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Volunteering as Mission: Cultivating a Culture of Engagement with Mary Ann Sibley

Thanks for joining in the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Mary Ann Sibley, church leader cheerleader and volunteer ministry ninja who works to make you look like the hero as you improve your volunteer culture.

Does it ever feel like there’s a lack of ownership when people serve at your church? How do you create an experience where your volunteers are excited to be there and make the mission happen? Listen in as Mary Ann offers practical help for shifting your volunteer culture to one of excitement, connection and discipleship.

  • Hold things loosely. // During the volunteer recruitment process, never be desperate for volunteers. It’s better to have four who are on-fire for the work you’re doing than twenty who are just showing up to check the volunteer boxes. Let people know they aren’t required to volunteer and it’s okay if this isn’t where they should be right now. Continually cast vision and hold things loosely, trusting that God will bring the increase.
  • Find the purpose. // Volunteering is a ministry, not only to the people coming to church, but also to the “one anothers” involved in serving. Part of vision-casting is helping volunteers realize that they are there for a bigger purpose. Discipleship comes into play when volunteers recognize that they aren’t only helping to fulfill what God wants to do at the church, but also allowing Him to work in their lives.
  • Debrief and listen. // Bookend serving with a huddle at the beginning and a debrief at the end. A five-minute debrief keeps leaders and volunteers connected. Ask the volunteers two questions during debrief: what was a win that day, and how can you as the leader make the serving experience better. Teach your volunteers what a win looks like – even small wins create a sense of community and family. Debriefing gives volunteers a voice and helps them understand that they are more than just a cog in the wheel.
  • Changes and wins. // By sharing wins and receiving feedback, we are valuing what our volunteers are doing. Don’t just listen to the feedback for improvement, write it down and act on it. Mary Ann suggests creating something as simple as a Google sheet that all of your leaders have access to. Then you can review the document to see what could be changed and where there is positive feedback in your church.
  • AVERI the volunteer. // One of the barriers to serving could be your current volunteers. Mary Ann has a fictional volunteer she created named AVERI, which is an acronym for volunteers who might be Aloof, the Veteran, the Erratic, the Rebellious, or the Indifferent person. The Aloof person is cold and uninterested. The Veteran volunteer who is involved in everything may be an obstacle to others joining in and may be the most resistant to change. You never know when the Erratic one will show up for services or events. The Rebellious one will argue with you on everything. And the Indifferent one is nice but boring and disconnected.
  • Find the AVERIs. // Take time on a Sunday and figure out who the AVERIs are among your volunteers that day. They may be still volunteering because they don’t want to be seen as unfaithful or feel that they need to stay in this position. Provide clear off-ramps to serving and let your volunteers know they can take a break or do something different anytime they need to; they are not required to stay on when they don’t feel this calling anymore.
  • Encourage the VICCs. // The other fictional volunteer Mary Ann created is VICC—a volunteer who is Valued, Included, Challenged, and Connected. Someone with these qualities is engaged with the ministry and other volunteers, having fun, excited to serve, owning the mission and seeing God work.
  • Volunteers are the mission. // Mary Ann wraps up by underscoring that volunteers are not just supporting the mission—they are the mission. Identify where there are barriers to serving and how you can better serve your volunteers. Intentional leadership and forming genuine relationships with volunteers will lead to discipleship opportunities.

Head over to to pick Mary Ann’s brain on a free consultation call and learn more about how she can help your church.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: CDF Capital

Since 1953 CDF Capital has helped church leaders and individuals bring light to the world through the thoughtful stewardship of their capital. The Church, including your church, requires more than just financial capital, it also needs spiritual and leadership capital. While separate in purpose, these three forms of capital are intertwined and inseparable for the cause of kingdom growth. Together, when we partner with the Lord to bring spiritual, leadership, and financial capital to a church, the results are transformational. At CDF Capital our ministry is simple: we lend money to churches.

CDF Capital, in partnership with Barna Group, conducted a research study to better understand what happens in churches after a new leader comes in. Barna Group interviewed 111 pastors online who have experienced a leadership transition within the last 12 years. Click here to get your free download of the study.

Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation. This is one of those topics that I’m pretty convinced that 99.996 percent of the churches that are listing in are worrying about this. They’re thinking about it. They’re wrestling with it. They’re trying to figure out what to do about it. This is an incredibly applicable topic to you and for the .004 percent of churches that aren’t, you need to be. So lean in, friends. We’ve got our friend Mary Ann Sibley with us today. She has a really compelling background. She came out of corporate America, worked as a commercial banker, then as a CFO for a global tech company and then God really got a hold of her life and pulled her in, originally to serve as in children’s ministry. But then ultimately saw that blossom into this incredible opportunity to work really in volunteer engagement, volunteer ministry in general. She was a part of seeing a group of 30 volunteers grow to over a thousand. I saw that and I leaned forward I said, man, we got to talk to Mary Ann. She’s a cheerleader for church leaders. I know that you’re going to be encouraged by this conversation. Mary Ann, thank you for being here today. Thanks for being here.

Mary Ann Sibley — Thank you, thank you, Rich. It’s an honor. Thank you.

Rich Birch — This is gonna be this gonna be great. Kind of fill in the picture there a little bit. Tell us a bit about your background. Kind of fill in the details there for us.

Mary Ann Sibley — Um, okay, well thank you again for having me on. And just telling ah again what God has done in my life is ridiculous. Even we hearing again from 30 to hundred.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mary Ann Sibley — I just it’s crazy. He’s insane. I did not grow up in church. I grew up Buddhist. And my background being in business, you know, everything looked great on the outside. And the other thing I think is important when church leaders hear this, I had never been invited to church ever.

Rich Birch — Oh interesting. How did you get connected then? How… Yeah what did that look like?

Mary Ann Sibley — …for 40 years. I know. Well um I got I was divorced, a single mom at that time. And I moved into a neighborhood with a family that came and was living right behind me to start a church.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — And because I’m from the South, I never heard of such a thing. And so I thought it was a cult. And so I didn’t want my boys playing with their boys.

Rich Birch — That’s funny.

Mary Ann Sibley — And they kept asking these questions at dinner, and I kept getting angry and defensive. And it took two years of me saying no.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Mary Ann Sibley — When um I always say I didn’t know God, but I knew Becky. She was the mom.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary Ann Sibley — And Becky was so patient and she kept saying, you should come. Um, and I was like never in my life. And so as I like to say, Rich, is I was certain because of, you know, growing up in the south and seeing how church people behaved around me. I was convinced that I wasn’t going to like you church people.

Rich Birch — Oh wow. Wow.

Mary Ann Sibley — And I was sure you weren’t going to like me either.

Rich Birch — Yeah, wow. Right. Interesting.

Mary Ann Sibley — So let’s just not meet. So you know that was never going to happen. And but after two years God did what only he could do. And we went to go visit. My primary reason for my very first time in visiting this church was to make sure it wasn’t a cult.

Rich Birch — Mmm checking it out.

Mary Ann Sibley — Because I really thought it was something weird.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary Ann Sibley —Yeah I’m like what is it, but this is their meeting in a school, and then they you know this is all new to me. And this was way back long time ago.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — So like over twenty years ago. And um, of course it wasn’t and it wasn’t long before you know I kept thinking I should probably come here. But I remember I had to talk to the pastor and ask permission because I was Buddhist.

Rich Birch — Oh wow. Interesting.

Mary Ann Sibley — And I thought I said and you know and I’m a college grad.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary Ann Sibley — I was an international banker. Like you know, I knew stuff. I was smart.

Rich Birch — Yes, you’re a full-on adult.

Mary Ann Sibley — Ah, but when it came to church, and that was intimidating and I knew nothing.

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Mary Ann Sibley — Um and I remember just saying you know I think I want to come back, but I don’t know if I’m allowed. I’m a Buddhist.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — And you know of course Yes, yes, come.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Mary Ann Sibley — And um so wasn’t long before then then I met Jesus, and then my two boys so and everything exploded.

Rich Birch — Wow. That’s amazing. Well, that’s a great that’s a great reminder encouragement for us, you know to continue to try to drive the invite cultures of our church, because you you just never know right? like and you know God’s obviously ended up using you in in huge ways and so. You know, really cool to see that story. You never know, you know, the people that you engage with and um and I love the persistence there too. Like I’ve heard that so many times and in my own life. There’s been people who you know it’s It’s a long-term conversation. We’re not this isn’t a one-time thing. It’s like we’re trying to build relationships over an extended period of time. So great reminder.

Mary Ann Sibley — Um, oh my gosh, Rich, I mean that’s the key righ there – the relationships.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — Um because Jeff and Becky, um, they just included me with their family things even though I was saying no, it was like like a natural thing. Oh hey, you know, even if I didn’t have my boys, hey we’re just cooking out. You want you come on over? Or um, something was wrong with my house. Her husband um was a carpenter. Imagine that. And she would say, I’ll send Jeff over – he can fix it.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Oh wow. So great.

Mary Ann Sibley — And you know things like that. So that relationship building is really was the really key you know?

Rich Birch — Hugely.

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Well, that’s amazing you use the word “include” because I’ve in coaching I’ve talked about invest, invite, and then include. That you know lots of people talk about invest and invite. But then I’ve I’ve talked about that that third “i” which is include, which is, hey friends, we’ve got to we have to train our people, so the people that are part of our churches, to include people in their lives in their lives.

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Like doing exactly what you’re saying. Hey come over for dinner. Why don’t we hang out? Like and it’s not people are not targets. They’re not like hey you’re you know it’s like some sort of project. It’s like no just extend your social circle beyond people at the church.

Mary Ann Sibley — Yes.

Rich Birch — And yeah, that’s great. And God does amazing things.

Mary Ann Sibley — I love I love that you said that, Rich. Because that inclusion part, we’re smart enough, we outside the church to know that you may have an ulterior motive.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary Ann Sibley — So it’s going to take longer sometimes, so don’t be discouraged.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — And so for me, my guard was up even though Becky was being nice to me and until one day I decided I need to ask her point blank what is this church thing all about? Um but I had pre-decided that if she started down this road of like preaching to me…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — …I was going to kick her out of my house. Like I had already thought if she says this, this, and this, they’re out.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right, right.

Mary Ann Sibley — And um and because I didn’t want to be another notch in her.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes. Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — thing uh trophy. Like oh I got Mary Ann. And she didn’t she just answered a two sentences, and stopped talking, and moved on to something else.

Rich Birch — Right, good for her.

Mary Ann Sibley — And I thought, oh she can stay. Yeah, so.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and she had the faith to be like it’s not it’s not all up to me. I don’t I don’t need you to say some magic words to try to wrestle Mary Ann to the ground right now, you know that kind of stuff.

Rich Birch — Well let’s pivot forward in your story. I love hearing that. Thanks for sharing that. So this like 30 to 1000 – that’s impressive, Mary Ann. That got my attention. Tell me that story. What what is going on there?

Mary Ann Sibley — Ah, ah so not growing up in church, I I chalk it up to not having a lot of church baggage. Or I also people would say well that’s on how we do things. I don’t know how you did things.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, love it. Love it.

Mary Ann Sibley — Right? So people were saying well we always, and I’m like why? and it didn’t make sense. So I think on the one hand it was I was one to try different things. And if it didn’t work then let’s try something else. So I was doing things that people shake their heads and go I don’t understand.

Mary Ann Sibley — The other part of it I think, I don’t think I know that God um was so gracious in allowing me to be in the desert for forty years before I met him, is that I have a keen like I was not only depressed those last few years, one suicide attempt like it was a bad bad place.

Rich Birch — Oh wow. Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — And so when I consider what he has done for me and he brought me out of it, was and I started serving like first as children’s ministry because I didn’t know anything about church, and I thought well I’m a mom I can hold a baby. Like…

Rich Birch — Yes, I’ve done that before.

Mary Ann Sibley — …that’s kind of where as I don’t know anything about church and um, but through that and and growing and as the years passed, it is to this day so keen in mind that that I’m going to be unapologetic about how we serve God. And I’m gonna always know why we are serving him.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Mary Ann Sibley — And I continually was just intentional about saying y’all are not even praying before you’re serving. Who are you? Like I don’t understand what’s happening around here. And you know everyone’s running around [inaudible] Mary Ann we’re at church. We’re fine. Well we’re gonna go in service and we’ll pray. And I’m going I I think that’s backwards.

Rich Birch — Right, fascinating.

Mary Ann Sibley — And so and so I think it was a combination and deciding early on of Lord I may be the only one standing here in this room. I listened to your podcast about huddles which is I’m a huge fan of. And twenty five years ago nobody was talking about it, but I knew we had to do something like that. And I said if I’m the only one standing in this room, I’m going to stand in this room.

Rich Birch — So good.

Mary Ann Sibley — Because I cannot slap a name badge on after the week I just had. And think I can do anything that will glorify you.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like I need to take a breath right?

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — I need to take a minute and invite people to join me. And a lot of them were like didn’t. But God’s like, you need to decide if you’re gonna do this because you’re gonna come with a lot of opposition. And so I think um, that determination I know that day I knew where I was standing and God honored it. Like a lot of this was just God. Like I had some strategies.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — I had some ideas, you know I had a lot of fun.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — I was you know the ninja cheerleader…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — …but God took all that and then he did the increase.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — I mean his word actually is true. Imagine that.

Rich Birch — Yes, amazing. Interesting. Yeah, yeah, exactly. It actually works out.

Rich Birch — Why let’s talk a little bit about that. So you know so many people seem to be, when they serve in our churches there’s there um, there’s like ah can be a lack of ownership, right? It can be it can feel like you’re saying. Like I I just show up. I just you know I punch a card. And man that’s they’re really missing out. And and man, I feel bad that we’re even creating those kind of experiences in our churches. We want it to be a kind of a fulfilling incredible experience. How do we how do we do that? How do we or what have you learned to try to create an experience where people actually own it, where they actually are excited to be there and and want to make the mission happen.

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah. First of all, never be desperate for volunteers. Never. I always say desperation never looks good on anything except for Jesus.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like in dating. It’s not good.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right. Yes, yep.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like, you get the wrong people in the wrong season. And so I had to just decide first of all I’m not going to be desperate. And I would rather have four on-fire volunteers and see what God does with that than 20 that are checking the boxes.

Rich Birch — So good. Yep.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like and I would get permission for people. They would come to my orientations and I would say, you’re welcome to walk out of here. No strings attached. Won’t hurt my feelings. If if you’re here to check a box, this is not the right time for you. And that’s okay. You know someday it will be. But this is this is who I’m inviting. So right from the beginning, it was vision, vision, vision…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mary Ann Sibley — …and holding loosely, not being desperate so that the ones that it would click with all of a sudden would be telling me, like if it was greeting. They said you know I have to be honest with you, Mary Ann, when you said I had to come to some orientation just to greet I thought you were crazy. Like…

Rich Birch — I could stand in a door be nice to people. Why do I need to come to your thing?

Mary Ann Sibley — Exactly. Yeah, when I when I meet with pastors, I said has anyone in this room ever said, it’s just greeting, how hard can it get right? How hard can it be?

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, lots of people. Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — And um I’m like no no, no. It’s not about that. Because that’s not what it’s about. It is a ministry. It’s twofold. Yes, it’s a ministry to the people coming in, but it also is a ministry to the one anothers that are greeting.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s true.

Mary Ann Sibley — And that’s where discipleship comes in and that’s where the volunteers start learning, Oh oh I’m here for a bigger purpose. Not only, yes to fulfill what God may be doing, but also in my life. Like because I believe in bookending huddle. Yes, we do all the talking. And then we debriefed every single time.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Mary Ann Sibley — And that gave volunteers a voice. So now they knew, oh I’m not just a cog in a wheel. They actually want to hear from me. They want to hear my ideas. They want to hear things that I think aren’t working well and they’re inviting me into it. So now I’m going to pay attention, right?

Rich Birch — Okay.

Mary Ann Sibley — Now I’m going to be more engaged. So.

Rich Birch — Yeah, let’s talk about debriefs. That’s that’s ah I don’t know a lot of… I know churches that do huddles, but there always seems to be this velocity at the end of a serving experience towards like people just want to get home. They want to leave. And but but it does feel like a missed opportunity. Like hey, let’s grab those people together even if it’s for a moment to be like, thank you for being here.

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — Talk to me about debriefs. What’s that look like?

Mary Ann Sibley — Oh my goodness. Um debriefs, I’m telling you is a game changer. Like if it’s even easier—people would disagree with me, but that’s fine—it’s easier than huddles. Um, and yes I said here’s here’s the thing about debriefs at the end of church. Um I want volunteers, after they’ve served, to um, the question I always want to say is what do you want someone to say at work the next day, or when they get home, or even at lunch?

Rich Birch — Oh good.

Mary Ann Sibley — So do you want them to say, oh yeah I was at church yesterday and that’s it. Or oh yeah I greeted. Or I held a baby. Or or do you want them to tell stories, right? And do you want them to know, and you have to get it in the moment. And so in the beginning when we they didn’t believe us, no one trusted us, or like hmmm I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you’ll really hear what I have to say, a, and, b, I don’t think it’s really going to be just 5 minutes because nothing in church takes 5 minutes, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Mary Ann Sibley — And so we had be really diligent and intentional to say not kidding at two questions. What was a win today, and how could make it better? That’s debrief.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it.

Mary Ann Sibley — What was a win, and then we had to teach people what a win was.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like the obvious wins. But there could be some of the most beautiful small wins and that creates community and family. And then we’d always say how could we have made it better? Or I would tell my leaders. How could I have served you better today? And they would tell me, right?

Rich Birch — That’s cool.

Mary Ann Sibley — And then the leaders would go to their teammates and say the same thing. How could I have served you better today? What could we have done differently?

Rich Birch — Yeah. I love that. I love, you know, I love a high kind of feedback culture I think is super important. In fact, recently I was we we did this thing and it was like an event, and we we did like a post event survey. We sent it out to people. And then at a at a subsequent fall on a subsequent call, we had like a you know an online call, I actually just opened up the feedback and showed people, you know, hey here’s what you said about it, and so here’s what we learned. Like this didn’t go well. Here was the thing; look at the graph. This thing shows you did not like this.

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — Ah, we got improved that for next time. and then it was like there was one thing that was off the charts. Everyone loved that. And to me that didn’t seem like a big deal. And I so I said hey next time the one thing that was not very good. We got to get better at that. And I appreciate your feedback on that and I had a guy loop back to me and he said, I don’t know that I’ve ever had anyone actually tell me after we’ve done feedback the difference you know that you’re gonna you’re gonna make.

Rich Birch — So when you’re taking that kind of feedback when you’re saying hey what can we improve on next week, um what’s the kind of thing that people were giving you, and then how did you actually follow up on that? How do you keep because but will get cynical, right? If you if you just ask, hey how what are we gonna change? What are we gonna change and if they don’t if you they don’t actually improve anything.

Mary Ann Sibley — Okay, so um your podcast is about very practical things. So this is as practical as you can get – you make a Google sheet…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary Ann Sibley — …and you and you let all the leaders have access to it.

Rich Birch — Right.

And I had a high level leaders, not me – this is about again replace ourselves, disciple, let go, let people go. Um, we don’t let enough people go in the church. We’re afraid we’re the only ones that can do it. That’s another talk? Anywho um. So um, so the directors would sit there and ask those questions, and as they were take they I gave a laptop and they would just type the answers. So then I would have them on Monday morning. So if there was something crazy happening I as a staff person did get blindsided by the pastor going, did you hear what happened? I’m like yep, already did. And I know who who’s on it. And all the good stuff.

Mary Ann Sibley — But it also had a thing that would say, who’s to follow up? And if it was me I’d say, got it, got it…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — …sent it to facilities. If it when a greeter tells you door number five doesn’t stop squeaking. I’m walking out.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — You know, something as simple as that, right?

Rich Birch — Ah yes, yes.

Mary Ann Sibley — Um, and so or how did we handle a 911 call?

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like we had someone that completely fell out and just as church was letting out, and so they had that report in there. And other and then the wins were the big thing though. Like the wins and what people did, I would have other leaders say, I know this is really going to be weird, but I hope it rains on our watch because we are going to crush it. Like we are going to have all the wins. Like I want we want to be on that report, and say it was raining cats and dogs and then da-da-da-da happened.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — And so that was a great way to communicate it just in a Google sheet and had everyone have access to it, and they could just track it every week. What was going on…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s great.

Mary Ann Sibley — …and it was a great tool for me as well.

Rich Birch — Right. That’s very cool. All right, so pivoting in a slightly different direction, tell me about AVERI and VICC. Tell me about these two these two characters in your world.

Mary Ann Sibley — Ah, oh poor AVERI. Yeah AVERI um, AVERI’s the volunteer I talk about some barriers to serving. And one of the barriers could be your current volunteers. And I know when I go and I see you know go to churches. And what I see on the website, people smiling and doing, and handing things out. I show up and they’re not doing that. And I’m like that’s not…

Rich Birch — Really? I I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Mary Ann. That’s funny.

Mary Ann Sibley — Ah, and the ones that are there…um, AVERI stands for that it’s just ah, an acronym – aloof, um, the veteran, the erratic, the rebellious, and the indifferent person. So real quick, the aloof person, your current volunteer. They’re cold. You know, they’re uninterested. Like why are you here? Why are you even here?

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — And so that could be a barrier, and that doesn’t do anything. Um the vet – a lot people think the veteran is your best one. I said not if they’re doing everything and not allowing anyone else to be a part of what’s happening.

Rich Birch — Not letting, not not giving space, right? Not creating opportunity for other people.

Mary Ann Sibley — Right. And they can be the most resistant to change.

Rich Birch — Yeah, totally. Right, right.

Mary Ann Sibley — So now they’re a barrier for trying to create new ideas and and energy. The erratic one, you never know who’s going to come, when they’re going to come. Rebellious – everyone knows the rebellious ones. They want to fight you on everything just because they like a good fight.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, very true.

Mary Ann Sibley — And those are the conversations you have and ask them to serve somewhere else or take a break. And then the indifferent one. It’s different from aloof because the indifferent one, they’re nice, um, but they’re very boring, ho-hum. Like where’s the mission here, right? Where’s the mission?

Rich Birch — Disconnected kind of, yeah, yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — So when you see a group of AVERIs standing around in a church or in anywhere in a ministry, um if I’m looking to come serve or attend your church, that speaks. Like I get that I am highly sensitive to those issues, I get it. It’s what I do. But I can also tell you that um I’m amazed at how often we forget the God-factor when I talk to church people. And because I’ve seen I’ve had so many beautiful stories of what God did when we were able to step up and really, not extravagant, but were able to really provide intentional service that God comes in and does the things that he does. Like people feel seen. And they’re like, I just feel like I want to come back. I really feel very like my family was taken care of, and and that everyone seemed like they genuinely wanted us there.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like I can’t put my finger on it, but that’s what can change, if you have…

Rich Birch — Right. I love that that. Yeah, even just identifying like so how would I as a church leader like those are good handles. I think aloof, veteran, erratic, rebellious, indifferent um, those are I think good kind of, you know, even for me to think about the people… You know we don’t sometimes we don’t see this though even in our own cultures, right? It’s like it’s hard… this is where you know, ah, you know a strategic outsider like yourself can be super helpful because it can just help us like you you see things that we don’t see. But what would be some of the signs that like, hey we’ve got too many AVERIs hanging around – what does that what’s that look like?

Mary Ann Sibley — Ah, well I think what’s interesting, Rich, when I do talk to church leaders and go through they are immediately nodding. They they can identify them.

Rich Birch — Right. They know people. Yeah well I did as well…

Mary Ann Sibley — They know, they’re going, oh I do have AVERIs. But they are so on the spin of every Sunday’s a Sunday, no one’s taking the time…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Mary Ann Sibley — …to do. So they know but it’s like I would say really like you have got to, if you’re sitting there, and I think this is one of the biggest complaints that I hear from church leaders, it’s about volunteers. It’s It’s the least resourced in terms of time attention, whatever. And so really take take the time on a Sunday, not all Sunday, and really go, who are my AVERIs today? And you will, I mean we know them, right?

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — And it doesn’t mean we don’t like them. It doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. They’ve maybe they were never given the mission why. Maybe they’ve forgotten. You don’t do it we don’t do a good job reminding them. They’re in the wrong spot. And they did it for a little while and they don’t know how to quit because they don’t want to feel like um I don’t want to be seen as unchristian or unfaithful.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — Especially your your veterans, and they will hang on and hang on. But you know when I was working and people were starting to come serve, I would say like, you know, so what brought you to start serving? And they’re like well it sounds like you have a, you know, the system we’d set up small baby steps – very caring, very open-handed – and they said because at my last church It was like a ball and chain. And once I got in I never… And of course not growing up in church I thought what?

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley —A ball and chain? That’s awful!

Rich Birch — That’s awful. Exactly.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like that’s terrible.

Rich Birch — Yeah, oh my goodness.

Mary Ann Sibley — And they’re like, well I just couldn’t or didn’t believe that I could, you know. So when we talk in church about onboarding, onboarding, onboarding, I also talk about offboarding, offboarding…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — …being just as intentional and told upfront, in advance so people are now like trusting you, I can come try it, because you really mean it, and I’ve seen you display it, act on it, that there is an off-ramp that is honoring and healthy as well.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. Well yeah, that that yeah I think the off-ramp thing you know on-ramps and… easy off, easy on and easy off-ramps are a critical piece of this puzzle for sure. So then obviously we want to transition from AVERI. I’m assuming that VICC is like that’s like the positive character we’re trying to move towards, you know, VICC or what. Tell us about that.

Mary Ann Sibley — Ah, VICC well there’s no perfect volunteer, but VICC comes awfully close to it. So VICC the volunteer is valued, included, challenged, and connected.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like if you have someone that feels valued, to your point earlier, I feel included um I’m challenged. And here and talk a lot about that. And I’m really connected, not only to one anothers here, but I’m connected to the mission and what’s happening. Now I can own it. That’s a volunteer that oh boy, they’re having a good time. They’re seeing God work, ministry’s happening across the board.

Rich Birch — Why don’t why don’t we dive in. Can we dive into maybe one of those. Like is there, when I look at those—valued, included, challenged, connected—I feel like the valued one is maybe one that our churches don’t do a great job on. How do we articulate to and ensure that our our volunteers understand how much they’re valued…

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …understand how ah critical they are, you know, to the mission?

Mary Ann Sibley — Um, well first of all the most simple thing to do is we don’t say thank you enough. We don’t say it very specifically. And that costs no money.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — Um I’ve I’ve talked to several people and they would just jump in and I know that they’re going through a hard, hard season. Like bad things were happening and they jumped in, they go I didn’t even get a thank you. And lot of volunteers don’t do it for that. But God doesn’t have to do a lot in our lives, but he loves us and he’s so generous and he just wants to just pour out, right? And so just sometimes taking the time to on the spot, I talked to a leader last week and she said I think I have a win. I said tell me, and she said um, one of our ushers actually smiled. I said wow.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Mary Ann Sibley — I said did you tell him? She said well no. And I’m like it’s not too late…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary Ann Sibley — …so send him an email and let him know that um… because I’m kind of over the top I get it – we don’t want a lot of Mary Anns out there. But um.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — I went up to this one guy and he just had this really sense of humility and you know the fruit of the spirit, just calm and patience. And um I walked into our auditorium and I walked out to him and I said oh my goodness, thank you for just being here. I said I walked in and you immediately made me feel welcome.

Rich Birch — That’s so good.

Mary Ann Sibley — And he looked at me and went, oh my gosh. He said, Mary Ann, I’m sitting here thinking I don’t measure up because I’m not going to be the cheerleader like you. I was like no, no, no, no, no, we don’t want to be all this. You, you have done an amazing work today. So I think really specific. thank yous and taking time. I think when we can share our wins as part of debrief, we value the work that the volunteers are doing. When we talk about…

Rich Birch — Yep. When I when I saw Mary Ann do this thing, man, that was amazing…

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …because that reinforces our mission.

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And then I the trickle down impact of that is this. And you know isn’t that amazing that kind of thing.

Mary Ann Sibley — And that would have never happened if we didn’t have volunteers here, and volunteers here.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Mary Ann Sibley — Like one person can’t be in fifteen places.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley — And and when we really make sure, again that the non-desperation part. Um, that we care more for them as a person than filling a role anywhere. And we say that a lot but I practically it’s like what does that really look like, right? And it’s like what I call building real teams instead of just gathering pools of people.


Mary Ann Sibley — Most churches just have pools of people and they call it a team.

Rich Birch — Yes. Oh man! Wow that is a mic drop moment! Gathering teams rather than pools of people. Oh my goodness, Mary Ann – that’s good. I love that.

Mary Ann Sibley — True story, as my grandson will say, true story.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s true.

Mary Ann Sibley — But I think the value in the very beginning—and this is this may step on some toes you may have to edit this out—um is um churches are looking for volunteers. They’re like we want you, we need you. We want you. We need you. And when I go on websites to say, okay, what does serving there look like? The first thing that pops up is I have to fill out a form blindly. I have to I have to give you all my information and I don’t even know anything about that ministry. I don’t know what the timeframe is. I don’t know how long you want me to serve.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Mary Ann Sibley — I’ve got baggage of ball and chain. So I’m gonna be really hesitant. So you may have some amazing volunteers that would be great, but they have so much baggage and there’s a loss of trust. There’s a lot of that in the church. Like people are trying to re-feel their way around. So when we value someone, we’re gonna really extend and say let me tell you all the things and let you decide.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Mary Ann Sibley — Because I trust God’s gonna bring the right people. I’m go to lay it out for you. And then you’re going to make the decision. We’ll have the right people.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it.

Mary Ann Sibley — So little things like that.

Rich Birch — So good. That’s great. There’s so much we could unpack here. Um, another kind of again pivoting in a similar like in this same neighborhood but slightly different approach, I’ve heard time and again, um, you know, just as I’m interacting with churches and as we’re working on like church growth issues and trying to work on um, you know, how are we getting people connected, that I’m I’m hearing oftentimes you hear teams or groups, or you know teams and groups, like two different kind of things, but I’ve increasingly heard churches talking about really teams as a primary discipleship thing. That it’s like, man, this is a place where people it’s like a faster way to get people connected, and it’s like they’re man, you could see some real life change take place there. But then I’ll I’ll often hear church leaders push back against that and say no like that’s just about us, you know, we have it’s almost like they it’s like they wish they didn’t have volunteers. It’s like because it’s like it’s like if we could do this without volunteers we would. But I know you’ve got a passion for seeing this be a great experience. Help us think through how volunteering or being a part of a team, whatever the best language is there…

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …could be a great discipleship experience for someone who’s connecting to our church.

Mary Ann Sibley — Well, it’s leadership, and it’s having an intentional leadership path. And I was committed to um, requiring and inviting those into leadership at the same level that I would require someone to lead a small group, or lead a bible study. And even though you may be leading, you know, leaders small group leaders for kindergartners or a group of guys in the parking lot. Because my ah my brain is is like why would I want to waste any time when you have people that have raised their hand to serve and they’re going to be with you most of the day, why would you waste it with just things to do, right?

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Mary Ann Sibley — Why would you waste that? And so when the heart and the intention is like talking to our leaders to say oh you think you’re going to tell people where to park and train your guys. You’ll train them that’s fine, but that’s not why you’re there.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Mary Ann Sibley — You may be the one that will reach them for Christ. You may be the one that they know Jesus but they’re waning or they want to get deeper. You you you. They may not join a small group because that’s too scary, but they’ll come join a team. And through that experience you, I’ve had so many teams start a small group, or invite people in.

Mary Ann Sibley — And um, one of my roadie leaders I call—the parkers, they wanted to name themselves roadies – it was awesome.

Rich Birch — That’s fun.

Mary Ann Sibley — And he’s a big banker. He travels all across the country. And you know he was so good, but he’d say I know you keep saying this, Mary. And I said, you just wait, Ralph – you just wait. And sure enough one day he said one of his guys he was handing him a t-shirt at the end of the day, and the guy said to him this young guy said, you know what, I was going to quit because my wife is so sick and can’t come. But since we were on break earlier, you sat with me and we’re just having coffee. And this kid shared with Ralph how sick his wife was. And Ralph’s like that sounds like what my wife has. It’s not a very common thing. And he goes, Mary Ann, my wife immediately walks by. And I stopped her and said hey Vic, would you mind connecting with his wife? And she’s like yes, let…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Mary Ann Sibley — …let’s connect. And so this kid says to Ralph, I was going to quit today. But then I realized this is why I’m here; this is why I’m at this church and this is why I’m on your team. And Ralph looked at me and said you don’t have to convince me anymore. Because I get it. And so and so that…

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s so good.

Mary Ann Sibley — …is not wasted, right?

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary Ann Sibley — This is this is Ralph saying, hey let me pray for you guys even though you don’t want to share your prayer requests, I don’t care. But it’s those little beautiful moments that we do when we’re forming relationships under under the whole umbrella and the and the strength of who God is in our lives in Christ. And then God makes those moments happen. And you know, I’ve just seen enough, Rich…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary Ann Sibley — …that it can seem very um like, oh yeah, sure Mary Ann, you know we’ve gotten so blasé. We’re we’re producing, we’re producing. And yet they’re missing an opportunity to form a discipleship opportunity for those volunteers.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. So good. That’s that’s fantastic. Now how do you I know you help churches with this. What does that look like? Like how do you when you engage with a a church. What is that? How does that work? What are you kind of how are you helping them think through these things? What’s that look like?

Mary Ann Sibley — Yeah, um, it usually best involves with an onsite visit. So kind of earlier what you said, I get to be the eyes and ears. I don’t I can do the secret shoppers, they call it, but I even prefer to just let me talk to your people.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah for sure.

Mary Ann Sibley — Let me engage with them. They know I’m there. And I can immediately all through the day. So I meet with everyone before I get there in person. I spend the day on Sunday so I can be the eyes and questions and all that. So once we do that, then we come back and we strategize where’s the biggest need, what’s the the biggest path um area of ministry with volunteers. And it could be as a whole or right now I’m working with one church and she’s they’re saying we want our hospitality, our youth, and our children’s ministry. So I’m meeting with each of those groups about their volunteer culture.

Rich Birch — Right. That’s cool. That’s great. Well this is this has been fantastic. We’ve just scratched the surface. I know there’s so much that we could we could talk about, Mary Ann, but I really appreciate you. Any kind of final words as we as we wrap up today’s episode?

Mary Ann Sibley — Um, yeah I always say that the volunteers are not serving just to further your mission, that the volunteers are the mission they are the mission.

Rich Birch — So true. Yep, yep.

Mary Ann Sibley — And we um when we can stop and look at the people that are doing all the incredible things and realize, wow, what’s their story? What what do we know about them? Then that changes everything.

Rich Birch — So good. Well Mary Ann, I appreciate you being here. I know um your website is just Is are there other places online we want to send people to connect with you and and you know connect with everything that you’re up to?

Mary Ann Sibley — Um, yeah I’m on Instagram just @masibley and um, a little bit on Facebook, my page there. But um, yeah, if you go to my website, you click on there, you’ll get my email just send me an email. I also do free consultation. So if you just want to hit that and say, hey Mary Ann, can we chat for 30, 45 minutes – just want to pick your brain and see what you think, I do that for everyone for free. So would love to hear from you. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Oh wow, that’s amazing. That’s great. Yeah I would I would recommend you take Mary Ann up on that. That would be ah that would be amazing. So thank you so much. I really appreciate you being here today and excited for you know for everything that’s going on in your world, and for that I’m just it was such an encouraging conversation. So thanks for being here today, Mary Ann.

Mary Ann Sibley — Thank you, Rich.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.