I cannot quite picture the exact scene, but I definitely remember the rush of emotions. I will never forget what it felt like to see my family’s response to my report card results. For the most part, they were filled with stellar grades and kind remarks. Occasionally though, there were a few indicators accompanied by brief comments about my bad conduct. (I was a clown.) Fortunately, the good grades outweighed the bad conduct and the joyous memories of being a great student will forever remain in my mind.
Report cards aid in providing parameters to gauge proficiency. They are also helpful at providing a little bit more clarity, beyond what our kids share when asked how school is going. They help us to see what to work on more or less, as we guide them through academia. Without report cards and other types of measurement systems, whatever we do can be assumed as good.
The same is true for the volunteers we lead. No matter how good our orientation process is, without recurring evaluation, we are not setting up our volunteers for success. Our volunteers have no idea how they are doing unless we tell them otherwise. Unless we share how amazing they are at their role, they may assume that they are mediocre.
The same is true for us. Our annual or semi-annual reviews at work help us to know where we stand. Getting those pats on the back and notes about areas of improvement not only help our personal performance, but our company’s as well. What would our ministries look like if we developed some forms of evaluation for our volunteers?
Here are a few suggestions as you get started creating an evaluation system or tweaking one that you already have in place:
Know Your Team
As leaders, it can be easy for us to enter a space and make a judgment call on what is good and what could be worked on. But without really understanding why things are the way they are, we are just giving opinions based on brief observations. When evaluating our volunteers, let us not judge a book by its cover. That is like deciding how good a movie will be based on the trailer—and I think we have learned not to do that.
I have consulted ministries that want that kind of perspective on the front end, but learning why they do what they do provides greater insight and allows me to give even better direction. Imagine a stranger giving your annual review, instead of the supervisor that has known you for a while. Their assessment would not be accurate.
Similarly, it would not be fair to evaluate the volunteers we do not know. We cannot truly evaluate someone’s strengths and weaknesses without first knowing their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, I encourage you to get to know your volunteers before or during the evaluation. Doing so will not only help you know more about those you lead, it will help to place them where they best fit in your ministry. That is definitely helpful if we have recently joined a team.
Measure What Matters
Simplification is best for everyone. Too many principles, processes and procedures, will ensure that almost none of them will be focused on or executed well. Determine the few things that matter most in your ministry and only measure those. Doing so will help clarify your focus and minimize confusion.
I have found it very helpful to use the five Lead Small principles as a framework. As our team was accustomed to hearing the values of being present, creating a safe place, partnering with parents, making it personal and moving them out, it only made sense to evaluate them by those principles.
If you don’t know where to start or you are looking for a simple evaluation measurement, the Lead Small principles may be the way to go.
Set the Stage
No surprises please. I am a huge fan of surprises when it comes to birthdays, Christmas, and general gift giving. However, I do not think it would be a good idea to have an impromptu evaluation. So, let’s not get the clipboards out just yet.
I like to think that the word evaluation implies something measured over time—meaning we have observed something or someone for a period of time and can give a good assessment or review. Develop a plan to observe your volunteers over a period of time. That way, you have at least some information from which to gauge your evaluation.
Give your volunteers plenty of advance notice. Better yet, if you have staff and volunteer leaders, take them through the process first. Ensuring consistent understanding and language is vital for every process, procedure, and change, most importantly.
Be clear about what the evaluation is, why you are doing it, and when it will take place.
Determine a Frequency
Along with sharing when the evaluations will take place, it is also a good idea to share how often they will occur. This will vary across the spectrum because of the variety of ways in which we all do ministry. But as you think about what will work best for your ministry dynamics, think through an annual or biannual schedule.
What can help keep the frequency to a minimum are debriefs. I am a huge fan of them. Debriefs provide a consistent pulse on your ministry. Try to fit a 5-10 minute debrief after your worship experiences to hear feedback from your team.
Find out what worked well and what challenges occurred. Providing an open forum gives your team a platform to share what is on their hearts. We always found it great to know where our volunteers felt outstanding and how we could better support them.
Enjoy the Results
Don’t let this scare you. I know that sometimes we do not like to be graded, nor do we like to evaluate others. But this is not that kind of party. We are not attempting to be nitpicking leaders. Our goal is actually to strategically invest into our volunteers.
Oh what a positive shift will occur with the implementation of evaluations. Your teams will improve and your families, kids, students, and adults will be all the better for it.
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