Church volunteer teams can be very Dickensian—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”
Having helped lead volunteer teams for hospitality, care groups, women’s ministry, events, finance, and administration, I’ve seen how great and how trying it can be to use volunteers.
I won’t lie to you—sometimes I wanted to send my volunteers home and do the work myself. Sometimes I had more help than I needed, but as Romans 12:3–8 teaches, the body of Christ needs each person using their God-given gifts to serve the Church. It’s worth it to create places for people to serve your church!
Volunteers can be a huge gift to your church—but you don’t get a prepared, passionate helper overnight. What happens from the moment a new volunteer raises his or her hand to when you ask them to train someone else?
Let’s think about three ways to train passionate, mission-focused volunteers.
1. Nourish the passion
Why do people serve in your ministry? Is it from a sense of passion or obligation?
If it’s from obligation, that won’t last long. Eventually, no one serves just because it’s on the calendar—and you don’t want those kinds of volunteers, anyway.
So how do you nourish the passion that led them to volunteer in the first place?
By continually reminding them of the mission in engaging ways. Your regular volunteers can easily fall into a routine where they show up, get to work, and go home—all without remembering why they’re serving.
Post your ministry’s mission statement somewhere that helps your volunteers remember why they love serving. If you have a volunteer space, your mission statement makes for great wall art. Well-designed, beautiful things are more fun to look at, so please don’t just print black text on white paper, okay?
Create a communication group for your volunteers where you can share relevant articles or ministry tips. Read a great article on what the Bible says about hospitality? Watch a helpful training video for your presentation software? When you find something helpful, share it with your team. Faithlife Groups is a great place to start sharing resources like these with your team.
Schedule regular training events to refresh your team on the mission. (I recommend at least one per year for each ministry.) One of the benefits of training events is that you get to share behind-the-scenes info that makes your volunteers feel invested and passionate about your ministry. Use these focused times to share stories of how their service makes a difference, and let them know about any big changes in store for the church.
And keep it fun. For example, I attended a kids’ ministry volunteer training that covered all these bases—and it ended with a scavenger hunt that recapped what the volunteers just heard. The scavenger hunt introduced new games, reinforced safety procedures, and helped teachers bond.
2. Train the trainers
As your ministry grows, you may be blessed with more volunteers than you can effectively train in one annual event.
This is where a concept from The Trellis and the Vine (one of my favorite ministry books) comes in: train the trainers. Instead of sending 100 people through a long training event, invest time in training a few of your most trusted volunteers, then ask them to train 15 people each.
These smaller groups accomplish a couple of key things:
- They create ministry opportunities for high-capacity leaders
- They build community among people who serve together
- They report to you about any ministerial needs your volunteers have so you can step in when needed
It’s impossible to train your volunteers for every possible scenario, but by delegating small group training to your best volunteers, you make sure new volunteers know who to ask for help.
Plus, small group training helps you match volunteers to their ministry sweet spot. You don’t want your unfriendliest member serving on your hospitality team, but maybe they’re shockingly good on drums. The more you and your leaders know each volunteer, the more you can empower them to serve from their God-given strengths.
3. Pair new volunteers with your best volunteers
The best way to help people learn is the most personal. It’s easier to learn from a person than a long, written guide or a large training event. That’s true for your church volunteers too.
Assign every new volunteer to shadow one of your strongest volunteers for at least 2–3 weeks before being released to serve on their own. Many ministries, such as your children’s ministry or care groups, require longer training before you can give volunteers full responsibility.
At its best, shadowing is a three-step process that happens over time. I’ve heard it described this way:
- You watch, I do
- You do, I watch
- You do
This process gives new volunteers realistic expectations and gives you a chance to show the characteristics and attitudes people need to serve in your ministry.
Do you need more volunteers with smiling faces? More adults to march four-year-olds through “Father Abraham”? More A/V volunteers who can move to the next slide faster than your worship leader can sing the wrong line? Partner new volunteers with experienced volunteers who model the kind of excellence your ministry needs.
Want to learn more about recruiting and training your church’s volunteers? Download this free guide to building volunteer teams from Faithlife Proclaim.
Jennifer Grisham is a copywriter at Faithlife. She’s also a managing editor for a ministry to worship leaders and served on church staff for six years as director of administration and communication.