Volunteers are a specialized commodity available to almost all church hierarchies. The number of volunteers, though and what they can accomplish varies enormously.

I once worked for a junior warden who was considered near legendary because of what his committees and sub-committees could accomplish. Need a steeple replaced or a historical cemetery refurbished? This was the man to go to. And then there was another Vestryperson, in charge of the fellowship and hospitality committee who watched her entire group disintegrate as if it were a sugar cube under a stream of warm water.

The main difference between these two leaders, who were both good and honorable people, was their ability to communicate. Within that skill of communication is also the knowledge of how much and what type of communication a volunteer needs. Some volunteers need very little direction. A bare bones outline may be enough for some volunteers. Other volunteers need a lot more hands on guidance and supervision, because although their willingness may be there the ability is not all it needs to be. A lesser skilled volunteer may need a constant stream of information and encouragement.

It is important to explain to volunteers what overall goal the group is trying to reach. I have had to re-transplant several trees while helping out at Holy Trinity because I did not share the same vision as the architect of the plan in question. Did I fail to ask something? Was my leader assuming too much? The situation ended well enough, but the failure to have a meeting of the minds brought a point about communicating home. Of course there is also the issue of attitude. Some volunteers just need a bit more of a kid glove approach to their handling. Some volunteers are used to being ridden hard and put up wet.

In the end personality will determine a lot of how best to handle people, but remember to open the gates of communication. Your level of communication and the volunteers will vary, as will factors of the goal. Don’t expect to be all things to all people and vice versa. Handling volunteers can be a tricky business, but one very necessary to move certain mountains.

Martin Spielman