In my experience, churches need professional training over time to grow their volunteer tech teams. Selling contracted professional services for extended times helps address this huge need in the house of worship market.
On-Site Training for Three Months
1) Mentoring by a Pro — There’s something powerful about being invited and asked to participate in something bigger than ourselves. Most of the best volunteers I’ve met at hundreds of churches came because someone asked them if they’d like a chance to see what it was like to do what we do! And by having a hired professional behind the console, the opportunity to watch and train side-by-side with a pro is both a safe way to introduce volunteers to the position and provide real-world, in-their-environment, with-their-gear hands-on training.
There’s a saying that the front of house mix position is the ‘hot seat’ in churches. But your pros have the experience in a lot of live venues to handle the pressure with competence and class. Consistency is key, and it simply takes time to learn the ropes, so selling a three-month on-site pro for weekend services is a cost many churches would gladly pay to smooth out the consistency of operation and invest in their existing volunteers. Perhaps best of all, when there’s a pro with humble confidence mentoring, volunteers will step up even more to learn without the pressures of the job that keep many from serving in these critical roles due to a lack of experience and training.
On countless occasions in my own church tech ministry and on the road consulting with churches, there would often be a person peering into the booth to look at the equipment. Their curiosity is often the first step in having a volunteer (not the pro) talk with them about what’s going on and inviting them to come and shadow along during a weekend service. Teach churches that their pool of current volunteers are the best possible recruiters. Why? Because, chances are, they are friends with people similar to themselves. That means techies know more techies. It also means that the non-techie volunteers (more on that below) know people like them, too. Leveraging the spheres of influence that volunteers have is the best way to invite new people to try out the Tech Arts and expand the volunteer base.
Another important recruiting tip is to find college interns, stay-at-home parents and retirees who have the time to give on a Monday through Friday basis. Unlike your other volunteers with full-time jobs, these folks have more flexible schedules and can help you with a host of necessary areas including volunteer scheduling, administrative support, copywriting, organizing, documenting and encouraging other volunteers with handwritten notes. I have had men and women help me out during the week so that I was freed up to do the work that only I could do instead of work that anyone could do. One of my best volunteers was a brilliant administrator; she just kept me organized and helped me with myriad daily tasks that I didn’t like or have the time to do.
When churches use interns, have them keep a log of what the interns do and give them the chance to apply their time and effort towards their high school or college credits. It may mean the church tech leader will need to go and visit with their high school counselor or college professor, but those real world on-the-job training hours can result in applicable hours towards their degree. Plus, with a professional mentor, there are ample training opportunities Monday-Friday that are great training ground without the pressure of live services.
2) No-pressure Shadowing — Guide someone through the process of a new technical role, initiating them slowly through the ropes and giving them a lot of freedom to watch and observe is perhaps the best way to weed out those serious about taking on the responsibility of technical positions. There’s a great deal of safety in knowing that an invitation to come into the tech booth with zero expectation for them to perform. By partnering your hired professional with an observer, the de-mystifying of church tech is a big part of alleviating the fears of new volunteer talent.
Because these are contract roles, I often recommend the paid church staff tech members shadow the pros on the weekend, too. The real-world experience of church is great for the church techs, but your professionals have more experience in a wider variety of situations and venues to pour into these church tech leaders. After 90 days, it’s important that your pro has invested into the staff person responsible for carrying the torch once the contract is complete. Even then, it’s valuable to sell bi-annual or quarterly weekend check-ups to address any new technology additions and evaluate the training needs of new volunteers.
Teach the Staff How to Teach
3) Train the Trainer — Develop the volunteers who show the most interest, have the best servant attitudes and are teachable. I’d much rather have a person who is inexperienced and teachable than an ‘expert’ who can’t be taught. If you’ve got a soccer mom who doesn’t know technology but is highly teachable, pour into her and see where she can serve. I’ve quite often found these volunteers make some of the best presentation software volunteers and excellent camera operators.
While your contracted professional is there to ‘do’ and make the technical easier to understand, empower your contract staff to train the church staff on how to do the job and how to train others to do the job. In the classic ‘train the trainer’ scenario, your pros should be contractually required to spend time teaching the soft skills of how to teach, not just what to do.
Teach church tech leaders that they don’t need a ‘techie person.’ In many tech roles, volunteers often don’t have to know the operating system or even how to calibrate a video camera; they just operate with confidence and style when they’re trained and equipped to succeed.
Evaluate & Recommend
4) Evaluate honestly — Hurting feelings doesn’t have to be a part of the job, so teach your contracted pros to be gentle when they have to redirect people out of areas where they can’t accomplish the job. Your pros can tell when someone ‘gets it’ — or not. The church staff ultimately get to make the call, but private conversations after services between your pros and the church tech leadership are vital so that feedback about volunteer competence is constructive and candid.
Evaluation is easier when done against a set of predefined expectations — a job/role description. It’s hard for a volunteer to hear they missed a mark they didn’t know they were supposed to hit on in the first place! While the pros are there to ‘do a job’ (the technical role), they are instrumental in helping church tech leaders set up volunteers for long-term success. I’ve found it’s useful for professional contracts to bring in technical riders (contracts/lists) that define expectations around operation of a particular role. These are often good starting places for churches to adopt ‘role/job descriptions’ so that their volunteers know what’s expected before jumping into a new technical position.
Solve the Tech Shortage Problem in Churches
5) Reproduce trained volunteers — Reproduction should be a natural part of someone becoming seriously qualified and competent in their role. Far too many churches have “the sound guy” (as in ONLY ONE PERSON). I have been alarmed at the frequency I’ve encountered churches where the tech is run by only one person, week-in and week-out. Not only is this a recipe for burnout, it’s a huge pain point when that one person is sick or out of town. Churches often don’t seem to address this issue well, but the intervention of a trained professional for 90 days will both identify the failure in this setup and address the problem with a solution of reproducing tech volunteers with a larger pool of new volunteers (see above).
While there can (and should) be a leader for decision-making and administration, a team of trained leaders is the only way to obtain consistency, quality and growth. An example of this reproduction came from my own life as a volunteer. One of my roles at a large church was as a volunteer trainer. Sure it was training, but I looked at it as loving on volunteers. It was also the first time I viewed myself as a volunteer pastor, by taking the time to connect with these other volunteers outside of weekend services to listen, encourage and share life with them.
Your contracted professionals have a lot to offer churches, and it’s an additional revenue-generating activity that grows the reach of your business into the church market. Moreover, these churches learn to trust your professionals, which opens the door to future technology upgrades and new venue technology for your firm.
How is your firm training churches on the use of A/V/L technology? Leave your comments below and share your successes, lessons and failures of training church techies.