Posts Tagged feedback
Anonymity can be the fierce enemy of Christian service. Being made visual creatures, people often struggle to find motivation to activate unless they are able to see the impact of their volunteerism. It can be such a blessing for those who give of their time on our teams to see the end result their work produces. Real people with real challenges, can be transformed by the love of Jesus administered in simple, practical ways by someone who cares enough to give.
This past weekend, one of our teams had that opportunity. Our organization ships our signature “TLC baskets” all over the country to parents of children with special needs. These baskets go to mothers and fathers who are in need of some tangible encouragement in their lives. It could be a job loss, a child who is hospitalized, difficulties with the school or other situation where a caregiver is facing discouragement or extra stress. We package these TLC baskets in bulk quantities through the help of faithful volunteers. Some are repeat packers. Some are serving with our ministry for the first time.
When I arrived this past Saturday to unload the supplies, one of the early arrivals helping me began to ask more about what our ministry does. As we chatted, she came to share her story with me. Abandoned by his birthmother, this woman’s stepson had suffered trauma in birth, causing severe CP. Now age 9, he was cognitively at the age of an 18 month old child. With great affection, this volunteer shared how she would soon adopt this stepson she was raising with her husband. This precious family had just return to our area after a brief 114 mile move away that ended up being a difficult one for them.
After the 8 other volunteers showed up to help us, the packing began in earnest. These men and women rolled up their sleeves, took charge and lovingly filled each basket with attention to detail. First we assembled all of the baskets we could for special needs fathers, and then we did the same for mothers. Cases were broken down and hauled out to the dumpster once emptied, and totes were filled with the finished product. The team made light work of an otherwise involved job.
While they served with joy, I thought I would allow them a privilege that volunteers on this particular team never get to see — the people they bless. So I told these people who so generously donated their time the story of a little 9 year old boy with CP who just went through a rough time with his family, moving away and having to move back to our area because of their inhospitable new home. I told them that this sweet boy’s stepmom, who was just about to adopt him, had come to help with our project that morning expecting nothing and knowing little about what we do. And in front of them all, I handed this dear woman a “mom basket” and “dad basket” that we had packed that morning with the signature tag on it, “Loving you in the name of Jesus… Just a little TLC from us to you!”.
Tears flowed as she accepted these simple gifts. Those tears were powerful because the volunteers gathered around her, comforting her and learning more about her precious family. We were all impacted by seeing the simple work of that morning come full circle.
Friends, I know that we can all get so waste deep in the planning and executing of our loving care for those with special needs. Yet, we need to remember that we not only transform the lives of our participants, but also our volunteers when we allow them to more deeply encounter those they serve. This means different things for the different areas of work we do. It might mean having a social event where Sunday School or respite volunteers get to spend more time just chatting with the parents of the kids they shepherd. It might mean a note or a year-end report with photos, personal stories, and details of how their work created meaningful impact at a time where it was needed. Whatever that positive feedback is, let’s not forget to pour it out on those who volunteer, because that is how we create a ripple effect in the world, sending loving inclusiveness far beyond the doors of our churches.
Recently, the nation’s autism community was all abuzz about the fact that no one who had actually been diagnosed with the disorder had been listed amongst those invited to testify at a Congressional hearing on autism. With 1 in 88 children diagnosed with some sort of disorder on the spectrum, it didn’t take much time for the community to mobilize, which resulted in the invitation of two self-advocates to ultimately testify at the hearing.
This led me to ruminate about how this translates to the church community. Are the disabled required in initiating disability ministry? Is self-advocacy necessary in the formation and/or vision-casting of special needs ministry within the church? While it is true that many ministries are begun by someone living with a disability (either self, sibling, parent or the like), many others can be initiated simply by trying to accommodate a need expressed by a congregant. But aren’t we as insensitive as those who overlooked self-advocates when inviting Congressional testimony, if we fail to bring the eventual end-users to the table in developing ministry and services for them?
In the business community, that might be known as poor market research. Gathering initial information followed by test-marketing is the abbreviated description of how new products or initiatives are typically analyzed. Aren’t we foolish, and even arrogant, to do anything less?
A thorough church survey is a good place to start. If your work is wider than one congregation or more of a para-church initiative in nature, a different test sample might need to be taken. Use of internet tools including things like a simple e-mail or even Survey Monkey are wise. Once the information is gathered, prioritizing what your target population desires should be the next step. While people may have many good ideas of what they might like to see, focusing on the one or two most critical to begin with will make you most effective. Also, considering feasibility is key. If your group most desires something you cannot accomplish (for example, a staffed sensory room for a small church), then you are wise to focus first on the priorities that you can reasonably address.
Once steps are taken to tackle those initial top priorities, examining their effectiveness is necessary. While it is true that even reaching one individual for Christ is worthy, it is unwise to move in such a way where we don’t take a look at our resources and approach to see if we could be reaching more people with some adjustments to our plan. It is important to be mindful not only of whether your program or approach is working for your target audience, but also whether it is working for the staff or volunteers involved. For example, parents may find themselves thrilled with your initiative, but you discover that you’re burning out your volunteers in the process. That definitely would require some serious adjustments to be made.
You may also find yourself surprised in developing ministry that what you thought was important to people wasn’t important at all to those participating in the ministry. Sometimes we look at what’s working for a similar ministry in a different location and think we have to be doing exactly what they are doing to succeed. Only later we might find that the people in our particular location had no interest in that type of thing at all. Again, this means we need to build relationship with those we intend to serve by asking them what they are truly in need of or desiring from the church.
After we begin getting the hang of asking and serving, asking and serving, asking and serving, might we be ready to add on some additional ideas that those with special needs have expressed interest in. I have sadly learned the hard way that scatter-shooting is no way to do ministry. Developing ideas and executing them with excellence is the key. And putting aside our arrogance in thinking we know best what our core audience needs is essential. Those who are living daily life with these unique challenges tend to be the best equipped to recognize where the needs lay. As the autism community boldly proclaimed before the Congressional hearing, “Nothing About Us Without Us!”