Nominated the Conclusion


Our series on Nominated began with my startling discovery I was the Vacation Bible School Director at my church, journeyed through the dangers of the Warm Body Mentality in church programming, and now comes to some ideas and principles to counteract the WBM while also being catalysts for consistent spiritual formation in your church Body. . .

I will start with some disclaimers:
  1. There are no perfect churches, no perfect programs, no perfect methods for recruiting/training/keeping volunteers, and certainly no perfect discipleship methods.
  2. There are no one-size-fits-all, can't-miss techniques that can be used in every church, every culture.
  3. I am not perfect in my principles or methods either. Nor have I always followed my own advice, particularly with volunteers. Most of my principles come from my mistakes. And none of these principles are "re-inventing the wheel".
  4. God's grace sustains us all and His Spirit moves in many ways--even sometimes through Warm Bodies just going through the motions.

Off to the practicals now. . .

On Recruiting Volunteers
When you ask someone to be a volunteer, give them enough time to process the requirements of the position and to pray about it. Starting with a sense of urgency like "I need to know by tomorrow if you're willing to be our Children's Director for the next 80 years because I know you love kids because you have like six of them," is not a positive first step. I recommend a face-to-face conversation first with a follow-up email with all the details of the position including:
  • How long the commitment is for and when will they have an opportunity to step down or renew the commitment. Or if/how they can downgrade or upgrade responsibilities.
  • What kind of accountability they will have, who they are responsible to report to, and what the evaluation process will be.
  • What the time commitments are, including not just the start/end times of services/events, but what time they will be expected to be there both before and after the service/event.
  • All the rest of the duties spelled out whatever they may be (teaching, running sound, getting food ready, etc.) including any intangible expectations like "building relationships with teenagers", which may mean telling them specifically things such as "Do not sit on the back row with all the other adults but sit with actual students in the rows."
  • Give them a gracious way to say "NO" You're looking for volunteers who want to be there.
Also in your recruitment conversation and in your email, encourage them again to pray about the position, but also tell them the three things you look for in a volunteer. . .
  • Called: Some sense of peace, calling, or passion for this position but preferably all three. You're not looking for someone to do it out of guilt, because they really like you, or any form of the "I guess I need to get plugged in somewhere" mentality.
  • Committed: You consider this position a commitment and a covenant. If they say they're going to do it, then they need to do it. Whether it's tougher than they thought or whether or not they feel encouraged enough, etc. A commitment to the very end: if you sign up to lead a small group, then lead the group (according to the specific duties spelled out for them) no matter how small it gets. . .if it started with 14 and dwindles down to 4, it's just a smaller group. Same expectations apply.
  • Capable: Affirm why you asked them to serve in the first place: they have gifts and skill-sets, or sources of joy that you (and probably others) noticed. You wouldn't have asked if you didn't think they were capable.
After all that and your mighty Avengers are assembled, your duties then are the following (and here's where I have often failed):
  1. Pray for your volunteers
  2. Check in with them to see how they and the job description are lining up.
  3. ENCOURAGE them. Don't just use them as slave labor for the success of your ministry. Care about their spiritual development as well: suggest books to them, ask about their relationship with Christ, etc.
  4. Gently correct any behavior that is not in keeping with your expectations or that are in clear opposition to the agreed upon job description. Do not just swallow it and unload on them at the end of the year and do not just confront it in public right when you see it: set up a face-to-face meeting.
  5. Keep your end of the deal. Make sure you are providing them the tools they need to thrive: giving them curriculum or small group questions in a timely manner, making purchases ahead of time and not at the last minute, don't change their job description by adding on duties all the time, give accountability and evaluations as promised, etc.
And lastly, some miscellaneous thoughts about Warm Body Mentality and programming:
  1. What if you just had staff get to know their people and then discovered what Callings, Commitment-Levels, and Capabilities already existed in your people and then built your programming around them? A "Developing Unique Programs According to Your Unique People" vs. "Plugging People into Your Already Designed Programs"
  2. What about knowing a program will be healthy for your church but instead of starting it right away you take a year to train your volunteer leaders on what you want the program to look like? A good example is small group ministry: Instead of getting a dozen leaders to immediately start their own small groups after a one hour crash course on small groups, what about making a small group with those 12 leaders and you lead the group the way you want them to lead their groups? It is a long-view version of programming but I think it is a powerful, mature, and healthy way to really start something well.
  3. What about having a good program going but letting it "make due" a little bit with not enough volunteers rather than letting it suffer with too many poor or unqualified volunteers? Which is worse: Not having a youth praise band right now OR having a band but none of them really care about holiness off the stage?
  4. What if instead of looking at every program as a permanent part of the structure of your church life you thought of programs as seasons? And seasons change. Except in this case you ask yourself: In this season of our church (or particular part of our church) is this program still the best way to be utilizing our volunteers for the spiritual formation of God's Kingdom people? If it's not, change the programming.
Hope these help some of you church staff/laborers out there. But if you ever find yourself directing VBS against your will, just remember the big 3:  Goldfish crackers, Finger Jello, and Popsicle Sticks.

Much love.
Matt O.