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Is Your Technology Destroying Your Volunteer Ministry?

volunteer ministry

It always seems like a great idea when someone discovers a software system that will replace having [to] interact with people, for example, one that will allow volunteers to sign up online for tasks that need to be done at the church or an event that needs lots of volunteers. But you need to be very careful that the technology that you get to help the church doesn’t actually discourage involvement with it.  Let me explain . . . . .

Nothing is totally good or bad, but how it’s used

I’m not saying that all software volunteer management programs are bad — there are lots of them available and many of them are loved by the groups that use them. However, as with any technology, we have to be careful that our love of technology or the seeming benefits that it has for the church staff doesn’t blind our eyes to some of the problems that technology can cause for volunteers. Before I go into specifics dos and don’ts, here is a brief review of why we have volunteer ministries and what it can accomplish.

The reasons for volunteer ministry

In addition to the reality that leaders cannot handle all the demands of ministry by themselves, a healthy volunteer ministry is the Biblical model for how we to do ministry.

Jesus was not a lone preacher and if anyone could have handled a ministry all by himself, the sinless Son of God would qualify, but he didn’t go at it alone. He chose 12 disciples and others traveled with him. After Jesus returned to his Father he put us in a Body, his church. He left us his Spirit who gives gifts to the members of his Body for the benefit of the entire church body (“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” 1 Cor.12:7). The early church may have had problems in how they worked out working together (1 Corinthians is a case study of this situation), but Paul’s advice to them was always founded on ways for them to work together in the local church body with mutual care and peace.

In addition to this overall theological basis for volunteer ministry and that you need warm bodies to get things done, two other practical advantages are worth noting:

One, volunteering is a great way for new members to become permanently connected to the church. If someone starts volunteering in the children’s ministry or prayer team or greeting or making coffee, that person will get to know other members of the church and feel they are a part of it. In addition, by trying out different jobs there is a greater chance they will interact with others, learn more, discover their spiritual gifts and overall mature in their faith far more than if they sit in a few Sunday after Sunday.

Two, another often ignored benefit of active volunteer ministries is that they are great ways for people outside the church to become involved in the church. An unchurched person may have no interest in coming to a church service but he or she might be very interested in a day of service to the homeless, giving out gifts to kids whose families can’t afford them, a fundraiser for clean water, or to end human trafficking. It’s also easier for your members to invite their friends to participate in activities like this.

With all these great benefits of volunteering how do we get people involved?

This is where reality hits idealism. Getting people to volunteer is VERY hard and getting them to follow through on what they promised to do is even harder. A computer program to do the work for you is very appealing. A computer program can be PART of the solution, but here are some cautions in using one:

How to make sure your technology doesn’t destroy your volunteer program

Realize that your technology system won’t work for everyone. We must never forget that we live in a transitional time when some people in your church are very tech savvy and some people still do not have computers. In the same way that many churches have both an online newsletter and a print newsletter and realize that they will need to continue both channels of communications for some time, so also you can have a computer sign up program for volunteers, but you must have ways for people to be involved who for some reason can’t or won’t use the computer to sign up. If you don’t, you are effectively shutting out a large pool of volunteers. Not only is that not a wise use of people resources, but it is unkind.

Be realistic about how “easy” your program is for people to use. It might seem easy to you because you got training in how to use it and you were motivated by the dream of how easy this would make your life, but I’ve yet to see a volunteer program from the user side that was even remotely easy or intuitive to use. To see how it works for your people, ask several members of your congregation, who are different age groups to come into the church office and without any coaching from you, ask them to sign-up and navigate through your volunteer sign up system. Take notes and then…..

Create training on how to use the system and how it can benefit your church. This won’t be easy to do, and you still won’t get everyone involved, but it will help. If at all possible, if you have a program like Camtasia where you can demonstrate the program in your voice with your system and your volunteer jobs and you can create training videos for your church — this is a very helpful solution. You could also train team leaders and have them train their teams. Adequate, upbeat training can turn a disliked program into a tool people can’t imagine doing without.

Listen to feedback, record it and consider your response. If many people don’t like the system and complain about it, ask them for more detailed reasons: what was confusing, what didn’t work, what didn’t they like about it? Record their answers and in a calm time, pray about how to respond. If people aren’t using the program and really dislike it, it can be difficult, but we always must remember we are servants and our technology should also serve our people, not intimidate or frustrate them.

In addition to your technology, try this simple method for volunteer sign-ups

One of the best ways to get people to volunteer for various ministries is to have a form people can fill out, check a box on and sign up that’s in the church bulletin.  When the announcement is made about a volunteer need, if all they have to do is take out a form, fill it out and put it into the offering plate, you’ll get many more sign-ups. Some churches rotate volunteer position requests on their connection card. Something like this isn’t a duplicate of your technology tools or a replacement, you still want to use that because the many in your church will love it — this paper option is part of, to paraphrase a verse, “being all things to all people that we might get some to volunteer.”