embarrassing as the Connections Director). Evaluating the use of coaches in our matrix will help me see where we are missing opportunities for connection in our teams. 

I am not sure if we can implement coaches at the level Stephen describes, but using elements of the 6 in our current layout could bring some really good fruit. We may be able to implement coaches within larger teams and in smaller teams have our coordinators fulfill the function of the coach. I really like the simplicity of text one a day, see each other once a week and get together once a month for fun. 

Stephen’s volunteer development plan leads to a place of clarity, purpose and a culture of caring for others. I can’t wait to dig into our process and see where we can improve our volunteer experience and create family connections. His matrix provides a beautiful picture filled with strategy, systems, connection and care. I took him up on his offer at the end of the video and asked him to send the templates and profiles he created – I imagine it will make my job much easier.