Elevate Community: Walk The Talk

At Disney, everyone walks the talk.  What this means at Disney is that every employee on the Disney team buys into the Disney customer-service culture, buys into the Disney customer-oriented mission, and buys into the Disney customer-focused culture.  At Disney, if you were to ask them how many custodians they have the answer is likely to be “4500.”  Why?  Because that’s the number of staff that they have at Disney and EVERYBODY that works at Disney is responsible for the cleanliness of the park, not just those that wear a custodian uniform!

We have 47 volunteers in our special needs ministry, so when it comes to implementing the Orange Essential of Elevate Community, everybody must buy into the vision of building relationships.  It doesn’t matter whether the individual is on staff, a volunteer, or a Student Ministry helper.  EVERYBODY is responsible for elevating community through building relationships with parents and children…and I would also add between each other.

Every time a parent comes into contact with someone from your special needs ministry, you have an opportunity to build a relationship.  You have an opportunity to elevate community.  Again, it doesn’t matter whether that person is the leader, volunteer, or one of your Student Ministry helpers.  Capitalize on that opportunity and you build community.  Waste it and you don’t.  It’s as simple as that.

There’s no better way to instill a commitment to building relationships than for you, the leader, to model it yourself…to lead by example.  You have to walk the talk.  Walking the talk is a skill that has been lost by many.  Many people and organizations seem to have forgotten this simple concept.  So instead, we live in a daily environment of broken promises and unfulfilled statements.

When it comes to discussions about leadership, much is said about example. What role does it really play? Simply this: Leadership is 100% example, period! Everything we learn about leadership comes from watching leaders in action. Words are far less important. In fact, we really don’t care much about what leaders say if their words don’t match their actions.

Perhaps this is why Jesus always led by example in everything that he asked his disciples to do. Whatever he wanted them to do; he always showed them how to do it first. He shows us that the best way to lead is by example.  Therefore, before you expect your special needs ministry to adhere to a standard, ensure that you’re keeping it yourself first.  If you want to Elevate Community then the initial step would be to do for your volunteers what you would like to see them do for your parents and each other. 

Two Tips On How to Walk Your Talk

The most important tip comes first. If you do this first action well, the rest will follow more naturally. If the ideas you are promoting, such as Elevate Community, are congruent with your core beliefs and values, then your actions will come easily, too. So, start with a deep understanding of “why” you want to build relationships and create community. 

One of our core values in our church is in developing authentic biblical community.  That includes ALL people because ALL people matter to God.  For our special needs ministry, this biblical truth answers the “Why?” question behind our desire to build relationships and create community.

The second tip is to model the behavior you want to see from others. When I was an officer in the U.S. Marines, our leadership motto was Ductus Examplo, which is Latin for “Lead by Example.”  There is nothing more powerful for your marines, or in ministry your volunteers, than observing you engage in the actions or behaviors that you are requesting from them.  As the apostle Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1Cor.11:1 NIV).

As the Director of our Special Friends Ministry, I’ve had to really reflect on a variety of ways to model building relationships and creating community with our volunteers and parents.  One of my challenges is that I typically only see volunteers and parents on Sundays.  To further complicate matters, not all of our volunteers are serving in our ministry every Sunday.  Many serve two times a month so that reduces the number of times that I physically see them.  In addition not all of our parents make it to church with their kids every Sunday.  For this reason, I do not come into regular face-to-face contact with all of our parents on a weekly basis.

If you are not able to come into physical contact with your volunteers and parents on a regular basis, how do you walk the talk or model relationship building?  How to do you Elevate Community when consistent physical proximity does not occur?  Relational experts agree that close physical proximity is an important element when it comes to building relationships.  So what are some strategies that you can implement when close physical proximity is not always possible?  Here are a few of the things that I’ve been doing:

On Sundays when parents and volunteers are present I never miss an opportunity to personally greet them when they arrive and thank them when they leave.  This can be challenging when people are quickly coming and going to get to where they need to be next!  However, I make it a point to plant myself by the door (the only entrance and exit in the room) so that both parents and volunteers have to walk by me coming and going!

I try to arrange to have lunch individually with volunteers and parents to the degree that their schedules allow.

Sunday afternoon/evening, I send thank-you text messages to both parents and volunteers that were present that Sunday.

Monday of each week, using YouLead, I send out topical emails to both my volunteer email list and my parent  email list.

I’ve divided our parents into 4 separate smaller groups.  Then, I’ve programmed my iPhone to remind me each week to make phone calls to one specific group of parents. 

I’ve divided up our volunteer team members into 4 smaller groups and have programmed my iPhone to remind me each week to make phone calls to one specific group of volunteers.

On Facebook I’ve friended all the parents and volunteers.  I’ve created a separate Facebook list for each.  Everyday I check each list for any new comments that parents or volunteers post.  If appropriate, I “like” and/or comment on each post.

Recently I’ve been thinking about writing personal notes to volunteers and parents.  One handwritten note to a volunteer and one to a parent.  One per week and then stick the notes in the mailbox. 

We’re always interested in other great ideas so please feel free to add to our list!

If you’d like to follow our special needs ministry as we strive to implement solid principles on developing community then “subcribe” to our blog or click “like” on our Facebook page in order to be notified when new posts are published!

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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