What Cracker Barrel Taught Me About KidMin

crackerbarrel-editedRocking chairs. Old-fashioned candy. Checkers. Chicken and dumplings.  These are just some of the reasons I love Cracker Barrel.  In fact, it’s one of my favorite chain restaurants.  Typically, it serves as the go-to place for me whenever I can’t decide on a place to eat.  I’ve shared many a meal with my family gathered around those lantern-topped tables.  I’ve failed to leave just one tee on that triangular block of wood for 35 years and counting.  I even had a job interview at a Cracker Barrel once–and it was for a church position, not the restaurant. (I got the job, BTW). I can remember one time eating in a Cracker Barrel across the aisle from “Mr. Cracker Barrel” himself. While it was self-proclaimed I’m sure, he was mighty proud of the jacket, hat, belt buckle and car window decal he had promoting his title. Folks just seem to love that place.

I’ve eaten at so many different Cracker Barrels I’ve lost count.  From Florida, to Georgia, on into the Carolinas, to the Tennessee hills and the Kentucky bluegrass, you pick a Cracker Barrel and, chances are, I’ve been there once or twice in my travels across the great southeastern United States. I can attest that Uncle Herschel’s breakfast tastes just the same in Jacksonville, FL as it does in Chattanooga, TN.  The fried okra and macaroni and cheese in Canton, GA is just as delicious and comforting as it is in Lexington, KY.  And that’s really the reason I love it so much.  With Cracker Barrel, there’s no surprises.  If you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.  And it’s the consistency that makes it so great.

In fact, those of us who serve in KidMin could learn a thing or two from Cracker Barrel when it comes to consistency. It’s been my experience that children thrive upon ritual and routine. For that reason, I believe consistency is one of the key factors when it comes to success in KidMin, but it’s also often one of the most elusive of accomplishments. If you’re anything like me, you manage multiple teams of volunteers serving in different services at different times or on different weeks.  These volunteers, each bringing a different personality and skill set to the table, are as unique as the individuals comprising the groups of children that they serve.  And therein lies the difficulty: how can you take all of those differences and still provide a similar experience for each child in different services across the board and perpetuate it from week to week?

While I certainly don’t have all the answers on this subject, here are a few of the things that have given me success in this area in the past:

  1. Clearly communicate your expectations.  When you clearly and specifically communicate exactly what you are looking for from a volunteer, it becomes easier for them to understand the vision and helps them to achieve the desired result.  I’ve found that it’s difficult to over-communicate, and the majority of your volunteers will appreciate being given clear direction from their leader.
  2. Model your expectations.  It’s one thing to tell a volunteer what to do; it’s an entirely different thing to show them.  Don’t hesitate to set the standard for a volunteer by modeling in front of them the specific behavior or approach you are looking for.  Follow this model for maximum results: You do it while they watch, you do it with them, they do it while you watch, they do it and you move on.
  3. Evaluate and adjust.  You should constantly measure what is happening in your ministry against the expectations that have been communicated.  If something isn’t going according to what’s been communicated, perhaps it hasn’t been communicated clearly enough.  When you evaluate, it gives you the opportunity to make adjustments in how or what you are communicating and opens the door for you to provide “on-the-job” training to help your volunteers do what they do even better.  And when our evaluations reveal that your volunteers are getting it right, CELEBRATE IT!  What gets celebrated gets replicated, so never miss an opportunity to positively reinforce your volunteers when they succeed.
  4. Get everyone in the right seat on the bus.  If one of your volunteers continues to fall short of your clearly communicated expectations, it’s possible that they may need to be moved to a different seat on the bus.  Perhaps their personality and skill set doesn’t align with the task or role that you’ve given them.  This is where the aforementioned evaluation process comes in handy.  If you can align your volunteers with tasks and roles that match up with their skill set and personality, the ceiling is the roof sky will be the limit for both that volunteer and that particular area of your ministry. The more you can connect different volunteers with a role that has them operating in their sweet spot, the healthier and more successful your team and ministry will be.
  5. Remember that these things take time. Cracker Barrel was established in 1969, so they’ve been at it for a while.  I’d dare to venture that things have changed a bit over the years, which is what has made them so successful.  You won’t accomplish these things in your ministry overnight–in some cases it may take years.  So be encouraged and trust that your consistency in the above areas will pay off in the long run.  It sure did for Cracker Barrel.

So how about you? For those of you that lead in some capacity, what are some of the things you’ve had success with in bringing about consistency in your ministry?

The Most Important Thing You Can Say to a Volunteer

Hint: It’s just two words.the-most-important-social-media-webinar-i-ve-ever-presented-is-prF58a-clipart

Recently our church held a community outreach event where we had enlisted a number of volunteers to serve from all different areas of ministry within our body.  Even though we had such a diverse cross-section of our volunteers involved, the event was sponsored by our children’s ministry department and I ultimately served as the point person for the event.

Prior to the beginning of the event, I met with the entire volunteer team to cast vision and encouragement for the event, hand out assignments for the day and pray for the success of the event and all those involved.  Following that meeting, each of the volunteers stationed themselves at their area of service for the day and prepared for the event to begin.

As the point person, I could have chosen to use those last few minutes before the start of the event in scramble mode, running around being sure that everything was in place and ready to go.  In fact, I fought the urge to do so.  But instead, I chose to walk around to each volunteer that was serving that day, look them in the eye and say, “Thank you.”

Yep, you guessed it.  Those are the two words I alluded to previously–thank you.  And to you and me, saying thank you may not seem like all that big of a deal, but I believe it is the most important thing we could ever tell a volunteer.  In fact, I was quite shocked at the response of many of the volunteers that day.  I wish you could have seen their faces light up as one by one, I went to each of them and just said, “Thanks for serving today.”  For some, it seemed as if nobody had ever thought to say thank you before, and my simple gesture was a much needed breath of fresh air to their spirit.

Now don’t get me wrong, casting vision is important.  Setting goals and communicating expectations is important.  Training and equipping is important.  But all of these pale in comparison to the importance of saying “thank you.”  When you tell your volunteers how thankful you are for them, it opens the door for you to cast vision, set goals, communicate expectations and train and equip them.  But unfortunately, a lot of the time we get so caught up in trying to do all those other things that we fail to thank the people who serve alongside us.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize, though: every major success that I have had in ministry has been built on the backs and shoulders of faithful volunteers who have chosen to align themselves with me.  These people aren’t doing it for the money (’cause there ain’t none).  They’re not doing it because they have to (because they don’t).  They are doing it because they love Jesus and they believe in the mission of the church–it’s as simple as that.  But the funny thing is, they may not even realize themselves that that’s why they are doing it.  For many volunteers, they are just doing it because that’s what they do.  But when you thank them for their efforts, it gives you an opportunity to connect the dots between the “why” and the “what” for them. It allows you to show them how the things they are doing (no matter how menial the task may be) are making a Kingdom impact.  It provides occasion for you to celebrate their efforts, and what gets celebrated gets replicated.

And the best thing about saying thank you is that, for you as the leader, it’s easy to do!  Look in the mirror right now and say it: “Thank you.”  See how it just rolls off the tongue?    Not much of a talker?  No big deal.  Write a card (with an actual pen) and hand it/mail it to a volunteer.  Not much of a writer?  I got you.  Text them. Tweet them. Send a Facebook message.  Find that one crafty mom at your church–you know the one that has adorably themed birthday parties for all six of her impeccably well-behaved and well-dressed kids where all the party favors are hand made out of burlap and ribbon and it makes you feel like a terrible parent because you have none of that–and get her to make you some “Thank You” wrappers for Hershey bars and hand one out to each of your volunteers.  Simply put, whatever it takes, say thank you to your volunteers–and mean it.

If you’ve read this far in this post, thank you.  Chances are you may even be one of the volunteers that have served alongside me in ministry at some point.  If so, thanks so much for everything you do/did to help me build the Kingdom.  I really mean it and I could never say it enough.  And to volunteers everywhere, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.  Guys like me wouldn’t be where we are today without folks like you.  YOU make all the difference.

So I gotta know–if you’re a volunteer, what’s the best/most meaningful way you’ve ever been thanked for your service?  If you’re a leader of volunteers, what methods do you use to say “thank you”?