Best practices for managing liturgical ministries

Three years ago, when Robin Gansle was recruited to join the altar server leadership team at her church, she was tasked with assisting the ministry leader with scheduling and caught the attention of the person coordinating ministry the schedule for the parish.

“His eyes literally lit up when he saw how easily I was able to understand the MSP system and how eager I was to do more than just the altar server ministry scheduling,” said Robin. “He was looking to retire from the position, so we worked on a plan to transition all the liturgy and hospitality scheduling over to me within a few months.”

Robin’s church – St. Ann Catholic Parish in Coppell, Texas – is no ordinary parish. It is a vibrant, diverse, and growing community that serves 7,800 families spread over a vast geographic area – among the largest parishes in the Diocese of Dallas. Every weekend, it offers five Masses in English, two in Spanish, and two Masses each weekday. It’s a beehive of activity, with many events and ministries operating concurrently.

To serve all these liturgies and functions requires an incredible pool of volunteers. Although the numbers of active volunteers have not recovered to pre-COVID levels, Robin presently oversees some 400 extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, 500 hospitality volunteers, 200 altar servers, and 150 lectors.

Although MSP was in place at St. Ann’s when Robin took over volunteer scheduling, it was not always used to its fullest capacity.

“Many ministries still preferred to work out their schedules via emails or chats and enter them at the end of the week,” Robin explained. “We were still using paper sign-in sheets and spending hours reconciling them after each weekend.” As COVID eased, Robin remedied that problem by implementing MSP’s kiosk function in clipboard mode.

COVID raised other distressing challenges. Rebuilding the volunteer pool has been “an evolving process,” she said, involving Mass announcements, bulletin and newsletter requests, website tweaks, and social media marketing.

Explaining what particular ministries do takes the fear out of signing up. But “the most effective way to recruit more volunteers is to appeal to those already in the church who have come back to live services and are there every week,” she said.

“I also believe in ‘gateway’ ministries, the easy-to-do ministries that allow someone to dip their toe into the volunteering pool without jumping into something intense,” Robin added. “We need to do a better job of communicating what the ministries do, how to sign up, giving links – we like to use QR codes – to the MSP enrollment page, and encouraging people that God wants us to give of our time and talent.”

Ease of communication was a godsend during the pandemic. “Without MSP, we would have had no way to specifically communicate with our volunteers about the daily and sometimes hourly changes that were happening in our diocese and church,” she explained. “Sending one email to 1,400 volunteers at once to let them know we were shutting down was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but it was so important to get that message out on a Friday before the weekend.”

With the ever-changing COVID restrictions affecting liturgies, “I sent emails and texts to our entire volunteer base almost daily using MSP,” said Robin.

However, Robin’s biggest challenge as a ministry scheduler has been “overcoming the notion that a software system is able to help people without taking away from the human interaction element that they are used to having,” she said. “I still work daily to overcome this notion.” Technology is wonderful, it seems, but personal contact cannot be neglected.

One of the “best practices” of St Ann’s ministries, Robin said, is to create leadership teams. The altar server team, for example, has a ministry lead, a scheduler, two trainers, a recruiter, an event planner, and a person in charge of the albs. “This spreads out the workload and responsibility and makes it an enjoyable experience for all on the team rather than a burden that leads to burnout,” she said.

She also encourages ministry leads to ensure new volunteers set up their profiles and preferences immediately.

“MSP really takes all of the scheduling off of your shoulders, and you can focus on the ministry aspect of your group: getting to know your team, training, fellowship, and – most importantly – serving Christ together,” she said.

“We all try to embody the words of St. Teresa of Avila: Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”

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