Churches are a strange hybrid of a not-for-profit and a business. They have to have money to survive, so they develop a marketing strategy and then try to put butts in the seats. To most churches, people are “giving units”.
In America, church has become more of a social experience than a faith experience. We show up for an hour, drink our cappuccino, listen to the music, and head on our way. We might chit chat with a few people on the way out the door, but that’s really the entire experience.
Those are the lucky people. Then there are those that volunteer. They are usually the real victims of church. Churches notoriously don’t know how to manage volunteers. They refuse to use basic business tactics even though the most successful churches have a CEO, not a pastor. Look at any megachurch and I will show you a pastor that runs things like a CEO. It has its drawbacks, but it does keep volunteers happy.
Pastor as dictator is much more common. Or the Pastor and his Board of Directors (read: buddies) dictate everything. Lots of time and attention are spent giving lip service to inclusion. Everyone has a voice, everyone’s opinion counts. But that isn’t really the case. Decisions are made long before the process of “involvement” begins. It’s more a process of informing and attempting to convince.
Those who don’t like the decision that’s handed down are considered bad people, because obviously any choice that the pastor and/or his board makes are handed down from God. Thus, it MUST be the right decision.
I attended a church for many years, which we’ll call Our Lady of Eternal Damnation. The pastor of the church arbitrarily announced that we needed a bigger building and that we’d be buying the adjacent property. God said, so who were we to disagree. He collected six figures from the sheep, and then the land owner told him no way dude. Fortunately for the pastor, God changed his mind and decided we were instead supposed to use the money to build a Cracker Barrel restaurant next to the city dump. I WISH I was making this up, but sadly I’m not.
Long story short, the Cracker Barrel plan was thwarted by the city and ultimately God changed his mind once again and told the pastor to swap buildings with another church a few miles away. So basically people were defrauded out of their money which was then put towards other uses.
That’s a common story. God tells pastors to do something and then changes his mind. I’d dare say it’s more likely that the pastor is having a midlife crisis than God changing his mind, but who am I to say… I’m not in “full time ministry.”
If someone in business were to do the same thing, they’d be thrown in prison for swindling people.
Anyhow, I’ve derailed. Back to leading volunteers.
Volunteers generally WANT to be involved and do some good. Generally speaking they have other commitments as well, like jobs, families, etc. They don’t look for pay, perks, or other compensation. In fact, the only thing that volunteers really want is to be appreciated. Much like employees… They’re like employees who ACTUALLY CARE about what they’re doing.
So of course, volunteers are not appreciated. More often, they are nitpicked, berated, and told they aren’t doing a good enough job. When they are complimented, it’s usually lip service – a ploy to either get more out of them or to blow smoke up their ass so they won’t see the hammer coming.
Standards for volunteers are completely arbitrary and at the whim of paid church staff, who usually have as much experience leading people as a titmouse. They majored in “ministry” instead of business, where they learned to hold people to a “higher standard.” Higher than what, you ask? Well, I assume they mean higher than Jesus since that’s how it usually plays out.
I’ve worked in business since I was 18, and in management since I was 23. I’ve never been treated as badly in business as I have been in church over the course of the last 12 years. Truly it’s a sad state of affairs when people in business show more respect and kindness than people who claim to be representing Christianity that teaches us to “Do Right, Walk Humbly, and Love Mercy.” Usually that gets translated to “do what I say, I’m better than you, and if you don’t do it my way I’ll drive you out.”
My volunteering at churches goes back to my childhood when my dad was a pastor. I can honestly say I’ve never given less than 100%. I work hard, practice hard, show up when I don’t want to, do tasks no one else wants to do… if I was an employee I’d be getting a fat bonus. Instead, since I choose to volunteer in church, I get used up and thrown away. All churches may not be created equal, but sometimes it seems that way.
Now that I’ve ranted, how about the solution:
How to Properly Run a Church Program
1. Encourage and build up volunteers regularly, and actually mean it.
2. On the flip side, don’t say things you don’t believe just to be nice.
3. Don’t make unreasonable demands (remember by definition volunteers have outside employment – some of us have 7 jobs).
4. Don’t make decisions “on high” and pass them down on stone tablets… you aren’t Moses. Ask for input. Collaboration is key, not just convincing.
5. Work on problems as they come up, don’t wait then smash it with a sledge hammer unless you like replacing people often.
6. Don’t allow staff to act like dictator of the universe. Little Hitlers need to be crushed.
7. Don’t be condescending or try and demean someone subtly. If they deserve demeaning, do it face to face, open and honest.
8. Never correct or make tough comments in public. Not only is it mean, it’s not even Biblical.
9. Spend time building up your relationship with your volunteers. When tough times come, the tighter the group, the easier to stay together.
10. NEVER have the attitude of “If they don’t like the changes they can leave… we don’t want them if they don’t like it.” WOW. Talk about an arrogant, heartless approach. I can tell you from many years of business, if people don’t like your changes, it’s for one of two reasons: 1) The changes are bad and you’re simply dense or 2) You suck at communicating the changes to your people. Never in all my years has the problem been the people being subjected to the change. If people are walking out, look in the mirror, not at them. And thank you to John Rowe at Herff Jones who taught me this important lesson at the ripe old age of 23 – it honestly changed my entire world view.