I don’t claim to be the best at dealing with volunteers. I’m pretty introverted, I don’t send weekly emails and thank-you notes (though I should), I make a lot of mistakes, and I am terrible at scheduling. However there are a few things that I have learned to make up for some of my faults. Hopefully these tips can help you (who is already amazing at the weekly emails) be even more awesome!
1. Be an includer
Give everyone a chance, even if they don’t have an IT or production background. In student ministry we have more freedom in this. We’re in the back of the room, and because of this, kids that feel more comfortable by the glow of a monitor than other kids tend to creep back to the booth. In other ministries this may be looked at as a problem, but we’ve learned to embrace it. When a student comes over that doesn’t want to “be in the crowd”, we give them a headset and let them run something. And then we start talking to them. Talk about their family life, their favorite video games, Mac vs. PC, and talk with them about the message that is going on on stage. They (and we) end up having a closer encounter with the Church than actually sitting in the audience!
2. Make things easy
When we go about buying a piece of equipment, it has to be easy. My goal is for a tech-team member to be able to sit down, I teach them the gist once and they have the confidence to be able to run with it. Obviously they won’t be able to learn every feature, but my goal initially is confidence. They can click around before and after service to dive into the nooks-and-crannies of it. What I don’t want to sit a student in front of a NASA-like desk and hand them an instruction manual. Most of our volunteers have never run tech before. I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed and run away. So we try to divide out tasks when possible. Can one person run lyrics and graphics? Absolutely! But if we can divide that position in two parts, we have more students to talk about Jesus with and they feel less stressed. You see, we don’t just want it to be easy for the sake of easy. We want our volunteers to be able to run the service AND listen AND take part. If I have a student that is so stressed out about the job that they have been given, they may miss something that God has to say to them. I don’t want what we do to be a hindrance to what He wants to do!
3. Don’t force perfection
It took me a long time to kill the sacred cow of perfection, but I now realize that there is something inauthentic about it. You see, God is perfect, and I want to give Him the most excellent service as a gift of worship. However, the moment that I make perfection of a service the main goal of the service, I feel like I have marred the beauty of the bride. We’ve developed a culture in our service that says that you don’t have to be perfect to be on stage, or in the booth OR in the crowd. God just wants us to be us, not for us to put on some elaborate show for Him every week. Now, do we want everything to happen perfectly? Yes! Do we still teach and strive for it? Absolutely! But we brush off mistakes and learn from them, rather than make huge deals out of them. This relaxed approach also helps with the “making things easy” part above!
4. Communicate value of each individual volunteer
I want every volunteer that walks into our booth to feel a connection with someone that day. I want that student to feel like someone cares about them, that they matter, that the things they are dealing with the other 167 hours of the week are important. So I encourage our leaders to have a conversation with the students. I try to make sure that everyone doesn’t just walk in, push their buttons, and leave. They are cared for, prayed for and heard!
This thinking traverses through everything. When looking for leaders in tech, I try not to look for the person that is showing the most skill in doing the tasks. I look for the student or adult that makes others feel important. I usually find that that volunteer, not the prodigy, will produce many more volunteers, conversations, and opportunities.
5. Teach a lot
I love to nerd-out about the equipment that we play with. Some of our volunteers love the behind-the-scenes aspect of what we do and want to do this when they grow up. So, in our downtime, I teach them. We have a whiteboard in our room. We draw diagrams, I ask them questions, I let them unplug something and see what happens, I give them theories and homework and challenges. I also try to do this with the Bible or art or programming. This not only opens the door to the topic of conversation, but also gives that volunteer the opportunity and confidence to talk though almost anything! I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had about how a video system works has led to a conversation about home life or a sin struggle. But if you show the time to teach anything the respect will be there for them to ask you anything.
6. Don’t make it only about the tech
To me, the most important thing is the people. And people want to be known. They want their lives to matter. And serving on a tech team will only go so far. The Bible teaches us that our identity is to be defined by Christ, not our sins or the things we do. I don’t want to teach my volunteers that everything that matters centers around tech. So, we talk about lots of stuff, not just about video systems and graphics. Sure, I could talk for days bout that stuff, but serving in production is not about the production but about the producers of it. I want to know about the people that God has surrounded me with. I want to know who they think they are and show them that no matter what is happening at home, God loves them! Tech is a gateway to real conversation and the church being the Church!