If ever there was a year where the people we lead need us, it’s now. They need us as leaders to be personal in a year that has felt very impersonal. We need to close the social distance gap they may feel as members of our team. If your team feels scattered, distant, or disengaged—welcome to the club! And although it’s not your fault, you can lead out of these moments, out of 2020, and into 2021 with a fully engaged and ready-to-go team!

Personalize your prayers.

As you close out this year—even as some of you welcome your team back into the building—take this moment very personally. Some of you may realize that your team of volunteers is now smaller than it ever was. This is a moment to see where you are, what you have, and then to be super-strategic with the team members you have. Don’t allow your low team member attendance numbers to discourage you—make it challenge you. Fewer team members means that you can strategically pour into the ones you have. 

Make a list of team members’ names and pray for them by name. Post on your team Facebook page or Instagram page asking for prayer requests, and encourage team members to pray for each other. Start a prayer huddle before service. We have a prayer board in our volunteer room, and if someone has a prayer request, they can add it there and I will pray over it that week. Sometimes, especially now, needs can seem so big, and we can feel like prayer is all we can do. But it’s not just all we can do—it’s the best we can do for our team. Say their names, say their children’s and spouse’s names. Make your prayers personal and watch how engaged your team gets when you can say: “I prayed for you today!”

Don’t take it personally.

Your team will continue to change during the remainder of this wild year! If you’re only online, you may see you have some volunteers who are disengaged. Once you open your in-person service, you may have many team members not ready to return. Once you’ve been open, you may find that some team members have decided to stop serving altogether. Don’t take this personally, and don’t allow yourself to disqualify a volunteer quickly. There are so many reasons a volunteer may not be ready to return, and it probably has nothing to do with you. Try to understand them, listen first, and then plan to welcome them back when they’re ready. 

Assign a coach or leader, not just to your current team, but also to the team members who aren’t prepared to return. Ask that coach to keep in touch with those volunteers and to keep them engaged with any information, training, and fun you’re having. Empower that coach to own the “Home Team,” knowing that their job is to keep them engaged with the larger “In-Person Team.” Leverage this moment to create a new team—of those volunteers not ready to come back. Then, wait for them to return, knowing they’ll be able to return fully engaged.

Make it personal.

I’m not saying to bribe people—even though I’ve been tempted to do so when we’re down five team members on a Sunday. Let’s get real; we all have the team members who are the top of the team. We know these team members will show up on time, never call out at the last minute, go to any room we need them, and always remember to wear their shirt! These people need to be appreciated—over-appreciated! What we reward will be repeated, and it’s okay to have favorites! If you have a team member who is just amazing, call out what they’re doing that’s so great and hook them up with a gift. A simple shout-out on your team page, a handwritten note, or a Starbucks card can mean so much. 

Your team is watching and listening. Show them you see their hard work, their dedication, and their commitment. Giving personal gifts like fun buttons on their lanyards as you see them do something awesome, or a special gift for serving for many years, or their favorite candy when you see them being “sweet,” or a team page shout-out are all easy ways to appreciate your team. Personal gifts or words to your team will re-engage them and show them you care. And when people know you care, they’ll keep showing up and make serving an opportunity they take personally.

We all want to end the year strong. We all want to come out on the other side of this year ready to welcome 2021 with open arms. Our ministries are only as strong as our team, and our team is only as strong as the relationships we make. Masks, shut-downs, six-feet social distancing, and safety protocols can distance our team. Still, personal prayers, accepting your team where they are, and over-appreciating them will shorten the space between you and a fully engaged team.