4 Tips For Leading Volunteers That Actually Stick Around

  • Written By 
  • Shalon Palmer

leading volunteers

Today’s post is written by our team member/vocal instructor Thomas Daniel!

While it’s true that a minority of churches pay every member of the worship team, the chances are that more often than not, we’re working with and leading volunteers.

I’ve been a part of churches with a staff/paid band, and I’ve also been on teams made up 100% of volunteers. What I’ve found is that so often with volunteers, it’s very easy to fall into this mindset that things are “good enough” or “as good as they can be.” We assume that because our teams aren’t being paid, that we can’t hold them to higher expectations.

However, today I want to offer a second view. If my experiences have proven anything, it’s that the biggest impact on your team’s commitment and level of excellence has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with your leadership.

So on that note, here are 4 tips to turn your team of volunteers into the dream team!

1. Know Your Team

This one thing is the difference between a worship team that is overflowing with members, and one that is constantly struggling to find people. Are you the type of leader who cares more about your team members than how cool your outfit is, how trendy your stage design looks, or how relevant your song selection is?

Relationships and authentic connection are the currencies of volunteerism.

We have to understand that our volunteers are only there because they WANT to be there (at least I hope they do), and treat them with gratitude and respect accordingly. Don’t be afraid to go deep with them. Think about your worship team like its your small group. Be available and invest into each member because they all bring something unique to the table.

If all you know about your volunteers is their weaknesses and areas you wish they could grow in, that’s probably all they know of you too. Know their interests, goals, family dynamics, etc. If a volunteer feels like you genuinely care about them, know them, and value their involvement – I can promise you they’re not going anywhere else, and they will give you everything they have!

2. Spend Time Together …Outside Of Practice

If the only time we see our team is for a rehearsal, sound check, or weekly service – we’re failing as leaders. This sets up a culture that is strictly about the tasks that need to be accomplished, and not about the people who are accomplishing them. Bands that play together, don’t always stay together.

Pray together, worship together, eat together, go to the movies/beach/friend’s house together, and create spaces for your team to connect with one another outside of rehearsal.

This doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment or complicated thing! Many moons ago when I was the youth worship leader for a church in New Jersey, my team and I would go out to get Italian ice together after our weekly rehearsal. Everyone was already out at rehearsal, so I wasn’t asking anyone for another night of their week.

We would carpool 5 minutes away and sit outside eating while sharing completely unmusical stories about school, friends/family, etc. The point here is that all these years later I don’t remember how great my setlists were, but I still remember laughing with my team on summer nights over some Italian ice. As everyone becomes more comfortable with one another, it’s inevitable that musically you will become tighter as well!

3. Cultivate Ownership

Give each volunteer/member something unique to focus on and grow on. When people feel like they are personally making a difference on the team, they are far more likely to give you the best they have. This all stems from the above two points of knowing your team deeply.

Let’s say you have a young background singer who wants to be a worship leader. Set up a plan to help him/her take steps in that direction. The first step would be to focus on one song that they could potentially lead. Practice it together! Have them sit in with you while you’re creating your set.

Have them come up with “mock” set-lists and teach them what works and what might not work about it. Eventually let them actually pick an entire setlist. Then have them step out and co-lead the set with you. Lastly, have them lead on their own.

Most of these are things you would be doing by yourself anyway, but you’ve just given this pairing worship leader a new sense of purpose and ownership. Delegate tasks to specific people based on their strengths! Give someone the task of helping input lyrics for new songs into the database. Make someone responsible for after service stage cleanup.

My personal favorite is to train each person on the team how to run a proper line/sound check. Then each week, have a different person lead it. If each person feels like they have a responsibility on the team, their dedication and commitment will only grow.

4. Have Fun!

As simple as this is, it’s amazing to me how many worship leaders/teams struggle with this. Make the experience fun! If there is no laughing during a practice, that concerns me. Don’t be so focused and so critical as a leader, that the atmosphere of your team suffers because of it. Sometimes we tend to live in extremes, so we put “excellence” and “fun” against each other like they’re in some kind of philosophical tug of war.

However, despite popular belief, you can be wholly dedicated to excellence in all you do AND still have a great time while doing it. Create an environment on your team where people feel safe to step out, try new things, fail, learn, and try again. Music is all about growing every day. Never lose sight of the fact that from our first note sung to our first chord strummed, we all fell in love with music because it was fun.

Every team dynamic is completely different because each team is completely unique. Hopefully, these steps will help you as a worship leader to start digging your roots deeper and seeing growth within your team of volunteers. Do you have a story or helpful idea in which you connected with your team to bring out the best in them? Share it below in the comments!

Always remember – if you take good care of your volunteers, they’ll take great care of you!

Thomas Daniel
Vocal Instructor @ Worship Online

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