HEALTHY CHURCH

5 Reasons Why People Don’t Volunteer

Not too long ago I was talking to a longstanding church attendee about getting involved in her local church. I was surprised to hear her say the following words to me, “I don’t think they need me anywhere.” When I pressed her to explain more, I learned that she had expressed interest a few times over the years and nobody seemed that interested in pursuing and recruiting her to get involved. So she stopped offering to help, assuming she wasn’t needed or wanted.

Friends, this is not good. Ephesians 4 challenges us to a very high standard when it comes to volunteers. We are called to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. As christian leaders, that means we’re not supposed to overly rely on church staff and/or do the bulk of ministry ourselves. God wants to release His people to use their gifts to grow the church, disciple people and reach the world. That is His model and strategy.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a few key reasons why people don’t get involved. I wonder how many people in your church aren’t involved because of one of these excuses?

1. They Don’t Need Me.

In an effort to create a positive environment during church activities, we sometimes hide the volunteer ‘holes’ we know we have to the congregation. So people don’t see or know about our needs. What complicates this more is when we don’t tell them. It’s important we create methods designed to let our congregation know about the various volunteer opportunities we have available, and how they can get involved.

2. Been There, Done That.

When volunteers have a bad experience in ministry, they may choose to take a ‘been there, done that’ attitude and refuse to get involved again. Whenever you perceive a volunteer has been burned, I recommend you bend over backwards to bring reconciliation to that hurt. Asking questions, listening intently and eventually affirming their hurt and asking forgiveness will go a long way to paving the road for them to eventually get involved again.

3. I Have Nothing To Offer.

A lot of people don’t get involved because they can’t see themselves doing what they see so many others doing. They don’t feel qualified. {Serve on the worship team? I can’t sing like they do.} {Help with the kids? I don’t know how to teach kids.} {Help with tech? Have you seen how many nobs are on that board?} People need to know that they don’t have to be experienced before they get plugged in. They just need to know you believe in them and that they can make a difference.

4. I’m Too Busy.

Yes. People are definitely busy. And they are often convinced they are too busy to get involved in ministry right now. Occasionally it’s true. However, most of the time it’s not about being busy, it’s about priorities. Until people are convinced that what you want them to do is important to them, they won’t give something else up to help the church. People need a good reason to give their time and energy to a cause. You need to convince them that what you’re asking is truly important.

5. Nobody Asked Me.

It may seem like a simplistic excuse, but it’s very real and very common. There are some highly skilled and experienced people sitting in church every week who aren’t involved simply because nobody thought to ask them. We don’t ask them for any number of reasons, but often we have convinced ourselves that they can’t or won’t want to. In other words, we say ‘no’ for them and never give them the opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ themselves.

Asking people to serve in ministry isn’t easy and can be very intimidating. I know, I’ve recruited hundreds of people into volunteer roles during my ministry career. But I did it, and I believe you can too. 

8 Reasons Volunteers Don’t Feel Valued

One day Jesus decided to sit and watch people put money in the offering basket. When an unremarkable, poor woman threw in a couple pennies, Jesus honored her above everyone else. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

I wonder how that woman felt about herself. I wonder if she believed her gift didn’t really matter. I wonder if the people in her life ever validated her or what she had to offer. Or did they all pass her by when they looked at what she gave and discount her because they compared her to everyone else, who seemed to give so much more.

That’s not what Jesus did. He valued both the woman and her gift, when nobody else did.

Let’s take a moment and stop thinking of her gift as financial. What if her gift was in service to the church instead? Would we treat her the same?

I can tell a lot of stories about people who never reached their potential in ministry because the people around them (and they themselves) didn’t value who they were or what they could contribute. I’m sure you can too.

The following represents some ideas on why volunteers sometimes feel devalued in our ministries.

Lack of Communication

When people don’t know what’s going on, they feel devalued. The unspoken message they are hearing is, “I wasn’t important enough to be in the loop on this.” Most of the time, it’s not true, but our inadequate means of communication will eventually alienate and drive some of our most committed people away.

Non-Personal Interaction

It doesn’t matter what size church you lead, people are still people and they are craving personal touch. In particular, they will feel valued and important when the people they respect in leadership take the time to connect with them. This can be a huge challenge for christian leaders. Even so, finding ways to give 1 on 1 attention to people through cards, email, social media, personal visits, etc. will help them know they are a valued part of your team.

Responsibility Without Authority

When people are asked to get involved, but aren’t empowered to do it themselves, they feel like wheels in a cog. Systems can add great value to local ministries, but they are meant to serve your volunteers, not the other way around. Whenever possible, programs should leave room for enough creative liberty to allow volunteers to make decisions on their own.

No Opportunity for Buy-In

Announcing change from the pulpit is dangerous. People need time to process what’s going on and how it will impact them personally. If you want to value your volunteers, communicate way in advance and give them a lot of lead time so they can process change before it happens. 

False or Wrong Expectations

One of the easiest ways to hurt feelings and sow discord is to keep expectations vague or confusing. If YOU expect more from your volunteers than they realize, you will be disappointed. If THEY expect more from you as a leader, they will be confused or disappointed. Either way, it’s a recipe that can lead to broken relationship.

Square Peg, Round Hole

I get real frustrated when leaders delegate tasks to people and then get mad at them because they don’t do a good job. If you ask me to serve as the maintenance man in your church, you’ll be disappointed. I’m not good at fixing things. Instead of pushing me harder to do better, realize I’m a square peg, not a round one, and find a better fit for me.

Assume The Worst

Is it possible there are men & women in your church who could relate to the woman Jesus noticed in the above story? Do they think their leaders assume they have little or nothing to offer because of their skill set, circumstances or personality? After all, how much do 2 pennies really matter, right?

Jesus was the Master at accomplishing great things with almost nothing. Think fish & bread.

Invite people to be part of something great, find a good fit for them, and let them serve with the skills, talent & commitment they have to give. Value who they are and what they give just as much as those who seem to give so much more than them.

photo credit: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery via photopin cc

Why Simple is Better

Recently, I was asked to speak at a church. I already knew what I wanted to talk about when I was asked. I looked forward to the opportunity . . . except for the part where I had to sit down to do the ‘work’. Since I wanted the message to be simple, I ended up redrafting that message three times. I whittled a 45 minute message down to 25. Chopping it up was painful, but in the end it was well worth it. The congregation stayed with me the whole time and I believe God used my words to bring transformation to their lives. Simple. Hard. Worth it.

Perhaps one of our biggest mistakes when attempting to make ministry, leadership, relationships, or whatever, simple, is that we assume the process should be simple too. Not true. Most of the time, making something simple is complicated, time consuming and a lot of work. Most of us give up at the worst possible time, when it’s the most complicated. There’s a miserable valley we must walk all the way through before we arrive at the other side and our goal. 

Despite the work, simple is better. A few more observations about simple.

People Remember Simple.

God gave us 5 fingers on each hand, not 8. I suspect He knew that most of us can only remember a few things at a time. If I ask you to remember 4 words, I suspect you can do it no problem; but 12? God gave us 10 commandments, but Jesus summed them up in 2 that any four year old could remember.

People Value Simple.

We live in the day of the ‘elevator speech’. If you can tell me what you want to say between the 1st and 12th floor, I’ll listen. If not, well, “Sorry. I need to get going.” We pay attention to simple and lose interest in complex. When you present me with simple, I’m impressed and know you cared enough to prepare. 

People Do Simple.

Less is more. Give me 23 tasks and I’ll easily get locked up. I won’t know which ones to do and might just go find something else to do (like check Facebook). Give me 4 tasks and I feel empowered to get things done. Simple helps me focus and motivates me to action.

Other Examples:

  • Your congregation and community don’t want 8 announcements that last fifteen minutes; they want 2 announcements delivered in 3 minutes.
  • They don’t really want 12 emails a week about upcoming events & activities; one will suffice.
  • They don’t want to spend 10 minutes on your website trying to find service times or directions.
  • Certainly, they would love to have notes from your message; but if they are going to have to fill in the blanks they secretly hope they won’t get writer’s cramp, that there’s enough light in the room and possibly that you will provide pencils for them. 
  • Your volunteers and leaders would really prefer to open the resource closet and find what they need in 8 seconds.
  • Your attendees aren’t looking for a booklet with 28 volunteer opportunities; they just want to know what the one or two things are they can do to help make a difference.
  • Volunteers would like to have a simple 1-page document that lets them know what you expect. They would appreciate getting a quick email reminding them that they are scheduled to serve each week. They want to know about the training event at least a month ahead of time. 

What do you need to simplify in your life or ministry this week?

3 Signs of a Miserable Volunteer

I once spoke to a “been there done that” volunteer from a local church. Put another way, he was no longer a volunteer; he’d “been there, done that” and it didn’t go very well. In fact, he ended up silently leaving the church and was leading worship and a small group at another church. I didn’t have to ask about his volunteer experience at his former church, he told me all about it. The backstory is, I knew this man and also knew he had been faithful and committed to that church for many years prior. He wasn’t a grumpy, church-hopping kind of guy. 

I was glad to see how engaged and excited he was to serve at the new church. I was saddened to realize that he was a miserable volunteer at his former church, which probably meant other volunteers were as well.

Patrick Lencioni wrote a book designed to help organizations identify the key factors that lead to miserable employees in the workplace. As you might expect, those same factors apply to the volunteers in our church and ministries as well.

The Three Signs of a Miserable Volunteer
Adapted from “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job” by Patrick Lencioni

1. People Feel Anonymous

“People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority…. People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.” page 221

Volunteers need to believe you know and care about them. This means you’re not just interested in what they can do to make your ministry a success. It means you’re interested in them as individuals. Great leaders will take the time to learn about their lives, their families and the things that are important to them right now. They will check in on them when they are experiencing life-challenges. 

You can make a lot of mistakes as a leader, but if your volunteers believe they are important to you, they are much more likely to be loyal to the ministry you lead, despite it’s weaknesses and faults.

Leadership Test: Do you know the names of each of the volunteers you lead? Do you know what personal challenges they are facing right now?

2. People Feel Irrelevant

“Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just the boss.” pages 221-222

Volunteers want to make a difference. It’s the reason they chose to give up some of their freedoms (to do other things) in order to serve in ministry with you. Irrelevance is a sickness that is so easy to cure, yet is often left untreated. Leaders must regularly keep the vision/purpose for ministry alive in volunteers. Explain why their role is so critical and how it connects to changed lives in the church. Tell them about people who have experienced God in a special way, and how they played a role in that transformation. And make a concerted effort to regularly express gratitude and appreciation for the investment they are making in people’s lives.

You will keep your volunteers motivated by reminding and showing them how they are making a difference.

Leadership Test: When was the last time you sent a special ‘thank you’ note to your volunteers? Do your volunteers know why their position in ministry is important to you and God?

3. People Feel Immeasurable

Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate. page 222

Volunteers thrive on consistent, positive feedback from leaders. Often, volunteers are thrust into responsibilities with little experience or training. Consequently, they can feel insecure or inadequate for the job, eventually leading to them quitting. Unfortunately, the kind of feedback volunteers often receive is grossly inadequate and sometimes not even real. They don’t need to hear, “You’re doing just fine.” They want to know how they can do better, without feeling like a failure.

To truly “lead” others, we must be committed to modeling the kind of ministry we’re looking for, training people to be a success, and resourcing them with the tools they need to do it with excellence. 

Leadership Test: Do you know how well your volunteers fulfill their respective responsibilities? When was the last time you gave them constructive feedback or training so they might improve?
 


 
Are you struggling recruiting or keeping volunteers in the church?

If so, I recommend you contact me today to setup a free 30 minute conversation about how I might be able to provide the help you need. I look forward to hearing from you!

Three Enemies of Unity

A few years back I heard about a church that was having a serious fight. The elders and the pastor were at odds with each other and it wasn’t getting resolved. It turns out, one side wanted to get rid of the projector and go back to just putting everything in the bulletin. The church was just inches from experiencing an ugly split over the issue. Finally, the pastor agreed to the elders demands and things settled down, for a little while.

Paul opens up his first letter to the Corinthians with these words:

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Cor. 1:10

This appeal to local churches is easier said than done. Our mutual enemy seeks to tear down the body of Christ by sowing discord wherever he can and as often as possible. It is so critical that our leadership teams are aware of these attacks and are ready to combat them. 

Following are 3 strategies the devil uses to sow discord. 

1. Pride

Last night I listened to my two teens fighting about something. The content of the fight was very trivial and there was really no point in them arguing about it at all. I asked one of them, “Why are you guys still fighting about this?” The answer? “Because I’m right.”

Sometimes we are just unwilling to let things go. We believe we know what’s supposed to happen and are unwilling to give in until others admit we are right. Most prideful people don’t see themselves as being prideful and, unfortunately, are often unwilling to admit defeat. 

The below questions might help bring awareness to the team, if pride is hiding away in someone’s heart.

  • Am I angry?
  • Am I willing to be wrong in this conversation?
  • Am I really listening and seeking to understand the other perspectives in the room?
  • Are my thoughts and words expressing love and gratitude to those around me right now?
     

2. Failure to Communicate

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” We send that quick email or mentioned something in passing and think we’ve communicated. I know what this is like. Once I think I’ve communicated something to someone, I put it out of my mind for good. If I actually didn’t communicate, then there will be problems.

If there are unresolved disagreements among the team, it’s because of a failure to communicate. If team members feel hurt, angry or frustrated with others on the team, communication isn’t happening. If people are making assumptions that others ‘get it’ when they don’t or are getting things done when they aren’t, then someone needs to have more conversations.

3. Lack of Shared Purpose

It can be challenging to take my family to an amusement park. I have 4 children; two teens and two young gradeschoolers. Sometimes, what they want to do at the park goes in four different directions. If we spend all our time just catering to one child, then there’s a chance the other three will leave disappointed and frustrated. Each one has a different idea about why we are at the park.

The same can hold true in the local church. When the leadership team has differing ideas on what the church should be doing or how it should be behaving, there will be conflict. This is why I encourage churches to host monthly or quarterly strategic meetings designed to determine vision, purpose and strategy together as a team.

What other enemies of unity should I add to this list?

 

The Five Steps of Leadership Development

If you haven’t had a chance to read Dave & Jon Ferguson’s book, Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement, I recommend you do so this summer. 

In today’s post, I thought I’d share their very simple formula for leadership development. That is, how to train staff and volunteers (or anyone, for that matter) to do whatever it is they need to learn to do in both life and ministry. Don’t let the simplicity of these five steps deceive you. It’s a powerful and effective tool that you want to keep in your back pocket at all times. In fact, the authors of the book even wrote, “If there is one section of this book that I want you to photocopy and send to somebody else, it is this section.”

The Five Steps of Leadership Development

1. I do. You watch. We talk.

As an experienced leader leads a team, an apprentice takes the time to observe him or her. Within a few days the two should meet to discuss what the apprentice has observed. This debriefing time should include three simple questions: (1) “What worked?” (2) “What didn’t work?” and (3) “How can we improve?” This time of debriefing needs to continue throughout the process.

2. I do. You help. We talk.

In this phase of development, the leader gives the apprentice an opportunity to help lead in a particular area. For example, if someone is being developed to lead a student ministry small group, the leader might ask that person to lead the prayer time while the experienced leader leads the remainder of the time together. Again, this experience should be followed up with a one-on-one to talk.

3. You do. I help. We talk.

Now the apprentice transitions from supporting or helping the leader to taking on most of the leadership responsibilities of the team or group. If a person is being apprenticed to lead a team of sound technicians, he or she will operate the sound system and provide leadership for the other sound technicians. The more experienced leader now begins releasing responsibilities to the new, developing leader. As in the previous steps, the leader and apprentice leader should meet regularly to debrief the ministry experience.

4. You do. I watch. We talk.

The apprentice process is almost complete as the new leader grows increasingly more confident in his or her role. Consider how this step might look in a children’s ministry. A children’s group leader, at this point, would give his or her apprentice the opportunity to fulfill all the functions of leadership, with the more experienced leader now looking on and watching the new leader in action.

5. You do. Someone else watches.

This is where the process of reproducing comes full circle. The former apprentice is now leading and begins developing a new apprentice. Ideally, the leader who has developed and released several apprentices will continue to work with those leaders in a coaching capacity.

 
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How To Maintain Unity in the Local Church

A while back I was asked to create a devotional video for christian leaders focusing on the topic of character. I decided to discuss character as it relates to unity in the local church. The passage I shared from is found in 1 Peter 3:8:

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

This may be a great video for your leadership team, eldership or board of directors to watch and discuss together, just to keep the conversation about unity in the church alive and in the open. Enjoy.

Questions:

At the end of this teaching, I ask a few group questions. Here they are for your reference as well.

  • What relationship are you dealing with right now that’s causing strife, division, or discord?
  • What part, if any, are you playing, to fan the flames of that discord?
  • Which of the following words do you feel need to be applied, based on the passage I just read?
  • What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you right now?

Why Churches Struggle Finding A New Pastor

My son loves to fish. A couple summers ago he caught a great fish (see picture) in a pretty small pond. He and his friends even landed a huge snapping turtle! The thing is, Ben has a somewhat unique fishing method. His primary fishing hole is at a pond near our home that has a bridge spanning the middle. He and his friends simply “pick their fish” while looking down over the bridge, and then focus on that catch. They’ve been pretty successful too!

I was talking with a leader the other day about succession planning for the local church. I told him there’s a big difference between Succession Planning and Replacement Planning. It’s a crude illustration, but I found myself sharing about my son’s fishing strategy.

I likened Succession Planning to what my son does at that bridge on the pond. Pick your fish, then focus on that fish until you’ve successfully hooked and brought it in.

Replacement Planning is going to be a lot more like the traditional fishing methods most of us use. Bait, cast, catch a bunch of green stuff. Try again, set the hook, pull in something small and ineffective, try again and again and again, until we catch something close to what we’re looking or hoping for. 

Every pastor wants to find the right person to replace him when it’s time to pass the baton. The problem is, most don’t think to look for that person until it’s too late. Sometimes I’ll receive a call from a pastor who is ready to resign or move on. They ask me, “Can you help me develop a succession plan?” After a few questions I have occasionally answered with, “No. But I’ll help you work on a replacement plan.” 

Succession is about finding one or more candidates for pastoral leadership and then mentoring them until one has shown him or herself ready for leadership. By then, it’s usually obvious to the senior leadership of the church, if not the congregation as well, that the new pastor is in the house. The transition usually goes a lot smoother for everyone.

Replacement is about finding one or more candidates who hopefully fit the bill, and putting them in the saddle, with a prayer that they were the right one. Too often, it turns out they aren’t. By the time you find that out, it’s too late and the church is often sidetracked for months or even years dealing with the repercussions.

Here are a few more differences between succession and replacement planning.

Succession

Replacement

  • Is a process.
  • Is an event.
  • Begins 2-3 years before the transition.
  • Begins 3-6 months before the transition.
  • Is proactive.
  • Is reactive.
  • Prepares the congregation for change.
  • Surprises the congregation with change.
  • Yields expected results.
  • Yields mixed results.
  • Values are embedded into the new leader before succession happens.
  • Values are discovered in the new leader after replacement happens.
  • The new leader holds a high degree of trust by the congregation.
  • The new leader holds a mixed degree of trust by the congregation.

You get the idea. It’s wise to begin developing a succession plan for your church sooner than later. You can begin this process at any time and build it into your overall leadership strategy. It doesn’t matter if the Lead Pastor is 35 years old or 65 years old, it’s worth starting now.

Which plan will your church implement when it’s time to find a new leader?

How To Deal With Volume Complaints

In the same Sunday morning service I’ve had two people approach me with differing complaints – one asked if the worship could be turned up while the other asked if the worship could be turned down. In most churches it seems like the sound is never quite right. The fact is, it’s one of those, “you can’t please everyone” areas. Many years ago I had to navigate a different problem though. The volume was driving people away.

It’s one of the reasons why I wrote the following two posts: Turn the Volume Down! & Turn the Volume Up! as well as why I asked my friend, Josh Cummings, to write this follow-up post: Unlocking the Secrets of Church Sound.

I’d like to offer some advice on dealing with volume complaints. These ideas will help leverage what you believe the volume levels should be each week with the myriad of volume adjusting requests you may have to entertain.

Acknowledge Mistakes.

If the shoe fits, wear it with grace. You should know if the sound was off on a particular Sunday. If it was, simply acknowledge to your listener that he or she is right and that you will be looking into what happened. If you are unsure about whether the sound was grossly off from the standard, still let them know you will be looking into it (and do).

Respect Others’ Opinions.

Intellectually, we know everyone is entitled to their opinions and ideas. Practically, it can be a lot more difficult to respect and honor them. Make sure any person who has a concern or frustration in this area gets your undivided attention. Listen closely to their perspective. Seek to understand it fully. Honor them by recognizing their thoughts are important and matter. Do not try to ‘defend’ or ‘answer back’; let them have their say. Once that is done, kindly seek to help them understand where things stand with the sound.

Know Your Target Audience.

It was a lot easier for me to respond to people’s complaints simply because I knew who our target audience was. Because Elim Gospel Church has a strong desire to reach the younger generations, they are willing to push the envelope a little on volume issues in order to reach them. That’s not to say I would blow people’s complaints off, but I would be armed with the “Why?” behind our reasoning – which often resulted in my listener respecting and sometimes embracing our decision when we were done talking. 

Understand The Challenges.

As I just suggested, volume challenges are often beyond our control because of a lack of training, poor equipment, or bad acoustics. Although none of those difficulties should be given as the ultimate excuse, they should also play a role in helping others understand that resolving volume problems aren’t as simple as they might think. It is extremely important, however, that you ALSO give your listener the confidence that your team is working on solutions to those challenges.

Create and Hold To Your Standards.

It’s a lot harder to argue with well defined, tried and tested, standards. This is why I recommend your church purchase a dB meter and spend some time determining the best sound levels for your room, and sticking with them. This removes some of the ‘personal opinion of the sound person’ challenge. If they are aware of the standard and held responsible to hold to it, then you are much less likely to get complaints, and when you do, you are more likely to be able to respond with confidence. Even better, if you have a digital sound board, learn how to program it for individual bands or band members so that your sound tech is less likely to make mistakes when mixing.

I also recommend reading Willowcreek Church’s Audio Volume Policies. Understand, they are a huge church, but the fact that they have taken the time and energy to figure these things out should be a testimony of the value they find in getting it right. 

Write A Position Paper.

If volume ends up being an ongoing issue for your congregation, consider writing a position paper underlining your values, standards, and limitations. Again, this simplifies communication. You can be sure people are hearing it said the way you want it said, and you can always follow up with people after they’ve read it over. The link mentioned above also points to Willowcreek Church’s Audio Volume Open Letter. It’s a great example of what your position paper might look/sound like.

Ask Your Sound Team To Subscribe To www.behindthemixer.com.

You can address concerns with your congregation a lot easier when you know your team is well trained and not just doing a ‘hack job’ of it. Ask each sound tech to subscribe to www.behindthemixer.com to keep them focused, sharp and on the cutting edge of all things church sound!

How To Offer Amazing Ministry With Not So Amazing People

I recently visited a local gym who was offering a week membership for free. I was truly impressed. They had a wide range of workout rooms and exercise equipment and a beautiful facility. When I arrived for the first time, they gave me a tour of the facility and made themselves available to help me get acclimated to any of the equipment I didn’t understand. The offer to help wasn’t really necessary since there were instructional signs and videos available explaining how to use each machine.

They converted an inexperienced and mildly overwhelmed guy (that’d be me) into a confident individual who had the right tools he needed to get great results. At the very minimum, it would be hard to NOT have at least an average workout, though I’d definitely rate my experience above average, if not exceptional. 

Great systems turned the wrong person into the right person and quickly converted average results into maximized results.

The Systems/People Matrix

Let me introduce a revolutionary matrix that, if properly applied, just might change your perspective on how to offer amazing ministry with not so amazing people.

 

I call this diagram the Systems/People Matrix. It has been adapted from a similar graph I found in Nelson Searcy’s e-book, “Healthy Systems, Healthy Church“). 

The point of this matrix is simple. When you have great systems, you can often recruit people who aren’t necessarily the ‘right ones’ and eventually develop them into the right people over time. Amazing ministry happens not just because we have the best people in place, but because we have great systems that give people time to become the best people.

Let’s look at each quadrant a little closer:

Down and to the Right

When you have poor systems, but great people, your end result is frustration. That is, the people serving are frustrated, and the longer they serve in that role the more frustrated they become. This often eventually leads to volunteer or staff turnover. They love doing what they are doing and are passionate about it, but they don’t feel valued or cared for and don’t feel like they are equipped or empowered to do the job right.

RESULT: Not so amazing ministry.

EXAMPLE 1: A Sunday School teacher shows up to teach the class and discovers that the toys are dirty and put away in the wrong boxes from last week. She spends the first ten minutes putting them in order and getting all the toy pieces back where they belong. Those ten minutes were supposed to be spent preparing the craft and quieting herself before everyone arrives. The next time she arrives to teach, she discovers all the crayons are broken and the cereal box was left open so the cereal is stale.

EXAMPLE 2: The drummer shows up for worship team rehearsal 10 minutes early to prepare and make sure the drums are setup the way he likes and so he can warm up. When the worship rehearsal time arrives he discovers only two people have arrived. He waits 15 minutes before everyone else gets there and takes the stage. It then takes another 15 minutes to do the sound check and get the monitors mixed properly. He wonders if he should just show up 30 minutes late from now on and forget about warming up.

Down and to the Left

If you don’t have good people in the designated role, and you don’t have any systems to serve them, you’ll end up with failure. There’s really no way meaningful ministry can happen consistently in that environment.

RESULT: No Ministry.

EXAMPLE 1: A Sunday School teacher doesn’t really care about doing anything other than making sure the kids don’t hurt themselves. She doesn’t particularly enjoy kids either, but she serves because she knows it’s important. Since there are no systems in place to provide great toys, craft supplies and a lesson plan to the teachers, she literally just comes every week and spends her time trying to keep the kids occupied and prevent them from hurting themselves. Afterwards, kids leave the room crying or bored and the teacher leaves exhausted and ready to quit. As a result, the parents are frustrated that their kids aren’t getting any valuable teaching and don’t want to attend class and it becomes increasingly difficult to find reliable volunteers to run the class.

EXAMPLE 2: A volunteer is recruited to build a website for the church because he has some web experience. Since nobody gave him any instruction, images or content, he just creates a basic and simple site that ends up missing a lot of crucial data. And since all he was recruited to do was build the site, and not manage it, three months after it’s completed most of the information on the site is dated and some of the pages are broken. Guests who visit the site often choose to visit somewhere else simply because the website is so outdated and unprofessional looking.

Up and to the Left

The top left quadrant is the one that fascinates me the most. In this quadrant you have great systems in place, but not the greatest people serving in those roles. Perhaps the people are new, immature, unskilled, or simply not passionate about what they are doing. Despite this, the results will very often be average and sometimes above average. A great example of this in the business world would be your local fast food joint, like McDonalds, Arby’s, or Taco Bell. I’m fairly certain most of those employees don’t dream about making fast food service a career path or have a lot of previous training flipping burgers and taking orders. And yet, it’s highly likely you will receive similar service and products no matter where you make your order in the entire world. Why? Amazing Systems. 

RESULT: Nearly Amazing Ministry.

EXAMPLE 1: A hesitant single adult has agreed to do a ‘3 month test drive’ as a Sunday School teacher. At first, she is nervous she made a bad decision because she has never worked with kids much. But after attending two sessions as an apprentice, receiving great follow-up training and walking into the classroom each week with everything in it’s place and simple, easy to follow, instructions on the inside door, she has decided it’s not that hard and a lot of fun. At the end of the 3 months, she’s committed to serve another year and has already proven to be the ‘right person for the job.’

EXAMPLE 2: A volunteer that normally comes in on Saturdays to fold and stuff the bulletins calls in sick the last minute. The secretary has a substitute list of potential backups, but they have never actually done the job. She makes the call and as the backup arrives she spends 5 minutes walking her through a checklist and showing her the machinery, which is also well labelled with instructions. As a result, the job gets done as expected and the volunteer felt like she was able to help the church ‘on the fly’.

Up and to the Right

This quadrant represents not average ministry or even above average, but maximized ministry. Staff and volunteers are serving where they believe they are called to serve and they have the training and gifts needed to do it. Since there are great systems in place, they spend a lot of their time and energy actually ministering to people and improving the overall ministry of the church. Often, they move on to become the influencers within that sphere of responsibility. 

Result: Amazing Ministry.

EXAMPLE 1: The sound tech loves to do sound ministry, and over time he has learned how to do it well and is good at it. On top of that, the expectations, systems, and tasks necessary to do the job are well defined. As a result, he helps recruit and train new sound techs and is currently working on learning some advanced tech that will eventually help the church know how to best place the speakers in the room to maximize their capacity and actually minimize loud hot-spots in the room.

EXAMPLE 2: A Sunday School teacher serves twice a month in the four year old class and absolutely loves it. He actually looks forward to those Sundays. Since he knows exactly what to expect each Sunday morning there is little stress associated in the job. In fact, the children’s director has created room in the timeline of ministry to kids to allow him to personally pray over each child every week. He recently started a blog for parents of preschoolers at the church and is personally ensuring that each preschool teacher writes on it once a month. His love for the ministry is so contagious that the adults in his small group are thinking about volunteering too. 

I have a challenge for you . . . write out each area of ministry or responsibility you have delegated to other staff or volunteers. Now ask yourself which quadrant that ministry falls in, and what you need to do to improve the systems to better serve those serving within them.

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