1. Start with vision.
Your volunteers will be passionate about your vision if you consistently share the why behind the what.
If you’re willing to train volunteers on the exact expectations of their job, you should also be willing to share the reason for those expectations. For our church production team, a high priority is to minimize distraction so that people can freely engage in worship or focus during the message. Because of that vision, we train our volunteers to make transitions smoothly and during times in the gathering that feel most natural. Let’s remind our team that what we do matters because of why we do it.
And even beyond what we do in gatherings, we can remind our volunteers that anything they put their hands to can glorify God. Scripture teaches us that God regularly uses man to display His wonder through craft and creativity. See my article Creativity: For Glory and for Beauty. What a great privilege it is to partner with Christ in reflecting His beauty to the world!
2. Clarify the win.
Ask yourself, “If one of my team members had to describe A+ level service on my team, would they know what to say?” Do your team members have clarity on what the WIN looks like? Feel free to set the bar high (at A+ level). Then, remind your team that perfection isn’t necessary, but doing their absolute best is a way to serve Christ’s bride.
If it’s helpful, write down some expectations together as a team and then display them for everyone to use in self-evaluating. We have about 10-15 Middle and High School students (as well as 2 interns) who serve on my production team for weekly Student Ministry gatherings. Recently, an intern and I developed a “Rate Yo-Self” form for team members to fill out after each gathering. The form is complete with a list of expectations, an emoji scale, and a reminder of the purpose of the form. The next time they serve, they get to see their form and remember in what areas they can improve. This is just one example of a way to remind your team exactly what the win looks like.
3. Never stop recruiting.
Has this ever happened to you? You feel like you’ve built up your volunteer team well and you can relax for awhile on recruiting. So, you let your guard down for a little while and all of the sudden, you have no volunteers! We’ve all been there. During a busy season or a transition in leadership, you stop recruiting for a second and the ship sinks! This has happened to me and other co-workers enough that I now realize recruiting can never be put on the back burner. People move, they go through craziness at work or home, they start serving on other teams, or your church’s production needs increase. We can’t afford to take a break on recruiting, while people’s real lives keep going.
In Andy Stanley’s book, Next Generation Leader, he teaches young leaders to “Only do what only you can do.” If you’re leading a team of any kind, recruiting and training is probably something that only you can do well.
Carve out more time than you need for recruiting, training and maintaining. Then, become unwilling to let any other responsibility take its place.
One last point I’ll make before I get off my recruiting soapbox. Don’t just recruit for new team members, but also recruit for higher skilled team members. On my volunteer team, I have 3 different tiers of responsibility. To staff my gatherings appropriately, I have to always be looking out for the people who show potential to move up. If someone is doing an excellent job or they have passion for learning something more advanced, I take note. Then, I share some encouragement, goals, and incentives with them. Anything from learning a new skill, to getting to serve in more gatherings, to… CANDY can be effective incentives. Volunteers at higher skill levels can be the most difficult to replace, so always be training up your current team to move forward.
4. Decide what you expect from your team and then be consistent in protecting them.
To me, this also falls into the “only do what only you can do” category. If you are a production team leader, you are in the best position to understand the skill level of your volunteers and the needs of your church. You are also in the best position to help the leaders above you understand the capacity and limitations of your team. You can and should act as a liaison between the team you lead and the leaders above you. Make sure your team and your church are set up to win each week.
Scenarios where I feel I need to protect my team often occur around the games we plan for our weekly Student Ministry gatherings. Sometimes a great idea for a game requires that the person running media cues a sound effect in a split second or reveals an answer to a trivia question on the spot. In moments like these, any delay can cause awkwardness and distraction in the gathering. When possible, I try to work towards a solution that allows either our staff communicator or the game participants to be controlling any split-second reveals.
It doesn’t help anyone if you pridefully say “yes” to big production requests, just to turn around and fail at the execution because your team wasn’t adequately trained. It also doesn’t help to shoot an automatic “no” out to any production request. I try to answer any request from my leaders kind of like this: “Yes, I love that idea. I want to talk through how we can make that happen in the most effective way. Here are my team’s limitations, so what if we tweaked your idea a bit to be sure this runs smoothly?”
Your leaders will respect you for positively moving towards a solution, and your volunteers will appreciate you for not asking them to take on responsibilities they aren’t trained for.
5. Don’t forget that you are partnering with God.
When you get in the thick of your pre-gathering prep or the busiest season of your year, it can be tempting to just put your head down and get stuff done. But, stopping to ask The Creator to give you the inspiration, direction, and energy to lead your team well is absolutely essential! I went to college for architecture and one time I had a project I was working on that just totally stumped me. It was a design studio project and I felt like I just had creativity block. Everything I tried seemed forced. One late night in the studio before a big presentation, I was super frustrated. Then I thought, “I feel like I’ve tried everything, but have I even tried asking God to help me be creative?” So I prayed (almost jokingly – not expecting it to work) and within 10 minutes I had overhauled the design, and come up with a great idea that would drive the entire project. I don’t think that praying will manipulate God to give us anything we ask for. God is not our butler! But, I do think sometimes we just need our Creator to breath life and inspiration into our work!
I wholeheartedly believe that an intimate relationship with God makes me a better creator and leader.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had my volunteers cancel last minute, or a piece of equipment fail shortly before a gathering, and I’ve had to cry out to God on behalf of the students about to walk through our doors. Our best work is done when we partner with God, realizing that even our best efforts will pale in comparison to a joint effort with Him. He desires for us to participate with Him in the redeeming work He is doing in the world (not the other way around).
6. Have fun.
It’s such a privilege to get the opportunity to do creative work on behalf of our Father. And, honestly, I can’t think of any area in the church I would enjoy serving in more than production! For those of us who enjoy technology and creativity, this work is FUN! Let’s remember to celebrate that regularly with our teams.
As a leader, your demeanor can have a huge influence on the mood of your team. So make it an absolute priority to discuss life with your team, play games with them, acknowledge them on social media, joke with them, and celebrate with them after a job well done. If you’re anything like me, forgetting to intentionally prioritize the FUN will cause you to let it fall through the cracks for months at a time.
Sometimes the weight of our responsibilities or the urgency of our tasks can take our focus, but bringing back the fun can re-energize you and your volunteers.