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  • Jonno White

How to Build a Volunteer Ministry Leadership Team


Do you lead a ministry? Maybe you're on staff? Or maybe you're a volunteer? Regardless, leading a ministry means leading volunteers. And it's one thing to build a leadership team of employees, but building a volunteer ministry leadership team is actually more challenging. Why? Because volunteers don't need to be there. That means, the threshold that must be passed for employees to leave is far lower for volunteers. At the same time, the threshold that must be passed for leaders to be effective when leading employees is far higher when leading volunteers.

So, we could spend all day complaining about the challenges of leading volunteers. Or we could focus on the potential. There's something special about an empowered, passionate team of volunteers doing ministry together. Why? For the same reason as above! They don't need to be there. And leading volunteers effectively means you're not just making a difference to the bottom line, you're making a difference to the lives of the people and community you're serving. Last of all, effective leadership means your volunteers can find your ministry an incredibly fulfilling place to serve and you can play a part in helping them to become everything they're meant to be.

Here are six steps to help you build a volunteer ministry leadership team.

1. Do you need a leadership team?

Good question! If you've never led or been part of a leadership team before and you don't have one at the moment, you might be wondering whether you even need one? In my opinion, unless you're the only person involved in your ministry, you need a leadership team. If you have less than ten volunteers in your ministry, then it's easiest to consider that group your leadership team. There's something awkward about having a leadership team of four when you only have eight volunteers to begin with. Instead, treat your whole team of volunteers like a leadership team and use specific roles and responsibilities to empower particular people in your team. The main reason for making your whole group your leadership team is it's the best use of your time to get the whole team together as regularly as possible. You can also invest in seven other people to some depth whereas investing in 20 people with depth just isn't possible.

That takes us to leaders of more than ten volunteers. If you have 15, 20, 50 or 100 volunteers in your ministry, whether you're on staff or a volunteer yourself, you definitely need to create a leadership team. Who are the people in your ministry requiring the most investment from you as the leader? Hint: it's not the people you serve (in the traditional sense). It's your volunteers. They need your investment as the leader of the ministry. As I've heard it said, leading ministry isn't just about doing ministry. It's about empowering others to do ministry. As a leader, the people you need to be investing in the most are your volunteers. As mentioned above, once you have more than ten volunteers, you simply don't have the time required to invest in everyone with depth. Instead, by spending most of your time personally investing in a smaller group of your volunteers and empowering them to personally invest in other volunteers, you can actually lead, care for and invest in all of your volunteers—the whole team. You just need to change your thinking. When your wider team reaches a certain size, it's less about you impacting volunteers directly and more about you impacting volunteers through your team. This should still involve some face-to-face investment in the wider group of volunteers, but you do it through less personal means such as communicating to the whole group.

2. Who should be on your leadership team?

Once you decide you need a leadership team, it's time to think about who should be on your leadership team. Experience? Over-rated. Entitled attitude and will pout if not on the leadership team? Not a good reason to put them on the leadership team. But a fantastic reason not to put them on the leadership team. One of the tough things about building a healthy volunteer ministry leadership team is the crucial conversations you're going to need to have. I know. Who thought it would be this tough, right? But, let me encourage you—as you build your leadership team ... listen to the Holy Spirit. If you don't feel right about someone or something feels off, pay attention. It is hard. But, the impact you can have on people's lives—those you lead and those your ministry serves—is worth it.

How many people should be on your leadership team? First, as you're deciding who to approach to be on your leadership team, consider the size of the team. Patrick Lencioni's guide in this area is helpful. He says a healthy size for a leadership team is between three and ten. Any more than ten and you have too many people in a room to truly act as a team. In my experience, every person you add to the team exponentially increases the amount of time and effort required to lead the team. As an example, leading a team of four compared to a team of seven is easier on so many levels. But, it's not about a small team, it's about the right team. So, have as many people as you think you need, but do so with your eyes open to the work that's going to be involved with every additional person you have on your team.

Second, select people for your leadership team who are passionate about the vision, purpose or why of your ministry. I'll talk about vision soon, but if your specific ministry doesn't have a vision, look at the vision of your church. Who shares that vision? Who doesn't? Third, select people for your leadership team who embody the values of your ministry. Once again, I'll talk more about values shortly, but if your ministry doesn't have values, look at the values of your church. Who embodies those values? Who doesn't?

Fourth, Patrick Lencioni's characteristics of an ideal team player are incredibly helpful in this area. He argues that people who are humble, hungry and people smart make wonderful team players, whereas people who struggle significantly in one or more of those areas are often challenging people to have on a team. Out of your volunteers, who is humble? Who is hungry—has a strong work ethic and is determined and perseveres to get things done? And who is people smart? When it comes to people smart, this is how I think of it. Have you ever been in a conversation where someone's said something and you've thought, "woah, that's offensive" and grimaced? Yet, you've noticed they haven't realised what they've said is offensive at all? That's the opposite of people smart. Be careful putting someone like that on your leadership team. A person who struggles with emotional intelligence can definitely grow in that area, but you're likely to have a bundle of accidental messes to clean up along the way.

3. Prepare your team for change