Pastor First. Tech Second.

Carl Barnhill

This is the secret sauce to building a dynamic volunteer culture at your church.

You have to care more about who your volunteers are becoming more than what they do on your team. Your goal should be to create a community, not use people to push a button. Make sure you and your leaders tell everyone coming into your team and all your current volunteers often how much you love and care about them. Your actions need to show them this is true.

Below are 7 ideas for helping you think about making sure the people are coming before the process:

1. Encourage three times more than you critique.
Critiquing your service with your volunteers is very important. You always want to improve. But if all they hear is critique, that’s a hard environment to find joy serving in. Make encouragement a major part of your routine. Be consistent in calling out the good things your volunteers are doing. Encourage both in one-on-one settings and in group settings. People love to be praised.

2. Know their name and their story.
This is very important, especially with new volunteers. Calling them by name when you see them goes a long way. Introduce them to as many veteran volunteers as you can. Write things down if you have to to refer to it before seeing someone again. Knowing their name and some of their story (their salvation story, their family, their job) will show them you care.

3. Schedule 2-3 times a week where you intentionally spend one-on-one time with volunteers.

I reserved every Tuesday and Thursday from 11am-1pm to have lunch with a volunteer. I reserved two hours to make sure I wasn’t “rushed to get back to a meeting” or something that would rush my time to listen to them. I also tried to schedule meetings later in the afternoon to not interfere with this time.

I advertised on our Production Facebook page, in my e-mails to the team, and in person that I was free for lunch every Tuesday and Thursday for whomever would like to schedule one. Obviously, this was for guys only – no one-on-one lunches with women that aren’t your wife. To cover the ladies, my wife started a ladies Bible Study for production ladies, or spouses and significant others.

4. Give them grace when they mess up.
I’ve been a part of a production environment at a church and several in secular situations where when a mistake happens, people get yelled at. It’s sad, but very true. Nobody likes to be yelled at, especially when you’re volunteering your time. Now, there are times when big mistakes happen that are very visible and you have to deal with those. In my experience, most of the time, they know the mistake and will beat themselves up much more than you should. You yelling at them even more doesn’t help. The best thing you can do in those moments is offer grace.You need to protect your team. If a staff leader comes to you about a problem, talk with that staff person in private and assure that leader that you are addressing the issue – don’t have the conversation in front of your team. Protect them from hearing some of the messy part of ministry.Now, if there is a pattern of big mistakes from the same person, for the good of the experience, you may need to graciously move them to another position on your team or if its a big enough issue, they may need to be moved to another ministry. Don’t be afraid of these decisions. Mistakes will happen – its live! But in every mess up, small or large, offer grace. Your team will see how you react. Be gracious.

5. Set them up for success.
If you’ve ever worked at a ‘day job’, if your first day on the job you were thrown into a position with no training or practice, could you succeed at a high level? Why is it different in church world? You can’t expect people from all walks of life to walk in on a Sunday with no prior knowledge or practice on your gear and expect them to know what they are doing. Plus, you’re living with the content and the gear all week, they are not. When I was on staff at Newspring Church, we implemented a pretty extensive training process for new volunteers.We did that for two main reasons:
1- we wanted to execute our services at a very high level
2- we wanted volunteers to be fully comfortable running a position by themselves before being alone on a Sunday
There was no ‘throwing them to the wolves’ and hope everything went well. We tried to set them up for success by training them (a lot) before Sunday. And they thanked us for it, because they gained confidence in going into a Sunday.

6. Try to not make the technical parts of a volunteer position personal.
I am very passionate when I direct a service. I have a lot of fun, but I wanted the team to know that if I get passionate in a moment its because of the intensity of the moment and not about them personally.


Let me give you some examples of what I mean here:
-Obviously never harshly criticize their technical ability – “any dummy can run ProPresenter”, “It doesn’t take a genius to get a great camera shot!”
-Something I would try to do if I remembered when directing a service is to critique using the name of the position (“I need a shot Camera 2.”, “CG, I need those lyrics up.”) and praise using the name of the person (“Great shot Brian!”, “Way to lead those lyrics, Susan!”).

7. Be a friend in their life celebrations and struggles.

When your team gets really large in number, you can’t minister to everyone by yourself. I struggled with this. You must raise up leaders to help pastor your people. It’s important for you and members of the team to share in life victories and struggles.The team should know and celebrate birthdays, weddings, new babies, baptisms, and other big moments in people’s lives. The team should also know and share in life struggles and heartaches – deaths and funerals, miscarriages, lay-off’s, major medical issues, etc. People will remember your presence more than anything. Share life with them, and they’ll know you care.

Pastor your people first.
Then worry about them knowing how to execute a service.

What are other ways you put pastoring first and show your volunteers how much you care about them?

About Carl Barnhill

Owner, Church Visuals

Carl Barnhill is a creative entrepreneur, motion designer and author. He is the Owner Church Visuals, a company that helps Ministry Leaders visually communicate the Gospel. He is the host of the Your Visuals Matter Podcast. You can find him in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife, Katie and two sons, Jacob and Wesley.

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