Reengaging Volunteer Leaders for Digital Ministry

Reengaging Volunteer Leaders for Digital Ministry

It has now been over four months. It is time for me to return to facilitating the ministry rather than doing it all.

There is something a friend of mine says that is just so fitting for this moment of my life and ministry, “You will never know less about ___ than you do right now.” Sometimes it is silly, “Well, you’ll never know less about vacationing with both sets of parents than you do right now!” And sometimes it is serious, “Keep breathing. You’ll never know less about caring for a someone in the hospital than you do right now.” I find this phrase comforting because in the same breath it acknowledges real fear and anxiety while offering hope.

Ministry during the global pandemic of COVID19 has brought us face-to-face with so many of these moments. Overwhelming moments when we fear that we don’t know how to lead Sunday School online or preach to a camera or support isolated older adults. And I’ve found myself repeating often, “I’ll never know less than I do right now about serving as tech support for Zoom worship.”

Sharing The Work

As I launched into this uncertain space of facilitating our congregations ministry with children and families while remaining physically distant, it felt easier to do it all myself. I didn’t know exactly what Zoom Godly Play would look like, so how could I expect my volunteers to sign on as leaders?

But it has now been over four months. It is time for me to return to facilitating the ministry rather than doing it all. As I begin to imagine what this will look like, I remind myself, “I’ll never know less about reengaging and retraining our volunteer leaders for online formation than I do right now.” I don’t have to get it “just right” on my first attempt. I can trust in God’s faithfulness in this process and the grace of the congregation.

Remember What You Know

The goal of Christian formation has not changed, it is just the tools, means, and methods available to us that have shifted. So return to what you know, what has worked well in the past and adapt.

1. Remember the Why
During this time, some churches or ministry areas are doing less. You might actually be able to lead everything yourself, but that does not mean you should. Certainly, we engage volunteer leaders to extend the capacity of our ministries. But more importantly we engage volunteer leaders as widely as possible because – be it youth ministry, creation care, or outreach – ministry is the work of the whole congregation. Ministries are made sustainable through sharing the work and strengthened by the gifts of a group. Not only does it allow each of us to share our God given gifts, leadership offers us opportunities for spiritual growth.

2. Assess Ministry Needs
What programs/events/ministries are taking place (or will take place)? What is it that only you can do? What is it that other folks can do? Create a list of each area that could use support and how many volunteer leaders you might need. For example, to facilitate Zoom Godly Play this fall I’d like to have two storytellers in addition to myself as well as three doorkeepers. So I’m looking for a total of five folks.

3. Assess Volunteer Leader Needs
Figure out what your volunteer leaders will need in order to be successful in their role. Do they need a tripod in order to record short videos? Do they need to learn how to use Google Drive? Do they need access to the church YouTube account? Assess how best to meet these needs. This might require working with individuals or small groups on technology skills or purchasing support materials for each volunteer leader.

4. Re-Write the Job Description
Our methods of ministry have changed, and, therefore, so has the role we are asking volunteer leaders to play. In my congregation, “greeters” used to stand by the door to the sanctuary and welcome people to church. Now, “greeters” welcome folks as they sign online for worship. Write a clear job description that reflects how the role has changed. Make sure to include the time commitment (i.e. we ask greeters to commit to serving once a month for one calendar year, so about two hours a month).

5. Pray with Your Directory
Once you have clarity on what you are looking for, pray. Pray for God to provide the right folks for the work. Then grab a directory and begin creating a list of possible leaders to ask. I often get stuck on the thought, who has capacity for this role. But I know it’s better to start with, “Lord, who has gifts for this ministry.” You never know who might let go of something else to make room for what you and God are calling them into.

6. Make a Personal Ask
It can be a phone call, letter, or email, but make sure you ask folks individually when recruiting volunteer leaders. Provide the job description, offer to answer questions, and ask the person to pray about whether or not this is the right work for them at this time.

7. Provide the Training
Once you have a group of committed leaders, gather them for a training opportunity. While it is important to cover technical content such as safe church policies and how to use breakout rooms on Zoom, you can also use the gathering as an opportunity to provide spiritual nourishment to your leaders. Gather with prayer, offer a check in time, invite them to pray for each other and those participating in the ministry.

8. Check In, Reflect, Tweak
Plan to gather again for regular check in opportunities. Reflect together as a group and figure out what adjustments might support your ministry goals. Reflection questions might include: Where have you experienced God during your work with this ministry? What have you noticed is different or similar about doing ministry in this new way? What is working well? What could be working better?

*Special thanks to the Rev. Elizabeth Henry-McKeever whose wisdom forms the foundation of this post and Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries – a book that has profoundly shaped my ministry and a place I return over and over again to remember what I know.

Sarah Bentley Allred received her MDiv. from Virginia Theological Seminary in May 2019. She now serves as Director of Children and Family Ministries at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina and as the Associate for Christian Formation and Discipleship for Lifelong Learning. Sarah is passionate about children’s spirituality, intergenerational worship, and small church formation. She loves local coffee shops, board games, the beach, and exploring new places with her husband, Richard, and their dog, Grace.

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