Shadowing Builds Volunteers

The Church: Living Stones Church, Reno, Nev.
The Challenge: Help people connect with the mission of the church.
One Key Idea: Allow new volunteers to shadow veteran volunteers to better match personalities and gifts with serving opportunities.

Outreach spoke to Worship Pastor Donald Zimmerman and Downtown Campus Pastor Craig Parish, who say mentoring volunteers builds connections.

What is Living Stone’s intentional strategy to get people to connect by serving?

Zimmerman: We break serving down or categorize it by personality types. If you’re active, you may want to greet people or hang with kids. If you’re skilled in technology, you can do tech and media. We also have behind-the-scenes serving, which includes cooking for other volunteers or resetting the sanctuary, and then what we call “mission to the city”—feeding the homeless, connecting with international students on the nearby campus.

How do you match personalities to particular kinds of serving?

Parish: We encourage people to shadow others to see if that particular ministry could be a good fit for them. The tech and media ministries, for example: If someone’s interested, we invite them into our tech media booth and place them with a mentor for a number of weeks. They can observe what happens on a Sunday. Does it seem like a good environment for them? Is it a good match? Would they like it? Same with working in our children’s ministry. People can shadow some of our best teachers to see what classroom management takes.

What other benefits does shadowing offer?

Parish: First, it creates a personal connection from day one. New volunteers immediately have a person they can ask questions of or get feedback from. They’re building a relationship with this person from the beginning. Second, it eliminates or decreases intimidation. Our children’s ministry on a Sunday morning is pretty chaotic, with lots of parents dropping their kids off and toddlers running around. If we had people just jump in without any mentoring, it’d be a pretty intimidating environment. Lastly, if it doesn’t seem like a good fit, the volunteer doesn’t just get dropped. Instead, the mentor can help connect them to another ministry. Without the shadowing, it’d likely take that volunteer a long time to regain the courage to sign up for another ministry.

What types of challenges have you encountered?

Zimmerman: To be honest, there are probably more people who sign up to serve than people who actually want to serve, if that makes sense. A lot of times people respond to something said in the pulpit or seen through social media because they feel like they should.

It’s not just a win to get someone on board, serving in the right spot. It’s also a win for us to figure out if they’re not the best fit before they jump in, so they can be redirected. That’s a win. In general, we’ve had a significant increase in retention and overall quality of the teams where we have shadowing.

Can you share a “shadow” success?

Zimmerman: Taylor Thompson is a young guy. He was around the church for quite a while—two years—before we got him to pull the trigger to serve. Taylor signed up and shadowed one of our lighting volunteers in the sound booth. After a few weeks, he decided to jump in. Later he decided he wanted to serve at a higher capacity, so he applied and secured one of our tech ministry internships. Now, he’s on staff and actually leads the lights ministry. It’s really cool to watch this kind of progression!

Launched: 2003
Weekend Attendance: 1,974
A 2012 Outreach 100 Church: No. 34 Fastest-Growing
Key Connection Points: Nine worship gatherings; community groups; serving (60 percent of attendees serve regularly; half of them shadowed someone first.)

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Outreach magazine.


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