Post-Pandemic: How to Bring Your Vols Back Strong
We’re getting there, kids. We are in no way out of the woods yet, but we’re beginning to see glimpses of what looks like life returning to normal. We’re hearing stirrings of businesses reopening and stay-at-home orders being lifted.
And as we emerge from our isolation cocoons with our Grizzly Adams hairstyles and our Quarantine Fifteen bellies and we try to make sweatpants-in-the-office a thing because our real pants no longer fit, we are going to have a desire to get back to ministry as soon as we can. But how do we stage a strong comeback when it comes to leading our volunteers? Here are a few things I’m processing:
1. “Normal” may not be normal for a while.
If ever. I don’t mean to insinuate that life will never look the way that it did in February 2020, but the sting of this shutdown is going to last much longer than the times we’re in our homes. Some of our volunteers have suffered significant loss: incomes have been affected, jobs have been disrupted, relationships have teetered on the brink of breaking, and equilibrium is shot. Some volunteers have contracted COVID, and some have lost loved ones to it.
What that means for leaders is that we can’t just jump back in and press on. We have to be sensitive to what our team is going through, and shepherd them accordingly. And this should go without saying, but it also means your volunteers shouldn’t hear from you for the first time post-shutdown. If you’ve not been checking in on them and caring for them, don’t you dare go back to business as usual when you’re scheduling them for the first weekend back.
(By the way, for a great take on “back to normal” and why we shouldn’t seek it, see this great post from Trevin Wax.)
2. Prepare for staggered reentry.
I’m not a betting man, but I’d put twenty bucks on the fact that we will not go from zero to sixty in our return to society. In much the same way that public gatherings went from all-in to 100 to 50 to ten in our state, we will gradually ramp back up the amount of people who are able to gather together.
What that may mean for you is that you need to stagger your volunteers. Maybe you don’t have a weekend service yet where they can serve guests, but they can get back into the homeless shelter to serve your community. Social distancing guidelines may mean fewer people in more weekend services, so your team will need to adjust their schedules so all services are covered.
3. Communicate the new, the now, and the not yet.
During this work-from-home period, many of us have dreamed up brand new ways of doing things. Some of those are for ministry in an online-world only and won’t survive reentry. Other things may indeed be our new normal.
The point is, be very clear on the new way of ministry for your team. Catch them up on what’s been happening behind the scenes that they may not have been aware of. Let them know what’s brand new. Let them know what’s happening right now – the temporary things that probably won’t stick. And let them know what will be off the table for the foreseeable future.
4. Share stories and celebrate God’s faithfulness.
I’ve heard from more churches than I can count of ministry opportunities that have come about over the last couple of months, not in spite of the pandemic, but because of it. People have been open to ministry who previously were not. Conversations were broached that were previously taboo. Online services saw viewing numbers many times over what a weekend service would normally have.
So take time to share those stories. You need to share them as a leader and you need to hear them from your people. Thank God for brand new opportunities to serve our community and share hope with the world.
By the way, this is something that should be true not only for your volunteer team, but for your entire church as well. I hope that every single one of us will take the first weekend to have an Old Testament-style recounting of what God has done.
5. Practice flexibility.
Repeat point one often. Things won’t look normal for a while. You may not have the budget you once had. Not all of your volunteers will return to their posts. Some will have decided to swap to another team.
The way we display grace (or don’t) in our first few weeks back will lay a new foundation for the type of leader we are. Go overboard on flexibility. Prioritize the person before you get persnickety over the position. Lead out of love, because that’s exactly the way you want your vols to lead.
I’m very curious: how does your church plan to practically celebrate the return to public gatherings? I’d love to hear your comments: drop ’em below: