Recruit, Train, Release & Recognize: Getting & Retaining Tech Team Volunteers
I feel as though everyone will read this headline and think, “Another step-by-step for volunteers. Haven’t we read them all?” (insert eye roll) “Haven’t we tried this a million ways already?” “We always have a problem getting and keeping volunteers — doesn’t every church?” – and all the other negative thoughts many of us have about it. Finding and keeping volunteers is a hard job. So, let’s not waste any more time.
Volunteers, first and foremost, are amazing! If you disagree, you’re already in a rough spot. If your team isn’t happy, if the team is unnecessarily small, or if there are zero volunteers, get to finding out why – and quick. It will be a tough self-discovery conversation, but one that will help in the long run.
Perhaps someone has a bad attitude. Maybe the equipment is old and fails all the time, there may be a stinky kid back there that no one wants to work in close proximity with them (this actually happened in our booth,) or maybe it’s new equipment and zero training. Write it all down. When I did this self-assessment a few years ago here were some of the answers I received:
“I’ve been serving in this booth for 15 years, I’ve outlasted all the computers, and a couple of you Tech Directors and I doubt anyone even knows I serve back here.” Ouch.
“It would be nice to be recognized even when we don’t make a mistake.” Again, ouch!
“I’m confused most of the time. I do my job which is to push this one button on this lighting console, but if something did go wrong I would be clueless on how to help.”
These answers (plus about 10 other things they brought up) all showed me we had a long way to go, mostly with how we were treating our volunteers and (not) appreciating them.
Process Of Change
We know churches fluctuate and people come and go. So, first of all, your volunteers will always be changing and growing and moving on, so you, too, have to always be changing and growing and moving on.
If you’re the technical director (or are otherwise in charge of the technicians), remember that this is an ongoing job, one that all of us need to stay on top of, to commit to our calendars, and dedicate toward our seas of volunteers. If you build it they will come.
Here are some of the most common obstacles:
Burnout. Are you putting too much on your volunteers? Do they serve every single week? Do they have time to worship?
Disorganization. Is the AV set-up too complicated? Is there an organized schedule for your volunteers? Do they know what’s coming up?
Disinterest. Volunteers may find out they weren’t as passionate about the “tech thing” as they thought at first. Or maybe they don’t feel like their skills are being utilized in the best way.
Out of sight, out of mind. Are you staying connected with your volunteers? Do they know you care? Do you care?
Lack of appreciation. All volunteers like to know their work is making a difference to others. Do you or your church regularly thank volunteers?
By following the next four steps, these common obstacles can be kept at bay and help in creating a culture of care of service on the team.
There should never be any doubt that the tech team is looking for volunteers Create pre-service announcement slides, have the pastor make an announcement from the pulpit, place the information in the bulletin and/or weekly emails, attend ministry fairs, and ask the small groups to mention it. These can be on-going things, even if your team is “full.” Other useful options:
Get creative. Talk with your marketing department (if there is one) for their ideas, create videos for social media, ask other successful volunteer teams how they did it.
Activity nights. Bowling night, trivia night, movie night, dessert and coffee game night, and cookouts. Invite anyone who’s looking to get involved and to serve. Personally ask people to come join you. Ask each team member to bring a friend or spouse.
Ask. Youth groups are often filled with (at least somewhat) with tech-savvy people who could be interested in learning more and contributing.
Outside the church. Local college programs can be great resources to find individuals who are looking to expand their knowledge base. You could even work with some professors to see if extra credit could be applied to certain classes. Creating internships is also an excellent way to get outside folks inside the church.
Where do you start? Hire professionals and pay them to run services? Train volunteers myself? Pay others to come in and train? What about going to training programs? Yes.
Schedule an inquiry meeting with your team or send out a survey. Ask them what they want to learn and find out who is interested in what, and who is intimidated by what. Ask the hard questions. What scares you the most about the gear or this position? Schedule regular trainings with the team. Advertise the trainings and welcome new people to join. Have refreshments, have fun, have music playing and lights going. Make it a fun night!
Training sessions should last no longer than three hours. Fellowship for a half-hour on the front, training for two hours, and then fellowship with questions and comments in the last half hour. There are a million resources out there for trainings. Hire a local sound or lighting person for a couple of hours to teach the team. Manufacturers also often hold free trainings on equipment, and they can be a great resource.
Once trained, have the volunteers shadow you (or someone who’s already been running the equipment) for a week or two. Make sure they come to rehearsals and sound check, which are great places for them to start getting hands-on training without all the pressure.
Then let them run the equipment with supervision. Assure them there’s someone to help out if something goes wrong, but let them take the lead. Give them positive feedback and constructive criticism, but most of all appreciate them and thank them for what they did. Follow up during the week (via email or phone call) and ask how they’re feeling about the position and training. Remember: encourage!
Acknowledge the team, pray for and with them, show them appreciation, continue to always recruit, train, and check-in with them. Have goals for the team and yourself. Ask the pastor if he’ll recognize them from the pulpit once in a while.
This is also a recruitment opportunity. Place a thank you slide to the team in the graphics. Have a thank you and appreciation party (quarterly works well). Again, a recruitment opportunity. Write them a personal note, send a personalized positive and encouraging email or text in the middle of the week, and quote specifics. Give recognition to the team personally. When tech people feel loved and cared for, we want to be there more.
I’ve used these exact methods in several churches and can tell you it works. We set goals and stick to them. We added two people to our team after the first bowling night. We added another person when we hosted a cookout at my house and yet another person when our presentation tech invited her best friend to hang out with her in the booth.
Never forget, these amazing volunteers can make you look and sound great every week and you can’t do your job without them. Most of them already have full-time jobs somewhere else, and honestly probably need a Sunday off more than you realize. Treat them like the royalty that they are, and you won’t be sorry. There’s never regret in reaching out, training, becoming friends with, and being a servant as well as a leader to your volunteers.
Hear more from Beckie on this recent Church Sound Podcast with host Samantha Potter: