Using technology to tame the volunteer schedule headache

ChMS_2By Sam Batterman


Perhaps no other word encapsulates what it means to be a Christian. Christ was a servant to His Father’s great plan of salvation. He chose to be a peasant instead of being born into opulence. He chose to be a servant to His creation, by dying for us on the cross. And Christ modeled how to be a servant to his disciples.

In our modern, rush-around world, we rarely use the term “servant” — it has all kinds of trappings that can cause confusion. We generally use the term “volunteer.” But, volunteerism is servanthood. It’s what Christ called us to do.

Perhaps no other part of church is as important or as complicated as managing volunteers.

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Visitors coming to the church are greeted by volunteers — those first few impressionable moments are left to volunteers. The same is true for the nursery, our children’s ministries, guardian angels patrolling the parking lot, and especially the lay leaders that lead out bible studies, Sunday school classes and children’s programs.

These critical roles in the church are bounded by a number of important concerns: Who has volunteered? Are they gifted in that way as a volunteer? (Just because you want to be a teacher, doesn’t make you a great teacher.) Have we checked their background — especially in regards to children’s ministry? Are we using them? How often do they serve? Are they burning out? What are their preferences in serving? Do they like to serve with their families? What rotation works best for them?

As a leader of volunteers, your concerns are more aggregated: How are my volunteers performing, and do they enjoy their roles? (Because if they don’t, they won’t volunteer much longer.) Do they have feedback that can make the position better, more efficient and more fulfilling?

Way beyond a spreadsheet

Excel was simply not designed for the task of managing all this; there are better technology solutions out there for churches to use.
Seraphim Software provides an integrated ministry planner, linked tightly to its directory, grouping and reporting. This tight integration lets you quickly build lists of people who are serving in a ministry or are interested in serving, qualify them for service, and schedule them for service.
This tool goes further by automatically inquiring about availability, finding substitutes quickly and easily, and managing scheduling conflicts.

Here are some areas in which Seraphim Ministry Planner can help you be more effective with volunteers:

Attracting. Seraphim provides methods for “advertising” the needs in the church. The people in the congregation see these needs and can volunteer for the specific ministry. The application then allows managers in the background to confirm proficiencies and qualifications, such as child CPR, child safety and various teaching preparation classes. This tool insures you have the right people with the right skills.

Managing. It then lets you take this large pool of people and break them down into teams of volunteers — people who work well together and have similar schedules. Building teams is easy and quick.

Planning. The meat of this whole process is, of course, time: the calendar. Seraphim Ministry Planning consumes your whole screen and allows you to filter by ministries and date ranges. Assigning teams to time slots, handling substitutes and seeing conflicts are all visualized in an easy-to-understand way.

MP_PlannerInforming and reminders. A huge part of managing volunteers is reminding them and getting their availability. Seraphim allows you to set up reminders and not worry about them. Reminders can be set to send emails to your volunteers for events at any arbitrary time in the future. For example, send reminders to all your children’s ministry people who are serving in the next 90 days. They can respond by clicking a simple link in the email as to whether or not they are able to serve. The feedback from these responses is immediately visualized in the calendar, showing you who won’t be able to make it.

You can also send “just reminders,” which don’t inquire about availability these emails can remind people that they are serving this coming weekend. You have full control over the header, footer, and even the automatically generated text regarding what role, what location and what time they are serving.

Reporting. You can’t get better if you can’t see how you are doing. Reporting is focused on getting the most out of your volunteers. We have simple dashboards that show utilization rates, how many people have signed up, and how many people you are using. This allows you to discover who is serving and their frequency of serving.

Why is this important? Because, in many churches it’s the same volunteers over and over again. And while their faithfulness can inspire and impress, it also leads to burn-out. Are you using everyone you can? Are you spreading out the load? What utilization metric would your pastor like to see, quarter to quarter? We make it easy to surface these numbers and manage your departments.

MP_Dash A final word on volunteers

Make sure you touch base with them regularly. These are the people in the trenches, doing the job week in and week out. They will likely see things that can be improved — better processes, more efficient ways of doing things. Listen to them. Capture these ideas, and show them you care. This will go a long way in keeping people happy in roles and moving the mission of the church forward.

Sam Batterman is president and CTO of Seraphim Software in Collegeville, PA. After years of working for companies including Merck and Microsoft, Batterman and his team now enable churches with high-tech tools designed especially for them. Come see Seraphim at WFX 2015 in Nashville.


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