Empower – Jeff Martin

Empower: The 4 Keys to Leading a Volunteer Movement by Jeff Martin
Published by B&H Publishing on February 16, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership
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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.  

As a church leader, one of the most difficult parts of ministry is getting volunteers. The old adage rings true: 20% of the people will do 80% of the work. What I’ve found is not necessarily that people don’t want to volunteer, but that they don’t know how to volunteer. (And, more than that, leaders don’t often know how to lead and manage a volunteer movement.) Empower by Jeff Martin is here to help change that.

Building on what Martin learned in developing his own volunteer movement—Fields of Faith—Empower focuses on four key elements in successfully growing and leading a volunteer movement. Before I tell you what those elements are, think for a moment about what you think they might be. Proper training is one that came to mind for me. Make sure that volunteers are prepared, equipped, and know what they’ve doing. Engagement was another one. People need to see the value of volunteering and the good they’ll be doing by joining in.

Now those aren’t bad things, necessarily, but I soon discovered that Empower was on a whole different wavelength. Martin doesn’t focus on education or training or getting people excited to volunteer, instead he focuses on the volunteers themselves.

  • Point 1: Value. Volunteers aren’t replaceable cogs in a machine. They’re individual and unique parts of a tapestry and their contribution affects the overall outcome.
  • Point 2: Simplicity. Keep it simple. There’s no need for big and complex things.
  • Point 3: Commonality. Build community. People will volunteer when they’re part of a community that’s working together.
  • Point 4: Ownership. In the end, let your volunteers take charge. Make it their project. Let them own it. People are more likely to engage when they truly feel it’s theirs, rather than someone else’s.

Empower draws on anecdotes and stories from Martin’s own ministry, highlighting that this isn’t academic theory but based in practical reality with real-life results. Martin writes conversationally and accessibly, drawing readers in. One thing that I would have liked to have seen more of an emphasis is volunteering in smaller communities. What do you do when you literally have no one to fill a certain spot? How do you adapt when all your volunteers are older and their resources and abilities are limited? How to keep perennial volunteers from burnout?

Overall, though, Empower tells a good story, is exhortative and streamlined, and provides a broad path forward for rethinking the way in which we approach volunteering.