Thanks for joining me for my breakout session on PIE Them in the Face: Effective Volunteer Training! Here are the session notes + links to the resources I mentioned. If you have any questions, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PIE Them in the Face: Effective Volunteer Training
Effective volunteer training will PIE your volunteers in the face. And I’m not talking about a whipped cream pie (although that could be fun). Effective volunteer training will prepare them, inspire them, and equip them to serve to the best of their ability based on their God-given talents and gifts. No matter what type of training you’re doing, you can incorporate these three ingredients to make your training more effective.
Your volunteer training should prepare your volunteers to lead. That means sharing the nuts and bolts of the ministry, the safety policies, the expectations of a good volunteer, etc. What do volunteers need to know to serve and lead well? This element of training can be long and tedious, but make it bite-sized and easier to digest by making a “top 10″ list of the main expectations you want your volunteers to know or by creating and distributing job descriptions for each role. See my “top 10” volunteer expectations list here.
I compile this top 10 list and the job descriptions in a volunteer handbook like this one. (Psst – as an exclusive conference freebie, click here for free access to the customizable version of the volunteer handbook!) Other information I put in the volunteer handbook includes the ministry mission statement, specific information on each age group or class, and detailed safety policies and procedures. The “prepare” portion of your training is the perfect place to talk about any updated policies and procedures for COVID-19. The volunteer handbook is printed and handed out at each annual training, gets emailed to each volunteer after training, and lives online permanently on the church’s website and in a Volunteer Facebook Group. The handbook is updated each year and even includes volunteer contact information and serving teams so volunteers can find subs for themselves on weeks they are unable to serve.
Whether you create a volunteer handbook or use another form of communication, preparing volunteers gives them the details of what to expect from you and what’s expected of them when they serve in your ministry. Effective volunteer training will include this aspect of training and help your volunteers feel confident and comfortable as they step into their roles as leaders.
In addition to giving them the general details of the ministry, you have to communicate to volunteers the why behind their service. Though second on the list, this aspect of volunteer training is probably the most important. This piece of the pie is what will motivate your volunteers to come back week after week and will help prevent volunteer burnout. Make it known how important their roles as children’s ministry leaders are. Inspire their hearts and ignite a passion for serving children. Tap into the emotional side of serving and share the wins from your ministry in the last year. Show your appreciation for them often.
Share information about the 4/14 Window. Compassion International has an excellent “Introduction to the 4/14 Window” video that I’ve used in some of my training events in the past. Talk about some of the statistics from the Barna Group about how children are susceptible to the truth of the gospel: By the time a child is nine years old, their basic moral foundation has solidified. By age thirteen (by the time they graduate from the children’s ministry), they have formed their basic beliefs about God, the reliability of the Bible, the existence of an afterlife, and who Jesus is. Your volunteers influence a child’s foundational faith beliefs, and they should understand the gravity and honor of their position.
Then take it beyond statistics and make it personal for your team. Share pictures from past events while you are talking about these statistics to help volunteers put a face to a number. Share stories or specific examples of how God moved in the lives of the children in your ministry over the past year and remind volunteers that they play a part in a child’s story of faith. Record a video of a child sharing their testimony or ask a child to speak at your training and share their faith in person.
Whether they’re rocking a baby and telling them about Jesus, leading the kids through a Bible game, or helping a preteen answer a tough question about God, your volunteers are making an impact on a child’s life that will have life-long and eternal effects. Your volunteers have a personal impact on a child and a global effect on the future. In children’s ministry, we have the opportunity to engage kids’ hearts and expose them to the gospel when they are most open to it. The time and effort volunteers give on a Sunday morning or a Wednesday night helps to change kids’ lives and soften their hearts toward God. And volunteers need to be reminded of this. Often.
Inspire your volunteers with the importance of their role and remind them consistently of their purpose, both at annual trainings and throughout the year. Highlighting why they serve not only increases volunteer retention but heightens volunteer passion and effectiveness too.
While preparing volunteers covers more general ministry information, equipping them becomes more personal to each unique volunteer. This aspect of training digs deeper into the specifics of their individual role and provides them with the tools they need to accomplish a particular ministry function or task. That means training them on the specific curriculum they will use, providing child development information for the age group they will serve, and going over any tools or policies they need (like diaper changing procedures or how to use the projector in their classroom). Your greeter team will require different training than your nursery team, who will need different training from your preteen team. Equipping may look like separate emails for each team or special time(s) during annual training where the teams meet individually. Providing targeted training for different ministry areas sets up your volunteers for success when they serve.
Equipping volunteers not only relates to their specific roles within the ministry but also addresses the individual gifts of each unique volunteer. Are your volunteers serving in a position where their gifts will thrive or are they just filling a hole? To help our volunteers serve to the best of their abilities, we have to know them. We have to recognize their personal strengths and passions. For those of you with teams of 100+ volunteers, that can seem daunting, but I encourage you to tap into your key leaders as relationship-builders too. Every volunteer should feel known by a key leader in your ministry, whether that is you or someone else, so you can equip them according to their unique gifts. Equipping volunteers provides the information, tools, and specific coaching they need to be successful in your ministry.
Effective volunteer training should prepare your volunteers with the basics, inspire them with the importance of their role, and equip them to be rockstar leaders in their unique position.
4 Types of Volunteer Training
Just like pie comes in a variety of forms, so does effective volunteer training. Each method described below uses the ingredients of prepare, inspire, and equip to reach volunteers in a variety of levels, formats, and times.
Annual Training – Pumpkin Pie
Much like we typically eat pumpkin pie once a year at Thanksgiving, your annual training is the special once-a-year training for your entire volunteer team. For rookie and veteran volunteers alike, this training happens every year, typically at the start of the school year, and it is the chance to prepare, inspire, and equip your team for the year ahead. It should include an overview of the ministry, an explanation of curriculum and teaching resources, explanation of policies, procedures, and expectations, child protection policies, discipline guidelines, child development, and vision casting. This annual volunteer training is a vital part of your ministry, but it can be difficult to pull off with excellence. It’s hard to get all of your volunteers in the same room at the same time, and even if you do that, how do you make a somewhat tedious conversation more exciting and informative for your entire team? Here are 8 tips for hosting an all-star volunteer annual training:
- Don’t call it a “meeting.” You probably aren’t super excited about attending meetings, and your volunteers aren’t either. Whether you call it a training session, a convention, a conference, a summit, a rally, or even a gathering, what you call your training event will subliminally influence a volunteer’s attitude about attending.
- Give it a theme! You’re in children’s ministry, so this is right in your wheelhouse. Just like you would for a game night, a holiday event, or VBS, give your volunteer training a theme (think baseball, superheroes, jungle-themed, underwater, Western, etc). Then carry that theme throughout the entire training – in the words you say, the graphics you use, the ideas you share, and the food you serve.
- Speaking of food… serve food at your volunteer training, even if it’s just a Brownie Bite. It’s a great way to show appreciation for your volunteers from the very beginning. This may look different now because of COVID-19, but even a pre-packaged snack offers your volunteers a little something when they attend. If you feed them, they will come.
- Make training mandatory. Communicate upfront that attending training is required for all volunteers (new and old) who want to serve in your ministry. “Mandatory” may seem intense, but the roles your volunteers play are too significant to just hope they read all your emails on their own. People attend training for their jobs, their sports teams, and other leadership roles, so why should children’s ministry be any different? If anyone does have to miss because of a last-minute issue or a simple mistake (life happens), schedule a time to meet with them separately and go over the details with them one-on-one.
- If you expect everyone to be there, you have to give them plenty of notice. I tried to release our volunteer training dates 3 months before the event, even if I knew nothing else about it yet. When people have enough notice, there’s less chance they’ll have to miss it.
- Make it as easy as possible to attend. Pick dates and times when volunteers are already at the church (we had ours right before Sunday service for this reason). Provide childcare for the event by recruiting a few youth to attend both sessions – once as a trainee and once as a babysitter. Host the annual training online so volunteers don’t even have to leave their house. Do everything you can to eliminate any excuses a volunteer may have for missing training.
- Offer two identical training dates and let volunteers choose one to attend. If they can’t make the first option, chances are they can attend the second. You have to host the event twice, whether in person or online, but this helps ensure all of your volunteers receive the training they need. I noticed that attendance was about 50/50 between each option, and I liked having the smaller group so they could ask questions if necessary.
- Make it fun! Along with theming the event, provide opportunities for fun and prizes too! Give out raffle prizes and incorporate some surprises. This will help keep the volunteers on their toes and fight off the boredom after you’ve had to talk about Planning Center Online for 10 minutes. When volunteers enjoy training, they actually want to attend and pay attention.
Annual training helps everyone start the year on the same page, and it positions your teams for successful ministry.
Hands-on Training – Apple Pie
The apple pie is a traditional classic, and hands-on training is the traditional, classic way a volunteer learns when they begin serving. This initial experiential training is for brand new volunteers, whether they start in the middle of the year or during your scheduled annual training. This training allows volunteers to apply the ideas, tools, and methods they have learned in real-life ministry situations. I like to connect a new volunteer with a key leader or seasoned veteran and encourage them to shadow another volunteer before taking on responsibilities of their own. Hands-on training and shadowing help new volunteers get a taste for their role in action and helps make sure no one bites off more than they can chew.
Hands-on training takes time. A sample schedule you might use when training a volunteer hands-on over the course of a month:
- The first Sunday, the new volunteer just observes.
- The second Sunday, the new volunteer shadows and assists a veteran volunteer.
- The third Sunday, the new volunteer takes over leading a small element of the morning.
- The fourth Sunday, the new volunteer takes full leadership on their own.
A few tips for making hands-on training more effective:
- Prep your veteran volunteer before they have someone shadow them.
- Share as much info ahead of time as you can and allow your new volunteer to ask questions.
- Follow up with the new volunteer after they’ve served.
Ongoing Training – Key Lime Pie
Key lime pie offers a fresh, citrusy flavor with each bite, much like ongoing training helps your volunteers stay fresh while serving in your ministry. Provide ongoing training for your volunteer team through monthly or weekly meetings at the beginning of their scheduled time to serve. (One leader in TX started doing monthly “VIP sessions” with her volunteers, and she shares about her experience here.) Use these meetings to pray for the morning, celebrate volunteers of the month, and make any last-minute announcements or changes to the morning. You can also provide ongoing training by sharing blog posts, articles, or podcasts in a Volunteer Facebook Group or on the church’s website (more on digital training next). This may also look like thank-you notes, coffee dates, or quarterly appreciation gifts. Most ongoing training is short and sweet, giving volunteers little reminders throughout the year of their initial or annual training.
Digital Training – Cherry Turnover
The cherry turnover is like pie on-the-go, and you can often just eat it with your hands. Similarly, digital training provides training for volunteers at their fingertips no matter where they are. Whether you use texts, emails, vlogs, blog posts, or social media, take advantage of our digital world to connect with your volunteers, especially in this season of COVID-19. One of the ways I connected digitally with my volunteers (especially since we were a mobile church and had no permanent space) was through a Volunteer Facebook Group. The Volunteer Facebook Group was a secret group, meaning volunteers could request permission to join, but only I (the Children’s Ministry Director) could approve their request. All posts in this group were private and only seen by members of the group. Volunteers could request to join the Facebook Group after training. We used this secret group to ask for subs/switching weeks of service, share news or funny stories from time with our kids, make announcements about upcoming events, celebrate our volunteers of the month, and have fun together (the meme game was strong). I also utilized texting programs like Remind to stay in touch with volunteers, send reminders, and share encouragement. Tapping into digital resources allows you to train your volunteers even when you’re not with them in person, showing your respect for their busy schedules and lives outside of your ministry.
Tips for effective digital training:
- Make the training easily accessible (via a link on your website, a Facebook group, scanning a QR code, etc.)
- Use automated systems when possible (MailChimp, ConvertKit, even scheduled Gmail emails).
- Make on-going digital training bite-sized.
- Use your social media platforms.
You wouldn’t want to eat only pumpkin pie for the rest of your life, and your volunteers need more than just their annual training. Incorporating hands-on training, ongoing training, and digital training allows you to prepare, inspire, and equip your teams all year long. So grab your mixer, roll out your dough, and PIE your volunteers in the face with effective training that leads to effective ministry.
Want to go even deeper? Here are my favorite resources for volunteer training!
- Top 10 Volunteer Expectations List
- Compassion International 4/14 Window Video
- Complete Volunteer Handbook – (Psst – as an exclusive conference offer, access the customizable version of the volunteer handbook for free here).
- Host a VIP Volunteer Meeting
- Tips for hosting a mid-year volunteer training
- A complete superhero-themed annual volunteer training
- Christmas Volunteer Appreciation Bundle
- Free Super Volunteer Gift Card Printable
- Volunteer Bundle – Everything you need to lead, recruit, and assimilate volunteers!
- Even MORE volunteer resources!