In church, when a volunteer underperforms, we often write it off saying something like, “Well, it’s not like they are paid staff…they are just volunteers.”
But, before we take the easy way out, let’s think about what is really being said here. You could easily replace the phrase ‘they are just volunteers’ with ‘they are just serving God’…
Brings a new perspective, doesn’t it?
The main problem with this type of thinking is that when you expect less, you get less.
You are effectively inspiring volunteers to be lazy when serving God. In other words, you are teaching that you should only give your best effort when a paycheck is to follow.
So, how do we inspire and attract the best volunteers?
Nothing is more demotivating than leadership being unprepared. As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure team members have the tools and resources they need to complete the task at hand. As a worship leader, this means providing sheet music, MP3s and other resources to help your musicians learn the set list.
A worship team that gets their materials at least a week ahead of time and shows up to rehearsal with all the sound equipment working is able to focus on their real job: leading worship. On the flip side, if the worship leader did not take time to prepare these things, the worship team is distracted, frustrated and ends up just going through the motions.
If you are an unorganized leader, don't be discouraged. God has equipped you with the ability to do what you need to do. So, lean on Him as you put in the effort to become organized.
I have gotten a lot of flack for using the phrase 'fire volunteers'. The push back usually sounds like this, "We are not talking about employees here...they are just volunteers." I really don't see the difference. Whether volunteering or paid staff at a church, we should put forth the same effort.
A volunteer who doesn't care shows up late and unprepared. They always have an excuse for their poor performance. But, since they are just volunteers, we tend to let them continue serving...when they actually show up.
It's time to cut off the dead weight. Allowing volunteers who don't care to continue serving will eventually demotivate the entire team...and eventually the entire church. Am I saying you should be rude and brash about this? Of course not. Following is a good plan to use when making the transition.
You might also enjoy: How to Handle Difficult Worship Team Members
As a leader, the natural and expected thing to do is devote your time to helping low-performers improve and letting the high-performers take care of themselves. But, it is much more effective to spend your time with the high-performers. Why is this?
First of all, when high-performers are encouraged and empowered by their leader, their performance increases even more. Plus, they do not require babysitting, which frees up your time to become a better leader.
Low-performers are generally not looking to get better, they just want someone else to do the job for them. So, you schedule meetings and interventions only to end up wasting your time - time that could be spent encouraging and further equipping your high-performers.
There are other ways to 'pay' people other than money. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that non-financial currency can be more impactful than money. Following are a few ways to pay your volunteers.
Respond in the comments below.
I do like the idea of preparation. I'm one who is still transitioning to a new instrument, the guitar from keyboards. And I do want to have different intonation than does the electric guitar (who doesn't capo due to issues involving keeping his instrument in tune). I'd like to get a song list and leadsheets - especially for new songs or arrangements, more than just one day ahead of time.
Another idea to respect the time of the volunteers is to not have rehearsal every week. But do do it every other week. Schedule all people to attend, even those who don't play that coming Sunday. That way everyone is in on learning a new song or arrangement and you save travel and set up time every week. This was done at a church I was involved in a few years back and it worked well--also there wasn't as much of that -- oh what songs are we doing this week at the very last minute -- they were selected every other week. The team that served on the Sunday when there wasn't a rehearsal a few days earlier started pre-service rehearsal about 15 minutes earlier than on the Sundays when the practice was only a couple days before. It worked quite well.
This was a great read! I've been helping in worship teams for years, but this is my first gig as a worship pastor. This article spoke a lot to me as I'm still learning the ropes and developing my worship ministry philosophy. I had to share this article with my worship team, and I shared it with my whole church body as well. The point on volunteerism was huge! "They're just serving God." The Church that I serve at is a church plant, and we would die if it wasn't for our volunteers. As staff, we need to push ourselves, setting our own bar high, and set the example. Kingdom work is worth our best! Thanks for the great read!
Dude. GOOD WORDS. I'm book-marking this one.
The only thing I think you missed to to be constantly scheduling at least a little bit of time in those who are obviously growing in maturity, & show great passion, but aren't "there" yet. I'm both honored, & saddened by the "success" of some I overlooked in my early days of worship pastoring. Just a thought.
Thanks for the great blog, however!
I came across your site in a search and have been enjoying your content. Thanks for investing the time in making this information available.
I'm currently transitioning into more of the role of mentor & consultant after serving the local church both bi-vocationally for years and as a full time Worship Pastor for the past 13 years. I recently invested a few weeks with a church where the Worship Team were all volunteers. The church is beginning to recover from a series of unfortunate circumstances, one being the death of their Lead Pastor to cancer. A man in his early forties!
They were obviously trying to recruit more volunteers and in doing so had two drummers that they were were rotating Sunday to Sunday. One of these young men had suffered from a large tumor behind his eye that was treated successfully, Prasie God, with radiation and no surgery was necessary. Unfortunately, it left him with short term memory loss which obviously caused some problems with him learning the music. He had been released from his previous church for this reason and began attending this church, volunteering to play drums. As you know, it's very difficult when your rhythm section is not happening.
I advised the band leader to utilize the better drummer every Sunday whereas to have a consistent level of quality especially during this time when they are experiencing several visitors every Sunday. I know that sounds pretty worldly, but I also suggested utilizing both guys every Sunday by using this young man on percussion. In other words, I just couldn't risk this young man being hurt.
I am posting all of this because I welcome your feedback. I'm not there to personally help and I certainly pray that I counseled them wisely.
Until All Have Heard,
I would have to agree with you, Terry. Although drums may not be a good fit for the guy suffering short term memory loss, there are many other areas of the church where he could serve successfully.
It is our job as leaders to help volunteers find the place where the can successfully serve. I imagine that the guy on drums was just as frustrated as the rest of the worship team. Helping him find another area in the church to serve will most likely end up being a win-win for both sides.
Plus, when you have a servants heart, it doesn't matter what you do or where you serve. You just want to be in the place where you can make the greatest impact.
My frustration is at a small church I lead worship in. I never know what to expect on a Sunday. Sometimes they put my keyboard on mute during a non musical part of the service, and neglect to unmute me when I return to it to play. I look right at them, to get their attention, but they're either talking with each other, not paying attention, or they've left their spot entirely! This past Sunday, for our closing song, I was on, but the two vocalists mics were muted, and we had to do the song without their voices coming through. The Pastor knows this. But volunteers are hard to come by there, even though there are over a hundred people attending the service. I have suggested they pay for a competent person to man the AV booth, but they like "their own" people to serve only. Is there anything I can do besides get anxious every time I lead worship? And... they even record it on live Facebook, and don't get that right. The bottom half of the screen shows us musicians while over our heads is a black half with the lyrics! Help!!
It sounds like you need to update your team culture, which takes a lot of time and patience. You'll need to spend every week encouraging your team in their gift and explaining how excellence matters. You need to help them understand that running sound is a part of leading people to Jesus.
This is something that won't change overnight. You'll have to keep doing it week after week until they get it. And during this process, resist frustration and choose patience instead.
Keep at it, and in less than a year, you'll look back and be surprised at how things used to be. 🙂