When you look out upon the vast landscape of ministry, what do you see? What draws your immediate attention? Particular programs, complex processes, overwhelming needs, significant opportunity? Perhaps you are drawn to all the tasks, troubles, and timelines that ministry today seems to require. To be sure, it’s all there, and no matter the size of your ministry there’s a lot of it! In fact, there is so much that no one person - despite his or her talents, gifts, abilities, or anointing - can get it all done. Early in His ministry, Jesus recognized the simple fact that he couldn’t do it all and that He’d need help. Jesus’ solution? Volunteers. Today, we call twelve of Jesus’ early volunteers apostles. .
Ministry strategy hasn’t change much over the past millennia. Today, there is still too much to do but not enough time to do it, and no one person possesses the talents, gifts, abilities, or anointing to do it all. Your solution? Volunteers!
People are the one resource every church has more than anything else. Churches have more people than money, space or staff. That means to be effective we must have a good game plan in place for helping those who come and see to become people who come and serve.
What would happen if we began to see the people in our church as our greatest asset? What if our approach to training volunteers was as intentional and integral as training players on a sports team or growing leaders for business?
When we as church leaders shift our mindset and see our volunteers as true disciples and adjust our practices to reflect that importance accordingly, the trajectory of our ministry makes an immediate upward tilt. It takes that type of mindset to develop a thriving group of volunteers who serve with passion and love what they do and who they do it for.
What results is the foundation of a thriving volunteers ministry.
“Your Volunteers: Train” guides you through the process of training and equips you with the strategies and tools required to effectively steward the Church’s number one resource - people.
Once you have recruited someone—moving them from a come-and-see to a come-and-serve mindset—you’ll need to train them to serve in their newfound ministry role. Although some leaders may assume that training is a list of dos and don’ts, I see training as the key to influencing future behavior. Training allows you to communicate expectations, prepare volunteers for service, and impart wisdom and know-how. Training is truly more important than many of us realize.
Sometimes the terms training and equipping are used interchangeably. I want to begin this chapter by making a distinction between them:
- Training is providing input, in various forms, to influence a person’s future actions, attitudes, and behaviors. You’ll need to train your volunteers so that they achieve the specific ministry outcomes you desire.
- Equipping is about providing the resources a person needs to perform the duties associated with the roles and responsibilities for which they have been selected. For example, a custodian needs a vacuum cleaner, a data entry volunteer needs a computer, and a Sunday school teacher needs a classroom and supplies.
With those differences in mind, we will focus on training volunteers to be able to step into the roles they are gifted for and called to do. We’ll look at two different types of training: orientation training and ongoing training. Both are important, but they are approached very differently.
Orientation training helps your volunteers understand the role, responsibility, and expected outcomes of the assignment; the administrative processes of communication, problem solving, chain of command, boundaries, and budget; and, finally, the role-specific training necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the position.
Ongoing training is broader and doesn’t focus as much on skill set development as it does on life skill development. I know it sounds a bit backward. Hang with me . . . I’ll explain orientation training first, then we’ll take a look at ongoing training.
Orientation Training – Preparation for the Job at Hand
The objective in orientation training—for any role in the church—is to make sure the volunteer has the information necessary to become successful. They can’t be successful yet, because they haven’t begun.
I believe orientation training is the most important training that a ministry leader can conduct. Why? Because I remember when I first volunteered in ministry. I figured someone at the church had made a big mistake when they asked me to help out. I knew my past, and I was aware that I knew nothing about the role in which I was about to engage.
I had sweaty palms and a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach all because I had become a first-time volunteer. I’m glad I did it, though it would be so much better for volunteers if they could sidestep the inner turmoil I experienced.
When we take the time to orient our volunteers to the ministry role, they gain insight and Like what you're reading? Get the book. confidence that will serve them well from the very beginning of their newfound role. We help them avoid much of the nerves and doubts of a first-time volunteer. Granted, we might not be able to completely rid them of the sweaty palms or anxious feelings, but we can at least minimize them. By the way, orientation training serves to strengthen and solidify your position as the ministry leader as well. That’s a win—which creates more energy!
They desire to do it well and are looking to you for guidance, information, and instruction in order to do so.
Your objective in developing good orientation training is to give the volunteer the minimum amount of guidance, information, and instruction necessary to complete the assignment well. No one expects to know every nuance of the position from the first day of orientation training. The truth is, most ministry training happens on the job. Your goal is to affirm your volunteers and help them gain confidence.
Ongoing Training – Discipling for the Long Term
I’ve learned that once someone knows how to do the basics of their ministry role, trying to train them more or better is a lot like reteaching a child to ride a bike. Quite frankly, my kids didn’t want (or need) me to teach them twice. Stepping into most ministry roles is a lot like riding a bike: although your first ride may be rather wobbly, you’re good to go once you get it down.
The most effective ongoing training is focused on helping your volunteers become a better them. Topics like decision making, parenting, group dynamics, communication, or conflict resolution have a broad application and make people better at being people.
I’ve also found that volunteers are excited to come to this type of training because it benefits them overall: at home, in their jobs, as community members, and so on.
Ongoing training communicates that you care about your volunteers as people—not just in a ministry function at church. It also communicates that you are eager to invest in them to make them better in all aspects of their lives.
Healthy training programs are essential for a thriving volunteer ministry. There are plenty of training kits available on the market, but I would strongly encourage you to spend the time developing your own training material.
It’s okay to borrow and learn from other leaders and churches, but don’t expect a cookie-cutter program to work for you right out of the box. Take what you’ve gleaned and make it your own. When you make it your own you essentially train yourself. The better trainer you are, the better training you can provide for your volunteers.
As you develop your training, keep it:
Understand the purpose or scope of the meeting and center your information and activities on that single purpose. If you try to accomplish too much in one training meeting, you’ll often miss the mark and the training will have no effect. If volunteers feel like you’re wasting their time, they will be reluctant to show up at the next training opportunity.
Volunteer training that works in one department of your church will likely be helpful in others (with a few modifications). There will certainly be specific circumstances or realities that are different, but most training can be adapted and adopted.
As you grow, your processes will need to adjust to account for the number of volunteers you have. Early on you may be training one on one, then small groups of people, then larger groups. Keep in mind that most people prefer a small setting to a large one when it comes to training. For that reason, among others, your effectiveness is usually greater in smaller training settings.
If something isn’t working, scrap it. Just because it worked yesterday doesn’t mean it is going to work today. Just because it doesn’t work today doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work tomorrow. Keep the focus on outcomes, engagement, participation, and—most important— productivity.
Training your volunteers takes commitment, time, effort, and energy, and it’s well worth it. The most valuable ministry asset your church has is its trained and equipped volunteer team.
Volunteers Are Influencers
Volunteers are influential members of any congregation. This is a group that has developed a sense of shared ownership. I want to be around these people and available to them because these are the people who will expand my church’s reach and capacity for ministry.
Training Keeps Us Focused on Growth
It’s easy to get side-tracked dealing with only the problems and protocols of ministry. An ongoing training schedule puts important productive time in my schedule, helping me ensure active, productive volunteers.
Training Helps Us Anticipate What’s Next
Ongoing training means I have to think further down the road than the people I’m training. Anticipating what’s next is what leaders do.
A passion for training volunteers will serve you well. These are the unsung heroes in ministry. You may not hit a grand slam every training session. Don’t worry about it; that’s not necessary anyway. They are your volunteers, and they want to hear from you. A commitment to ongoing training means that you’ll get better, and so will your volunteers.
Training plays an important part in healthy volunteer operations. When you gather your volunteers together for orientation training or ongoing training, you have the awesome privilege of steering their thinking—and therefore the future behavior—of your entire team. Training puts the key ideas and character traits at the forefront, setting up your volunteers for ministry wins. (There’s that energy thing again!)
Your volunteers are imperative to ministry. They multiply your ability to reach others. They, once equipped are the benefactors of your ministry and the Church long after your time of service comes to an end. They are integral in building the foundation of your ministry that empowers it to sustain future growth. Whatever you do, ensure that it's in recognition of the people choosing to spend their time serving your ministry in the church.
These people often times rely on you to lead them closer to Christ. It's imperative for them to know you need them to share what they know and help you multiply your efforts.