How to Build Your Volunteers
ne of the greatest struggles I experience as a worship leader is recruiting and retaining volunteers. Whether your church is large or small, lay leaders play an integral part in your music ministry and most of us would be lost without them. When I started leading worship at Perimeter Church in Atlanta, Georgia, my only experience was with paid musicians. It didn’t take very long to learn that working with volunteers was something entirely different. Though I have found no magic formula, I have learned the importance of investing my life in the lives of my volunteers, specifically, in these three ways: relationally, spiritually and musically.
First and foremost, we must build relationships with our volunteers. Put simply, it’s doing life together. Take Jane for example. She is a single mom who has a son with mild autism. I remember Jane showing up one afternoon to rehearsal with her eyes filled with tears, overwhelmed by the constant pressures of her life. As we set down our instruments to tend to the greater need at hand, we came together as a community to figure out how we could share some of that burden with Jane. Though we rehearsed less music that afternoon than I had planned, God had planned something I could have never orchestrated. The point is life is messy and our volunteers want to see our willingness to walk in their trenches with them. I have found that I can only earn my role as their leader by submitting as their servant. Sound familiar? Remember Christ’s example in Philippians 2:5-11.
Secondly, we must invest in our volunteers spiritually. I list this second, not because our relationship with God is less important than our relationships with others, but because our “personal” relationship with God is meant to happen in the context of community. About three years ago, our staff began to pray that God would transform our teams of musicians into communities of worshippers. Our first step was to bring a lay pastor into each ensemble to share with the worship leader the role of leading prayer and Bible study. Was this at the expense of valuable rehearsal time? Sometimes, yes, but we were willing to make this sacrifice, believing that musical excellence is secondary to renewed minds and surrendered hearts. I have also found that our volunteers feel most prized when I show interest in who they are, rather than what they do. God has not entrusted us with volunteers solely for what they can contribute to perfectly crafted worship services. As Jesus charges Peter in John 21, we must remember our responsibility to shepherd God’s sheep, not just use them for their wool.
Thirdly, we must invest in our volunteers musically. This includes everything from how we run our rehearsals to how we sharpen each musician individually. Jason Sears, a fellow worship leader, always encourages me to prepare for rehearsals in a way that makes our volunteers feel like I was expecting them. Do I have their charts ready? Are the charts clear and accurate? Have I thought through the role I want each person to play? Am I starting and stopping my rehearsals on time? Ouch! These are all things that make our volunteers feel valued. Most of our people are sacrificing time at home with families and the more I honor that, the more willing they are to give their time freely. We can also invest in our musicians by equipping and training. We have held vocal workshops, suggested CD’s to listen to and encouraged stronger instrumentalists to work with weaker ones. Excellence honors God and we are doing a disservice to our volunteers if we do not push them to be their best.
In closing, we invest in our volunteers because Jesus did. He didn’t just meet with his disciples once a week but lived among them. Like any relationship worth having, this takes time. But I believe that the closer the community, the sweeter our musical offering will be to God. To Him be the glory!