Go, Team, Go!

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  • “The most important measure
    of how good a game I played was how much better I’d made my
    teammates play.” — Bill Russell
  • “Of all the things I’ve done,
    the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us
    and pointing them toward a certain goal.” — Walt Disney
  • “After this the Lord
    appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him
    to every town and place where he was about to go.” — Luke
    10:1

The foundation of Jesus’ approach to working with volunteers is
the team — even if that team is no more than two people. Jesus
always sent his disciples out in ministry teams. In fact, one of
the only accounts in Scripture that we have of the disciples being
alone was when they were scattered after Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50).

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“United we stand, divided we fall,” the old saying goes. In
today’s fast-paced world, perhaps more than ever before, volunteers
are looking to form meaningful, lasting relationships.

“Relationships have become extremely important in almost every
aspect of late twentieth century life,” says Leith Anderson, pastor
of Wooddale Community Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Anderson asserts that “many people volunteer not because of the
task but because of the opportunity to make friends.” That’s why
team-building is critical to having long-term volunteers. And
that’s exactly why Andrea Shintaku, a first-grade teacher and one
of ten thousand members at Community Church of Joy in Glendale,
Arizona, volunteered. She says, “I guess what really motivates me
is when you’re part of a big church like Community Church of Joy,
to make it small you have to participate in things.”

Lacking a team network of support, George Kunzle, a volunteer at
Whittier Hills Baptist Church in LaHabra, California quit. “Our
church has a two-hour setup where you go to church service in one
hour and then you teach in the other hour. So after a few years,
you begin to feel isolated from your adult friends, and it’s nice
to get back in adult relationships.”

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But the children’s ministry staff at Whittier Hills is shifting
to a team approach. LuAnn Robinson, a volunteer fifth-grade
coordinator at this church, says, “Being on a team is really
important to me. I don’t think we had as much of a team thing
before, but they’re trying to do more now. For a long time, you
kind of felt like the Lone Ranger out there, and it was hard to
keep going. It’s nice to have your peers reminding you that you’re
doing a good job, you’re making a difference. I think it just gets
real hard to keep doing it without any team.”

You don’t want any of your volunteers to find their jobs”real
hard”. You’ve worked hard to recruit them; you want to keep them. A
team approach will make their jobs easier.

Team Benefits

Organizing volunteers into teams provides the following benefits
for your overall ministry:

Balance and cross-training
No single volunteer has everything he or she needs, no
matter how experienced. For example, you may have some volunteer
teachers who possess a wealth of Bible knowledge, but lack people
skills. With a team approach, volunteers build on each other’s
strengths.

Improved planning and follow-through
Business executives and other leaders nearly always surround
themselves with strong teams. The leader can then present an idea
in a meeting with his or her team and let the team attack it, probe
it, and offer suggestions. When the meeting is concluded, the whole
team is ready to follow through on the revised — and often
improved — plan.

Increased energy
Team effort multiplies the individual thrust, provides the impact
of sheer numerical strength, and supplies power in attacking a
single target. When attacked by a team, a problem that seemed
insurmountable to an individual volunteer can be solved quickly,
allowing the individual and other team members to move on with
their duties.

“Teams increase people’s ability to accomplish tasks” says Selma
Johnson, the minister to children/family life at Northway Baptist
Church in Dallas, Texas. “My greatest challenge is keeping the
vision going and realizing that volunteers are only going to give
so much time to the task and meetings. So we’ve developed teams
throughout the preschool/children’s division. This gives teachers
ownership in what’s going on. We have teams for everything from
resources to decorating, recruiting, hospitality, and more.”

Leadership training
Team participation provides opportunities for potential leaders to
try out their skills at leading, planning, and coordinating. Since
leadership is largely a matter of helping others accomplish their
objectives more effectively than they could by themselves, people
who are expected to be leaders will benefit from the team
experience. And as leaders develop, your ministry will continue to
grow.

Robbie Joshua, children’s minister at Faith Community Church in
West Covina, California has reaped the benefits of using teams in
her ministry. She says, “It’s important for people (especially in a
behind-the-scenes ministry like children’s ministries) to know that
they’re not alone. Team members can encourage one another, support
one another, and create with one another. I believe that a
productive team is always greater than the sum of its parts.”

From Me To We

So how do you build a productive team? Typically, God lays a
vision for a ministry on one person’s heart. Then he calls a team
of people to fulfill that vision. In Acts 16:9-10, Luke writes,
“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing
and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul
had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia,
concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Only Paul saw the vision, but “we” — Paul’s volunteer team — “got
ready at once.” Paul needed his partners in ministry to help him
fulfill the vision.

Just as Paul relied on his ministry partners, we need to rely on
our volunteer teams — and encourage them to rely on each other. A
team talks about “we” instead of “me.” It’s “our” instead of
“mine.” Team members sink or swim together.

“A productive team with a clear vision, working toward a common
goal creates momentum,” says Robbie. “Momentum is an important
ingredient in achieving success. I believe that momentum creates
excitement that’ll facilitate a vision and help a ministry break
through complacent and stagnant barriers that tend to cause
burnout.”

Let’s take a closer look at seven critical elements of
productive teams.

1. Accepted leaders
Debbie Neufeld, children’s minister at Grant Memorial
Baptist Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, tells how she develops team
leaders from her 150 volunteers.

“I depend very heavily on my team leaders to keep our children’s
ministry going,” Debbie says. “They’re the ones who work closely
with me in finding the right people to serve in their departments;
they look after the needs of their staff and the kids and parents
they minister to; they keep me aware of things that I need to
know…I try to give the ministry away to them and tell them that the
department is theirs to look after.

“I try to meet monthly with my team leaders so we can connect
and plan on a regular basis. I have found this to be a hard
commitment even for my dedicated workers, as they lead such busy
lives today and have jobs and families as well…I feel it’s very
important to keep in touch with my team leaders, even if it has to
be on the phone, at least once every week or two.”

It takes time to cultivate leaders among your volunteer teams.
And it may not be easy to get into the habit of regular meetings
with team leaders. But by spending time with your leaders, you
encourage them to develop the same kind of relationship with their
team members — volunteers who deserve the same level of time and
attention, but may not be able to get it from you. (There are only
so many hours in a week!)

2. Common goals
With your children’s ministry vision statement in mind (preferably
even in view!), each volunteer team should establish its goals.
Team goals should include detailed, reachable objectives that
advance your children’s ministry’s vision statement.

3. Division of labor
Delineating clear roles provides greater ownership and
enables people to excel in their areas of responsibility. Before
assigning roles, team members should spend time getting to know
each other. Understanding team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and
personalities will help teams better determine who should fill
which role.

4. Loyalty and commitment
One of your volunteers’ primary needs is to be needed.
Tell them often, “I need you to reach children. I cannot do it
without you!” People want to feel that they’re making a valuable
contribution to the team. “I’ve noticed over the past three years
that we’ve retained volunteers longer because they feel valued and
know that there’s a ‘place’ for their unique gifts and talents,”
says Robbie Joshua.

In addition to hearing positive feedback from you, it’s also
important for teammates to communicate to one another how important
they are. You can do this in team meetings where team members
regularly share “words of appreciation” about what they value in
their teammates. Or encourage “holy gossip” where teammates report
to the others the great ways they’ve seen each other
contribute.

5. Playing together
The team that plays together, stays together. When was the last
time your team relaxed together? You can build community within
your team by planning regular times where they can kick back and
simply enjoy being together. You may decide to play a wild game of
Laser Tag. Or your team may enjoy meeting at a trendy coffee shop
on a Saturday morning. Encourage team leaders to find out from
their teams what they would most enjoy and to plan regular times
that are just for fun. As people see how much fun your teams are
having in and around children’s ministry, they’ll want to get on
board.

6. Praying together
Prayer is an important part of East Tulsa Christian Church’s
children’s ministry team. “We recently had a day of fasting and
prayer,” says their director, Cheryl Hall. “We have two or three
days throughout the year to keep us focused and to keep us
listening to what is true.”

Prayer will not only bind your team together, it’ll help your
team members give their hearts to the children they pray for. Teams
can pray together as a group, develop a prayer chain, or have
prayer partners within their teams. Prayer helps a team recognize
its utter dependence on the power of God and reaffirms the team’s
trust in God’s miraculous working in and through its ministry.

7. Serving each other
Nurture an environment where team members make sacrifices
for one another, serve one another, and meet each other’s needs. By
God’s grace, your goal is to create teams that become the most
life-giving source in a teammate’s life. “This past year, one of
our team members died suddenly,” Robbie says. “She was a beautiful
Nigerian lady who lit up the room when she walked in. She was in
this country finishing her education and planning to return to
Nigeria to her husband and children. When her team members became
aware of a lack of finances surrounding her death, they immediately
collected money to help send the body back to her country to be
buried.”

I can’t help but imagine that God carried the grieving family
through this time because of the loving commitment of a children’s
ministry team that knows what it means to weep with those who weep.
That’s the kind of team every volunteer longs for. Volunteers who
experience a genuine sense of “team” won’t want to let the team
down by failing to show up or failing to complete an assignment.
And they’re also more likely to stick around.

A HEART FOR TEAMWORK

Darlene Pinson, children’s director at Olive Baptist Church in
Pensacola, Florida, oversees 200 volunteers. I asked her to talk
about her approach to building teams.

Q: Why have you placed such a high priority on
team-building?

A: That’s the model Jesus gave. It builds
fellowship and trust. It’s a must for support during good times, as
well as “trying” times.

Q: How do you make time for all the relational things
you do with people with all the big-picture demands you
have?

A: Much of the time, I don’t feel like I do
nearly enough in this area. However, this is always time well
spent. It’s money in the bank! For every attempt at being involved
in the lives of volunteers and their families, there are countless
rewards. The little things really do make a difference — just so
they know they’re special people who are cared about far more than
just what they do as volunteers in children’s ministry.

Q: What would you say to a children’s minister who says,
“I don’t have time to build relationships with people; there are
too many programs to get organized!”

A: A minister with that attitude probably won’t
stay in the work very long. We are PEOPLE, not programs. Programs
are only a means to an end. Healthy relationships with volunteers
will energize them to run the programs. A good leader will nurture
and equip the people so they “partner” with you to do the work.


Excerpted from Awesome Volunteers (Group Publishing,
Inc.).

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