3 Reasons Your Policies Might be Wasting Your Volunteers

By August 1, 2018Church, Leadership

3 Reasons Your Policies Might be Wasting Your Volunteers

Daniel serves in the parking area at one of our church campuses. We intentionally put him in the parking lot where parents with preschoolers prefer to park. If you knew Daniel, you’d know why.

Each weekend you’ll find Daniel wearing a lime-green vest and waving two light sabers (aka orange light wands) while safely parking cars and helping people walk into the building. The thing that sets Daniel apart, though, isn’t necessarily his excellence at performing the task—and he is excellent. What sets Daniel apart is his fun dance moves. He gets into it each weekend and has so much fun dancing that parents can’t help but smile as they find their parking space.

Daniel takes potentially aggravated parents—dealing with the stress of parking lots and preschoolers complaining in the minivan—and creates a great experience for them. His decision to let his personality shine creates a positive vacation from stress for everyone. In addition, it sends a small message that he loves what he does.

One of the main reasons Daniel has brought such excellence to the team is that we made one small tweak to the way we lead our teams. We no longer create a policy-based ministry. Instead, we focus on values. Policies tend to be the go-to for anyone leading a team of volunteers. But policies fall short in three main areas, and these short-comings can keep you from getting the most from your team.

1. Policies don’t allow your volunteers’ individuality to shine.
There’s no way we could create a policy that reads: dance while you park cars. As much as we love that aspect of Daniel’s personality, it wouldn’t work for everyone. Not everyone would feel comfortable dancing, waving around orange light wands.

Focusing on values, however, we were able to create a framework where Daniel could do this. By stating one of our four values is to “have fun”, we show that we welcome Daniel to be the most fun version of himself on a weekend. For Daniel, that translates to dancing while parking cars. For others, though, it might just translate to a gigantic smile, or giving kids high-fives, or waving enthusiastically. Our “have fun” value lets the volunteers’ individuality shine while still creating an excellent environment for our guests.

2. Policies can’t cover all potential decisions.
Just like there are unexpected personality traits and skills our volunteers have, there are unexpected things that come up during a weekend service that we just can’t prepare for. A list of policies is limited because it can’t address the unexpected. But if you have a strong set of values that determine your volunteers’ activity, you can empower your team to make the right decision in the moment.

One of our other four values is show care. Whenever a decision-making moment arises for a volunteer, instead of consulting a list of policies, they can simply ask themselves, “How can I show care in this moment?”

3. Policies allow someone to technically do everything right while missing the mark.
If you run your ministry by a set of policies, there will be times when your policies don’t support the goals of the ministry. For instance, the policy might be to rope off back sections until all of the front rows of seats are filled. But if a mother with a small baby needs to sit in the service, she might need an aisle seat on the back row. Enforcing the policies is one of the worst things your volunteers can do in this type of situation.

Our other two values are “remain flexible” and “deliver wow.” That gives our volunteers the opportunity to change things up if it means they can deliver a wow moment for a guest. It gives them the opportunity to do for one person what they wish they could do for everyone.

This is why it’s valuable for a church to choose values over policies when it comes to their teams. Jonathan Malm and I talk about a way we think you should develop your core values in our new book, The Come Back Effect. But regardless of how you get to them, these can become the lifeblood of your team.

You’ll know your team members have internalized the values when they start coming up with their own creative ideas. “I know one of our values is ‘have fun,’ so I thought it would be a great idea to give our parking lot team colorful signs that say things like ‘welcome,’ ‘looking good today,’ ‘so glad you’re here,’ etc.” When your team members surprise you with new ideas that reinforce the values, you’ll know they value the values.

They’ll also be quick to point out policies that conflict with the values. As a leader, be willing to hear those critiques and make changes when necessary. You can’t allow policy to win over values.

This is a guest post by my friend Jason Young, Director of Guest Experience at North Point Ministries.

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Ron Edmondson

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