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Handbook How To

Anita Weldon

Your guide to developing a complete handbook -- before you kick off your fall program.

Odds are that your ministry has policies and procedures. As many churches do, you hang them in your children's ministry hallways and post them on your classroom walls, using colored paper or specially designed signage to attract attention. You've probably scheduled meetings with your teams to implement new policies and procedures. You've discussed the relevancy of long-standing ones. You've most likely made copies of copies to distribute to countless parents over the years. You find yourself repeating the same information over and over again to volunteers and parents, and pointing them to the information posted or distributed.

All of this was my experience for the first four years of my ministry as director of Discovery Island children's ministry at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan. I knew there had to be a better way to communicate essential information to the volunteers and families.

I found the motivation for my handbook while attending a conference at another church. Their inspirational booklet was clean and professional-something you wouldn't mind leaving out on an office desk or a coffee table. Although it was a great booklet, I envisioned something different that would better suit NorthRidge Church and Discovery Island. When I arrived home, I was on a mission to create the best volunteer guide possible! Read on to discover the steps it took for our handbook to go from concept to creation.

STEP #1: Find Your Inspirational Piece. You can find inspiration by contacting other churches and requesting a copy of their handbooks. Research church Web sites or organizations that have high-level volunteers such as the Red Cross, major hospitals, or mission organizations. We invite you to download a PDF of the NorthRidge Church, Discovery Island Parent & Volunteer Guide at NorthRidgechurch.com/DIvolunteerguide. Once you've done your research, identify what you like from each piece and what attracted you to the material in the first place.

STEP #2:  Form a Task Force. I knew I couldn't do this alone -- so I planned a team of no more than four people. I had the vision but needed to find others who had a flare for writing and research. I made a short list of people I knew would enjoy investing in this project. One of the key volunteers I recruited had experience as a customer service agent and was particularly skilled at writing apology letters. Another team member was an engineer, currently a stay-at-home mom, who loved research. My final invitation went to a creative writer who had a flare for humor. My role was to keep the team on schedule and assign different aspects of the project to each team member.

I scheduled a weekly 2-hour meeting, recurring for 10 weeks. Prior to the first meeting I located every written policy, procedure, rule and guideline we currently had. Then I provided a copy for each team member to take home, review, and rewrite for common language and consistency. At our first meeting, I shared the vision for our handbook and identified our target audience. We discussed how our handbook would be used, and we developed a timeline and distribution target date.

STEP #3: Identify the Tone. Our task force returned the following week with their suggested updates for evaluation by the team. I then assigned one team member to review meeting notes and standardize the policies, procedures, guidelines, and rules for the following meeting's review. At this meeting, we also determined the underlying tone we wanted our handbook to take. NorthRidge Church places a high value on honoring God through excellent communication that maintains a positive perspective. We modified all documents to reflect a friendly tone, not harsh or demanding. We rewrote every document with a positive point of view. We also made the names of the policies more interesting and attention-grabbing. For example, we went from "Health Policy" to "What's Hot and What's Not." This was a fun exercise where each person contributed.

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