Does Your Church Make Straight A’s When It Comes To Volunteers?

How does your church bring new volunteers onboard?

Onboarding is the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating, and accelerating new team members, whether they come from outside or inside the organization. (Onboarding, Bradt and Vonnegut)


There’s actually another “a” word that is a perquisite: align. Here’s how the authors of Onboarding define the key processes listed above.

  • Align– make sure your organization agrees on the need for a new team member and the delineating of the role you seek to fill
  • Acquire– identify, recruit, select, and get people to join the team
  • Accommodate– give new team members the tools they need to do the work
  • Assimilate– help them join with others so they can do the work together
  • Accelerate – help them and their team deliver better results faster

Now that’s a list of “straight A’s” I will take anytime!

Though this list comes from a business book, there are great correlations for ChurchWorld as well.

For example, if your church values your volunteer team members, then they would make sure something like the process above is a part of your volunteer leadership development program. The role of bringing new volunteer leaders onboard shouldn’t be an afterthought.

My church considers the role of a team coordinator to be a volunteer staff position. In that role I may not receive a paycheck, but the importance of my role in the total scheme of what we do is not diminished one bit.

What’s it like at your church?


At Their Service

Ask yourself daily:

What did I specifically do today to be “of service” to members of my group or team? Was I truly a “servant” to them?

Robert Greenleaf, writing in the classic Servant Leadership challenges leaders to be servants. To help leaders understand the concept, he had two “exam” questions that leaders should ask concerning the people on their teams:

  1. Do those served grow as persons?
  2. Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?


Tom Peters translates these questions as follows:

  1. Leaders exist to serve their people. Period.
  2. A team well served by its leader will be inclined to pursue Excellence.

Use the word “Serve.” (That’s what you do.)

Use the word “Service.” (That’s what you provide.)

Use the word “Servant.” (That’s what you are.)


John Maxwell, writing about the Law of Addition:

When you think of servanthood, do you envision it as an activity performed by relatively low-skilled people at the bottom of the flow chart? If you do, you have a wrong impression. People are drawn toward those who serve them sacrificially, not repelled by them. It’s about attitude.

Leaders seek ways they can add value to others, and the primary way they do it is by serving them. In John 13, the Savior of the world exhibited that He was also the greatest Servant of all time. In a powerful object lesson of servanthood, Jesus stripped down to a garment around his waist, looking the part of a servant. He took a basin of water and a bowl and began washing his disciples’ feet.

Christlike Servant-Leaders

  1. Are motivated by love to serve others (vv. 1,2)
  2. Possess a security that allows them to serve others (v. 3)
  3. Initiate servant-leadership to others (vv. 4-5)
  4. Receive servant-ministry from others (vv. 6, 7)
  5. Want nothing to hinder their relationship with God (vv. 8, 9)
  6. Teach servanthood by their example (vv. 12, 15)
  7. Live a blessed life (vv. 16, 17)

When leaders serve, they add value to the people who receive their service. It might be something as simple as feeling special; it could be a resource we give others or a word of encouragement. Whatever it is, people always receive something and feel better about themselves because of their leader.

Leaders should add value to everyone they serve. Seek to replenish and resource them to live the higher life God has called them to.

Jesus served – should you do any less?


Designing Elevation Church’s Volunteer Culture with the Excellence of Nordstrom’s – Team Members

Reaction and comments from yesterday’s post and the correlation to the Ritz Carlton brings to mind another iconic retail establishment known for its customer service: Nordstrom’s.

Last fall, I was privileged to speak at the Worship Facility Conference and Expo on the topic of “Servant Leadership.” I had been doing research on Nordstrom’s customer service principles for several months, and found that they were easy to translate into the volunteer culture of churches. As a Guest Services Coordinator at Elevation Church’s Uptown Campus, it was easy for me to make some applications.

Taking the same 3-tier approach at Nordstrom’s, here’s a quick outline summary of the first tier and the second tier. Here’s a brief outline of Tier Three.

Part Three: What eTeams Can Do to Create a Culture of Servants

Create the Relationship: How Frontline Team Members Create Return Guests

  1. Listen to the Guest
  2. Understand the Guest’s needs
  3. Be honest and sincere
  4. Know the Elevation WE from top to bottom
  5. Understand the foundation of the “One Day” principle
  6. Take responsibility

The Experience Never Ends: There are 168 Hours in Your Week

  1. Be a team player
  2. GS excellence comes from practice, experience, observation, and personal commitment
  3. Positive thinking comes from following simple steps that produce a WOW! environment for our Guests
  4. Listen to the Guest

Play to Win: Encourage Teamwork at Every Level of Your Organization

  1. Find ways to balance individual achievement and teamwork
  2. Honor team achievements
  3. Demonstrate the importance of the whole team
  4. Encourage the team to take ownership of GS issues
  5. Encourage the team to cite the teamwork examples of others
  6. Publicize “heroic” stories of teamwork throughout the organization

Team members must buy into the culture and understand their role in maintaining and supporting the culture through their actions.

Team members are the ones who come closest into contact with your Guests, and therefore are crucial to your organization’s ability to serve them well. Team members must be empowered to establish relationships with Guests and find ways to take care of them. They must listen, understand the Guest’s needs, and follow-through with whatever needs to be done.

The front line is where the action’s at!

Designing Elevation Church’s Volunteer Culture with the Excellence of Nordstrom’s – Team Leaders

Reaction and comments from yesterday’s post and the correlation to the Ritz Carlton brings to mind another iconic retail establishment known for its customer service: Nordstrom’s.

Last fall, I was privileged to speak at the Worship Facility Conference and Expo on the topic of “Servant Leadership.” I had been doing research on Nordstrom’s customer service principles, and found that they were easy to translate into the volunteer culture at my church, Elevation Church in Charlotte NC.

Taking the same 3-tier approach at Nordstrom’s, you can read a quick summary of the first tier here. Here’s a quick summary of the second tier:

Part Two: What eLeaders Can Do to Create a Culture of Servants

#1 Strategy: Recruit the Smile

  1. It’s not the role for everyone
  2. 4 reasons volunteers choose your eTeam
  3. Recruit the smile, train the skill
  4. Invest in your team

That’s My Job: Empower Teams to Act Like Entrepreneurs

  1. Trust your team
  2. Give them freedom to make decisions on the spot
  3. Push decision-making responsibility and authority down to the lowest level possible
  4. Encourage your team every step of the way
  5. Use mistakes as tools for learning

Dump the Rules: Tear Down the Barriers to Exceptional Volunteer Service

  1. Trust your team’s judgment
  2. Simplify the process
  3. Do what’s right
  4. Promote one rule: The Golden Rule

This is How We Do It: Manage, Mentor, and Maintain Great Teams

  1. Find ways to motivate your team
  2. Treat the team with dignity and respect
  3. Encourage new team members to find mentors
  4. Promote a culture where team members mentor unselfishly
  5. Provide coaching tools
  6. Promote a culture of loyalty and ownership

Recognition, Competition, & Praise: Create a Sustainable, Emotional Bond with Your Team

  1. Always find ways to praise team members for great acts of GS
  2. Recognize and reward
  3. Provide team members with information on how they are doing
  4. Send notes, emails, phone calls to team members regularly

Staff and coordinators may create the atmosphere and culture, but it is up to the people on the front lines to put it into practice. Team Leaders at Elevation have experienced the front lines – that’s where they came from! Because of this, they know what to look for in a new volunteer, how to empower people, mentor them, train them, and praise them for a job well done.

Next: Team Members

Designing Elevation’s Volunteer Culture with the Excellence of Nordstrom’s – Coordinators

Reaction and comments from yesterday’s post and the correlation to the Ritz Carlton brings to mind another iconic retail establishment known for its customer service: Nordstrom’s.

Last fall, I was privileged to speak at the Worship Facility Conference and Expo on the topic of “Servant Leadership.” I had been doing research on Nordstrom’s customer service principles for several months, and found that they were easy to translate into the volunteer culture of churches. As a Guest Services Coordinator at Elevation Church’s Uptown Campus, it was easy for me to make some applications.

Taking the same 3-tier approach at Nordstrom’s, here’s a quick outline summary of the first tier:

What eCoordinators Can Do to Create a Culture of Servants

The Elevation Story

  1. An appreciation of what Elevation is all about cannot be fully grasped without an understanding of our culture
  2. Know the history (past); live out the history (present); know where you’re going (future)
  3. Vision

Spreading the Servant’s Culture: Publicly Celebrate Your Heroes; Promote from Within the Team

  1. Storytelling and folklore of individual and team success
  2. Stories of heroics are regularly shared – a standard to aspire to and even surpass
  3. eCoordinators with a deep understanding of the Elevation culture and who really value it

Line Up and Cheer for Your Team: Create an Inviting Place to Serve

  1. If leaders and team members are excited about the experience of serving at Elevation, they will exceed your expectations
  2. Create something extra every week

How Can I Help You? Provide Lots of Choices

  1. Make sure you have all the choices you need in order to give potential leaders and team members options to serve
  2. Emulating the Nordstrom way
    1. Cross-Training all area teams
    2. Identify leader and team needs before they are expressed

While all team members need to have an appreciation and awareness of the organization’s history and culture, the eCoordinators are critical. They create, maintain, and support the servant culture.

Next: eLeaders

The Lineup at Elevation Uptown

It’s one thing to have a Credo, Three Steps of Service, and 12 Service Values like the Ritz-Carlton (see the post here for more details). Many businesses go through the exercise of defining key values or composing mission statements. They might even display them in their literature, or in imposing art displays on the corporate walls.

How many organizational leaders understand the importance of regular and repetitive presentation of the core aspects of their business – not only to management, but to their front-line staff?

Enter the “lineup” at Ritz-Carlton.

To truly appreciate the Ritz-Carlton leadership approach to repeated dissemination of the “Gold Standard” mentioned here, you would have to drop in on a section of the housekeeping staff as they prepare for their days work – or at the corporate headquarters – or in the kitchen of the fine restaurants that serve the hotel chain – or anywhere, and everywhere, throughout the entire organization.

You would observe that a meeting is taking place at the beginning of each shift. Not just any meeting, though: the leader in each group starts by sharing the Credo and talking about the importance of creating a unique guest experience. Another team member might share a guest story from a Ritz-Carlton hotel in another country. Another team member shares how what they do in their department helps create memorable guest experiences. Then a few quick announcements, special recognitions are given, and the meeting is closed with a motivational quote by another team member.

All in about 20 minutes.

Every day.

On every shift.

In every Ritz-Carlton hotel and office around the world.

The magic of the lineup involves the following:

  • Repetition of values – the core belief that values need to be discussed daily, and that values can’t be discussed enough
  • Common language – shared phrases across all tasks binds the team together
  • Visual symbols – The Credo is printed on a card that all team members carry at all times
  • Oral traditions – Personal, direct, and face-to-face communication makes a huge impact in a world increasingly dominated by e-mail, text, and voice messages
  • Positive storytelling – stories communicate life in a powerful and memorable way
  • Modeling by leaders – the active, daily presence of the leaders communicates the importance of the time together

What would “lineup” for each of your teams do to preserve the core values, communicate the importance of everyone on the team, and provide momentum for the day’s activities?

At Elevation Uptown, here’s what our ‘lineup’ looks like on Sunday mornings at 7:45 AM:

 Elevation Uptown 012013
Or how about this word for the process? Alignment.

That’s how we roll Uptown!

Capacity 2.0

First, there was capacity.

Then, there was expanding your capacity.

Now it’s time for Capacity 2.0.

Leaders (like you) in organizations (like yours) need to create a reason to collaborate and a platform to make it possible. When a diverse group of people with a unique blend of gifts and abilities comes together – and stays together – the results can be amazing.

What’s the Capacity 2.0 of the volunteers in your organization?


Wanted: Volunteers who are FAT

The most popular New Year’s resolution involves loosing weight, but that’s not the kind of FAT I’m talking about.

At the heart of volunteer expectations, you should find people who want to be FAT:

Faithful – a dual meaning here: faithful to service to God, and faithful in serving others through your organization

Available – again, a dual meaning: making yourself available to serve in the first place, and then making time to serve

Teachable – skill sets can be taught, but you have to start with a teachable spirit first.

When you have volunteers who are FAT, there’s no biggest loser – only winners all the way.

Organizational Physics

A team at rest tends to stay at rest.

Seth Godin, writing in “Linchpin“, states that forward motion isn’t the default state of any group of people, particularly groups with lots of people. Cynics and politics and coordination kick in and everything grinds to a halt.

In an old school, top-down factory model this isn’t really a problem. The owner controls the boss who controls the foreman who controls the worker. It’s a tightly linked chain, and things get done because there is cash to be made.

Most modern organizations are now far more fluid than this. Responsibility isn’t as clear, deliverables aren’t as measurable, and goals aren’t as cut and dried. So things slow down.

Sound familiar? Like maybe your church?

Enter the linchpin. Understanding that your job is to make something happen changes what you do all day. If you can only cajole, not force, if you can only lead, not push, then you make different choices.

In many organizations, but especially the church, you can’t say, “Get more excited and insightful or you’re fired.” No, the men and women who go beyond their job description (if any at all) to do the unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary do it because they were inspired to do so by a leader who isn’t even around when the team is at work.

Are you that kind of leader?


Establishing a Culture of Service

Yesterday’s post introduced what I have found to be the number one question I encounter in talking with leaders in ChurchWorld:

How do we discover/train/keep more volunteers in our church?

I have dozens of conversations with church leaders every week. In almost every conversation – no matter what the original topic – the question above comes up. Large or small, rural or urban or suburban, traditional or contemporary, denominational or non-denominational, the question is always being asked.

Yesterday I began a series of posts on the concept of volunteers in ChurchWorld. I introduced the topic with the first of two  articles written in 2009 for Church Solutions magazine. They were based on a unique experience I had at my church that summer – one that changed my perspective and trajectory. You can read the first one here. And here’s the second… 

Establishing a Culture of Service (originally written for Church Solutions magazine in August 2009)

If you took a poll of church leaders about some of their biggest problem areas in churches today, you are sure to find some variation of “we need more workers” in the top three. I grew up in the home of two very committed parents who served in a lot of different church positions over the years. As a young teenage believer, I helped out where I could. As a young married adult, my wife and I volunteered for numerous positions in our college and seminary churches. While serving in church staff positions for over 23 years, I also served in different volunteer capacities. When I transitioned into the role of a church consultant, I continued in volunteer roles in my church. As I look back over these decades of experiences, the need for more workers is a prominent and consistent memory.

What if it didn’t have to be that way?

A few weeks ago I wrote about Elevation Church in Charlotte NC and their efforts in enlisting volunteers for their kick-off Sunday in the fall. In that post, I noted the events of the day and posed a question: Where do I sign up? It wasn’t a rhetorical question, because my wife and I had already made the decision to serve on the volunteer staff at Elevation. Here is the rest of the story.

On that “No Show Sunday” Elevation had an additional 560 volunteers sign up. That was critical because on 8/23/09, the church opened their first permanent campus, added three new worship services at two campus locations, and upgraded the facilities at their third location, thus requiring the additional volunteers. In the two weeks before the opening and expansion, each of the campus locations had volunteer recognition and training events on-site. Each of the 4 areas of volunteering had a session with the team leader going over the responsibilities of that area. Volunteers were given the task of “shadowing” a position to see if that was indeed where they wanted to serve. Our team leaders emailed and called us before our first Sunday of service. A volunteer leader packet came in the mail. So it was no surprise that a whole new cadre of volunteer leaders were eagerly in place on the first day!

Some observations of my recent experiences at Elevation:

  • Does your church have a culture of service? Do you expect that everyone will serve somewhere, doing something? If not, why not?
  • Many times, all you have to do is ask. People want to serve; they just need permission from you!
  • Make sure you are ready for the response. If you asked for volunteers and got 50 or 100 or more, would you be ready for them?
  • Establish a training/shadowing process. Volunteers don’t need 4 weeks of intensive training before they serve; most can begin right away with a minimum amount of training, continuing to learn as they serve.
  • Do you have a process to keep up with volunteers, seeing how they are doing and challenging them to strive for more?
  • Do you celebrate the volunteers who serve in your church? You couldn’t pay them to do what they do, but it is nice to recognize their gifts of time and service throughout the year.
  • Is volunteering a high value for your church? Do your full-time staff positions recognize the crucial role volunteers serve and respond appropriately?

I have been fortunate to serve in dozens of volunteer leadership capacities over the past four decades, but I’m very grateful to be a part of a church that knows the value of volunteers, challenges us to go beyond ourselves, and do it all while serving our Lord.

What’s the culture of service like in your organization?