By Bryan Yeager
As I write these thoughts, churches are reopening on various time schedules all around the country.
This also means that there are many volunteers who may not have been called upon for an extended period of time, and who will be expected to step back into their former volunteer responsibilities.
What does this re-opening for a church that relies on volunteers look like? What should the leaders of these ministry programs be doing, and what and how should they communicate to their volunteers?
We all hope to navigate back to “normal” carefully, but the question no one can answer as of yet is, will the normal we all know return? And will there be a new round of the coronavirus when we move into flu season?
No one can answer these questions, but I do have some thoughts about managing, leading, and caring for your church’s volunteers during this strange season we all live in.
Whether we’re in the middle or post phase of this pandemic, we can easily adopt the following disastrous assumptions if we aren’t careful.
Assumption #1: Everything will be the same when your church doors open once again.
Isn’t it interesting that our goal as a nation, and even our church is to get back to just “normal”? The phrase, “Let’s get back to normal” sounds like a mediocre goal, unless the reader understands the why of this goal.
For a church to think everything will be the same for their volunteers is an assumption that can be loaded with problematic scenarios.
Current speculation is that the “normal” will not be as we know and expect, and whatever the new normal might look like is still being defined.
So, if the new normal isn’t the same, it could easily change your volunteer organizational structure and assignments, which all boils down to a lot of work just to make everything function properly.
Your church and your volunteers will be far better off if there have been preparations in case we face a different normal.
Assumption #2: You’ll have 100% volunteer retention when you reopen.
Churches around the globe had to quickly become very creative when their countries transitioned into various strategies of lockdown to thwart the virus.
A variety of strategies were utilized to conduct services, such as live websites, live Facebook, live YouTube services, recorded services, and podcasts.
Some did special services where people came to their church parking lots and stayed in the vehicles and listened through short-range FM transmitters or public address systems.
After weeks of their church families doing “church” from their living rooms, they’re now hearing from their church that they are opening their doors once more, and they are inviting everyone to return.
Doing “church” at home has been a pleasant experience for many families, and a noticeable percentage of these families will be hesitant to go back to the old routine.
One of the factors producing this hesitancy is the fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
There will be serious concerns about the cleanliness of classrooms and nurseries, along with the close physical contact of the children who will be participating.
Another reason for reluctance among returning families will be how easy it has been to participate through online services.
Physically going to church takes so much more time and energy. Families have to get up earlier, feed, bathe, and dress the kids and then leave home early enough to get to church on time.
Because of these reasons, many will continue to stay home to participate.
And here’s the challenge: Some of these people will be key volunteers who are needed to have successful weekend services. If they don’t come, they’ll have to be replaced or certain things won’t happen.
It’s entirely possible your church’s volunteer team could take a hit like this. If there isn’t any preparation and volunteer networking during the shutdown, the outcome could be devastating.
Assumption #3: All of your volunteers will have a positive and servant‑minded attitude when they return.
Locking down society to curb the pandemic has created new challenges and increased levels of stress and anxiety in many homes.
Additional stress added to any family who is even borderline dysfunctional will potentially increase the dysfunctionality, and in some cases increase it dramatically.
Isolation can become toxic for families that have been wounded from various types of abuse.
For some abusive personalities, isolation provides for them greater and ongoing opportunities to not just continue, but escalate their destructive behavior.
The phrase, “all under one roof” doesn’t always bring warm and fuzzy thoughts.
Having to do life together under confinement 24/7 can create stress even for healthy families. Most families go through most of the year separating each morning headed to either school or work.
During the shutdown, they’ve had to figure out how to do school and work under the same roof. Most homes have not been designed to provide workspaces and study places for multiple adults and children all at the same time.
And for most of the country, working from a patio or porch this past winter hasn’t been an option. I know people who have worked in their parked vehicles just to have the privacy they needed to get their jobs done.
Adding to that stress, many parents had to add on teaching and school-monitoring responsibilities. They began overseeing their children’s educational assignments as schools attempted to teach their students online.
Some school districts did well, others didn’t. These responsibilities were added into the full schedules parents already had, not to mention increased housekeeping duties.
With over 20 million jobs that were lost, and unemployment over 14%, some families found themselves included in those statistics.
With everyone doing life from home, families were spending more on food, utilities, and other unforeseen expenses, which created additional stress.
Financial stress can quickly lead to discouragement, and discouragement can quickly lead to depression.
During the pandemic marriage and family counseling appointments rose, law enforcement agencies saw an increase in domestic violence, and the sale of liquor increased dramatically. All of these point to an increase of stress fractures within families in America.
If you think the quality of your ministry program delivery will not be impacted, please reconsider. This is part of this dangerous assumption.
One or several of the stressful circumstances we just mentioned can be catalytic in creating personal turmoil within your volunteer ranks.
Although the volunteers and their families may be encouraged to finally be getting out of their houses to come and serve, they will potentially arrive with their own personal baggage.
The wonderful volunteers that you had prior to the shutdown may perhaps arrive broken.
Depending on the program your organization is providing, they may actually qualify more as a recipient versus someone volunteering to assist with the program.
They very well could now be classified as “walking wounded.” Be ready to receive them with grace and compassion, and care well for them in the meantime.
BRYAN YEAGER is the chief operations officer for Samaritan Aviation in Mesa, Arizona. He has served as senior pastor in churches on three continents, and has managed tens of thousands of ministry volunteers through previous organization leadership roles. He’s the author of of the ebook Volunteer Management During a Pandemic, from which this article was excerpted and adapted. Learn more at www.vibrantvolunteers.org.