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Best Practices

Ideas for how to grow your service, outreach and mercy ministries.

How Do I Set Up A Home Repair Team, Part I

Is your church considering or open to home repair as an outreach or mercy ministry? Or are you in the process of organizing? One of the most important steps in setting up your home repair team is determining how you will be organized. Over the next couple days, we will be sharing with you some descriptions of positions within a home repair team. This model represents a fairly sophisticated team, and is just one way of staffing, but our hope is that it's helpful in starting your service ministry or optimizing the team that you have in place already.

If you want this information in a complete document, download the PDF file. More information like this is available by signing up on the web site (no charge).

Part I - Leadership Team Member

Your Home Repairs leadership team should meet at least monthly to:

  • Discuss new projects
  • Review status of open projects
  • Set goals & direction for the ministry
  • Assign project responsibilities

In addition, for each project handled by your ministry, a leadership team member is specifically assigned to the project. When the project is assigned, the leadership team member is responsible for:

  • Managing the project if there is no Project Leader (PL) - the Project Leader position will be discussed in more detail in a future blog
  • Obtaining a list of volunteers and insuring they are contacted
  • Coordinating with the Project Leader and the Project Coordinator (PC) to establish a date for the project (see PC role information in Part 3)
  • Insuring that the status of the project is maintained in the Home Repairs Database (reporting project & volunteer information)
  • Assisting in scoping the project & making sure that your ministry coordinates with the homeowner

Read the rest of the series:

Part 2       Part 3


6 Project Success Indicators for Your Service Ministry

Let's take a look at some of your possible success indicators to help you measure both Project work and your overall Ministry effectiveness.

Here are some key areas that you could review to gauge project success and identify areas for ministry improvement. Remember to follow-up with the client for their input:

  • The quality and completion of the work
  • The appropriate clean up was completed
  • The client was personally satisfied with the work
  • The client’s spiritual needs were addressed
  • The client’s desire for prayer and contact with a local church were addressed
  • The project documentation was complete and filed for historical reference

What are the success indicators for your Ministry?

  • Number of projects completed by the team per month/year
  • Number of volunteers involved in the course of a month/year
  • Client's connected with local churches through the ministry experience. (This can be hard to quantify.)
  • Number of clients that were followed up within a month/six months to determine additional needs
  • Number of joint projects that occurred with other church teams or ministries.


Six Suggestions for Managing Volunteers

If someone were to ask you about the most critical resources that you need to carry out your ministry (or if you are considering starting a ministry), what would you answer? Would it be:

  • A place to meet and organize
  • A strong, engaged leader
  • Money to carry out your mission
  • Time

Volunteers on-siteWe know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the heart of any Christian ministry. But did you ever think about your volunteers being the life-giving blood cells carrying the oxygen (i.e. your ministry service) to where it needs to go? Are you pouring time and effort into your ministries' volunteers?

Whatever your particular ministry is, volunteer management and relationship building will be one of the key factors in your ministries' success and longevity. It is difficult to succeed if you are not recruiting, engaging, training and following-up with your volunteers in a systematic way.  Here are six suggestions for managing and growing your volunteers and improving your ministry impact.

1)      Screen your volunteers – This may seem like a strange thing to feature in a section on volunteer management, but it is a critical step for ministries focused on outreach and interacting with clients. Perform a background check and protect your clients AND the volunteer. Screen for potential problems on the up-front and save yourself and your volunteers from potential trouble.

2)      Keep track of your volunteers' skills in a database or book – For a ministry that is very multi-faceted, like a home repair ministry, it is very helpful to know what your volunteers' skills are and what kinds of jobs they can and cannot do. The church presents a wonderful diversity of giftedness. As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians (4:16) - From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (NIV – emphasis mine). Knowing the skills of your volunteers gives you a chance to put them in projects where they can succeed. Remember to have your volunteers give you their schedule for service (when and how often) and honor it. By the way, we have a volunteer spreadsheet that we have used that your welcome to use if you sign up as a Ministry Partner.

Training sign

Photo courtesy of Cristian Galletti, freeimages.com)

3)      Train your volunteers and onboard them – Whatever your volunteer's skills are, they should be familiarized with how your ministry operates, what support they can expect from leadership, your program history, etc. Give them the information that they need to be productive and to determine if your ministry is the right one for them. Better to find these things out early and get the right people involved and not just warm bodies (although with creativity you can have unskilled laborers – of which I include myself - involved in cleaning up, setting up and feeding the other volunteers). If your ministry is not a fit then there certainly is another ministry home for the volunteer. Regardless of your volunteer's skill set, leave jobs with a significant potential for injury (i.e. the use of high ladders) to professionals.

4)      Recommend liability insurance if your ministry carries injury risk – Just like at home, injuries can occur when volunteering with a home repair ministry. Falling off ladders, tripping over cords and wires, and other injuries do happen to volunteers. If your volunteers are not covered for personal injuries, it is strongly advised that you clearly explain the necessity of carrying personal liability insurance prior to engaging in any home repair efforts. It is the obligation of a home repairs ministry to notify volunteers of the lack of personal liability coverage. To protect your ministry you should also have your volunteers sign a legal waiver form.

5)      Do not take on jobs that you lack the volunteer skills for (or lack the manpower to do the job quickly) – We try to never take on a project that takes more than one or two days. Long projects tend to sap the strength and morale of your team.

6)      Follow-up with your volunteers – Ask them if their skills are being utilized correctly. See if there are other roles that the volunteer might want to take on or learn. Look for opportunities to move volunteers into a leadership position (as appropriate). As with paying jobs the potential for leadership and/or growth can motivate your volunteers to stick with you.

By taking the time to help your volunteers thrive and succeed you will ultimately encourage them to stick with you for the long haul and help your ministry serve with excellence.

Igniting Your Ministry Impact

A great way to multiply your impact, whether you are an Outreach Ministry, Mercy Ministry, or other Non-Profit organization, is to build service networks with other community service non-profits. Find logical synergies with other organizations or find needs that they have to help more people in the area. You can take several approaches, such as directly partnering with the other agency or using your organization's skills or services to supplement their offerings. The Foundation Center's National Collaboration Database - collaboration.foundationcenter.org/ - is a good resource for additional ideas for partnering opportunities. Some of these include sharing space, combining marketing efforts and sharing staff.

Here are potential scenarios to illustrate some of the opportunities you might want to pursue. Say, for example, you have a home repairs ministry like ours. If you poke around enough, you can probably find a co-op or food pantry that needs help with repairs. Or maybe you can make a strategic investment and help them convert some unused space into a thrift store. That helps the co-op raise more money and provides low-income homeowners, some of whom may also be your clients, necessary and affordable goods. Another options is to help a non-profit with storage space. Giving an organization a way to store more supplies (such as cans of food for a food pantry or clothing storage for a homeless services organization) is a terrific way to help them serve more people.

What if you have a car repair ministry or non-profit organization? How about providing oil changes for those driving to the food bank to pick up food for the week? Now your partnership is adding to the service value chain for your constituency. You'd be surprised at how valuable even a small non-profit can be when they are strategic about extending their reach. Are you starting to see the potential here?

In addition to the satisfaction of helping more people and living out your organization's vision, there are some practical benefits to partnering with community non-profits as well. While you're growing your service footprint in the community, you are also building trust with a valuable network of community partners. If a client comes into their establishment or they get a referral with a need that your ministry can provide, guess who they are going to call? And that works both ways. If someone you are helping needs additional help that one of your partners can provide, you just built a deeper relationship with and provided more help for your client.

Before you undertake any projects, make sure to check with your Board of Directors to make sure that they are in alignment with your vision for extending your non-profit. Despite the best of intentions, it may turn out that it doesn't make sense for you to take up some or all of the partnerships that are described here. But if there is a strategic fit, your only limit on multiplying your impact is your imagination and the time you have to apply to the endeavor.

Want to take part in one of these partnerships? If you live in Atlanta, join HRM on a project! To sign up or for more information

I Have Two Coats, My Neighbor Has None… Now What? Part Two

In the first blog in this series we looked at some scriptural bases for mercy and generosity. Today we'll look at some practical applications.

So what does open-handedness mean look like? Its certainly a call to radical generosity. Does it mean dumping an emergency fund and selling my house to put it all into the offering plate or hand it out to the poor, trusting that someone else will provide for my kids? Or could it mean that I adopt an attitude that says, “Why wouldn’t I help this person if I can?”. I have tried to stop when I come face-to-face with an opportunity and in my heart ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do here?”. When I throw up little “arrow prayers” and just be quiet for a moment, it amazes me how often I’m sure of what to do next. And it isn’t always to help, because that is not always going to be ultimately beneficial to the recipient. It requires discernment. Just don’t be, as Dr. John Perkins tells it, like the rich man who got tired of running into Lazarus all of the time (blocking his driveway?), so he moved to the suburbs to avoid the problem.

One way to pass along the love of Jesus is to serve someone who needs you and can give nothing back in return.  Give a gift of one of the most precious assets God gives us - time. If you’re a tool guy (or gal) and serve someone by fixing their house, you feel the smile of God. So be intentional. Find someone who needs you, and take others along with you.

When you initiate a project like that, what you’ve just done, whether you realize it or not, is start a ministry. Specifically, a rudimentary Home Repairs Team. Did you know that starting a ministry could be that simple? Maybe God is calling you to lead a team when you’d rather strap on your tool belt. Your greater service may be to sacrifice the satisfaction of doing the actual work and organize and multiply your ministry to help even more people.

That is what Home Repairs Ministries is all about - being intentional about using what God gave you.

Read Part 1

I Have Two Coats, My Neighbor Has None… Now What? Part One

Scripture often talks in specifics that seem to be examples of larger principles. For instance the principle of the Sabbath Year (Deuteronomy 15, Leviticus 25) is a picture of the open-handedness we ought to have toward the household of faith. The surrounding passages speak to addressing basic needs of the foreigner among us. These passages are a strong call to compassion and often end with: “I am the LORD your God.” The way I understand that is, “I have shown you mercy, now you go show it to others.”

Helping Hand

from freeimages.com, Michael Illuchine

So, how far should we go with merciful acts? How about a couple examples (among dozens) of New Testament passages that shed some light on the subject. John the Baptist told people in Luke 3:11 that if they had two shirts to give one to the neighbor who had none. I’ll bet having two shirts was extravagant in that day. I don’t think John would walk into the 21st Century and tell us that we should only have one shirt and it was to be the one we were wearing. That’s not to say that our giving should not cause us some loss, as it isn’t a sacrifice of thanks if it has no value to you. If we have abundance and encounter need, we are to be open-handed. Don’t give the worn out running shoes that stink up the closet, but the good pair that you can do without.

The Apostle John in 1 John 3 opens the door a little further when he says in verse 17 that if I have worldly goods and my brother has needs, yet I close my heart toward him, I should question whether God’s love abides in me. 1 John is full of “evidence passages” - 3:14 – We know that we have passed out of death into life because of our love for believers. I have always been captivated by the Gospel correspondence between John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 - here saying that He (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our very lives for other believers. That is passing along the love of Christ as shown to me.

Read Part Two

Who Should We Serve - Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog post (see Monday 5/21) we discussed two methods that your mercy ministry or home repairs ministry can use to choose who you will serve. Today's post will look at a third, and more difficult, way to choose which projects to take and which people to serve.

C. Method 3 - Flying by the seat of your pants (with some basics guidelines and the Lord’s leading).

This is pretty difficult when you have several people making decisions with different levels of empathy for hurting people or levels of “street smarts” with tricky scammers.

Following are some thoughts on why some of these suggestions exist and examples where HRM has felt it necessary to be overridden. First, we owe those who financially support the ministry to take reasonable precautions to vet the person being helped. Your church Elders, Deacons, community outreach pastor, etc. may set the rules for you, or you may make a commitment to financial donors to “guarantee” certain guidelines. However, we found:

  • The age requirement tends to be arbitrary, often based on what many other agencies use. We have helped younger people when they have a circumstance, such as disability, or care of an elderly parent, or having custody of grandchildren, etc.
  • Many people mention that they are disabled with initial phone calls but it often isn’t obvious when we do a site survey. We don’t want to ask for a note from the doctor but still want to be careful. As detailed below, it is a lot easier to rely on another person’s clearer knowledge of the client than when you get on Senior’s Help Lists, with people calling you directly.
  • Ownership is important because landlords have been known to raise the rent on people who received help in a property. It is also illegal to work on a landlord’s house without permission and it is his obligation to keep the property livable. We have helped renters with their own things, e.g. furniture repairs or a minor appliance repair.
  • We can use government poverty numbers for income requirements and ask for last 2 pay stubs, etc. However, at HRM, we’d rather get a referral from another nonprofit or agency than get into that part of someone’s life. Dignity is very important to people getting help. Dignity means a lot. Remember the 70’s song, “We Are One in the Spirit”? Of course that was before my time. . . It includes the lines: “We will work with each other, We will work side by side. And we'll guard each man's dignity And save each man's pride." In another part of the song, it says, "And they’ll know we are Christians by our love...” That comes from John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (ESV) Loving God first, and loving neighbor as self has many facets to it, including dignified ways to lovingly help people.
  • Just as we don’t expect a church that is able to care for its own members to call our church to help, able families are expected to care for their own. But, just as we’re willing to help a church help its own, HRM commends teams who help families to help their own when it is too big to handle by themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes Grandma makes a commitment that the ‘grands’ will be there and when the volunteers arrive, and the family isn’t, we’ve never walked away. At least try to get them involved.
  • Essential repairs/maintenance only. We don’t generally put tile in bathrooms because someone wants to replace the sheet vinyl. Nor do we repaint for aesthetic reasons, though we will if walls are filthy and it will lift someone’s outlook. Who knows whether love demonstrated with a paint brush might open a heart to the Gospel. Deteriorated outside paint is a completely different issue, obviously.
  • As mentioned before, churches take care of their own. However, we’ve never shied away from calling a church to let them know a member has contacted us about needing help, and “would you like some help to address the situation?” They might develop a team because we took the time to help, then our work is multiplied in the community.
  • Never put volunteers in the situation where they feel like their time is not being used well. If there are extenuating circumstances that go beyond appearances, let them know why you chose to take on the project. As a volunteers coordinator, it is not easy to get volunteers when they are needed, so don’t let them think, “Boy, the next time he calls, I’m busy!”

Theological thought: Murphy’s Law is actually a worldly way of describing the Fall in Genesis. When you plant wheat, you grow weeds. It seems like it is always, “We have 130 middle-schoolers that want to serve on Saturday, when you only have projects that require skilled people, and when you need a lot of anyone’s help, everyone is busy. Right? Keep the volunteers happy! They are God’s valuable provision for you, Coordinator.

As mentioned, we need some spiritual discernment in dealing with hurting people. Tell the person you would like to pray with them, after hearing their story, ask that God would provide for the need, and listen very carefully for the Still Small Voice of the Spirit of God. And NEVER PROMISE WHAT YOU CANNOT DELIVER. Getting excited about helping doesn’t mean you can deliver. A little “thinking out loud” goes a very short distance before becoming a commitment in a hurting person’s ears.

So be bold, but be careful. Go with God.

Harvey

Read Part 1

Who Should We Serve - Part 1

Who we serve in our servics ministry (ours is home repair, but this could apply to other service ministries, as well) is a big decision with a lot of potential implications, some good and some not so good. There is no hard and fast rule on how to choose, but you can use several methods to help guide you. Ideally, these should be discussed as you are starting a ministry. These methods are not all limited to a home repairs ministry, so you can see if they are appropriate for your mercy ministry.

A. Method 1 - Having Clearly Defined Criteria or Guidelines

A list of rules can be used as a template to identify the threshold of “the truly needy.” Some of these that are fairly common but when compiled form a rather rigid framework, which may be a positive or a negative depending on how you view it. For instance:

  • Must be 60 years old or over
  • Owner/occupant of the home in question
  • Income level below _________/per resident
  • No able bodied family in the area to help out, or family must participate . . .
  • No available non-essential assets that are available for liquidation to at least purchase materials, if not hire contractors.
  • The help request is necessary for the maintenance or safety of the house
  • The owner is not a member of a church with a home repairs team
  • A situation where volunteers will feel that their time is not being used well

B. Method 2 - Using Your Gut

Under this heading, the list in “Clearly Defined Criteria”, along with others that you might create, are applied generally, but can be overridden by certain members of the team, a staff member, or a leader who has the authority to do so, acknowledging the leading of the Lord in the situation and extenuating circumstances.

Part 2 of this blog will show you a trickier method for choosing who you will serve.

Five Ways to Avoid The Home Repairs Ministry Blooper Reel... Or Worse!

Our home repairs ministry team has learned some valuable lessons in our service and also received some great advice from other churches. The old truism has proven accurate – experience really is a great teacher. We’ve (with the help of some churches) taken some of that experience and synthesized it into a list of ministry do’s and don’ts. If you are just starting a home repairs ministry (especially), or even if your church has been at it for a while, we hope that these will help you avoid unnecessary pain!

First, a brief bit of background. Our home repairs ministry launched, in 2002, as a part of Perimeter Church’s Community Outreach ministry. Our mission - to address internal church and local community home repair needs. In our 9 years of existence, we have helped hundreds of people through our many projects.

And we’ve had some miscues. For one project we had a high school group commit to bring a dozen or so students on a Saturday morning. We were renovating a house in the inner city of Atlanta. The Project Leader spent hours on Friday afternoon getting tools and materials loaded and ready and headed out very early on Saturday to meet them. About ten minutes after start time the group had still not shown. They never did show. We learned a powerful lesson that day. NEVER fail to contact the people or group close to the project date and make sure to get a projection on numbers. If you’ve never had that problem before, count your blessings and start calling your volunteers shortly before the project, whatever service or mercy ministry you are involved in. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Looking back, it was in some ways a funny story. But there can be profound spiritual repercussions to a bad service experience. Remember, we are ambassadors for Jesus Christ when we go to serve a client. If the client is not a believer, our outreach could actually have the opposite effect and sour their receptivity to the gospel! Despite the best and purest intentions, doing the wrong thing, or not doing the right thing, can also potentially lead to embarrassment, disgruntled volunteers and (shudder) legal issues. By putting safeguards and processes in place you can make your ministry more effective, fruitful and impactful. In addition, your volunteers will enjoy their work and be more likely to stay with the ministry.

So, in the spirit of making your community outreach and home repairs projects more fruitful, we present the following list of 5 key do’s and don’ts. While not an all-encompassing guide, I hope that these will help make your ministry more effective.

Don't1. Don’t assume the homeowner knows what the plan is. Sit down with him/her and review the Scope of Work that your group will be focusing on. Have the homeowner sign the “Scope of Work” agreement.

Having an agreed-upon, thorough Scope of Work with the homeowner helps establish accountability and sets expectations. Because the homeowner knows what to expect you significantly reduce the risk of potential frustration and a bad witness.

Don't2. Don’t underestimate the cost of repairs. This is especially critical as your funding could be coming from an external source, including the homeowner. It is much better to overestimate what you need than underestimate. A home repairs ministry should have contingency plans when a repair has increased costs.

Do3. Do include the homeowner in any decision-making that may arise. This affirms the dignity of the homeowner and that the property is his/hers. Changes to a home can get emotional, so when in doubt, ask.

Do4. Do repairs while the homeowner is present. Again, show respect for the homeowner and protect yourself from unfair accusations by making sure that the homeowner is aware of all work being done.

Do5. Do connect your efforts with other local groups already doing home repair. Amplify your ministry impact and display unity in the body of Christ by teaming with other church ministries on repair jobs. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us “…a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (ESV)

1 Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” strong>(ESV)

If you'd like access to the full list of Do's and Don'ts, as well as other no-cost information to start or grow a ministry, register for access to our ministry library today.