4 Ways to Help Worship Team Volunteers Succeed

We’ve all done it.

If you’re in church leadership of any kind, you’ve likely uttered the phrase “volunteer friendly.” It’s a phrase that gets thrown around in church all the time. Even here at Sweetwater, we have articles devoted to “volunteer friendly” gear, from volunteer-friendly mixers to how to make your PA system more volunteer friendly.

It’s time to take a minute to reflect on what many leaders mean by it, and ultimately if we should use it in the first place.

When someone says “volunteer friendly,” often what they mean is simple, basic and easy enough for a “volunteer” to use. While on the surface that may not sound too pejorative, what does it imply? Sadly, it could unintentionally imply that the volunteer needs something simple and basic, because they aren’t smart enough to handle the “pro” gear.

Volunteer friendly is sometimes used as a polite way to say “dumbed down.” In other words, you can get the pro-level stuff with all the bells and whistles, or you can get the “volunteer-friendly” setup. In using the term, in some cases we’re unwittingly labeling our volunteers as dumb. Now I don’t think we really believe that, which is why we may need to banish the term.

If we stop relying on the phrase “volunteer friendly” and instead focus on making sure everyone is in the right role, while also improving our training, systems and communication, we will truly be more friendly to our volunteers.

All Volunteers Aren’t Created Equal

Being a volunteer doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. You may simply have someone on your team who is in over their head. Maybe they can’t handle the pressure of a live production. That probably means they should serve in another capacity. But you likely have other volunteers who are an incredible fit for technical production roles.

You should match volunteers to the areas of their interests, talent and gifting. Don’t ask a volunteer who struggles with technology to run your new digital soundboard. Instead, you could ask them to help create slides for lyrics. On the other hand, don’t ask someone who is gifted technically, but not creatively, to create slides. It may be that you need to shift roles and responsibilities around for people to better align with their giftings.

Improve Your Training

Perhaps you’re blaming your equipment for not being volunteer friendly enough, when it’s really just that your team needs better training.

People often tell me they wish this software or that gear was more volunteer friendly. Personally, I wish the guitar was more volunteer friendly. It took me months to learn to play three chords.

When it comes to the art of music and production, many worthwhile things are complicated and difficult, but ensuring your team has great training opportunities can make the complex more accessible.

When was the last time you invited your team, outside of Sunday morning worship, to come and learn a new skill, software, or technology? In the hustle and bustle of Sunday, it’s easy to focus on getting the job done without spending time on the “why” and making sure your team really gets it.

You’ll find many incredible resources online—several that are free—that will help you equip your team. Maybe it’s worth the investment to take the team to a conference or an in-person training. Or it may be as simple as investing in one-on-one training for particular members of your team.

This might seem unachievable at first. Your sound engineer only serves once a month. How could a “volunteer” have the same skill level of a pro who is mixing week in and week out and knows their gear? Well, the truth is they won’t. But that’s okay. You don’t have to travel the world mixing sound to create a great live mix. At the same time, that’s not an excuse to not train them well.

You might ask, are they supposed to take the soundboard home to practice? In that sense, guitar is far easier to learn and train someone on than a sound console, because it’s easier to get your “reps” in. However, don’t discount the role reps play in getting better at a skill. Obviously, someone who only runs sound 12 times a year won’t be as experienced as someone who runs 52 weekends a year.

But someone who runs sound 12 times a year, who also has access to training videos at home, has come in for a training day on a Saturday, has attended a conference with you and has sat in a class with a trained engineer has a far better chance of getting better than the person who just runs sound 12 times a year.

Create low-pressure training environments for people to get more reps. For sound engineers, set up a “virtual soundcheck” during the week, and let an engineer practice mixing without the pressure of a live Sunday morning worship service. Again, they might only mix 12 times a year, but get them in once a month to do a “virtual soundcheck,” and suddenly they’ve mixed 24 times a year.

Giving your team more and better training will improve the live worship experience, and they’ll enjoy serving more, despite no new volunteer friendly gear.

Improve Your Systems

Have you created a monster with all the steps required to complete a task on Sunday?

Maybe it’s not that your team needs something more volunteer friendly, but that you need to simplify your systems. Whenever possible, simplify. Remove unnecessary steps to get back to the essentials.

Sometimes a process is still complex. Don’t let that complex process become convoluted. A complex process requires lots of steps. A convoluted process requires more steps than is necessary to complete the task. Take a step back and ask yourself if you’ve overcomplicated things. Is there a way to get that task done with fewer steps?

And remember, you’re not doing this because your volunteers need something less complex. It’s because no one needs anything convoluted.

Improve Your Communication

A friend of mine once said, “all frustration and disappointment stem from unmet expectations.”

Perhaps you’re frustrated at your volunteers because they are consistently “falling short” of your standard. Maybe instead of looking for something more volunteer friendly, because they keep missing it, you could pause and consider if you communicated those standards in the first place.

Consider taking a step back from the hustle and bustle that is Sunday morning worship and take time to communicate expectations and standards. You might suddenly see people start to meet and even exceed your expectations. It’s remarkable how, when we take time to communicate expectations clearly, people suddenly start to “get it.”

Perhaps you find yourself in a situation where you have clearly communicated expectations and standards, but someone is still falling short. Now it’s time for even more communication. Let them know they haven’t met those standards. It’s unkind to be unclear. Let them know they’ve fallen short of the goal, but don’t leave them there. Be a coach. Make a game plan for how to achieve the goal next time.

Devote more time to training. Have them shadow someone else who has more experience. After they’ve executed the game plan, you might realize they simply aren’t the best fit. Now it’s time to move them to a position where they can serve well and be served well in a new role.

I don’t believe we mean any harm by using the phrase volunteer friendly, but I believe we can effectively dismiss the phrase from our vocabulary. Instead, let’s focus on being more friendly to our volunteers. Let’s commit to honor our volunteers this week and every week by being clear and improving our training, processes and communication.

Read more from Will Doggett »

This article originally appeared on Sweetwater.com.

Will Doggett
Will Doggett

Will Doggett is a musician, sound designer and educator based in Austin, Texas.