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Volunteers and audio 2019 Crossroads Community Church Photo Team, Fitchburg, MA
Our team structure encourages the building of healthy relationships, and all are helping to train new recruits.

4 Obstacles Stopping Your Volunteer Growth

Even when things are going well, growth and time eventually challenge every system. Knowing when it is time to change is not always clear.

When I began my ministry at Crossroads Community Church in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, the church as a whole was only comprised of around 40 people.

History repeats itself and we need to learn from it.

I was responsible for two other volunteer sound guys.

Life was relatively simple.

Things, though, were about to change.

These days, our church has grown to welcome more than 600 people every weekend.

That media team that once was three? It has since grown to 42.

We’re grateful for all God has done, and continues to do, in our community.

To serve more people, the church needs more people to serve. Volunteers are essential to the health of the community.

The story of growing our team is also the story of growing our church.

It’s hard to attribute this growth to any one process, but here are four of the big obstacles we had to smash through at Crossroads, to successfully multiply our team.

1. Thinking What Used to Work Will Always Work

Even though it’s the same church with the same pastor in the same location, the Crossroads in 2005 and the Crossroads in 2019, are entirely different. It would be impossible to take the structure of one year and apply it to the other without catastrophe.

For example, in 2005, the team goals were very simple: Teach two volunteers how to run a mixer, along with the principles of sound. We did everything shoulder to shoulder, spending lots of time together and really getting to know one another.

Since we were such a tight-knit unit, we all generally wanted to be there all the time. Relationships like this are critical for media teams to be successful.

Now with 40-plus people that are on the team, it’s nearly impossible to spend the same amount of time with everyone, as when the team was so much smaller.

From a simple logistics perspective, if we all showed up together for every service and event, we wouldn’t fit in the sound booth. More importantly, though, I would be spreading myself very thin to personally train and spend quality time with every member of the team each and every week.

Today, I share this responsibility with a team of 10 senior leaders.

My goal these days is to spend time with these particular leaders, to make sure they can in turn pour into the other 30 people on the team. Each leader in this group is responsible for three to five people within the larger group, usually based on a shared technical position, like sound or lighting.

Our team structure encourages the building of healthy relationships, and all are helping to train new recruits. It also has had the effect of empowering everyone to be able to contribute their ideas, since we have such open lines of communication across multiple positions.

If I would have taken this approach of tiered leadership with the smaller team, it would have made us more distant, instead of better connected. Such complexity at that point would have been impractical.

But if I would have never adapted this style and never empowered these leaders, I would have become a bottleneck. We could have never sustained our growth without this change.

2. Failing to Make Systems for Change

Even when things are going well, growth and time eventually challenge every system. Knowing when it is time to change is not always clear.

When I look back, the most trying times came when I fell behind the curve.

For example, a few years ago, our monthly schedule was sent by email. However, over time, our people seemed to stop checking their email. A lot work went into those weekly emails, so this was disappointing. Without really thinking things through, I launched a months-long campaign to get people to check their email. I thought “They need to change, not me, and not my process.”

After a Sunday, where half the team didn’t show up to serve, I finally had a moment of clarity: No one here uses email.

I’m the one who needs to change.

At the time, everyone had a Facebook page. We immediately switched, and things improved overnight.

History repeats itself and we need to learn from it. More recently, people in my community have been leaving Facebook.

This time, we saw the need to change before significant problems arose. That’s because we had developed a routine to look for change.

At the start of each year, our pastor sets the tone for the year, with a vision for the church. We use this as an opportunity to make sure we are in harmony with his plans. The team certainly shouldn’t set up divergent or competing visions from the pastor. He refreshes this vision every week through staff meetings.

My leaders under our pastor also are on the lookout for change, usually through monthly check-ins. We talk all the time, but generally about the task at hand. We make it a point to set aside time each month to look at things holistically, in terms of our overall performance and direction.

Finally, I hold leadership meetings with our team’s senior volunteers, usually a few times a year. The 10 senior crew members get together and think about direction, goals, and ideas for growth. Proverbs 11:14 says “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” Having these roundtables helps us measure the gaps between expectations and behavior from a 360-degree perspective. The results of these conversations form the basis for larger team meetings with the entire crew.

These regular meetings provide a structure to plan and think big picture. The vision extends from the pastor to the newest recruit.

3. Failing to Recognize How Different We Are

My pastor says in his time at Crossroads, he’s really led four or five different churches. Looking back, things were so different when the church was made up of 50 people, 150 people, 300 people, and most recently, at 600 people. What worked great at one level, would not apply at the next level.

As your team expands, you’ll also begin to see your current system stressed, as it struggles to keep up with your growth. Processes are put to the test, like a foot outgrowing a shoe.

To recognize this better, our team uses our recruitment numbers. As a rule of thumb, when we increase by 40 percent of our size, it’s a good opportunity to think about how different we’ve become, and what changes may be necessary to allow for the church to continue at a steady rate of growth. It’s not an exact science, but it keeps us looking out.

When we moved from five people to seven on the team, for example, informal discussions needed to become formal. Simple conversations at rehearsal had to be replaced by written messages, and eventually those were replaced by team policies.

Similarly, going from 15 to 21 changed dynamics on the church’s team as well. For instance, we could no longer hold our annual BBQ at my little house. We simply wouldn’t fit. It required us to think of new ways to build relationships and a new system for showing gratitude.

As we crossed from 25 to 35 team members, we found the we needed to update and communicate expectations. Rather than focusing on a routine checklist, we focused on teaching the type of behaviors that would allow us to learn and adapt with positive attitudes.

Whether based on time, size or another factor, planning milestones to recognize growth, prove helpful in staying ahead of the curve.

4. Allowing Personalities to Limit, Instead of Lead

Sound guys have a reputation for being curmudgeon, grumpy and cynical. Frankly, that’s just a human condition. I’ve met cynics in every stripe of life, in every job. Attitude can certainly create a limit to a ministry, especially if we think ourselves more vital than we are.

As we moved through the early growth barriers, especially when the team was made up of 10 people or so, it was easy for a sound guy to think of himself as specially qualified for his job. There was a lot of training required, only a few people had experience, and maybe only one of those had professional experience. This person can be a tremendous asset with the right attitude, and an equally tremendous pain, with a bad one.

My friends in different ministries and different churches have shared some shocking stories over the years: A pro sound guy would threaten to quit if the church used a digital mixer. A camera guy refused to accept and train a new recruit, because working the camera was “his” job, and he didn’t want to share.

The common thread of such stories is an attitude of, “If you make me change, then I’ll take my gift and go somewhere else. What will you do then?” Someone lending the church a camera, or their professional expertise may try to leverage these things over leadership, and it can be tempting to give in, if you feel you need them.

They can be a limiter or a leader.

Character rules over competency.

We may have to let go of a superstar, to keep them from becoming a lid on growth.

Remember, the Bible tells of sheep, wolves, and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not everyone who is technically qualified, is spiritually qualified. While a wolf is easy to notice and repel, it’s much more challenging to notice that someone is working against you, while they are working alongside you.

Wolves eat sheep.

Of course, “sheep” and “wolf” is typically not a permanent assignment. People can change.

Redemption is the hope of our faith. Preventing and reforming bad attitudes is our obstacle and opportunity.

People who have carved out a spot, sometimes want to defend the “territory” they have claimed. Jesus calls us not to take territory in land or in the tasks we do, but in the hearts of those we touch.

By seeing him or herself as someone who is invested in growing the team, then that experience can translate to new recruits.

As the leaders of our teams, it’s our responsibility to invite them to be part of that growth. We must keep their eyes focused on the church’s vision and keep out attitudes that hurt growth.

We need to empower, equip and enable our high performing volunteers. Give them a voice. Build a genuine relationship that allows for real conversations. Talk about Christ and faith, rather than just the tasks at hand.

They need to love the people more than the job.

Simultaneously, we don’t want to compromise vision or standards. Setting boundaries and correcting in love are essential. It’s our privilege to disciple our teams.

All healthy things grow.

As team leaders, we need an elevated perspective. When we are gridlocked on the highway, it’s hard to see beyond the car in front of us. But from a helicopter, we can look down from above, to see the road work causing the traffic jam. In that way, to enable growth requires us to get above the day-to-day grind to see the obstacles on the road ahead. This allows us to guide and guard our team culture.

We need to stay vigilant for the signs of change, set the direction, and clear a path for those who follow us.

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