Worship software can seem complex to those who don’t regularly use it, so some advocate for staff to do most of the heavy lifting and give the simple task of running it to volunteers. Other churches have a lot of success in running ProPresenter with volunteers doing everything. So, how should you approach the issue of running ProPresenter with volunteers? Let’s look at both sides.
Why does makes sense to run ProPresenter with volunteers?
#1 – It’s Not JUST a Job
When it comes to using volunteers to run ProPresenter, there ARE a lot of advantages to consider.
First, for them, it’s not just a job. They’re not there because they need money. They don’t do it because it puts a roof over their heads. Think of it this way: If you do something each week, to be a help, to advance the mission, or just because you feel like you were made to do it, you can run a long time on that fuel.
Think about your first “real” job, in contrast. Making minimum wage, or slightly above it, was great…at first. Then, as reality started to set in, you might have continued to work, but the other restaurant, or video store, or whatever, down the street that paid more, started to look more attractive.
Contrast that to the first time you ever did something that was “your thing.” Did pay matter as much when you felt like you were made to do it? Was there a sense of satisfaction you just couldn’t describe?
Volunteers can be like that. They don’t get into the “the other church down the street pays more for this” mindset. That’s because they don’t do it for the money. They do it for other reasons.
#2 – The Labor is Free
Let’s face it, volunteers make A LOT of sense, financially, for churches because they’re free. You might wish you could hire someone to do the work, but there’s only so much money in the budget and that means some work doesn’t get done if you have to use money to fund it.
Despite what you might have heard, using ProPresenter isn’t rocket science. There IS a learning curve, but if you can train someone to run it, most people could do so, and do a great job.
If Andy Stanley is right and you should “only do what only you can do,” it seems like a waste of time and money to pay someone to run ProPresenter when that person could be editing video, running a camera, engineering sound, programming lights, or leading a team.
#3 – Frees up Staff for Other Things
Along these lines, using volunteers frees up staff TO DO things they don’t have time to do.
Keep in mind that leaving one task to start another is taxing on productivity. Even if creating presentations for ProPresenter only takes an hour or less, starting to do it, finishing it, and restarting the original task could take longer than doing the first task all the way through. Better to leave ProPresenter for someone else to do than to say, “We’ll just put it on the media lead’s plate; it’s only another 20 minutes of work” because those 20 minutes could easily turn into hours of wasted productivity.
#4 – It’s a Healthy Challenge for Them
We grow through challenge. A weightlifter doesn’t get stronger by lifting the same 10 lbs. A swimmer doesn’t get faster by swimming a single lap. Children don’t learn more by staying in kindergarten for 13 years until they perfect coloring. No, it has to be at least a little difficult for you to grow.
When a volunteer is in charge of running ProPresenter, he (or she) will get better and better at it. Part of learning is the challenge of not knowing.
However, if you hold a volunteer’s hand and never give them a challenge, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy where they keep a very limited skill-set, one that never grows, or grows slower than it could.
Imagine if something happens and the staff person is unable to create the ProPresenter presentation for the week. If no one has ever been challenged, if no one has ever touched ProPresenter, except to hit the spacebar for each slide change, your church is out of luck.
If, on the other hand, you’re constantly stretching and growing your volunteers, someone could step into a new task that might be just above their head, instead of drowning in what they’ve never done before.
#5 – They Bring a Different Perspective
Now, add to all of these things the fact that different perspectives bring more complete knowledge. By definition, you don’t know what you don’t know. That goes even further than not knowing HOW to do something. You might not even know that it CAN be done at all.
Imagine you’ve always created lower-thirds with transparency a single way. They’ve always worked before, but as you go to create a new one, something doesn’t work right. Try as you might, nothing seems to work.
Imagine, too, that you have a volunteer who is obsessed with video in general, and ProPresenter in specific. He looks at the file and says, “It’s not a ProRes 4444 video.” You’ve never done it that way, but you think, “what have I got to lose” so you try it and it works.
Before you scoff at such an event, you should know it’s based on a true story. There actually was a staff tech staff person that this happened to. It wouldn’t have been as easy to fix without that volunteer. Perhaps it’s not that extreme in your situation, but it could be a simple “have you tried this” that you hadn’t even considered because you were blinded by what you knew.
Different perspectives help us come to solutions in different ways. Sometimes, they’re just the solution we need at the moment.
What are the downsides of running ProPresenter with volunteers?
On the other side, nothing is perfect and while there are good reasons to use volunteers to run ProPresenter, there are downsides, too.
#1 – Lack of Accountability
If someone isn’t paid, how do you ensure they do what they’ve said they were going to? Some people aren’t reliable. Without the “stick” of firing them, you might not be able to get them to show up on time and do their best.
Everyone has heard horror stories of volunteers “flaking out and not showing up” or not giving their best…or perhaps wanting to, but not having time to. Paying someone gives church leadership more control.
#2 – Insufficient Training
Paid staff have certain responsibilities. One of those is to continually learn and stay on top of what they’re paid to do.
In contrast, a volunteer might be a lawyer during the week and not have time to train themselves or get training. At least at first, it’s easier to do it yourself than to train others and get poor results. Maybe they’ll get there eventually, but you already know what you’re doing, so you don’t have to worry about their abilities.
#3 – The Temptation to Treat Volunteers as Expendable
When you use volunteers, it can perpetuate the idea that there’s a meaningful difference between two classes of people in the Church. Some people are “called to full-time ministry” and others aren’t. As a result, you can start to think that if you can find one volunteer, you can find more. Then, you can start to think of them as expendable. It’s not like you have to spend money to get another. So, you might subtly (or not so subtly) treat them this way. That’s a mistake to guard against.
#4 – Time Limitations
For staff members, work, rest, and family are the three main buckets their time falls into. Doing ProPresenter at church, when you’re on staff, fits into the work bucket. By contrast, when you’re a volunteer, you have to rob from one of those buckets to make time for volunteering. Do you take from work and risk your livelihood? Do you take from rest and risk your emotional and mental health? Do you take from family and risk relationships? Normally, a volunteer can rearrange things here and there, but sometimes, there won’t be enough time.
#5 – Giving too Little Responsibility
While using volunteers allows them to stretch and grow, it can also have the opposite effect if you’re not careful.
It’s easy to think “they’re only volunteers and I don’t want to burden them” so instead of running ProPresenter being a stretching exercise that encourages growth, it becomes a moment in their week where they atrophy. The danger here is that it feels like the kind way to act, instead of the opposite. “Just do this, like you always do” comforts some, but without any real challenge, most quickly grow weary of doing what they perceive anyone else can do. Avoid underestimating and under-challenging people.
#6 – They Bring a Different Perspective
While there is an advantage to different perspectives, there’s also a disadvantage, too.
In a recent online discussion, a tech lead converted his church from other software to ProPresenter. In the process, he took the time to reformat all the songs to include two lines, instead of four or more.
He walked in on Sunday, to his horror, to find that all the songs had changed back to four lines per slide. When talking to the volunteer who was running ProPresenter, she said, “I didn’t agree with only putting two lines per slide. So, I fixed it.” We all have different perspectives. Her reasoning might have been just as valid as his. The problem is that it was different and she let her perspective overrule his. That’s a problem you might see if you entrust tasks to volunteers. They’re not machines with no ideas. They’re people. Sure, maybe the two-line/four-line controversy doesn’t matter as much, but what happens when a choice made by a volunteer that “looks better” doesn’t? What happens when “cool” trumps legibility in an important moment? What happens when you want to do better, yet your limitation isn’t the technology, but the perspective of the people using it? What do you do then?
How to get the best of both worlds:
How do you solve these real problems?
First, recognize your limits. If you’re a volunteer, don’t overcommit. If you’re a staff person, don’t avoid delegating. Give people who are trustworthy responsibilities they can run with and do a great job on.
If you have people that need more training, provide training. If you Google “ProPresenter” and a question, there are tons of videos answering those questions. Empower people to learn on their own OR even better, invest in resources to train them. Consider resources like ChurchTechU, a tech training program for your whole church, whether staff or volunteer. It includes courses on running ProPresenter, creating presentations, creating sermon notes, and more.
Finally, remember that volunteers and staff are real people. Assume the best about each other while trying to maintain the balance of growth and stability. Don’t assume “they won’t do this” or “they can’t”. Instead, work together as a team to bolster each other’s weaknesses and capitalize on each other’s strengths. That way, you’ll be able to build a team based on service, whether it’s paid, or not.