Nine keys to building a dynamic team of volunteer communicators
Corporate consultant Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great about the principle “First Who, Then What” and how it applies to teamwork. When building teams, Collins says, our responsibility as leaders should be to get the right people on the bus—and the right people off the bus—and then determine where the bus is headed.
This is the case when building a church communications team. This group, often powered by volunteers, is central to telling the story of a church community through its weekend services, special events, environmental design, print pieces, community outreach, online sites and more.
Consider these nine principles as foundations that will help you work with and build volunteers for your church’s communication team.
1. Match strengths, not availability. Just because someone is available to help out doesn’t mean it will result in someone helping you out. So what if they know how to use Photoshop. The question is, do they know how to use it in a way that results in outcomes you are expecting? Always look to match the strengths of a volunteer, not the availability of a volunteer.
2. Remember reciprocity. Volunteers are volunteering because they get something in return. It may sound selfish, but it’s just the way we’re wired. Whether it’s in the form of satisfaction, a free meal, kudos, recognition, promotion or just smiles, the concept of reciprocity is alive and well.
Don’t forget this, because when you know what volunteers are looking for, you can better help them obtain it.
3. Realistic expectations. Be realistic about the expectations you have for volunteers. Expect too little and you’ll never cause them to rise to the challenge. Expect too much and they’ll feel like they failed you. Communicate upfront what you’re expecting and give them opportunity to respond.
4. Spend more time on the front end. The more time you spend upfront talking through the project or outcomes, the more the volunteer will feel enfranchised and enabled. The more we sow upfront, the more we reap on the other side.
5. Educate, enfranchise, empower. Educate volunteers on everything you can about your project or expected outcomes. Graft them into the team that, with their help, is part of making this project happen. Give them the tools they need to accomplish your expectations.
6. Seek out the troublemakers. Consider the volunteers who don’t always play by the rules; the ones who test the limits; the ones who color outside the lines; the ones who talk back a little; the ones who require a little extra faith on your part to let go.
7. Hire strength, manage weakness. I employ people for their strengths, knowing I’ll have to manage around their weaknesses. For example, the insane project manager who is not so great with people: I’m hiring her project-management skills, and I know I’ll have to work with and around her deficient people skills. The same goes for volunteers—recruit their strengths and work around their weaknesses.
8. It’s OK to fire them. Isn’t it funny how we often have a harder time firing volunteers than we do paid staff? It’s OK to let volunteers go, to transition them, to move them out.
9. Be thankful (with gifts, cards and more). You never can thank volunteers enough. From throwing them celebration dinners to giving them gifts and cards, go overboard in expressing appreciation for your volunteers.
Brad Abare is the director of communications for the Foursquare denomination, founder of the Center for Church Communication (cfcclabs.org), and president of Personality.
Nine ways to reach the people you want to reach
I’m embarrassed to admit how often I forget one of the most basic communication principles: Know your audience. It’s easy to take this principle for granted, especially if you communicate to your audience regularly. Here are nine things I’ve learned that may serve as reminders to you.
1. Create people-cards. Ad agencies do this all the time. Profile your audience with by using real data and research, and then create posters or cards for a few of the people who represent the overall audience you’ve profiled. Hang these in front of your writers, designers, creators and others who work on your products so that they always have those people in mind when they communicate.
2. Conduct surveys and polls. This is as easy as using Web sites such as SurveyMonkey.com, PollMonkey.com or MyChurchSurvey.com. These sites make it possible for you to get feedback from different groups of people. The more you know about who you are communicating with, the better you get at communicating.
3. Communicate so the audience will understand. Often when I speak at events, I tell the story of Robert E. Lee, the famous Civil War general. He never sent a communiqué to his generals before first asking a private to read it. The private had to read the letter and then restate in his own words what the call to action was. If the private didn’t get it right, Lee would rewrite it until the communication was perfectly clear.
4. Immerse yourself in your audience. Watch the shows they watch. Play the games they play. Eat what they eat. Read what they read. The more you understand their lives, the better you will know how to connect with their realities. This is not about compromising your character or unique personality but about understanding theirs.
5. Anticipate their future. Don’t get caught up just in what they’re doing now; anticipate where they will be in a few weeks, months and years. When you know where they’re going, you can arrive early and be waiting.
6. Translate accurately. Pay attention to how your message is being translated into other languages. Even popular ad slogans have been translated inappropriately. The famous “Got milk?” phrase was translated in some Latino markets as “Are you lactating?” Perdue Farms ran a campaign years ago that claimed, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken.” When translated it became, “It takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.” If Coca-Cola can figure out how to communicate to the other side of the world, certainly your church can communicate to the people across the street.
7. Be one of them. Shadow a few people from your profiles (see No. 1). Follow them for a day from morning to night.
8. Observe their behavior. This is the opposite of immersing yourself in what they do. Instead of doing what they do, observe how they interact with what they do. See what makes them cry, what makes them laugh. What scares them? What moves them to action?
9. Direct your communication to the people in the middle. Don’t always aim your communication at the masses by trying to capture or engage everyone. Go for the people in the middle, the largest representation, and target them. When you try to reach everyone, you reach no one. When you try for someone, you can reach many.
Brad Abare is the director of communications for the Foursquare denomination and founder of the Center for Church Communication (cfcclabs.org).
As a young pastor in training, I heard my father-in-law, the late John Osteen, tell an interesting story about a businessman who brought one of his attorney friends to church. The businessman was concerned the worship might be too exuberant for this dignified attorney. Sure enough, the person who worshiped beside them was very expressive. The businessman was certain his friend would be turned off by this.
Yet his friend’s comment after the service took him by surprise: “Please tell me what motivated that man to offer God such passionate praise. If I thought a relationship with God would bring me a reason to praise God like that, then I’d be interested in becoming a Christian.”
My father-in-law’s story both intrigued and inspired me. I knew I wanted to build an authentic church someday that could effectively reach mainstream America. I wanted the church I led to convince everyday people to open their hearts to God’s presence and power.
Yet I knew how skeptical they were. I also knew the answer to their skepticism needed to be more than theological; it had to be experiential too. And I knew that God wanted to do immeasurably more than all I asked or imagined according to His power that was at work in me (see Eph. 3:20).
Even today, I have not lost sight of this two-sided coin. How do we bring everyday people into an authentic relationship with God that inspires passionate praise? In our smaller city, we have found success with two simple concepts: relationship and relevance.
We like to say at Faith Family that “we hope to be the perfect church for people who aren’t.” We want to make it clear to people that God really doesn’t demand righteousness of us; rather, He develops it within us for our own good.
Jesus described God as a wise and merciful Father with arms open wide. But so many in our society don’t see Him that way. Instead, they see Him as the God who points an accusing finger at their weakness.
Fifteen years ago Sylvia came to our church. All we could tell about her initially was she was an attractive, single woman in her late 20s. But behind closed doors, she lived with a broken heart. Later she told me the only reason she stayed in our church the first year was because she loved learning the life-enhancing truths. She never planned on living fully devoted to God as those she saw around her were. After all, she was a lesbian and figured God was upset with her, not in love with her.
As she sat in church that year, something changed in her heart. She began to understand that God is a loving Father. I wept as she explained to me how in her prayer closet one day, she asked God to help her come out of the closet and into His arms. She asked Him to help her become a happy wife and mother. And that’s exactly what she is today: a happy wife and mother of three passionately praising God among us.
She’s also a leader in our church who has helped many people receive healing from a troubled past. She is known for her ability to repair and rebuild people who are seeking God.As I watch her worshiping in our congregation, I rejoice in the heart of Father God who didn’t say to Adam after his sin, “What have you done?” but rather, “Where are you?” God knew glorious, redemptive blessings follow the understanding that He wants to construct people, not condemn them. Let’s help our world know it!