7 Steps for Training Volunteers

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Sunday comes every seven days, and with it, the need for volunteers to make weekend services happen. Regardless of the ministry area you oversee and/or serve in, the realities of needing qualified people to help do everything from changing diapers in the nursery to greeting people inside and outside the church to mixing audio is universal. So even though this article focuses on training techs in church, the principles and implications extend into every area of volunteering.

As a consultant who has been on staff at three different churches and worked with hundreds more, I’ve had the privilege of seeing how the very best practices in training volunteers play out in today’s church. As such, these are the seven steps for training volunteers that, I believe, can give you the right process for recruiting, training and retaining volunteers.

Invite someone to learn with you, even if you’re a full-blown dyed-in-the-wool expert. There’s something powerful about being invited and asked to participate in something bigger than us. Most of the best volunteers I’ve met at hundreds of churches came and served because someone asked them if they’d like a chance to see what it was like to do what we do!

I’ll often make my invitation simple and disarming by asking them “Does your VCR/DVD blink 12:00”? If not, you’re imminently qualified for the tech ministry!” All kidding aside, making the invitation non-threatening in a world full of blinking lights and hundreds of knobs is a high priority.

Guide someone through the process, initiate him or her slowly through the ropes and give them a lot of freedom to watch and observe. No pressure, just observation, is always the key to giving someone the insight into what you do without the fear of making any mistakes.

In fact, it’s important that all of your tech positions have a permanent position labeled “observer” so that those interested in learning about your ministry can see and experience the fun without the hot-seat pressure of being on the job.

Encourage those who have giftedness at certain tasks or in certain areas. We all love hearing when we’ve “got it” and like to know we’re doing something well (or have the potential to do so). I’ve been told by countless volunteers how much they appreciate it when I give them an encouraging word. Quite often, volunteers would rather receive a sincere thank-you than a gift.

Develop the people who show the most interest, have the best servant attitudes and are teachable. I’d much rather have a person who is inexperienced and teachable than an “expert” who can’t be taught.

Far too often I’ve worked with churches where an outside ‘expert’ was running the show with an iron fist. The balance between executing well and demanding perfection isn’t a line at all – it’s an attitude. When we define “excellence” as doing the very best with what we have (time, resources and personnel), we are forced to have realistic expectations and understand our limitations.

Before I ever let a new person come into the technical arts ministry, I want to gauge their heart and availability instead of their capacity and ability. When an ‘expert’ shows up and drops names of projects they’ve done and artists they’ve worked with, I immediately ask them to stay after service and help wrap cable. If they won’t wrap cable and serve with a humble heart, I don’t need their talent.

Evaluate honestly. Hurting feelings doesn’t have to be a part of the job, so be gentle when you have to redirect people out of areas where they can’t accomplish the job. Keep written records of evaluation and offer tangible steps for people to either improve or find new ways to serve.

More often than not, when someone isn’t performing a job well, they know it. You’ll usually find them relieved when you pull them from where they’re struggling and help them find a place where they can serve.

If, however, you’ve got a person who refuses to listen to critique and/or change to meet the needs of the ministry, then their hard heart will not only hinder their performance, but also poison the ministry. After talking heart-to-heart (not always an easy thing to do) with them, give them some time off to relax and seek God for His heart. Then, if they come back ready to serve and listen, warmly greet them and give them a spot back in the team rotation. If they remain unchanged, lovingly give them the chance to be released to serve in another ministry.

I know, it’s hard to do, but you have got to be able to do these tough evaluations if you’re going to lead your technical arts ministry (or any ministry).

Participation has to be consistent. There’s not an expert or professional on the planet who simply showed up and started being a genius without any failures or dedication to their role. This is a “team sport” and it takes all of us working together in unison and not flaunting individual talents.

When your team trains (monthly, at the least), all hands are on deck. That means no one is exempt. If you’ve got an awesome expert, have them help train. If you’ve got a bunch of newbies, give them plenty of time to learn. There is no excuse – not even for a portable church – to not train. If it means pulling out the gear and setting up in someone’s garage, make it happen. Without everyone participating and working together, you will not have effective teams.

Participation also means you need to spend time with the team outside of the church and ministry area just having fun together. Quarterly Bar-B-Q’s, miniature golfing, laser tag and a Saturday matinee at the movies are all great ways to both show your appreciation (the ministry needs to budget for this), but it gives everyone a chance to get to know each other and have fun.

Reproduction should be a natural part of someone becoming seriously qualified and competent in his or her role. While there can (and should) be a leader for decision-making and administration, a team of leaders is the only way to obtain consistency, quality and growth.

One of the best ways to reproduce people is to give them goals for learning how to do different aspects of their job and other jobs. This means that they not only become more proficient, but they will cross-train in other areas in case you have an emergency need for a replacement volunteer.

Tying into the first step, the invitation, reproducing volunteers means having our volunteers become inviters for people not yet serving. We all have a sphere of influence and should be leveraging our relationships to develop a new, fresh crop of volunteers.

Since repetition develops skills, there’s a lot to be said for people serving regularly. For some churches, this means every other week. For others, this can be a once-a-month rotation schedule. The key is to have enough time doing the job to do it well. Schedule people too far out in a rotation and they’ll get rusty. Schedule them every week and they’ll burn out.

No matter if you’re a small church or a giga-church, there’s simply not a reason to have one volunteer there week-in and week-out. If you do that, you’re not only abusing that volunteer, you’re robbing them of corporate worship time and personal times of rest.

Even if you’ve got one of those “but-I-love-to-be-here-every-week” types of volunteers, it is imperative that you force the issue and make time for them to not be in the rotation.

Above all, follow the words of Jesus for growing your volunteer base:

Matthew 9:37-38 ‘Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”’