The countdown ticked down the seconds on the screens as they waited for the opening chords of the worship band. The worship center was typically semi-crowded as the early birds and the on timers drifted in, glancing at the countdown … weighing up if they had time to go grab a coffee. They waited and as the timer hit zero, the drummer cracked her sticks four times together and curtains parted. The worshippers stood in unison as vocals belted through the worship center.

The band was good, and yet, something was clearly missing that morning. The ambiance wasn’t quite right. The excitement was just a little bit off. And when it was all over, there was almost a palpable sense of “good, but ….” Most couldn’t quite put their finger on it. They hadn’t noticed the fog machine was off. They didn’t consciously miss the typical light show. They didn’t really hear the ever-so-slightly missed audio cues and the unbalanced sound.

Only a few in the crowd recognized what the “problem” was, even though the teaching pastor had given everyone a hint: “The tech team is off today, visiting other churches, seeing what’s new, and spending some time together.” And though for most churches, the all-volunteer tech team would have been fabulous, in this mega church they just couldn’t quite pull off the level of excellence the worshippers had come to expect. The problem? The real problem? Plan B wasn’t Plan A.

Regardless of what size church you lead, there’s a level of quality you’ve embedded in your congregation that they’ve come to expect. When members of the “A” team are “out” for whatever reason, the congregation depends on you and your team to maintain the high standards you’ve set. When you don’t, not only are they disappointed, they get the message that quality and consistency hasn’t really made it onto your core values list. At the very least, it means it’s less safe to invite their friends. All that’s to say, if your Plan B doesn’t meet the quality of your Plan A, you really don’t have a viable Plan B.

Think Redundancy Systems

Today’s complex systems are designed with redundancies and often redundancy for redundancies. If your modern car’s hydraulics fail, you’ll still be able to stop your car because of these systems. If the star quarterback falls beneath a linebacker, the second stringer is chomping at the bit to take the field. And really, how many “closers” does a professional baseball team really need? Each of these is a redundancy system that’s been designed to kick in when needed – and the expectation is that the redundancy will do the job.

Every church needs redundancies to fall back on. Even the smallest church often has access to a backup piano player if the church organist gets sick at the last minute. Redundancy systems keep the church going when Plan A fails. In growing churches, the redundancy system isn’t just “good enough,” they reach the same level of excellence as the all stars. Sure, not everyone is a Bill Hybles – but when you’ve had a Strobel or an Ortberg to fall back on, the B team appears pretty good.

Getting your B team up to A team standards isn’t necessarily easy, but it is necessary if you’re planning on growing your church. Here are two ways to develop your B team … and a fall back to use until they’ve reached the level of excellence you and the congregation expects.

The Apprentice Model

It’s one thing to talk about apprenticing your volunteers; it’s something altogether to put together a successful apprenticeship program. Apprenticing is more than tech training on a task. The apprenticeship model takes responsibility for the training, nurture, care, and encouragement of the apprentice. It’s more than just a crash course in how to advance worship slides by pressing Enter on cue. The mentor who takes on an apprentice is charged with nurturing the passion of the apprentice – and if the apprentice isn’t passionate about what they’ve taken on, why are they apprenticing there? The apprentice should expect to not only learn the basics and even the advanced techniques of their chosen avocation, but they must learn more about prayer, Bible study, faith sharing, worship, and encouraging one-another at the hands of their mentor. By the time the apprentice is ready to step out without supervision, they should have internalized the mentor’s values as their own – let alone be technically qualified.

A full time staff member can handle as many as a dozen apprentices at a time, though many may find they can handle a few more in times of rapid church growth. However, these apprentices aren’t learning every aspect of their mentor’s job, but parts thereof. For instance, a full time visual arts staff member might have as many as three or four apprentices learning lighting design, programming, and implementation. That same staff member might also have additional apprentices in set creation, videography, static slide creation, etc. It should be noted, however, that a full cadre of apprentices should be taken on gradually. The first apprentice should need less over-the-shoulder guidance before a second apprentice starts the process. By the time a twelfth apprentice is taken on, the first apprentices are being mentored in how to mentor their own apprentice.

Divide and Conquer

Too many times, church leaders expect too much from their volunteers – especially from the first. It certainly appears “easier” to train a volunteer to take over the PowerPoint for a particular worship, but when you are need of developing an effective Plan B, think small. Really small. Although “too many cooks spoil the soup,” in any well staffed kitchen, though there may be but one master chef, there is a cadre of helpers including a sous-chef and prep cooks who work together to create gourmet meals.

In one larger church I worked with recently, the worship PowerPoint presentation was broken into no fewer than four parts. A staff member created or obtained any background graphics necessary, chose the font, sizes, and color schemes and created the Master Slide. The lead pastor designated where he specifically wanted slides (scripture verses, point headings, etc.). Then the manuscript, any creative arts instructions, and the Master Slide file were passed on to the PowerPoint team. There, the first volunteer created slides and populated them with the necessary text. The file was saved and passed on to another member of the team who proofread the file for grammar, spelling, and formatting issues. The file was then passed on to a third volunteer who added Custom Animation to the text so that the lines of text “slid in” appropriately. Meanwhile, an altogether different team of volunteers worked with the creative arts department to develop or purchase graphics and video files that would be needed for the final production. These files were finally made available to the PowerPoint team and they were combined by a fourth member of that team who imported the PowerPoint slides, the graphic files, and the video files into MediaShout . It was only when all of these steps were complete that the worship arts director took a look at the presentation to ensure it met the worship team’s vision for the worship service.

Note that these tasks increased in difficulty and complexity from the first to the fourth volunteer. Each of the volunteers was apprenticed by the next volunteer “up the ladder,” so that the first volunteer who was only adding text was being mentored by the proofreader (the second volunteer). The proofreader was being mentored by the Custom Animation creator (the third volunteer). And so it went. Indeed, the first volunteer also had an apprentice who was being trained in text creation and so a steady flow of volunteers was being trained by the PowerPoint team.

By breaking down the PowerPoint creation task into multiple parts, the level of redundancy was multiplied. In literally a very few weeks, the level of redundancy has been reached so that if even the most experienced volunteer (or even one of the staff members) becomes unavailable, not only will the task be fully accomplished, it will reflect the congregational level of excellence.

When All Else Fails, Suck It Up and …

… borrow someone. Well managed larger churches know the necessity of redundant systems and likely have a volunteer you can borrow in a pinch. I’ve known churches who have lost several key members of their worship band and were able to borrow another church’s backup band for a couple of weeks. This provided them the needed cushion to not only survive what could have been a catastrophe, but it helped maintain the level of excellence expected by the worshipping congregation.

In today’s growing church, redundancy is not an option. By insisting your staff implements the apprenticeship program, by breaking ministries into small tasks, and by being willing to borrow when necessary, the level of excellence the worshipping congregation expects will not be compromised when Plan A becomes Plan B.