Having the right leadership in place is vital for the life of your church. This isn’t just true of paid ministry staff. Lay leaders are also important. When it comes to volunteer leadership roles — from ministry scheduling to teaching and leading — knowing how to develop volunteers’ skills and provide feedback is essential. Consider the following ideas to help grow and develop the volunteer ministry leaders at your church.
1. Notice the good
Ministry leaders work hard to oversee their ministries and volunteers. It’s easy for the good they’re doing to go unseen. You may find that you want to provide feedback when something has gone wrong, but if you’ve ever worked under a critical leader, you know all too well how discouraging it can be to be noticed only when you’ve made a mistake. Although constructive feedback is important, if you’re striving to grow and encourage volunteer leaders in their roles, constructive feedback should be a small percentage of the feedback you’re giving.
For instance, do you have a punctual volunteer? Is a certain volunteer an exceptional written communicator? Do volunteer leaders do a great job of considering the small things when planning events? Take time, formally or informally, to let them know that you noticed their positive contributions. A smile, handshake, and a kind word will go a long way in building confidence and encouraging volunteers to continue with the positive work they’re doing.
2. Invite them to learn
If you have a volunteer leader whose skills are still developing, walk with them in their learning. Instead of telling them what they could do better, show them and train them. When you teach and train your volunteers, you’ll create a rich environment where leaders can grow and slowly take on more responsibility.
For example, if you have a volunteer leader who will take over ministry scheduling, offer to help them set up their first ministry schedule and connect them with the resources they need to learn more. By creating an environment where leadership is as much about learning as it is about leading, you’ll create a culture where developing is the norm — for everyone in the church.
3. Put it in writing
If you have positive feedback to give — write it down! Of course this doesn’t mean you should never share an encouraging word in person, but it does mean that you should make a special effort to write things down every so often. Likely, a volunteer will read your feedback several times and the words will carry more impact in the long run to develop their confidence as a leader. Although a formal written review may feel too corporate, consider writing a friendly email, or even a handwritten note.
For example, if a volunteer leader showed up early for an event to go above and beyond with set up, send a thank you note to them, and make a copy for yourself to keep on file at the church. This ensures that their continual efforts are recognized and future leadership can be aware of their work ethic as well.
4. Provide specific examples
Always provide specific examples. While generalities are nice, they’ll never be as productive as concrete feedback given with examples. Perhaps there’s a volunteer leader who does an excellent job facilitating group discussions. When providing feedback, share a day and time when you observed them doing this well and how it impacted the discussion or training for the better. What was accomplished because of their communication abilities? Let them know!
Volunteering is hard work. The foundational reality of volunteer management is that your volunteers —including those in leadership positions — are giving of their time and energy in addition to other life responsibilities. It can be difficult for volunteer leaders to juggle all the responsibilities they’re given, so finding the time to encourage and develop them is essential.
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