Your volunteer teams are some of the most important elements of your church’s ministry, whether they minister to your children, serve as greeters, or help lead your church’s worship team. No matter how powerful your preaching is or how dynamic your music is, dysfunctional volunteer teams will damage your church quickly.
I believe there are eight characteristics of effective teams that every volunteer team should embody. Together, they make up an acronym, T.E.A.M.W.O.R.K. I shared four of them in last week’s Ministry Toolbox article:
- T – Trust
- E – Economy of Energy
- A – Affirmation and Appreciation
- M – Management of Mistakes
Here are the other four characteristics of strong volunteer teams.
W – Well-planned Meetings
For years at Saddleback I asked my team to bring a brief weekly report on a 3-by-5 card to our staff meetings. Those report cards became our weekly meeting agenda. They provided important feedback about our weekly worship services.
In the same way, if you want your volunteer teams to flourish, you need to make good use of their time. Every meeting should have a clear purpose and be well-designed beforehand. Draft an agenda with a specific purpose for everything on that list. Distribute the agendas, potentially even a day or so before the meeting, so everyone knows what to expect and why their participation is so crucial.
When you don’t plan your meetings well, you waste your volunteers’ time. High-capacity leaders won’t continue to serve if they don’t believe you value their time.
O – Open Communication
From my experience, poor communication is the number one cause of problems on church teams. Frankly, if a team is working toward a common goal and engages in good communication, that team is unstoppable. If communication goes awry, though, you’re in trouble.
What can block the strength of how our volunteer teams communicate?
- Presumption—We assume every problem can be viewed from one angle, every person thinks just like us, and everyone stays the same (they never change their behavior). None of those statements are true, but we presume they are (even unconsciously). The hardest thing to open is a closed mind.
- Impatience—We can listen to about 650 words a minute, but people speak at about 150 words a minute. That 500-word difference often leads to impatience. We want to finish sentences for people, rather than listen to what they’re saying.
- Pride—Pride makes us defensive. We think we know all the answers. That’s why we must learn to ask questions constantly.
It’s important that you model these skills so your volunteer teams see the value and impact of good communication. If you’re letting presumption, impatience, or pride impede communication with others, your volunteers will pick up that behavior and potentially imitate it.
R – Recognition
Recognition builds team spirit. Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act” (NIV). In other words, when you can do something good for someone, don’t delay it. For your volunteer teams, that “good” can be recognition.
The more credit we give others, the better we’ll develop team spirit among our volunteers. Recognition only costs time, and it’s incredibly rewarding.
Celebrate your volunteers’ successes in public as much as possible. Send them handwritten notes. Make recognition such a part of the rhythm of how your church engages volunteers that all ministry leaders make it a regular practice themselves.
K – Knowledge
It’s not just you and your staff who need to grow—your volunteers should always be growing as well. Proverbs 18:15 says, “The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them” (TLB). Growing churches require growing ministry teams.
How can your volunteers keep growing?
- By reading—I’ve said for years that all leaders are readers. Those who lead volunteers need to recommend books to their teams.
- By attending conferences and seminars—Finding conferences that will help your volunteers grow is a great investment. Even if your church can’t pay the costs of your volunteers to attend, if you make them aware of the opportunities, many will pay their own way.
- By having mentors—Try to connect volunteers to people who have more experience, even if they’re serving at another church.
Build these eight principles into all of your volunteer teams, and you’ll be amazed at what God will do through them. As a church leader, you have an important responsibility to model the T.E.A.M.W.O.R.K. principles to other staff and volunteer leaders. As they see you practicing these principles, they will incorporate them into how they engage their teams as well.