How do you lead a movement?
Movements that unify millions and sustain national relevance over the course of decades are hard to come by. They’re even harder to plan and predict. But that is exactly what happened and is captured with stunning detail in this book.
In Empower, Jeff Martin drills in to four key principles that can unlock a volunteer-led movement. They were unearthed from an event he founded in 2004 called “Fields of Faith” that focused on giving ordinary people the microphone. It has impacted and united millions of people, thousands of volunteers, and countless community organizations. Each year, over 250,000 people gather on one night in communities across the country.
How was he able to lead this movement? How can you lead a movement? Empower will give you the four keys—value, simplicity, commonality, and ownership—to lead a movement of your own.
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an excerpt from Empower
Movements that unify millions of people around a common cause and have ongoing national impact over the course of two decades are rare. They’re also incredibly hard to plan and predict. This is especially true if the core of the movement is based on volunteers as the primary pillars on which everything stands.
Add to that scenario minimal funding, no centralized infrastructure, no facilities, no marketing or advertising department, no social media teams or technology department support, and the birthing of that movement appears laughable if not impossible.
But that is exactly what we saw happen . . .
I was inspired in 2002 to start pursuing a vision of gathering students, churches, businesses, and entire communities at their local athletic field on one night. I called it “Fields of Faith.” The goal was for students to be the primary speakers and for the message to be the same at every event. The message would be a personal challenge from the students to engage the Bible on a daily basis and come to faith in Christ. Giving students the microphone in that setting was countercultural, but it was the main part of the program.
God did something astounding. The first year we had seventeen participating stadiums, small and large, in three states. Our motto was “One Day. One Message. One Stand.” More than six thousand people attended, and many lives were changed. In the following decade the movement continued to spread to the point that currently more than five hundred stadiums and a quarter of a million people gather together every year to hear the students share in their communities.
Over the course of sixteen years, more than two million people have been impacted by Fields of Faith, and that number continues to grow each year.
This book is not about Fields of Faith. It is about the principles of starting and growing a movement—principles I discovered from Fields of Faith. My desire is not to provide statistical analysis, expert consultation, or a reproducible template on how to start and expand a movement in your organization or business. All I know is what I saw. This book is my attempt to peel back the layers and take people on a journey of what happened, which may help spark other movements in a new way.
Welcome to the journey.
What prompted you to write this book?
I believe there is extraordinary influence that resides in every volunteer. Over the past twenty years, I have been on a pursuit to discover and elevate the power of the volunteer. I’ve seen it happen in many areas of my ministry career, especially when I founded Fields of Faith, which has now impacted millions of people and continues to grow.
I wanted to surface the core principles that I have seen create the conditions of movement for volunteers on a small and large scale. I want to help leaders unleash the extraordinary in the volunteers they already have and inspire them to influence others in ways that can change their culture.
Who did you write it for?
I wrote this book for any and every leader of volunteers. These leaders exist in both the non-profit and for-profit sector. My background working with volunteers has been in ministry organizations at all levels—local, regional, national and global, which is reflected in the book. We’ve also heard from many business leaders that the four principles of empowerment are universally applied not only to volunteers, but they are also applied to employees.
What are some common mistakes that leaders of volunteers make?
I would say balancing what they believe their volunteers can accomplish is a common challenge.
I think most leaders appreciate their volunteers. They are thankful that people give of their time and talent to help out their organization. Leaders know that their volunteers are busy, and they don’t want to lose them. So they lower the bar of expectation in order to claim success when they simply step over the bar. Many times they will use emergency needs and guilt to recruit volunteers and keep them involved. They will throw an appreciation dinner at the end of the year to say “thank you” for volunteers doing their part and call the year a success.
This can cause volunteers to feel like they are just small cogs in keeping the organizational machine humming. This isn’t movement; it is only management.
But the reality is that you can create movement within management. What the majority of volunteers really want is to be a part of an epic cause against all odds. They want to periodically be challenged with a responsibility that will be the hinge of success or defeat. They want to climb a mountain together, not step over a low bar. The mistake is that leaders normally do not create the conditions for this to happen.
On the other side of the scale, leaders do not keep what they are asking of their volunteers clear and simple. You can extend a simple invitation to volunteer—to be part of a great cause— which releases them to achieve it in amazing ways. But many times, leaders unleash large amounts of information, overwhelming time commitments and complex communications on their volunteers that cause their heads to spin. This added complexity compounds their already complex lives and results in limited engagement; or the volunteer takes responsibility for keeping things simple, and they just leave.
What is holding back most volunteer-based ministries and organizations?
Two things holding back volunteer-based organizations are trust and risk. I know this very well because I’ve struggled as a leader of volunteers with these two issues.
If leaders want to create the conditions for movement within their volunteers, they need to take a risk and trust them. One of the key principles I discuss in the book is value.
You can’t value what you don’t trust.
Leaders can make the mistake of thinking that the mark of great leadership is to control every situation in their organization. Predictability, defining and hitting goals, efficient onboarding and training processes, programs defined by excellence and other tasks consume a lot of a leader’s focus and time.
This mindset can severely limit a key component that can unleash movement within the heart of volunteers, which is an elevation of what is being asked of them. The reason is that leaders know that volunteers are not required to complete any task asked of them. They may or may not show up. They are not a salaried employee that can be fired. They can be unpredictable. This flies in the face of a desire to control and can drive leaders crazy. So there is a temptation to respond by not placing too much responsibility on volunteers. This provides some control if a volunteer doesn’t show up or perform up to task. The organization can simply absorb it and keep on moving.
What I have found out over the years is that if I want to show true value to my volunteers, I don’t need to lower my expectations; I must elevate them. When I take a risk, periodically heighten the expectations of what I am asking of my volunteers and invite them into the war room to figure out how we were going to win, something amazing will happen. Their ownership and innovation will skyrocket resulting in movement that I never could have imagined. I just need to get out of the way! This is the essence of what it means to empower volunteers. It is one of the primary fuses that lit the fire of Fields of Faith that continues to burn to this day.
What do you hope readers are empowered to do after reading this book?
I believe a movement affecting individuals, organizations, communities and cultures in ways we can’t imagine will be unleashed on both micro and macro levels in organizations around the world. .
The principles of empowerment in this book are not a predictable program to be followed. They are simply ingredients that can be added in unlimited ways to every existing organization to release greater influence and movement in the volunteers they already have.
I can’t wait to hear about the ways they are applied and the impact that results. Empowered volunteers always create amazing movements.
It was those who were untrained and “ordinary” who started the empowerment revolution that began in Acts and continues today. We simply need to reconnect with some key principles and unleash empowered volunteers to change their world!
Does your book have any implications in the Covid era?
The pandemic has re-defined everything, including how organizations traditionally operate.
This is especially true of churches and para-church organizations. The model of people gathering at a building to hear worship leaders and a speaker was halted overnight. Summer camps were basically wiped out. Access to campus for ministers has been severely limited. Existing metrics of success were no longer attainable. The centralized, controlled ministry environments suddenly became decentralized and fluid.
Ministry organizations realized that they had to adjust but struggled with exactly how to do that. The reality is that they have people connected to their ministries that have unfettered access to those closest around them. They don’t need a building to influence those immediately around them. In fact, the root word for “influence” is influere, which means to flow out. It is the same root word for “influenza,” which is caused by a highly contagious virus, similar to the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
The same ordinary people who can rapidly pass an unstoppable virus to those around them can also pass an unstoppable message from the ministries where they volunteer. Ministries have always talked about empowering their volunteers, but for many that was just a catch phrase. They are now finding out how serious they take elevating the importance of their volunteers by empowering them to lead. The problem is that this is new, and they are struggling with how to do it. This is where this book can provide some proven principles to help make empowering their volunteers a reality.