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Empowering Your Volunteer Team

Ants. Everywhere. I looked around the classroom and could feel the sting of tears forming. It was going to be a hectic morning.

I had known for weeks today would be challenging and had done everything in my power to set up my teams for success. It was a long holiday weekend, which meant many volunteers were at the beach or in the mountains with their families. (But we were covered; I had called in reinforcements in the form of staff spouses.) Our church building, which was often rented out by other well-meaning organizations, had been filled with tiny ballerinas and tappers less than 24 hours prior, and they had definitely left their mark. Glitter was everywhere. (But again, no big deal. I had hired a cleaning service and brought my own vacuum from home for a final touch-up.)

However, when I unlocked that room (the one room that hadn’t been touched by sparkles and tutus) and saw the trails of hardworking fire ants streaming across every flat surface, my heart sank. “Oh no!” I whispered. The volunteer standing at my back gasped and mumbled quietly, “I noticed them last week just outside the door. I mentioned it to another staff member. I guess they forgot.”

The Problem You Don’t See Coming

Have you ever been so flustered, so angry that you could feel your face heating? That’s exactly what I experienced in the moment. We could have remedied the problem anytime in the last seven days. There was nontoxic ant spray beneath the sink in that very room. How did we find ourselves in this situation? The volunteer’s next words effectively deflated my frustration. “I’m sorry. You’re just so particular and I was afraid I’d step on someone’s toes if I took matters into my own hands. Would you have wanted me to spray or tell you so you could spray?”

Immediately, I realized my failure. We would fall short of the expectations of the families we served because I had neglected to empower team members to identify viable solutions and make critical decisions. I had micromanaged my ministry to the point of malfunction. I had built a shifting foundation. My need for control had robbed my team members of their confidence and limited their capacity. The irony in the situation was how much I trusted my team. I had recruited incredible people with a varied set of skills and aptitude. They were fully capable of executing with excellence, but my fear of making mistakes and being labeled inadequate was stifling our success.

The Solution for the Problem You Don’t See Coming

As my volunteer shuffled her feet nervously beside me and I watched the ant trails creep toward the walls, I recognized the changes I had to make. Over the coming months I slowly released the tight grip I had on my ministry and intentionally took steps to empower my teams.

My approach employed these three strategies:

Speak Life and Encouragement

For volunteers to rise up and assume responsibility, they must operate from a place of clarity and confidence. In addition, they must know you believe in them and trust them to identify solutions and make tough calls. Avoid dictating to-do lists and supervising the small things. Show your support by speaking life and words of encouragement. Offer suggestions and allow them to take the reins.

Set Clear Expectations

It’s impossible to measure up when you are unfamiliar with the measuring stick. Your team members must know and understand your policies and procedures as well as the expectations placed upon them. Teach them how you think. Coach them through your decision-making process. Expressed expectations allow for accountability and growth.

Praise Progress, Not Perfection

No one gets it right every time. If perfection were a prerequisite for ministry, we would all be out of a job. At some point someone took a risk with you: they gave you more responsibility than you had proven capable of carrying. Yet, you persevered and God used you to advance His kingdom. Now it’s your turn. There are volunteers on your team who are capable of more. Find ways to hand over the reins and raise up leaders. Praise effort, not results, and progress, not perfection.

Empower Your Team and Grow

In family ministry, empowerment is critical. Every weekend, parents entrust their hearts to you and your team members. They hand over their children for an hour or two and have faith you will care for them with utmost priority. Volunteers who understand your ministry’s vision and guiding principles and who act in confidence will not only meet expectations, but also succeed in forming meaningful connections.

Do you feel your ministry has plateaued? If so, consider the weight you are carrying. Is your expansion and growth limited by your personal bandwidth? Maybe it’s time to take a risk and delegate responsibility to capable and empowered members of your team.

Want More?

To learn more about the “whys” and “hows” of empowerment, check out Don’t Quit, the new book by Jessica Bealer and Gina McClain, available now at

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