How to Choose Books to Read with Your Staff or Volunteers
Very few things catalyze learning, conversation, or growth faster than a good book. Especially when it comes to your staff or volunteers. For the last decade, I’ve led countless teams through countless books, whether it’s via our High-Capacity Volunteer Cohort, our Guest Services Collective, our monthly Guest Services Directors’ meeting, or our Connections Confab. It’s one of the reasons I share the top ten quotes from some of my own favorite books on a monthly basis, and why I keep a running list of books I recommend in various categories.
But which books you should choose for your staff or volunteers? There are six basic principles I’d suggest:
1. Make sure that you like the book.
If a book doesn’t resonate with you, that’s going to come across in any discussion you lead. The books I’ve handed out over the years are titles that shifted something in my own thinking, ministry, or leadership. That changes the way I lead the conversation, and hopefully gets the people in the group more excited about the stuff they’re reading.
2. Feel out the felt needs of your team.
What are the areas where your staff or vols struggle the most? Hospitality? Volunteer culture? Team cohesion? Leadership development? Find the very best books in those categories and start there. Your team should have a relatively-immediate “Aha!” moment, seeing themselves or their struggles in the pages.
3. Don’t be afraid of ministry books and marketplace books.
Not every book has to be explicitly Christian in order for your team to learn from it. Over the years I’ve led discussions in books by various authors from biblical theologians to business professors, and seasoned ministry leaders to successful CEOs. I recognize that we have to be careful and not just put anything in the hands of our folks. And whether the book is sacred or secular, we have to put it in our own context. That’s why the next point is important…
4. Get adept at tying the books back to your values.
I love asking the “so what?” and “now what?” questions. Yes, this is a great book. So what? What do we do with it? Where do we go from here? In most discussions, I want to be able to at least implicitly (if not explicitly) point to our church values or our team plumb lines, and show how what we’ve learned supports what we should already know, and how it translates to the ways we can improve.
5. Be intentionally disagreeable.
Whether sacred or secular (point #3 above), I try to toss in an occasional book (or highlight a particular chapter) that I know will introduce some friction to the conversation. Whether it’s a different worldview or an alternative ministry style, those books tend to bring out the best discussions as you lead your team to wrestle with who you are as a church.
I still remember one of my favorite HCV Cohorts from over a decade ago, where one volunteer took massive umbrage with one (Christian) author’s perspective on an issue. The ensuing discussion was tense, uncomfortable, emotional … and fantastic. All of us walked away with a stronger sense of who we were and the lane God had called us to run in.
6. Know that not everyone will read everything.
Finally, don’t delude yourself that just because you buy someone a 200 page book that they’re going to read a 200 page book. Highlight the best and hope for the rest. Our Cohorts tackle a different book each month, but I know I can reasonably expect they’ll read 80-100 pages in that month. So I pick the best 1/3 to 1/2 of the book, and ask them to focus on those chapters. Do I want them to read all of it eventually? Sure. But small wins, people. Small wins.
If you’re looking for a few titles, I’ve broken down some of my favorites in various categories here. Pick one or a few, and start the conversation!
Did you like this post? Check out this one on how to actually lead a book discussion.