10 unique ways to train your volunteers — without
The last time you had a training meeting, how many seats were
empty? More than were filled? You may feel all alone in your
training meetings, but you’re not alone when it comes to your
peers. Children’s ministers report that one of the toughest
challenges to training volunteers is getting them to actually
It’s easy for leaders to resort to the comfortable old training
meeting — you know, the kind you have to bribe volunteers to
attend by offering lunch, gifts, and a high-dollar guest speaker.
And even with all the bells and whistles, only a handful will
actually show up.
The reason they’re not coming isn’t you — you really are
a likable person with great information to share. Really! It’s
because the volunteer landscape has shifted. It’s time to step out
of the old, reliable training meeting and shake up how you
communicate with your volunteers. Try these innovative, timesaving
ideas to get your volunteers to actively participate in training —
and apply what they learn.
What it is: A video or audio file accessible
over the Internet.
How to do it: Videotape or record your
training sessions, then upload them to your ministry’s Web site
(for podcast providers, go to www.hipcast.com, www.audioacrobat.com, or
www.libsyn.com). Or do a podcast search (visit www.podcast.net, www.podcastalley.com, or www.podomatic.com for easy
searches) on specific topics already offered online, and then
provide a link to the specialized training you want your volunteers
to view. You can also offer a wide range of topics for volunteers
to customize training according to their needs or interests.
Why it works: Volunteers train on their
own time. Simply keep track of their podcast training through a
site login feature or an email verification at the end of the
podcast that lets you know who’s completed the training. Volunteers
appreciate the ability to view training at their convenience and
learn about the topics they’re interested in.
What it is: Watch your volunteers in action and
give immediate feedback.
How to do it: Set up a rotation schedule
and observe your volunteers in the classroom. Use a specific
checklist of qualities and skills you’re looking for as you
observe. At the following informal review, highlight successes
first, then point out areas for growth. Do this at least once per
quarter, setting aside a 10- to 15-minute review time with the
volunteer following your observation.
Why it works: By observing your
volunteers, you provide immediate feedback on what’s going well and
customize training to meet their specific areas for growth — all
with one-on-one attention.
3. Kid-Friendly Fun
What it is: An out-of-the-box field trip.
How to do it: Some of the most
productive training opportunities I’ve experienced as a church
staff member were at one church when our team got to take a yearly
trip to Disneyland. We were encouraged to enjoy the park’s
amenities, but we were also challenged to observe the
family-friendly environment and its keen commitment to customer
service. The trip home was incredibly productive as we gleaned
information from each other about our experiences.
You can spend the day together in a family-friendly atmosphere and
then debrief your experiences.
Why it works: This can be a unique
learning opportunity that’ll challenge your team to reach new
heights in their ministry to children while allowing them the
impact of firsthand experiences.
4. DVD Demos
What it is: A videotaped master teacher or
leader in action.
How to do it: Videotape your
master-level volunteers as they deliver a lesson, lead worship, or
facilitate games. Then burn DVDs to give to new or current
volunteers stepping into one of these key roles. Sometimes new
volunteers need to watch another person in action to fully
understand how to deliver a lesson and engage kids for maximum
Why it works: Sometimes all it takes for
people to understand how to tell an engaging story or get kids
actively involved in worship is to see it effectively
5. 10-Minute Huddle
What it is: A 10-minute tune-up before (or
after) volunteers’ service time.
How to do it: Often the best time to
catch volunteers to deliver a quick tip or update is when they’re
already serving at church. Ask your volunteers to arrive 10 minutes
prior to their scheduled start time for a volunteer huddle each
week. This is a great window of time to give them a quick training
tip, such as an attention-getter idea or a discipline tip. Then
give updates for your ministry or church — and pray
Why it works: Your volunteers will
appreciate your respect for their busy schedules, and you’ll be
confident in your volunteers arriving on time for their service
6. Job Shadow
What it is: New volunteers shadow someone who’s
been successful on the job for at least a year.
How to do it: Provide new volunteers
with an outline of specific responsibilities to observe, and
encourage time for your new and seasoned volunteer to meet after
the shadow experience to go over any questions or concerns.
Why it works: When someone begins a new
position, often the best way to learn the ins and outs of the job
is to shadow someone who’s currently in the position. Job shadowing
is also an excellent way to train individuals to cover your
position when you’re away.
7. You Pick
What it is: Customized training for a
volunteer’s specific needs.
How to do it: Regularly ask your
volunteers in which areas they’d like training — maybe it’s how to
include all kids in small group discussions or what to do when a
child can’t focus during the lesson. Then customize volunteer
training to meet those needs.
Why it works: As leaders we often think
we know what our volunteers need most, but there are times when we
may be off-base as to what training they’d like. Volunteers feel
valued when you meet their specific, requested training needs to
strengthen their felt areas of weakness and improve their
What it is: For volunteers who’ve been around
for years, offer a sabbatical period with opportunities — expenses
paid — to seek new ideas and renew their excitement for
How to do it: Pastors often take a
sabbatical to renew and grow in their pastoral position. So honor
your key leaders as well by suggesting they visit other churches to
get fresh ideas, give them a book you’d like them to read (then let
them give a brief review to the rest of your staff), or send them
to a workshop to renew their commitments and re-energize
Why it works: After time off, volunteers
return with new ideas and renewed vision for the important role
they play on your team.
9. Book Club
What it is: For volunteers who love to read,
form a book club that includes selections that’ll benefit their
How to do it: Choose books specific to
children’s ministry or kid culture, or a popular children’s book.
Spend time together and converse in a casual setting, free from the
pressure of a structured meeting.
Why it works: Volunteers who already
love to read enjoy this style of training and will form
relationships with other volunteers who share similar
10. Message Board
What it is: Provide message boards that
communicate pertinent information.
How to do it: Each week provide your
volunteers with pertinent ministry information and a training piece
such as a magazine article, a link to a Web site that offers great
ministry ideas, or a seasonal tip from you. You can also post your
message board on your ministry’s Web site in a password-protected
area, or post copies on classroom doors for volunteers to take as
they enter the classroom for the day.
Why it works: This is a great training
tool that volunteers can read at their leisure. cm
Carmen Kamrath is the associate editor of Children’s Ministry
Magazine and has been a children’s minister for more than 15