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Lead A Better Story is an organization providing you with everything you need to develop and grow your small group ministry. We would love to share some of the things that we’ve found to be most effective in developing a healthy, thriving small groups model.

Join us for a FREE live 3-part webinar on May 24, May 29, and June 5 where we’ll hear from the nations top small group pastors on the topics of recruiting, training, and retaining small group leaders. RSVP here!

If everything rises and falls on the leadership of your groups, create a plan for recruitment, training and on-going development of your leaders before you launch your small groups. And secondly, who is going to recruit and train the new leaders of these new groups?

Even if you are only starting with a handful of groups, a plan for growth is wise. You may not need a plan for one hundred groups now, but you should be thinking a stage or two ahead. What will change when we move from five groups to 10? Or from 25 to 50?

Choosing the right leader is only part of the equation. Deciding how you will recruit leaders and what expectations you’ll place on these leaders will allow them to know what they are stepping into. Additionally, a clear and consistent plan of development will allow the leader to lead more effectively.

What does the right training look like? How do you help brand new leaders start successful small groups? There is an abundance of resources on training new small group leaders. But if you were to download everything you know about small groups to a new leader, you would overwhelm them. Why?

An exhaustive message will exhaust a leader. The reason is this: adults learn on a need-to-know basis, and this includes your small group leader.

Think through what a new leader would absolutely have to know in the first six to eight weeks of their new small group. What do you need to tell your new leader about the meeting time, how to communicate with their group members, how to lead the new group members through getting to know one another? What does your new leader need to know about selecting their first study, or how to address group expectations?

These are all things that a new leader would need to know in the first weeks of their group. After that, you can address needs as they come up. You can also create a development plan to address some of the more common issues that arise within a group. For example, how do you navigate the over-talker, or lack of attendance, or help the leader walk through a care issue in the group? These are topics that are important, but ones that your leader will need to know over time, and not immediately.

Lastly, do you have a staff member or volunteer who will be devoted to coaching both new leaders and existing leaders? Leaders both need to and want to feel supported by their church. They want to know that there is someone they can go to for help and support. Who is that within your organization?

Our friends at Live A Better Story wrote this post. Live A Better Story provides a strategy for effective adult small group ministry. Try it for free for a limited time! Download the 6-week “Story of My Life” study here.

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It’s been said that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While there is now a dispute about whether the business management leader Peter Drucker ever really said it, we believe that the statement remains true. A company or ministry culture will “eat” or thwart any attempt to create, enforce, or move strategies or vision that is incompatible with the culture that has been established within a group of people.  

Culture, or accrual of information within a group of people that affects the way they behave, will dictate how people go about fulfilling vision and duties. For example, if one of your strategies heightens safety in ministry but volunteers are placed in ministry roles without conversations and background checks because the main urgency is to fill a vacancy, then you will soon find that other safety measures will go lacking. And it will become the new culture to fix things quickly rather than correctly. Most people will agree that establishing a healthy culture is necessary to a healthy ministry. However, the question remains, how does healthy culture happen? 

A Strong Foundation

Healthy culture starts with a strong foundation much like a healthy body needs strong bones. When bones are broken, cracked, fractured, or even weak it affects the body’s ability to remain strong and perform the functions for which it was created. The same is true of culture. It is difficult to establish culture without the foundations of vision and strategy. These foundations prevent confusion, dissention, and wasted resources. Caring about the people on our teams requires taking the time to pray and discover where the ministry is going and how it is going to get there. Once vision and strategy are established, lay the foundation well, build strong bones, by communicating it in consistent and relevant ways that strengthen and align all ministry components and participants. 

Flexibility

As a healthy body requires flexible muscles, healthy culture requires flexible minds that have been stretched by continual learning. Leaders are learners and continually learning keeps us in a posture of humility. It reminds us that we don’t know it all. Learning keeps us from becoming “right” about everything and our egos from becoming inflated. Learning also keeps us growing. It prevents us from becoming stale in an industry that is always changing as kids and students age, generations change, and popular culture affects patterns and behaviors. Our muscles of ministry must remain flexible, pliable, and willing to move lest we become egotistically irrelevant to the generation we are called to serve and the people we serve with. Everyone can be stretched to learn, grow, and lead together. 

Learning keeps us from becoming “right” about everything and our egos from becoming inflated.
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Fuel

A healthy body requires fuel to keep going. Without that fuel, food and water, the body will break down and stop operating at its highest capacity. Healthy culture needs fuel that is often provided by the data of success. Take time to celebrate small and big wins. Keep track of where the ministry is now, where it is going, and when your team accomplishes things in the winning direction. This data, or fuel, will be necessary as teammates get tired or discouraged when difficult days arise. The fuel of celebration keeps the energy positive. Negative energy is draining and only attracts negative people. Positive energy and positive people who have been fueled by data that shows progress will keep everyone moving in the same direction. 

Jesus Christ is our Blood

One of the most important components of a healthy body is blood! It is rarely seen but if it stops flowing correctly the body is in trouble. It is a powerful internal source of life. As is with the blood in our body, the centrality of the power that we hold through the blood of Jesus Christ must remain our central focus. Without it, we become organizations that are designed to do good but without focus on the purpose for which the Church was created. There is power in remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—His shed blood for us and the families we serve—so that we all can be in relationship with Him. That sacrifice, the cross, and victory, the resurrection, must stay central in our personal lives and remain the source that keeps all vision and strategy moving forward. 

There is power in remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—His shed blood for us and the families we serve—so that we all can be in relationship with Him.
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Building A Championship Culture

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I cannot quite picture the exact scene, but I definitely remember the rush of emotions. I will never forget what it felt like to see my family’s response to my report card results. For the most part, they were filled with stellar grades and kind remarks. Occasionally though, there were a few indicators accompanied by brief comments about my bad conduct. (I was a clown.) Fortunately, the good grades outweighed the bad conduct and the joyous memories of being a great student will forever remain in my mind. 

Report cards aid in providing parameters to gauge proficiency. They are also helpful at providing a little bit more clarity, beyond what our kids share when asked how school is going. They help us to see what to work on more or less, as we guide them through academia. Without report cards and other types of measurement systems, whatever we do can be assumed as good.  

The same is true for the volunteers we lead. No matter how good our orientation process is, without recurring evaluation, we are not setting up our volunteers for success. Our volunteers have no idea how they are doing unless we tell them otherwise. Unless we share how amazing they are at their role, they may assume that they are mediocre. 

The same is true for us. Our annual or semi-annual reviews at work help us to know where we stand. Getting those pats on the back and notes about areas of improvement not only help our personal performance, but our company’s as well. What would our ministries look like if we developed some forms of evaluation for our volunteers? 

Here are a few suggestions as you get started creating an evaluation system or tweaking one that you already have in place: 

Know Your Team 

As leaders, it can be easy for us to enter a space and make a judgment call on what is good and what could be worked on. But without really understanding why things are the way they are, we are just giving opinions based on brief observations. When evaluating our volunteers, let us not judge a book by its cover. That is like deciding how good a movie will be based on the trailer—and I think we have learned not to do that. 

I have consulted ministries that want that kind of perspective on the front end, but learning why they do what they do provides greater insight and allows me to give even better direction. Imagine a stranger giving your annual review, instead of the supervisor that has known you for a while. Their assessment would not be accurate. 

Similarly, it would not be fair to evaluate the volunteers we do not know. We cannot truly evaluate someone’s strengths and weaknesses without first knowing their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, I encourage you to get to know your volunteers before or during the evaluation. Doing so will not only help you know more about those you lead, it will help to place them where they best fit in your ministry. That is definitely helpful if we have recently joined a team. 

We cannot truly evaluate someone’s strengths and weaknesses without first knowing their strengths and weaknesses.
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Measure What Matters 

Simplification is best for everyone. Too many principles, processes and procedures, will ensure that almost none of them will be focused on or executed well. Determine the few things that matter most in your ministry and only measure those. Doing so will help clarify your focus and minimize confusion. 

I have found it very helpful to use the five Lead Small principles as a framework. As our team was accustomed to hearing the values of being present, creating a safe place, partnering with parents, making it personal and moving them out, it only made sense to evaluate them by those principles. 

If you don’t know where to start or you are looking for a simple evaluation measurement, the Lead Small principles may be the way to go. 

Set the Stage 

No surprises please. I am a huge fan of surprises when it comes to birthdays, Christmas, and general gift giving. However, I do not think it would be a good idea to have an impromptu evaluation. So, let’s not get the clipboards out just yet. 

I like to think that the word evaluation implies something measured over time—meaning we have observed something or someone for a period of time and can give a good assessment or review. Develop a plan to observe your volunteers over a period of time. That way, you have at least some information from which to gauge your evaluation. 

Give your volunteers plenty of advance notice. Better yet, if you have staff and volunteer leaders, take them through the process first. Ensuring consistent understanding and language is vital for every process, procedure, and change, most importantly. 

Be clear about what the evaluation is, why you are doing it, and when it will take place. 

Determine a Frequency 

Along with sharing when the evaluations will take place, it is also a good idea to share how often they will occur. This will vary across the spectrum because of the variety of ways in which we all do ministry. But as you think about what will work best for your ministry dynamics, think through an annual or biannual schedule. 

What can help keep the frequency to a minimum are debriefs. I am a huge fan of them. Debriefs provide a consistent pulse on your ministry. Try to fit a 5-10 minute debrief after your worship experiences to hear feedback from your team. 

Find out what worked well and what challenges occurred. Providing an open forum gives your team a platform to share what is on their hearts. We always found it great to know where our volunteers felt outstanding and how we could better support them. 

Enjoy the Results 

Don’t let this scare you. I know that sometimes we do not like to be graded, nor do we like to evaluate others. But this is not that kind of party. We are not attempting to be nitpicking leaders. Our goal is actually to strategically invest into our volunteers. 

Oh what a positive shift will occur with the implementation of evaluations. Your teams will improve and your families, kids, students, and adults will be all the better for it. 

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The Value of Debriefing Your Team

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One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How do I structure my small groups?” I find that some ministry leaders have a hard time getting their head around the change from a Sunday School classroom to a Small Group structure, or they simply believe that they are one and the same. Let me clarify: Grades grouped together do not equal small groups. If your church is small and the kids are consistent, they may seem like small groups, but in most churches an intentional small group is going to look different from the first grade class, for example.  

Why does this matter? I’m so glad you asked! We believe that life-change happens in relationship. In order to build those relationships, that will someday lead to life-change, we believe each kid in your ministry needs to have a small group of kids that they can do life with on a weekly basis as well as a small group leader who shows up for them and their family consistently. We believe that a small group leader is going to be able to do for their few what you, as a ministry leader, cannot do for many. This structure is so important in partnering with parents and truly beginning to transition to a church that “Thinks Orange.”  

I want to give you some practical things to do or consider as you are structuring your small groups moving forward:

Prioritize Coaches  

Setting up a coaching structure will help you model to small group leaders what we want them to do for kids. For every 8-12 small group leaders, recruit a coach. That coach needs to be your point of contact. Then the coach can coordinate their team, care for them, cheer them on, support them on Sundays and run interference when needed. These need to be people who can help you cast vision for the bigger picture of what you want to see happen in the lives of kids and families. They will become the small group leaders for your small group leaders.

Keep Small Groups Small

As you divide kids into small groups, do not assign more than 8-10 per group. I like to keep it at eight and leave a little room for new kids who want to be with their friends. But, in order to make this successful, you need to assign kids to a specific group with a specific leader. In my last church I did this for a church of 5,000. It was a ton of work behind the scenes. It took us weeks to get every child assigned to a small group leader. We had to rework our entire database. BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT! During the tedious work, remind yourself of the bigger picture.  

During the tedious work, remind yourself of the bigger picture.
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Consistency is not Optional

As you are recruiting small group leaders, make sure they understand their role is to be a consistent face that their kids see every week when they show up at your church. You will get some pushback if you’ve never asked this of your volunteers. You will have people who will say they only want to serve once a month or every other week. When this would happen in my ministry, I would politely explain that my job at the church was to fight for what was best for kids, not most convenient for adults. What is best for kids is consistency. Sadly, it has become a rare commodity in the lives of far too many children. So, if you serve in our ministry, you serve weekly. For those that did not wish to do that, there was a great sub list that we would add them to.  

The Right People on the Team

Make sure the people serving in small groups are a good fit for their volunteer role. Make sure you have the right people on the bus, but also the right people in the right seats on the bus. This is key to making small groups work. If you have someone who is out of touch with social media, they may not make the best small group leader for your tweens. If you have someone who can’t get down on the floor and play, they may not be the perfect match for your toddlers. Make sure you interview new volunteers, asses their gifts, give them a small group to test drive, and always follow up to make sure it is working for the kids in that group and the small group leader.  

The Right Kids in Each Group

“Sorting” kids is no small task. You want to make sure you are looking at several factors when organizing your small groups. Their age or grade is important, but you also need to think about where they live, where they go to school and whom they are already connected with. This is where you have to be flexible, if you have never had a small group structure before. You will have kids ask to move groups. That is okay. We want them to love church and love their small group leader. Work with their families to figure out the best fit!  

If this is a new concept for you, it is not something that will happen overnight. Set realistic goals to begin making changes. You might decide to spend your summer slowly implementing change. The fall is a great time to kick off with new coaches, small group leaders and small groups. Don’t forget to get leaders on board with your vision first. Remember, you are not asking them to fill an empty slot on your Sunday list; you are calling them to a vision of seeing life-change happen for kids and families in your community! Volunteers want to be asked to do something significant. Give them a great vision to step up to and into in the days, weeks and months ahead.  

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What is the Purpose of Your Small Groups?

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By Tobin Perry

James looks like the perfect candidate for your church’s new youth minister role. His resume is spotless. His experience is unquestionable. His leadership credentials are off the charts.

So you hire him right on the spot.

At first, it seems like a great hire. The rest of the staff loves him. He does a great job of engaging your youth. Parents think you hit it out of the park.

But a few months in, you notice something. Your new youth minister isn’t fitting well in the new position. Your students and parents may like him, but he is consistently falling flat when it comes to your expectations for the role. Over time, you notice tensions raise every time he interacts with other staff.

Now you have a dilemma. You can disappoint students and parents and let the youth minister go, or you can let him consistently underperform and drag the rest of the staff down with him. Neither option is ideal.

Bad hiring decisions can devastate churches. In fact, many plateaued and declining churches started down the path of devastation when they made a hire like James.

The Big Cost of a Bad Hire

Bad hires crash and burn for many reasons. Sometimes you’ve hired a toxic leader who has characteristics that tend to make them a bad fit in any spot. Sometimes the hire doesn’t fit your staff culture. Other times the person is a poor fit for the role itself.

But the costs are high regardless of the reason.

Think of everything that’s impacted when new hires go bad, and they either leave for another assignment or you have to terminate employment. First, their ministries get stunted. Any volunteers they worked with get abandoned. It can sow discord into your church staff.

Then there are the financial costs. You may have paid to move the person. You likely invested in onboarding them into your organization. You may have spent money getting them enrolled in your benefit package. You spent time helping them get acquainted with the ministry. In the business world, recruiter Jorgen Sundberg suggests it can cost a business around $240,000 when it makes a bad hiring decision. Your church may not lose that much, but you’re likely losing more than you think.

And, of course, there are the human costs of a bad hire. A family now has to relocate and leave new friends behind. Who knows what kind of impact that has on the employee’s children and overall family dynamics? Plus, let’s face it, there are the people your church won’t engage in the next few months because your church isn’t staffed at 100 percent.

You simply can’t underestimate the cost of a bad hire.

And that all assumes you let the new hire go. You could choose to keep the person on your team for an extended period of time. This could mean years of sub-par performance on your staff, and equally problematic, years of someone not living up to their God-given potential because they’re in a role that doesn’t fit properly.

Top 3 Hiring Mistakes Churches Make 

So if these hiring mistakes are so devastating to churches, why do they keep making them? Here are three of the top hiring mistakes churches consistently make:

1. They move too fast on a candidate. It’s easy to do. You see a great resume, you hear a few impeccable recommendations, and you figure you better hire this excellent candidate before someone else does.

Plus, you’re hiring someone for a reason. You likely need to fill the position. You have volunteers who must be recruited. You have small groups that need to be managed. You have youth that need to be discipled. You need to fill the position yesterday, if not sooner. You’re already low on staff. You can’t afford to wait to hire someone you know you have the funds to hire.

So you hire the first reasonable candidate you find. But it’s a recipe for disaster.

Rushing into a hire usually means you’re skipping important steps. Maybe you don’t do a background check. Maybe you skip calling references. You don’t include as many other staff in the interviewing process as you’d normally like to do.

Plus, you’ll likely shorten the number of candidates you’re reviewing. You may rush to hire a good candidate and miss the best candidate.

2. They hire for today’s needs not tomorrow’s opportunities. Most churches hire out of need, often a very current need. You need a new assistant, a youth minister, or a worship leader—and you need one now. You determine what you need by what you’re currently missing.

While you certainly have needs you should meet in a new hire (and you can’t just ignore those needs), you also can’t let them drive your hiring decisions, either. If you hire for today, you’ll likely have the same church in five years as you do right now.

Say you have a youth minister job open. Your youth ministry currently has 30 kids. You’re probably looking for a candidate who has a history of engaging and ultimately discipling youth. But the problem is, when your church grows, your youth minister won’t be able to personally disciple 75-100 kids. Instead, your youth minister’s job will morph into one more focused on managing and discipling volunteers and other staff than just working with youth. That’s not every youth minister.

To properly hire for tomorrow’s opportunities, you need an idea of where your church will be tomorrow. That means you need a plan and a vision for the future. It’s hard to hire for tomorrow without one.

3. They hire before they have a defined job description. You’ll never hire the best candidates unless they know what they’re getting into before you hire them. High-performing church leaders won’t come on board if they have to guess what you want them to do. They want to see the expectations before they join your team.But a good job description doesn’t just help the candidate. It helps you, too. It ensures you know where you’re going with the position when you ask someone to join your team. Too often pastors make bad hires because they don’t really know what they’re looking for when they start the process. Hiring on vague assumptions will turn out badly.

A written out job description acts like a contract between you and the new staff member. You both have the opportunity to agree beforehand what success looks like. This doesn’t mean your job description will never change (though you should try to update the job description on a regular basis when it does change). Instead, a job description provides a great starting point to your journey together.

You won’t find any magic bullets that will solve all your hiring problems at once. Hiring mistakes will always happen. But if you want a great place to start, nail down your job descriptions and make sure they’re providing clear direction for incoming job applicants and for your organization.

For some free ready made templates to help you get started, download 20 Ready-to-Use Church Staff Job Descriptions.

Tobin Perry (@tobinperry) serves as a writer for Pushpay. Tobin has been a writer and editor in Christian media for almost 20 years at organizations such as the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, and Saddleback Church. He lives with his wife and three children in Southern Indiana. For more information about him, visit www.tobinperry.com.

Pushpay builds world-class digital giving solutions and custom smartphone apps designed for faith-based organizations. Our industry-leading solutions deliver a minimum 5% giving increase in organizations, creating more resources for customers to support their communities. Located in Redmond, Washington, and Auckland, New Zealand, we have nearly 350 people working with more than 7,000 customers around the world.

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I’ve been in some level of family ministry for over 20 years, and there is one statement I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say, “We have so many volunteers I really hope no one else wants to serve!” The fact of the matter is that most kid and student ministries are always looking for ways to recruit volunteers and retain the ones that we already have. While the easiest thing to do is say that we need more stage time, or wish the senior leader would talk about the needs of kid and student ministry every week, the reality is that mass cattle calls don’t yield the best results of dedicated, consistent, and called leaders for our ministries. Since the cattle call from the stage isn’t the answer, we wanted to give you a few suggestions that might help with recruiting.  

Meet New People

Start with the ministry leader. There have been seasons in ministry where I spent much of my time in rooms serving kids and students instead of meeting other students and adults that could serve kids and students. This was a huge mistake! Ensure that ministry leaders and key volunteers are available to meet new people each week by being present in heavy traffic areas before and after worship services. Make it a goal that when you’re in these areas you’re meeting a few new people each week and getting to informally engage with the few people you’ve met over the last month. After engaging them for several weeks, ask them to coffee, get to know them better, and listen for ways and opportunities to plug them into ministry. Sometimes you’ll be able to plug them into your ministry and sometimes you won’t. But it’s a genuine well planted seed either way. 

Make the Ministry Visible

Help your team members make the ministry visible by giving them tools to invite their friends to serve with them. Go Weekly, an Orange product that gives leaders tools to equip parents and small group leaders, has wonderful resources to give to your current volunteers to help them recruit new volunteers. Empower people that are already serving to share their stories of impact with those they are in relationship with already and bring them along on the journey of being a small group leader, hall host, or storyteller. Like eating at a new restaurant or trying out a new store, people are more likely to participate in something that is already receiving great reviews from someone they know and trust.

Like eating at a new restaurant or trying out a new store, people are more likely to participate in something that is already receiving great reviews from someone they know and trust.
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Rally a Recruiting Team

Establish a recruiting team. There are people in every congregation that love kid and student ministry but have a myriad of reasons why they can’t serve on Sundays. Some of these people might also be well connected within your congregation and have a niche for getting others involved. These are the people you want on your recruiting team. Rally them together to relay vision and opportunities. Provide them with resources to start conversations within their spheres of influence (much like the ones suggested to give to your ministry workers) and then allow them to work the relationships they have within the congregation. This expands the reach of the ministry beyond those who are serving on Sunday to those that are mingling with the other adults you need that are sitting in the congregation. 

Set Volunteers Up to Win

Develop a clear onboarding process that initiates relationship, takes safety seriously, and equips new volunteers to be successful. These three things say to your newest volunteer that you take them and the ministry seriously and you are setting them up to win. Nobody is interested in being a part of a ship that is sinking. Consider making interviews, volunteer applications, and background checks part of your onboarding process. Listen carefully during the discussion over coffee to the person’s personality and areas of passion. Connect them with a ministry veteran that will be a good personality match and that is already serving in the role that the new volunteer will be joining. Do everything you can to set them up to win and build new relationships while they are doing it. For the first four to six times that they serve, check in with them, find out how it is going, and be available to answer any questions that have come up. Provide them feedback and make sure they move from “the new volunteer” to being an expected and contributing member of the team. 

One of the biggest sinkers to recruiting ministry workers is not retaining the ones that God has sent. While instituting the above recruiting strategies will help get people in the door, the door will be constantly revolving if retaining strategies and techniques are not in place. So institute any or all of the suggestions above and then read the book Stop Recruiting Start Retaining and take it to the next level. 

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Volunteer Recruiting Made Easy?

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As the breadth of your ministry grows, so will the opportunity and need for new team members. Maybe you’ve seen a consistent trend of growth in your preschool programming, and you’re running out of bandwidth to invest in and develop your growing team of preschool ministry volunteers. It could be that the number of small groups in your middle and high school ministry has grown to the point you can no longer model what you’re expecting your small group leaders to do—to know, care for, and follow up on everyone in their span of care.  

It’s a natural tendency for churches to try to fill leadership gaps with new staff. However, there are some proven and clear parallels between the size of a church staff and the health of that church. In fact, over-staffing can ultimately be a lid to volunteer culture of your church, and should serve as a warning sign for the future of your organization (for more on this, check out this article). 

Over-staffing can ultimately be a lid to volunteer culture of your church, and should serve as a warning sign for the future of your organization.
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What if the next-level leader you need is already sold out to your vision and culture, already working in your ministry, and wouldn’t need to be on payroll? What if we could get out of the trend of hiring people to do ministry, and rather focusing your resources on developing your volunteer team members to truly lead? Taking this risk can radically change the culture of your team, and you will actually serve and retain your best leaders more by allowing them to lead in a higher capacity. So, how do we identify and develop these next-level leaders? 

Natural-born leaders lead. 

Not that any of us play favorites (yeah right), but the volunteers we value the most typically share a few common characteristics. They’re dependable, on board with the mission, and are usually a great cultural fit. They’re also the ones who begin identifying and meeting needs before they are asked. They simply look for opportunities to expand their potential of personal impact. These also might be the volunteers that are serving in multiple ministries, not because your pastor recently delivered a bold message on serving, but because they have the drive and bandwidth. Think about your current team- who are the leaders that you’ve said things like, “If I could just clone Jimmy and build a team of those clones, our ministry would be in perfect shape.” 

Empower them to lead from their sweet spot. 

One of the greatest gifts you can give your next-level leaders will be helping them identify what their sweet spot is in ministry. If your onboarding process for your staff includes any personal inventories or strengths tests, extend that process to your high capacity leaders as they step into their new role. Not only are you going to have a clearer understanding of their wiring, but they will see that you care enough to help them lead from their strengths. Together, you can identify some areas where leadership can be entrusted immediately, and set some measurable goals of areas that you both would like to see developed. Understanding their strengths and learning what their passions are through building a relationship over time, you’ll be better suited to hone-in the perfect opportunity for them to lead.  

Immerse them in your culture.  

Giving away higher levels of leadership to a volunteer can come with a higher sense of risk than if they were a staff member you would have more time to observe and lead. The culture of your organization, along with a clear vision, will ultimately determine whether or not you achieve your mission. What values and language can you begin instilling in your high-capacity leaders? Maybe it’s sharing why your church is outsider focused, or why your church gives away a high percentage of its budget to missions. Typically, each organization has one to three primary values that determine where its resources (time, energy, money) go. Helping your high-capacity leaders make your organizations values their own values will ensure that they will not only fit in with your culture, but they will protect it and spread it. 

Care for them. 

One of the most common reasons volunteers leave a team is because they didn’t feel known or cared for. Next-level leaders are just as human as a new member of your team. We need to fight the tendency to believe that, because they are mature and stable, they need less from us. The opposite is true. If you can focus your personal resources on a few key leaders, you’ll serve the many within your span of care better. You’re modeling what it looks like for them to care and develop their own few. In fact, they’ll be able to care for the other leaders with a greater intentionality and care than you could. Focusing your efforts on a few will ultimately make the whole better. 

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Spiritual growth

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Ministry Leaders spend countless hours trying to help their team grow. Whether it is organizing training days, going on conference trips, buying books that will be helpful or even bringing in a guest speaker to talk about certain subjects, they are always on the lookout to help improve and grow the team. 

As valuable as specific training is to help grow your team, leadership teams—especially ones with a lot of volunteers—can grow stronger a different way as well. Growth happens when community happens. When volunteers feel like they are apart of a growing community with people that care about them, they are less likely to leave and more likely to stay invested in the ministry, no matter how much or how little they know about how to minister effectively in that particular ministry. 

So how do you create community with volunteers? Here are a few ideas: 

Have them over to your house.  

Ministry Leads and volunteers meet all the time to talk business. You don’t need another time for that. However, what helps a team grow stronger and more united is when they spend time together. That is why inviting them over to your house for a BBQ, a game night or even a movie night goes a long way to grow as individuals. Do not have a ministry agenda; simply have fun with them and develop friendships.  

Go “play” together as a team.  

Group bonding happens when you have fun together. So go play together, and do something fun. Organize a fun outing to a local theme restuarant, a day trip to the beach or lake or even a night of mini-golf or laser tag together. When you have fun together, you tend to laugh together, and it is that time together that creates memories and bonds a group together. It is because you are creating a community that is not always based on working together but playing together and having fun. Community happens when fun happens.  

When you have fun together, you tend to laugh together, and it is that time together that creates memories and bonds a group together.
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Start a group chat.  

Online community is real community. No matter how hard you try, you may not be able to get your ministry team talking and communicating regularly. That is why you can start an Online Group Chat. It can be through apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facebook Group or just simply regular Text Messenger. When you begin a group chat you can communicate regularly with volunteers. They can be fun texts back and forth, information texts about what is going on, prayer request texts or Bible verse encouragement. They can incorporate any or all the above as long as they are encouraging and hopeful.  As you do this group chat, it can really draw your team closer together on a more regular basis that will then help you develop a closer community amongst you all. 

Do an offsite training day.  

Community growing events don’t just have to be fun events, although they are nice. You can grow in community when you do a training day with your team offsite of the church. It could be going to a one-day training like an Orange Tour event. These types of events are great opportunities for you and your team to get off-site, do some learning together and simply get to know each other better.  

To build an effective team, community is important. If you lack community and togetherness, it could be rough, not only for the leaders but the students involved. Students can sense when leaders don’t care for each other. However, when you do have that community of leaders that genuinely love and support each other it can be a huge example to so many people. But community doesn’t just happen. You have to be intentional and strategic about developing it. Above are just a few of the many opportunities you have to build community with volunteers, but there are so many more ideas.  What are you going to do today to grow community with your volunteers?  

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Engaging Your Community Online

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The phase, or the time in a kid’s life that we influence significant relationships, understand present realities, and leverage distinctive opportunities, flow in a continuum that requires all kid and student ministry workers to have a basic knowledge how one impacts the other. The four phases that allow us to embrace, engage, affirm, and mobilize a kid from birth into adulthood do not stand alone. One phase directly affects another and the needs of one phase never completely dissipates. They are interconnected in a way that everyone needs to understand. So then, how do you get the nursery rockers who really love embracing and taking in the joys of a three-month-old infant to understand and value the need to mobilize high schoolers to a bigger mission that extends beyond themselves? How do we get ministry volunteers to value each phase and see themselves as one team rather than individual components? 

VIP

If you haven’t instituted a pre-service huddle this is a great time to do so. A pre-service huddle takes about 10 to 15 minutes before service and is an opportunity to relay vision, give out information, and celebrate and pray for your team and the families you will be serving that day. (Thus why I affectionately call this time V.I.P: vision, information, prayer). Using this time to capitalize on the importance and distinctive nature of each phase is a great way for everyone to hear why everyone else matters. Scheduling a potential phase moment on a regular rotation allows volunteers to remember that kid and student ministry is a team effort that their phase gets to impact and influence knowing that the next is just as important. Orange provides great tools to provide these short trainings at http://www.justaphase.com to share with your team. 

Training

Phase separate trainings are important and needed throughout the year but it is also important to take time to bring everyone together for larger trainings and vision casting. We know that successfully moving students from elementary to middle school ministry and then again from middle school to high school ministry is directly impacted by how well the strategies, staff, and volunteers are interconnected. When adults are interconnected it is easier for kids and students to feel connected and not get lost through critical moments of transition; we better connect our kids and students to what is coming next.

We know that we need to engage kids in the story of the gospel in fifth grade. As they transition to middle school, the elementary leader needs to be informed about what is coming next so that they can inform the child and their parent that the child is moving to a ministry that will affirm them as middle school life happens in the next few years. Playing and learning together, across the phases, solidifies better opportunities for those connections to happen. 

Phase Event

Hosting a phase event once per year for volunteers and parents is a great way to value the current phase of every kid and student in your ministry, remind parents that phases change quickly so value the one their child is in now, and cast the importance to parents and volunteers about capitalizing on the phase that is coming next. A phase event pulls on the heart strings of the past, encourages through difficult moments of the present, and gives guidance for the future that is just around the corner. And it’s not even something you have to create by yourself. The Phase Project has awesome tools to make this a night of celebration and learning. 

The health of the current phase is directly impacted by the health of the phases before and after it. It is easier to have a healthy adult when they had the chance to be a healthy infant, toddler, kid, and student. Pulling our teams together to understand the impact of one phase on another is essential to establishing an aligned ministry that knows that every phase is important, but especially the phase that the child or student is in right now. 

It is easier to have a healthy adult when they had the chance to be a healthy infant, toddler, kid, and student.
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What’s so Great about Orange?

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We’ve established the importance of volunteers many times before. They are your lifeblood. Without them, it would be nearly impossible to do ministry at all! But a crucial part of sustaining longevity with your volunteers falls entirely in your lap—communication. How, what, and when you communicate with your teams can make or break their experience and their buy-in to the vision of your ministry. 

How to Communicate 

It’s always important to go where the people are when it comes to communication. That might not be where YOU are or where YOU want to be . . . but this is not about you! Starting with social media is always a good go-to. Utilizing your ministry feeds—and sometimes your personal feeds—to communicate with your volunteers is a good option. Even more personal and intentional is texting them. Individual texts can take time, but it is absolutely the best way to get in touch with most people. Emails are also reliable. If you have big volunteer teams, you might consider using a service like Planning Center for scheduling services and teams, which makes communicating with a lot of people easy. If you are not in the service programming world, there are apps for your phone like GroupMe that make group texting very easy, no matter who you are texting and what their plan is. When in doubt about how to communicate with your teams, ask them! Take a survey to find out what their preferred method of communication is—and listen! 

What to Communicate 

The obvious items to communicate with your team are logistical—when you need them, where you need them, details, etc. Beyond those types of communication, it is going to be very important for you to prioritize informal communication with your volunteers. Check in with them. Ask how their week is going. If they have a major surgery or a holiday or a prayer request, make sure you are keeping track of that information and following up. If this feels overwhelming to you, block out a little time each day to do this kind of correspondence. Create a follow-up team who can help with this. Do something! Make it a priority. These people give hours of their time each week . . . for free! The least that we can do is to make sure that they feel loved, cared for, and that communication is not just about ministry-related items. 

When to Communicate 

There is no wrong time to communicate! I am a firm believer in over-communicating expectations and care for the people who are on our volunteer teams. Have you ever heard “I appreciate you” too much? Or have you ever been annoyed at a clarification email? No! We love these things. They make us feel secure and wanted. This is the same for your volunteers. They want to know you are thinking of them and that you have their best interest in mind. Your communication must reflect this. They are on the frontlines with kids and families, and your job is to communicate well with them so that they can do their job well. So, communicate often and regularly. There is no “too much” . . . unless you’re spamming their every waking hour, but I think most of us know the difference! 

Have you ever heard, 'I appreciate you' too much?
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Ultimately, communication for me with my volunteers is going to look different than communication with you and your volunteers, so these tips are starting points. But always find out where your people are and what works best for them . . . and then use that method!

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Giving Volunteers Your Best

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