Volunteerism vs. Co-Ownership
[I originally wrote this entry for a sister ministry's web site blog and thought some of you might not find it so I'm reposting it here. It's written to small group leaders, so feel free to copy and paste it into an email to them or use it on your own blog (siting the source, of course!). My hope is that it will make you step back from a desire to increase volunteerism in your small group ministry and move toward genuine ownership, which is far more organic and healthy. For more detailed information on volunteerism vs. ownership, you'll find it by reading chapter five of my new book on small groups.]
Small-group leaders often leverage friendships with group members to get things done for the group or do something in a meeting now and then. Recruiting volunteers is a great way to draw in a regular visitor or disconnected group member. But when it's the only type of help a group leader has in his or her group, the future is looking dim, whether the leader realizes it or not.
Constantly asking people in your group to help in one way or another will eventually wear you out. It also may be considered a favor by the person volunteering to help you (instead of the group). If you are unable to reciprocate in a personal and possibly a sacrificial way, the member may feel abused or simply be unwilling to volunteer in the future.
Adding group ownership to the volunteerism you probably already do is great for your group—and you as well. Invite everyone in your group to join a core team that decides "who will do what by when" for the group meetings and members between meetings. By meeting monthly for an hour or so to make plans for the next six weeks of group life, it will remove any burden of leadership you may be experiencing and give others a strong sense of ownership for the group's success.
Here's a few thoughts and tips about leading with a team vs. leading a group with just volunteerism:
When others make plans and do things for the group, expect them to do it differently. If you have any control issues, you'll discover them quickly when you allow others to do things for the group instead of doing what you ask them to as a favor.
In your planning meetings, become the quiet person. Briefly share things that need to be done, then invite others to take responsibility for making that thing happen. If the plans made by the team are fraught with potential failure, share your concerns and ask the team to overcome them or put in checks and balances so it will be more successful.
As the planning facilitator, ensure that the group members have nailed down who will do what by when. Make careful notes of this and call the various people to ask them how their planning of that responsibility is going instead of expecting them to do what they agreed to do without another word from you. (A long time ago, I learned the word "delegate" should never be separated from the word "inspection." When you inspect what you've delegated ahead of time, everything turns out much better!)
The benefits of leading your group with a team vs. just volunteers are worth the effort! The team members are all training for group leadership in the future, the level of ownership in your group will go through the roof, and you will be in charge of a small group of people who are building God's kingdom together.
Quick closing thought: meeting monthly and planning for the next six weeks gives your team a few weeks' overlap for course corrections or to make mid-course corrections or changes. Give it a try!