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Equipping the Church Volunteer to Succeed in the Digital Age

By Jeff Reed

Equipping the Church Volunteer to Succeed in the Digital Age blog header - group of friends smiling

My church ran a volunteer campaign back in the day: if you can click a mouse, you can serve on production. To prove my point, my mom volunteered in church production.

I was just newly coming on staff as the production director, replacing the former business director/production director combo. Weird mix, right? Business and Production! He was very professional and had extremely high standards. His volunteers were very loyal to him. It was a very tight-knit group. I wouldn’t say “inclusive,” but close. This group of church volunteers won Dove Awards back in the day for their live concert video production. The college I attended didn’t even have as nice of technology as the church had in its studio.

As with most churchers, personnel came and went. The business/production director left, and I came in. The vision shifted in the church towards multisite, multiplication and scalability. The number of church services increased, including a Saturday service. The loyal volunteers tried to sustain the growth the church was experiencing, but they could not. They were burning out. So, I needed to recruit new volunteers to operate this overly complex system.

Mind you, this is way back in the day before ProPresenter, MediaShout, and EZ Worship! So when I tell you they were overly complicated, it took four keystrokes every time we wanted to change the slide for a worship lyric or sermon slide. Honestly. Four keystrokes. Screw up one keystroke, and you could do something completely different or do nothing at all. I saw grown adults run away from volunteering in production, crying and/or muttering curse words under their breath because of the system. The video system was very professional, but it was not volunteer-friendly.

So, I made a very unpopular decision that unfortunately cost some friendships: we pulled the complicated, expensive gear and designed a cheaper, less professional, volunteer-friendly system. Just about every process in the production department changed. This angered the loyal volunteers who had served with the older system, but opened up an opportunity for many more volunteers. Like my mom.

I almost typed out my mom’s age. Not going to do that. But let’s just say she was close to retirement age. She was a high-level executive at a Fortune 500 company. Type A mentality. If you know my mom, you know. But more than this, she could hardly spell “tech” and was even worse at operating it. I would go to her house at least once a week to fix the printer or change some settings on her computer. Don’t even get me started on the TV remote. But mom saw this campaign “if you can click a mouse…” and was convinced she had to do it. And we did. Sure, she struggles to change the batteries in her TV remote, but she can click on slides for the big screens! And she did. For years. And she had a blast doing it. Mom was essentially allergic to technology but was serving in production.

So, how can we turn a non-techie church volunteer into a production volunteer? Let’s explore:

Tip #1

Systems default towards complexity. Don’t let this happen.

As we layer more and more gear updates in our worship centers, our systems get more complex. Our systems get more complicated as we build more functionality into our frameworks. As a full-time production director, it would have been easy for me to manage the system’s complexity. Instead, I vowed to make a system that would operate simply while sacrificing little quality.

In 2024, some technology offers a lot of functionality and customization. Options can also be the noose that will hang you on a Sunday morning. Always consider how “volunteer friendly” your gear is while keeping the quality standard high. To be honest, this is where Resi shines. Resi is the standard for online streaming and point-to-point broadcasts, offering best-in-class video quality with no buffering. What is sometimes forgotten, though, is how volunteer-friendly Resi is! And it should be church volunteer-friendly. A couple of church volunteers created Resi technology! (True story!)

When considering church volunteer-friendly gear, don’t assume that the cheapest is the best option or that the most expensive is the one for you. Take the time to explore the technology. Talk to churches at your level or one level up, and ask them what they use. Ecclesiastes says there’s nothing new under the sun. This includes church tech.

Tip #2

Make the Church Volunteer a “better” whatever.

In 2024, people are overly passionate about things. Church production does need volunteers to succeed, but also needs to find ways that church production can help people succeed. Some of my best camera operators were amateur photographers with a decent Instagram channel. I would turn PC Gamers into slide operators. Detail-oriented secretaries into stage directors.

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My mom, though a cool story, typically isn’t the norm. Find out about potential church volunteers and work through ways to integrate them into their passion. If the church volunteers are doing something they’re passionate about, they’re more likely to stay engaged longer and be more patient during difficulties.

Tip #3

Volunteers need clearly defined roles with simple processes (and checklists) on how to succeed.

Give volunteers a job profile and checklist. Everyone wants to succeed. Years ago, church volunteers would show up and “do whatever was needed” and operate in a more utilitarian way, plugging in and serving wherever needed. In 2024, this mindset has given way to a more specialty mindset, and the volunteer (and the church) needs to understand how the volunteer can succeed. What will the volunteer do? What are the expectations? Time constraints? 

In today’s culture, it’s so important for volunteers to succeed. Truthfully, the volunteers will likely care more than the church does. Good volunteers will put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed and be frustrated if they fail (or the system fails them). Remembering that systems will default to complexity, volunteers need checklists and clear processes to ensure they accomplish what is needed when expected. Nothing is worse than a church service crashing and burning due to a volunteer oversight. That’s horrible for the church and horrible for the volunteers.

I hear you. “Checklists? Really?” Yes. Get people comfortable with details and double checking. Because what church production volunteers do is ultimately bigger than their own individual tasks. They’re creating a worship experience for God. Forgetting to mute that mic, start the teaching clock, or turn down the lobby music can negatively impact the service. Truthfully, production volunteers are probably one of (if not the) most stressful volunteer positions within the church. But it doesn’t have to be. Processes and checklists uncomplicate the role.

Tip #4

Build a team that can succeed, even when you’re on vacation.

There’s some humility in this statement. Have a system and a team of church volunteers that can succeed even when you’re away. Building systems and processes around yourself or other church staffers is very easy. Rather than falling into the ego trap that makes you the cornerstone of Sunday 9 am, design systems and processes that are not dependent on you. The sign of a simple system is teachable. Can you teach it to others?

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There’s nothing worse than coming back from a week-long vacation, and first thing Monday morning, you’re in the lead pastor’s office hearing a list of gripes about everything a volunteer did wrong on the previous Sunday. It’s true. You could be the production hero of your church. Or, you can work to equip others to be the hero.

Tip #5

Don’t be afraid to work yourself out of a job.

Just because someone is a camera operator when they start doesn’t mean they want to do that forever. Their passion or desires may shift, or they may prove capable of doing more. As leaders, if we pigeonhole our people into an area and don’t let them expand, we’re limiting their capabilities.

I remember I had a church volunteer who was a camera operator. Early in my production staffing days, I was the only video director for the church. As a staff role, I kept myself in the hot seat, not wanting anyone else to handle the stress of the situation. Interestingly, one of the camera operators, Charlie, expressed an interest in learning to camera direct. He wanted to take my job! Rather than being defensive or fearful, I trained Charlie to replace me as a video director.

In the years to follow, Charlie would serve faithfully as video director of the church. He was the most passionate and the most skilled video director volunteer we had. Truthfully, he had better chops than some church volunteers who video-directed professionally for national broadcast television. Not only was Charlie better than others’ skillset, but Charlie grew to the point that he viewed his video directing and his volunteering as “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is [his] true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1-2).

Charlie would quote that scripture to me, describing his video directing as an act of worship. What he did in his 9-5 job paid his bills, but serving as a church volunteer was worship to God. It was beautiful. Imagine I had gotten in the way and told Charlie he was not allowed to serve as video director. Or I tried to protect Charlie from the stress of the video-directing hot seat. Ironically, Charlie would go on to develop processes for video directing that made it much easier for church volunteers to do. Charlie would train (as near as I can remember) at least eight different church volunteers to be video directors for the church. I would bring Charlie in to train video directing at other churches in the city and have shared his simplified processes with many.

Do you believe there is “nothing your church volunteers cannot do?”

It’s an easy statement, but it’s more difficult to operate under on Sunday morning. The reality of that statement is that it depends on the volunteers’ humility and openness to learn. Still, it’s also dependent upon us to create environments where they can succeed and resource them with the knowledge and capabilities to do great things for the kingdom.

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Jeff Reed

In 2018, Jeff stepped out of a 15-year church staffing career in production, creative, and communication to start THECHURCH.DIGITAL, a non-profit designed to help churches find their purpose through digital discipleship, mobilizing people on digital mission, and planting multiplying digital churches. He lives in Miami with his wife and two kids.

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