As a worship pastor who has served at multiple churches, I have had two radically different experiences when it comes to my team of volunteers: I have built a small core team from the ground up and then I have inherited large groups of volunteers. I much prefer the former to the latter, but there are positives and negatives to both. Though not as easy sometimes, working with a large volunteer base can be done very well if you understand a certain set of principles to work within. I will compare and contrast a few of the things that I have learned in working with a large team as opposed to a small team, in hopes that this will be helpful.
A few things to remember when working with a large team:
With A Larger Church Comes A Larger Team
This might sound self-explanatory, but the first time I inherited a large group of volunteers on my team I found myself being incredibly frustrated that so many people were let onboard. What I didn't take into consideration was the size of the church. I had come from a church of 200 with an awesome core team of about 10 total (production, musicians, and vocalists) to a church of about 900 with a team of closer to 35. While I was frustrated at the amount of people and with what I perceived to be a lack of commitment, I didn't take into consideration that the percentage of worship ministry volunteers to members at the larger church was roughly the exact same percentage that I had at the smaller one. So the point here is to simply know this: if you inherit a team at a larger sized church, you will inherit a larger team. Don't fight it. Work with what you have. The answer is not to just go around kicking people off the team or creating unreasonable expectations so that they bow out on their own, but the answer lies in learning how to embrace it and thrive in that larger structure.
Learn to Adopt Methods That Work Better in a Larger Organizational Structure
The same methods that you used in managing a smaller team will not often work in a larger setting. For example: one thing that was great about having a smaller group was that at any given rehearsal or pre-service meeting I could cast vision for the ministry. Everyone would hear it because most, if not all, of the team would be present. It was fantastic! This meant that doing devotionals in a series, or even going through a book of the bible together at mid-week rehearsals, was all possible and everyone was able to stay on the same page. This is simply not a possibility in a larger volunteer environment where everyone is on rotation. I currently have a volunteer bench of just over 40 people. On any given Sunday, only about 10 at a time are serving at once. This means that things I cover at rehearsal with one week will never be heard with the rest of the team. This creates a necessity for team nights. A place where all of the volunteers can connect and get to know people that they may never have a chance to serve with (2 bass players, for instance). Team nights also create a place for me to cast vision, dive into the word together, and to make sure we are all on the same page. Small changes like this and ones like them makes the world of difference and are absolutely necessary.
Technology Is Your Friend
I used to be able to just text my team each week and e-mail them the songs we are doing. Everyone showed up, no questions asked. Unless someone told me otherwise, I expected them to be available every single week. If I wanted to have lunch with a volunteer, I would call them, we would set a time and place, and I would go. Everything happened very organically and I didn’t' have to think about it much. My teammates were also my best friends and we were in constant communication.
This is a stark contrast from what happens in a large team setting. The same methods of communication do not work unless you want to drown. Planning Center becomes not just a nice tool to have but an absolute necessity. Using a calendar to strategically schedule lunches and breakfasts with volunteers weeks and months in advance becomes of the utmost importance. Facebook groups, groupme, slack, and other group resources are an invaluable tool as well. All of these technological means of communication are neccecary to have proper and continual communication with your team. The reality is that you won't be as close with everyone as you would be in a small team setting, so don't be afraid of new ways of communicating. Stress the importance of them to your team and use them relentlessly. Plan your schedule out intentionally and plan ahead! Technology keeps us organized but we have to use it for that to happen. If you fly by the seat of your pants, people will always fall through the cracks.
The Commitment Level Will Be Much Lower -- FIGHT THIS!
A larger structure breeds a culture of slackers. The mere fact that people don't know you as well personally means they will be much less committed to your leadership. Make every effort to get to know them on a deeper level. The fact that there is a larger bench to pull from means that people will not feel bad at all about being unavailable to serve. Follow up with those who decline. Ask them why and let them know you really need them to be available. The fact that people will naturally be scheduled less will make them see it as much less of a priority. Give them opportunities to stay involved outside of Sundays. Fight this by having team nights, hang outs, training nights, engaging in conversation, or asking them for advice in their areas of expertise. Just because people aren't serving doesn’t mean you don’t need to pour into them so that they still view using their gifts for the body of Christ as necessary. Lastly, stress the priority of commitment by insisting on Church Membership before serving. This will help them understand how gifts are to work in the body of Christ. This will help them to understand that they are absolutely needed and vital to making sunday mornings happen!
Set High Expectations
While someone may not be scheduled more than once a month, make sure that people are available much more than that. Let people know that you need them to be available and always willing to serve. Their availability will mean that they will be thought of first when there are gaps, above those who have less of a commitment. Usually these high expectations have a way of working themselves out to where people with a lower commitment will eventually weed themselves out anyways.
Don't Give In to Preference
Often in a small team everyone chips in with vision; everyone plays a part in shaping the direction of the team. This can't always be the case in a large team. You will go absolutely crazy if you start trying to appease everyone's ideas on the team. Know your convictions, know where the Lord has placed you and where He is leading you, and stick to that. Always be open to feedback, but that does not mean that you have to live by it.
"Know your convictions, know where the Lord has placed you and where He is leading you, and stick to that."
Get to Know Your Team Well
A larger team does not give you an excuse to be impersonal. You are a shepherd. Your team is your immediate flock. Shepherd them well. Get to know them. Pray for them. Pray with them. Read the Word with them. Have lunch with them. Hang out with them. Learn their hobbies and take interest in what they love. While you'll never get to know everyone on a BFF level, your efforts in this area will make you a trustworthy leader and someone that people are willing to invest in following, assuming of course that you first follow Christ, which brings us to this:
Lead from the Word of God and Nowhere Else
Anything that you do, if it's not intentional with a reason found in scripture, don't do it. If you are ever going to say anything from the stage, let it be from the Bible. When casting vision, use scripture. When choosing songs, choose biblical ones that communicate deep theological truths. Your team should know that above anything else — any gear, any band, any musical style, any cool guitar — you value the Word of God. You value Christ Jesus, and everything else is secondary. While you may think you have great ideas and people might follow your own devices for a season, these will never stick. The Word of God, however, is the only thing that we are promised will not return void. What you bring people in with is what you'll keep them with. Anything short of the Word of God is a failure to biblically disciple a team and a congregation. And lastly...
No One Will Care As Much As You Do, So Be A Shepherd
There is a reason that you have been given the position of leadership that you have. The Lord knows your gifts and abilities and has placed you where you are because of this. You have this unique gift to offer Christ's Church, so naturally you will be the primary champion of it. We cannot expect everyone to be as excited about worship ministry as its leaders, but that doesn't mean we don't strive to get everyone's excitement level up to ours! Yes, it will be frustrating and yes you will feel alone sometimes, but that's part of the calling. I think of David, the great shepherd king of the Old Testament. The care that he put into his flock was relentless. Yet still did they at times wander astray. I think of the love of a parent for their child. The child will never understand why the parent does some things, but will one day realize that it was for their protection, for their growth, and so that they may thrive. Your team members are your children. Love them, shepherd them, lead them, care for them, disciple them, because at times you will be the only person doing so. When you study the life of real life shepherds, it becomes so clear why over and over again the Bible uses this imagery in reference to ministry. When a sheep is prone to wander, a good shepherd will often break the leg of the sheep who strays, and nurtures it back to health so that it may learn not to stray. It learns who its caretaker is. You are the caretaker, the steward rather, of God's flock manifested in your team. It will be incredibly tough. There are times you might have to figuratively break someone's leg and have the difficult conversations with them, but it is the task we are called to do. In a team of any size, large, medium, or small, we are called to love our people sacrificially and to give them what they need, not just what they want. So shepherd them. As Christ, the head of the Church is our true and better shepherd king; we are the under shepherds that He has called to take care of His flock.
"In a team of any size, large, medium, or small, we are called to love our people sacrificially and to give them what they need, not just what they want."
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32)
Contributor / Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner is the Worship Pastor at Woodside Bible Church in Royal Oak, MI and serves as a Worship Leader with ONElife Worship.