Have you scheduled training only to have no one show up? Training can be tough—so use these no-fail tips to get volunteers to attend.
“Why do we need another meeting? I’m just too busy.”
“I’ve been teaching Sunday school for years. Why should I come to teacher training meetings?”
“The biggest obstacle to training is the time people have for it,” says Barbara Bolton, curriculum consultant and resource specialist in Ohio. But there is hope. Bolton says, “Most people want to do what they do as well as they can.” And that’s where volunteer training comes in.
So how do you get volunteers to training meetings? Check out these expert trainers’ ideas.
Volunteer Training Basics
Use these fundamentals in your volunteer training.
- Communicate training expectations upfront. “When we first talk to somebody about being involved in children’s ministries,” says Earl Radford, children’s minister in California, “we talk to them about our training programs. We require that they attend at least two training sessions a year.” Radford’s teachers must also attend a membership class and a foundations of Christian doctrine class.
- Realize that not everyone will come every time. It’s very difficult to get 100 percent attendance at volunteer training meetings. Radford realized “that I wasn’t going to get everybody at the volunteer training meetings. I couldn’t take that personally.”
- Choose the time yourself. Don’t take a vote. “Don’t change your schedule for any reason because people will say, ‘I didn’t know when the meeting was,’ ” says Judy Wortley, author of The Training Remedy.
- Make training interesting. Do your homework about how to be a stronger leader while keeping the volunteers you’ve worked so hard to recruit.
- Find out what volunteers’ needs are. “Survey the teachers somehow to discover what it is that they feel they need training in,” says Bolton. And make the meeting time interesting. Bolton suggests, “Have a pretty high level of involvement so they’re not just sitting and listening.” Form small groups for active discussion and problem solving.
- Build a team relationship. Acquaint teachers with what other teachers in other grades are doing. “If someone works with preschool, he or she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in 5th grade,” says Wortley.
- Love your volunteers. Volunteers want to be appreciated. “If you don’t love them, you’ll lose your volunteers,” says Wortley.
- Use experienced volunteers as leaders. If your seasoned volunteers can’t see why they should come to training, tell them how important their role modeling is to less-experienced volunteers. Have them lead a part of the training, and they’ll want to come.
- Start and end on time. Provide child care. Meet in a relaxed atmosphere such as someone’s home. Distribute an agenda ahead of time. Record the meeting to preserve the contents for people who can’t make it.
Okay, you’ve got the basics covered, now when do you schedule training? Start with these ideas.
Coordinate training with other church activities. It’s easiest to get volunteers to attend training if they’re already at the church. Sandi Landotz, children’s director in California, has training meetings immediately after Sunday morning church. She keeps them short (about 45 minutes), provides child care, and serves a light lunch to volunteers and their children.
“Everyone is already there and is hungry, and we’re making training convenient,” says Landotz. “We also invite parents and interested adults to sit in and enjoy lunch. We get new recruits this way.”
Betty Botz, director of children’s ministries in Texas, has training sessions during Sunday school about every three months. Substitute teachers fill in for that time slot. And teachers aren’t committing to yet another meeting.
Plan all-day workshops. “We do workshops for the day, and I feed them lunch,” says Johanna Townsend, director of children’s ministry in California.
Have a week of general training. Steve Morris, minister of education and administration in Tennessee, plans “preparation week” once a year and insists that every children’s worker attends.
Plan quarterly meetings. Judy Comstock, Christian education director and education consultant in Michigan, plans quarterly meetings. She provides the new quarter’s curriculum and food.
Train “on the job.” Radford’s volunteers have on-the-job training. New volunteers observe experienced volunteers in their role for four weeks. On the fifth week, novice volunteers take over the role and “master volunteers” observe. Then master volunteers train new volunteers for two to three weeks until volunteers take on the role. “It really, really works,” says Radford. “I think the equipping part is just as important or even more important than the recruiting.”
Plan a training retreat. Twice a year, Comstock plans a weekend training retreat at a hotel from Friday night until midday on Saturday. Board games and other activities make Friday night a special evening of relationship building. The next day is filled with intense departmental training.
Plan frequent, bite-sized training sessions. “The only way we found to get good participation is to have frequent training sessions and use different approaches,” says Morris. “If we set one time and invite all the volunteers, we don’t get the most people. We have to keep building it, keep repeating, and do it at different times and for shorter periods.”
Provide flexible options. Require volunteers to attend a certain amount of volunteer meetings over the year, and then provide many options for them to attend. For example, if volunteers are required to attend three volunteer sessions, lead six that they can choose from over the year.
Looking for a great training plan? Try this one.
For loads of great volunteer training and leadership ideas, subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine today!