There’s a training innovation on the horizon that’ll
transform your ministry.
The number of volunteers has increased significantly over the past
decade, according to the Points of Light Foundation. In 1987, there
were 80 million volunteering adults aged 18 and over, while today
there are 109 million. So where are all those volunteers, you may
They’re plugging into organizations that meet their needs for
significance. As a children’s minister, you have the place that
helps volunteers make a difference in the lives of children —
that’s the first part of significance. Now learn how you can help
volunteers find significance in relationships as you train them
21ST CENTURY VOLUNTEER PROFILE
Building a successful training program begins with understanding
today’s contemporary volunteers. Today’s volunteer is busy. Nearly
50 percent of all adults admit they have hectic, out-of-control
lives — especially those under 50 with children still at home.
Multiple careers, job transfers, forced retirements, divorce,
single-parenting, financial pressures, and children returning to
the home are some of the challenges facing your volunteers and
ministries today. However, despite all the busyness, today’s
volunteers are looking for relationships and purpose when investing
their time and resources.
Here’s a general description of volunteers’ needs at each life
• Mid 60s and up-Volunteers in their mid 60s and older
are nearing retirement, and trends show that they have a very
strong sense of responsibility to their churches. They’d like
fewer, but significant options for service.
• 40s and 50s-People in this age group may be facing
major transitions and decisions as they consider ways to transition
from a focus on material success to spiritual significance. They
may be time-crunched, but they’re looking for opportunities to make
• Under 40-People under 40 have more discretionary time
to commit to a significant cause, but they guard their time
closely. They have a high awareness of social concerns and
environmental issues, and they respond best when given freedom to
develop new ministry approaches-without heavy-handed guidance by
Trends also show that parents are looking for opportunities to
spend more time doing something meaningful with their families, and
parents are volunteering more at schools and activities where their
whole families can be involved.
TRAINING ON THEIR TERMS
Busy volunteers can resent having yet another one of their
precious free evenings taken up with a drive followed by a long
training event. So make training accessible and available to your
volunteers without being overly intrusive on their free time and
The first step in this process is to assign the responsibility for
training where it belongs-with the volunteer. By giving your
volunteers a self-evaluation tool, they can tell you what their
specific training needs are. Use the “R.E.A.L Learning Grid” below.
Simply have your volunteers evaluate their performance in each area
and then let you know where they feel they most need help.
From there, you have several options in delivering the training to
them, such as the following:
• Homework-Give your volunteer an article, book, tape, or
video on the topic. Better yet, match volunteers who have the same
need in a study group where they can do the homework and meet to
discuss it. Research reveals that teachers benefit from studying
• Family Weekend-If you have a weekend training event,
make it family-friendly. Hold training at a YMCA or other
recreational area. Start the day with a continental breakfast for
volunteers and their families. Provide training and workshops
during the day for your volunteers and child care for the children.
Plan for a couple of family games or events during the training to
break up things and let families spend time together. This will
allow your volunteers to get the training they need without taking
them away from their children for an entire day.
One of the most freeing innovations in volunteer training today is
the decentralization of training. That is, you no longer have to be
the trainer for your ministry. In the past, you were required to
have — or be able to find — all the answers. In today’s volunteer
management model, leaders move from being The Trainer to The
Facilitator of Training.
This paradigm shift is practically played out in two primary
• Team Training-The first way is by creating teams that
provide encouragement, support, training, and feedback to
teammates. Encourage your teams to meet together regularly. The
informal training that takes place is immediate, rather than
waiting for next month’s training meeting.
Team training is an excellent means of giving your volunteers
hands-on training, empowering them to become strong teachers and
leaders, and encouraging them to foster deeper relationships with
If you create an environment where volunteers truly participate
and are empowered, you don’t need to control the outcome. They’ll
know what needs to be done, they’ll do it, and they’ll be more
devoted to the cause. Today’s volunteers want to be doing what
they’re doing because they consider it to be a worthy objective.
Creating volunteer interdependency (mutual dependence) creates a
tighter network of volunteers who can find encouragement and help
within their ministry community.
A team can be as small as two people. Pair up volunteers to help
one another. Volunteers who are new to your ministry or church may
feel very isolated and alone, but if you initiate teams, volunteers
are more likely to grow and build a larger network of friends in
your ministry. Encourage volunteers to meet with their partners for
several minutes before and after each class or event to debrief and
share struggles and victories.
When volunteers share expertise and experiences with interested
colleagues, the benefit of their experiences increases. Frequent
communication with other volunteers promotes a greater
self-reliance and more self-confidence among your volunteers.
Encouraging debriefing and mini meetings between your volunteers
makes them more reflective about their practices.
Encourage volunteers to keep informal journals about their
teaching or leading experiences. Have them jot down brief notes
about their feelings after events, or what went well vs. what
didn’t go so well, and what they enjoyed the most. Having
volunteers discuss their journals maximizes the benefits of their
reflection. These methods put the volunteers’ growth in their own
hands, making them more self-reliant so they own their
• Master Teachers-To further the interdependence of your
volunteers, use Master Teachers. Compile an informal list of your
volunteers’ expertise. You may wish to take a survey, or ask your
volunteers who they find to be the most knowledgeable in specific
areas of teaching. For example, Monique may have an excellent
discipline policy for her classes, and Nick may have a terrific
storytelling style. Ask these people if they’d like to be Master
Teachers in these areas. If so, place them on the Master Teacher
list with their area of expertise, so volunteers who need help or
inspiration in these areas can contact them.
Invest in your Master Teachers. Send your Craft Master Teacher to
training classes at Hobby Lobby. Pay for your Multimedia Master
Teacher to take a PowerPoint class at a local college. The more you
facilitate depth in your Master Teachers, the better training
you’ll have in your ministry.
Have your Master Teachers present brief workshops at your
volunteer training meetings once a year. Your other volunteers will
be encouraged to see that those who are training are right there
“in the trenches” with them.
Whatever you do, focus on relationships if you want to efficiently
and effectively train volunteers. And, there’s one other caveat for
you in this: It’s easier for a volunteer to walk away from a task
than it is to walk away from a relationship. Intentionally build
caring, supportive training relationships to also help you hang
onto your wonderful volunteers a little longer!
R.E.A.L. LEARNING GRID
Use this self-evaluation grid to determine your effectiveness in
• Greets children warmly.
• Encourages children to get to know each other.
• Contacts children outside of class.
• Knows children’s names.
• Knows children’s likes, dislikes, and special needs.
• Allows children time to meet with one another before and after
• Encourages children to work in groups.
• Models healthy relationships with kids and other adults.
• Prays consistently for each child.
• Involves children actively in class.
• Provides hands-on opportunities.
• Creates multisensory lessons.
• Makes learning fun for children.
• Helps children discover truths rather than lecturing.
• Provides hands-on opportunities outside the classroom.
• Displays sensitivity to the multiple intelligences represented
in the classroom.
• Makes learning enjoyable for kids.
• Encourages kids to make connections between the lesson and their
• Reports personal applications of God’s Word.
• Creates practical — rather than philosophical — lessons.
• Helps children understand why they need to live by God’s
• Explains several ways for children to apply the lesson.
• Provides weekly accountability by checking to see how kids have
applied what they’ve learned.
• Provides parents with take-home activities to reinforce the
• Encourages children to ask questions.
• Makes the classroom a fun place to be.
• Gives children choices in lesson topics or activities.
• Provides less teacher-talk, more student interaction.
• Varies learning activities from week to week to interest all
• Understands who kids are and how they learn best.
• Understands what children are able to do at their age
• Teaches lessons with adequate pacing between active and quieter
Use these activities to build teams.
• Ropes and Restrictions-You’ll need sixteen 25-foot
nylon ropes of various colors, and a 15-inch beach ball. This
activity will require a large empty space of approximately 400 to
600 square feet. Form a team of at least 16 people. Have the team
members place the ropes on the ground, beginning with a large X and
crisscrossing the strands (see illustration). Once all the ropes
are in place, put the beach ball in the center of the rope
The team members hold the rope ends. Teams must lift the ropes
without losing the ball and then manipulate the strands to allow
the ball to fall through the middle of the rope web.
Ask: What made this experience easy or difficult? How well did
your team communicate? What roles did people play in this
experience? What can this experience tell us about our
• Lego of my Volunteer-You’ll need a model vehicle made
of Lego plastic toys and a packet of 50 Legos with at least two
wheels for each team.
Form teams of five or six. Give each team a Lego packet. Promise a
prize to the first team that creates a vehicle that most closely
resembles your model. Instruct the teams to each build a replica of
the model with these controls.
• Only blue Legos may touch yellow Legos.
• No six-hole Legos may sit on top of four-hole Legos.
• Only the wheels may touch the ground.
• Red Legos must always be directly on top of yellow Legos.
• Only gray Legos may snap onto the large pieces.
Allow four minutes. Then award the prize.
Ask: Was there any pressure to perform? Explain. What motivated
you as a team? How successful was your team’s communication? What
did you learn about yourself during this activity? about others on
Now instruct the teams to take apart their vehicles. Dispense more
Legos for each team, and have them create their own vehicles. This
time they have no prizes and no limitations, other than their
imaginations. After four minutes allow each team to show off its
creation. Affirm each team’s creativity.
Ask: How was this second activity different from the first? In
which activity did you feel most empowered? What can we learn from
this activity to help our teams be even stronger?
Contributors: Sharyn Spradlin, Cyndie Steenis, Amy Jones, and