When you look out upon the vast landscape of ministry, what do you see? What draws your immediate attention? Particular programs, complex processes, overwhelming needs, significant opportunity? Perhaps you are drawn to all the tasks, troubles, and timelines that ministry today seems to require. To be sure, it’s all there, and no matter the size of your ministry there’s a lot of it! In fact, there is so much that no one person - despite his or her talents, gifts, abilities, or anointing - can get it all done. Early in His ministry, Jesus recognized the simple fact that he couldn’t do it all and that He’d need help. Jesus’ solution? Volunteers. Today, we call twelve of Jesus’ early volunteers apostles. .
Ministry strategy hasn’t change much over the past millennia. Today, there is still too much to do but not enough time to do it, and no one person possesses the talents, gifts, abilities, or anointing to do it all. Your solution? Volunteers!
People are the one resource every church has more than anything else. Churches have more people than money, space or staff. That means to be effective we must have a good game plan in place for helping those who come and see to become people who come and serve.
What would happen if we began to see the people in our church as our greatest asset? What if our approach to training volunteers was as intentional and integral as training players on a sports team or growing leaders for business?
When we as church leaders shift our mindset and see our volunteers as true disciples and adjust our practices to reflect that importance accordingly, the trajectory of our ministry makes an immediate upward tilt. It takes that type of mindset to develop a thriving group of volunteers who serve with passion and love what they do and who they do it for.
What results is the foundation of a thriving volunteers ministry.
“Your Volunteers: Place” guides you through the process of connecting people with the work in which they will thrive and equips you with the strategies and tools required to effectively steward the Church’s number one resource - people.
How well do you know your volunteers? Do you know their God-given gifts, what they love to do, what hobbies they pursue and what they dream about? If you think about it, online companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook (among lots of others) know a lot more about your volunteers’ preferences than you do! How? Because they track online behavior.
If our ministry to volunteers is going to change in any significant way, we need to get to know and record their preferences, passions, personalities, and performance. Yet how do we get to know our volunteers? Can we do as well as those online groups do?
We certainly don’t have the resources of a Google, Amazon, or Facebook at our disposal. Yet the only pathway to placing volunteers in roles for which they are gifted and anointed is by getting to know them. That’s quite a challenge for a church of any size.
The Jigsaw Puzzle Approach
So, how do we get to know so many people at such different points in life? Let me share the quickest, simplest, and most effective method I’m aware of; maybe it’ll work for you.
Have you ever attempted to complete a jigsaw puzzle? The box presents the picture on the outside. But when you take off the lid and look inside, you find hundreds (or thousands) of little pieces — what a complicated mess! But that mess, once properly connected, replicates the picture on the front of the box. Some puzzles are easy. Most are not.
The same is true with a volunteer in your church. You’ve got a jigsaw puzzle with a grand picture on the outside, but inside there are hundreds (or thousands) of pieces that make up the complete picture of that person.
Start With the Basics
People are incredibly complicated—and often a bit of a mess. It takes time and effort for a leader to put the pieces together and understand why a person is the way he or she is. And that’s for just one person. How do we possibly manage such a feat for the entire church? “Impossible,” you might conclude. You’re probably right. You can’t possibly spend every waking minute of every day putting together the jigsaw puzzle of each person in your church. It is important, however, to determine a manageable and reliable way to get to know those people God brings to you and your ministry. That’s what we need to do if we are going to enjoy the success of a thriving volunteer ministry.
I haven’t completed very many jigsaw puzzles, but I’ve started lots of them. I’ve also watched other people work on them as well. Whether a beginner or a veteran “jigsawer,” they all start assembling the pieces just as I did. They identify the corners and edges as quickly as possible and put those pieces together first. In other words they work on the frame of the puzzle. The secret to placing people in ministry is identifying their four corners and their edges—the frame. That is typically done quickly, easily, and at little to no cost. Just about anyone can do it.
Working the Problem – 3 Clear Tasks
The key is looking at the placement of a volunteer the same way you’d start to assemble a jigsaw puzzle—by learning the basics about them (placing the corners and the edges). Then you will get a great sense of who the person is and go a long way to placing them in a ministry role where they can thrive. In time, through observation, feedback, and results, you will be able to place various inside pieces, allowing you to see and understand even more about the person. Here is what I’ve learned about this jigsaw placement process:
- I don’t need to know everything about my volunteers. In fact it’s better to begin with the basics and add to your knowledge and awareness of them along the journey together. Many of the assessments, personality type indicators, and personal profile tools available today are intimidating from a potential volunteer’s perspective, and they are often viewed as entirely impersonal. When you consider that many folks don’t know themselves well enough to type out accurately anyway, the simplicity of a jigsaw construct may just be a better, more accurate starting point for you.
- I do need to know something. You need to understand enough about people within the context of their relationship with the church (corners and edges) to make probable placements. The quickest way to determine their four corners is to learn what they value most. What is most important to them? This is most often revealed by how people spend their extra time and money—if they have any! Ask questions, then listen. You’ll soon know what I call “the four corners” of the people you interact with. If you understand what a person values in the world around him or her, you can make a very accurate initial placement decision.
- I need to record what I discover about people. You’re not going to remember all that you discover about people. Even if you could, others in your ministry don’t have access to what you know. I strongly encourage you to find a record-keeping system that works for you. In today’s social media, digital, fast-paced, information-overloaded world, it’s becoming more and more important to know specific information versus only general information regarding those we lead and serve. Consider your church management system as an investment in ministry versus an expense of ministry. Utilize it to the fullest and you’ll connect more people with more ministry more quickly and more easily than ever.
You might notice all these steps to knowing your volunteers are things you must do. It’s up to you—and your ministry teams—to get to know your people by pursuing them (remember the parable of the lost sheep?). I know that when someone pursues me to learn about who I am and what I’m passionate about, I have a sense that they care. Your volunteers will feel the same when you seek them out.
Ministry flows from relationships, so let’s relate with those we want in ministry. Most volunteers don’t want to complete a lengthy assessment, and it’s worth mentioning again: many people aren’t self-aware enough for an assessment to be a big help anyway. To make accurate connections between available roles and someone’s interests, passions, gifting, and anointing takes someone who’ll get to know that person, at least a little bit.
This is precisely why most direct appeals from the platform don’t work for anything other than the most elementary volunteer positions. Placement isn’t about staffing a production team of random people; it is about knowing enough about a person to pursue him or her and make a personal appeal with a customized opportunity to fit interests, skills, passions, and giftedness.
By the way, don’t fret if it takes some time to complete the full puzzle of a person. Just be sure to capture the information you learn and then be consistent in recording it after your interactions with them. The jigsaw puzzle of “them” will begin to emerge. Also, be adaptive. As you learn more about your volunteers and have additional interactions with them, you’ll find that your initial impressions weren’t spot on. No problem. Just change a corner or two and some of the edge pieces to make it accurate.
There is nothing that makes volunteers feel more valued than when you understand who they are and that you’re genuinely interested in helping them serve in roles that perfectly fit how God has designed them.
Four Ways to Effectively Engage
As you place volunteers, you'll learn:
- Good placement begins with active listening. Listen for the cues people give about their hobbies, interests, experiences, skills, and backgrounds. As you do, you’ll learn quickly where they’d like to participate in acts of service toward others.
- Active listening begins and ends with questions. To listen well (remember the stock symbol LSTN), make eye contact and don’t talk. Ask open-ended questions that give space for people to reveal more about who they are. I’ll also mention don’t interrupt, because I need to remind myself of that one.
- Good questions lead to insightful conversations. When you pick up on something someone says or does that is of particular meaning or interest, continue the dialogue around that subject.
- Insightful conversations help you connect with people. People may forget that they said hi to you in the hall between weekend services, but they won’t forget if you took the time to talk with them about meaningful things. Most of us live busy lives. We rush to, from, and through church to get on with the rest of our day. When we genuinely connect with others, we create space for ministry placement opportunities and . . . Viola! Your empty roles get filled when you take time to talk with people.
I’ve learned that ministry placement is often for a season, and as your volunteers mature and transition or as life happens, they may seek new or different opportunities. That’s okay. Placement is an ongoing cycle, not a one-and-done task.
The Right Person—The Right Place—The Right Time
Placement is about getting the right person in the right place at the right time. But times change. In other words, how accurately does the jigsaw puzzle you started months or years ago match the picture on the box today? It all depends on how much of the picture you have put together at any point in time.
Matching the picture and the person is the secret to placement that leads to volunteers who have fun, are fulfilled, and experience fruit from their effort. It’s not very likely that these volunteers are quitting anytime soon!
A few years ago, I met Mark, the senior pastor at Faith Community Church in San Diego. He was looking for some answers on moving ministry forward. He wanted his volunteers to see the overall vision of the church and how their roles fit into achieving it.
The Importance of Communicating the Vision
Upon some diagnostics and initial work together, it became clear that the church’s communication of the vision needed clarification. Once people understood the vision, it was much easier to draw volunteers for specific missional assignments and then support them in a way that would make them volunteers for life—not necessarily doing the same role forever but by being committed enough to the overall vision to stay involved in ways that used their gifts to contribute to the success of the church.
Just one year later, Mark had a 100% retention rate of his new volunteers, and church growth was over 30% for the year. It all started with having an engaged and productive group of volunteers who were committed to the vision and to seeing positive fruit for the kingdom.
When we make the mistake of managing people and leading with systems, our goal is obvious to everyone: simply fill the openings with a warm body. “Who can help me now?” becomes the battle cry. If we do that long enough, we’ll cry—because we end up with unfulfilled volunteers doing subpar ministry in a lackadaisical manner. Nobody wins in that scenario.
However, when we lead people and manage systems, we understand the profound effect that proper placement can have on the success and growth of any ministry. The wins rack up. As we’ve already learned, this is how energy and momentum are created—the two best friends of any leader!
Placement done well will require a bit more time and effort on the front end, but the payoff will be well worth it. Your constant attention and adjustment will be rewarded—so watch for how your volunteers grow and change over time, and keep your eyes and ears open for placing more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that accurately depicts each one of your volunteers. You’ll be glad that you did. (And so will they.)
The puzzles that make up your volunteers are varied and even changing. Deciphering the code, solving the puzzle can be daunting, but not impossible!