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Leadership Lessons

Posted by Jonathan Malm on October 01, 2012.

Author: Jonathan Malm

Many of you might be saying to yourselves, “We could never do something this creative at our church. Our pastor would never go for it.”

But even the creative team at Willow Creek had to do something convincing. Normally, the creative elements are decided on by the team, then taken to Bill Hybels for the go ahead. Last year, he wasn’t sold immediately. It was something they’d never done and they risked serious failure if it didn’t come together.

They had to sell him on it. Pastor Bill, like most pastors, is pragmatic – but also a dreamer. If you can tell your pastor in a way that appeals to them and paints a picture, it helps them get on board.  Blaine Hogan approached it as a new way to reach people. And the theme of the idea helped Pastor Bill get on board. It hooked him.

The folks at Willow Creek are constantly trying to do things better. Blaine is not only striving to become better, but to create a better atmosphere of collaboration. That’s what helps sell the idea to leadership, staff members, and the volunteers giving their precious time. Everyone needs to feel like their skin is in the game.

A good leader needs to set an atmosphere or tone of collaboration. People follow the energy that the leader is giving off in a rehearsal or planning meeting. And the right type of tone can create buy in – especially when you have so many moving pieces like Willow Creek does in services like this.

During the Willow Creek Christmas creative process, you had so many personalities in the same room. Each wanted to take people on different journeys and to different places. The worship leaders were focusing on a traditional Christmas set. The creative element team wanted something modern and from a different perspective. Then Pastor Bill wanted to reach folks with his message.

But by creating this atmosphere of collaboration they were able to get a unified feel. Even though the pieces were different, they were cohesive. Each separate part gave folks multiple in-roads to the message instead of seeming like random juggling.

That helped the leadership and staff get on board. But how do you get all the volunteers on board for 12 services in one week? Even more, how do you keep them motivated throughout all the rehearsals leading up to the Christmas services?

Willow Creek has established a culture of creating “easy win” volunteer positions. This means they create good experiences for volunteers that don’t come with high stress. So, rather than staffing stressful positions with volunteers, they hire folks for those roles. It’s much easier to deal with the stress of the position if you’re getting paid to do it.

But the majority of their folks were volunteers – stage crew, video crew, even the folks dishing out cable to Pastor Bill since he doesn’t like to wear a wireless microphone.

So Paul Johnson, their executive producer, did a lot to keep the volunteers motivated. He incentivized the crew with ice cream one night, milkshakes another – a series of things to thank people along the way.

They also gathered the team before each service to pray. It’s very challenging since there’s so much prep work – makeup, tuning, running preservice content. But they did their best to provide a team environment and help people remember the focus of what they were doing.

Another thing they do is allow volunteers to sit with their families during the last song of the night. Silent Night has become a bit of a liturgical ending for Willow Creek’s Christmas services. They use that as a time to get families together and leave the service whistling Christmas. So, as much as they could, they allowed folks to sit with their families in whichever service their families attended. Some new volunteers would take over their roles while they went to be with their families. Even Todd Elliott, the technical director, got to sit with his family during Silent Night at one service.

Good leadership is all about these little things. None of the ways they got people on board or kept them motivated were huge things. But little steps – showing people that you care about them – is very good leadership.

This Christmas, look for little ways you can show your leadership, staff, and volunteers that you care about them. Look for ways to communicate, show your appreciation, and motivate them.

About the Author

Jonathan Malm | F T w
Jonathan is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of "Created for More," a 30-day devotional to help you develop a more creative mind. You’ll find him in San Antonio, Texas, roasting his own coffee beans and enjoying life with his Argentine wife, Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanmalm.

1 Comment

  1. Good things to emulate for any church, large or small.


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