Technology Volunteers in the ChurchDecember 11, 2004
I am often asked how Fellowship Church utilizies technology volunteers. Ironically, whenever I visit another church, this is the first question I ask! Why? Because every church struggles with this issue.
For those of you outside of the church world, it may seem curious that all churches no matter their size rely on volunteers for nearly everything. Fellowship is blessed to have a staff of our size, but our church could not exist without the thousands of volunteers who serve each month. At Fellowship, we empower our volunteers by giving them great responsibility and often authority in their area of service. Churches consistently make the mistake of only offering volunteers the jobs no one else wants to do, which guarantees failure. We make it clear that each person is critical to the health of the church and that serving is an essential part of the Christian life.
In the church as a whole, this approach has been a great success. However, within technology, it is terribly difficult to implement these principles. Due to security concerns, the temptation within IT is to delegate low-level, low-risk, time consuming, and monotonous tasks to volunteers. In some cases, this is exactly what people want. I've been told before, "Look, I code [troubleshoot, project plan, secure networks] all day long. That's the last thing I want to do in my spare time." But generally people want to use their unique talents when they serve.
Within the web team, we currently utilize volunteers in two main areas: check-in and research. Our check-in volunteers operate the many check-in machines located throughout our campus, greeting and tracking the attendance of adults, students, children, and volunteers. We track attendance for everything except the main worship service, and with events happening throughout the week, we always have a need for more volunteers. Technology people are somewhat drawn to these positions because they do involve a slick touch-screen process (Fellowship One by Fellowship Technologies), but many of these volunteers are not technical at all and simply love greeting people.
We also have volunteers who periodically help with research for new projects, such as an e-commerce or chat solution. This is a great way for someone to help, because they can volunteer from anywhere, at anytime, and at their own pace. And many technical people are great at online research. We've also utilized people as content editors and beta testers.
There is a significant downside, however. People respond to a cause, challenge, or community - this offers none of these things. The volunteer is not inspired by the cause (let's see...should help with baptism or with the SQL Server bug), does not see the challenge (yes, I'm sure my work would be helpful, but they'll solve this with or without me), and is missing out entirely on any sense of community.
So, like most churches we struggle with how to truly empower technology volunteers without impacting security. Every ministry must come to a high level of trust with volunteers, but few have the potential of widespread harm as the world of networks and data.
How can a developer work on the website from home without VPN and SourceSafe access? How can a DB help with the database without significant access? How can a designer help with graphics when we typically go from need to release in the space of a few hours of a workday?
There are fantastic, talented technology people at Fellowship every weekend. I know this because nearly every technology hire comes from our membership. We are still searching, however, for the best way to involve these great people in a way that truly utilizies the many talents God has given them.