Church Connect Team Ministry: Training And Inspiring Volunteers

by Jonah Sage

in Church Communications,Exhortations And Musings

While Kristen and Bobby take some time away from blogging, several guest bloggers will appear here at Today, welcome Jonah Sage. Chris is the Connect Director for the Midtown campus of Sojourn Community Church. He is also a church planting resident at Sojourn, and has worked as a pastoral research assistant.

My first Sunday serving as Sojourn’s Connect Director left me in a cold sweat. I was overwhelmed by processes, teams, leaders, check lists, security systems and everything that goes into pulling off a Sunday at our multi-site church. After a few weeks, I saw that all of our systems were great, yet the culture of our teams was off the mark. Our structures and processes were crystal clear, but somehow the goal of those systems had been lost in transmission. Our teams had grown into several cliques, volunteers were worn out and unmotivated, and our gatherings were suffering as a result.

I decided we needed to take an afternoon and train our volunteers again. A date was set and invitations were e-mailed. I sat down to plan out the training and realized how over my head I was: how do you train a team of 100 busy volunteers that is in almost constant transition?

I realized that lengthy handbooks, while helpful for some, were inadequate. I wanted to create something that would make two impressions on my volunteers. First, I wanted to give them a vision of what serving on Connect could be like. Second, I wanted to inspire in them the conviction that this picture must be. This is exactly how pastor Andy Stanley defines vision—a picture of what could be and the conviction that it must be.

I didn’t just want to create a new vision statement though. I wanted to create something simple and memorable that I could give to volunteers that reminded them of our vision but also gave them practical next steps. It took about five minutes to realize that this was going to be hard work.

The next Sunday on the job, I tried to walk around each service as if it was my first time visiting a church.  First-timer questions flooded my mind:

  • where should I park?
  • Which door is the entrance?
  • Where should I take my kids?
  • How can I get more involved?
  • Where can I go to get some answers?!

I realized that there were dozens of unintentional messages we were communicating on Sunday mornings. I took my notes home and began working through a pile of books about everything from creating a culture to marketing and branding. I began looking through sections of the Bible dealing with hospitality. One verse in particular jumped off the page. Towards the end of Romans, Paul sums up his theology of hospitality in one short sentence:

In a word, accept one another as Christ accepted us, to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7, REB)

Other translations use the word “welcome” instead of accept (the ESV, for instance). That core principle—welcoming others as Christ has welcomed us—became the core of our training. We asked basic but thought provoking questions: how has Jesus welcomed you? What state were you in when he welcomed you? What conditions did he place on welcoming you? How did his welcome make you feel?

Once we had brainstormed some answers, I asked if people would be able to learn and experience that through us on Sundays. The room grew silent. I wanted to press the point home so I asked the question a different way. “Everything we do communicates something,” I said. “So what are we communicating on Sundays?”

  • What does it communicate when we are huddled in our teams talking about where to eat after service?
  • What does it communicate when no one is at the welcome table?
  • What does it communicate when visitors don’t know who they can bring their questions to?

We made a few simple changes (all of our volunteers wear Connect T-shirts now, for instance) but the greatest impact has come from our new perspective. Once we embraced the idea that everything we do communicates something, the changes happened naturally. If God has offered us a warm, generous welcome, how do we communicate that as the Connect team?

Instead of huddling together off to the side (which can unintentionally say “We’re not interested” or “Don’t bother me”), our gallery team holds open doors and shakes people’s hands. Instead of telling someone where the bathroom or children’s check in is (which can unintentionally communicate we are too busy to help them), we walk them there.

Little changes like these have had a dramatic impact on our Sunday services (and by extension people’s eagerness to get more involved throughout the week).

At Sojourn, we believe that who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he has promised to do changes everything about the ways we live. Sometimes, it’s difficult to make connections between what Jesus has done, though, and how we should live today. When we began reading Romans 15:7 to our teams, they were able to begin making those connections in their specific contexts. How has Jesus welcomed you? He welcomed you without hesitation, warmly, generously, as a new member of the family. As individual teams, our volunteers are now asking, “How can we park cars, serve coffee, or help a stranger find a seat in a way that helps others experience the welcome Jesus offers?”

Our Sunday teams are still a work in progress but we are growing. When we train our teams with rigid practices or complex manuals, volunteers tire quickly and lose sight of the opportunity we have. When we ground both our motivation for serving and our model for serving in the work and promises of Jesus, though, we experience freedom to creatively and joyfully welcome others just like Christ has welcomed us.

Photo at top from Sojourn Midtown, via Matt Herp

{ 1 comment } November 6, 2012 at 10:21 am

Jonah, what a great post! Often we start with the what and forget the why. You’ve put those in the right order. I appreciate you writing this!

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