What’s the difference between training that inspires and training that simply fills time? When volunteers are actively involved in learning, they’re enriched. When volunteers interact with other volunteers over a topic that improves their success in the classroom next week. They’re enriched. When volunteers are consistently shown a better way through meaningful, life-changing training, we keep them longer, we stretch them wider, and we feed them deeper than the average commitment they sign up for.
The following are triumphant teacher-training plans that’ll enable you to do all of the above.
Volunteer Training Plan 1: Service with a Smile
Help your volunteers understand how to serve parents.
1. Before the Volunteer Training
Create chaos in your room by overturning chairs and dumping papers on the floor. As volunteers arrive, busy yourself with last-minute preparations.
(Option: For this meeting, you could invite a trainer from a company known for its superior customer service. Have the person train for the first 15 minutes as if training a group of salespeople.)
2. Royal Service
- royal-sounding music,
- “maids,” and
- food on silver platters.
Say: We’re going to talk today about transferring good customer-service principles from the business world to serving parents. In the book The Nordstrom Way, the authors convey the ‘secrets’ to successful customer service. Let’s experience these.
Play royal-sounding music as maids come in, straighten up your room, and serve food on silver platters.
After everyone is served, ask:
- How did you feel when you arrived and found the room all messed up?
- How did you feel as our maids waited on us?
Say: The first principle of customer service is to value the nobility of good service. We want parents to feel like royalty when we serve them.
3. It’s a Zoo
For every five people, you’ll need the same set of five animal noises written on separate paper slips. Give each person a different animal noise slip. Have people close their eyes and make their animal noises. People with the same animal noises must find each other and form a group.
When everyone is together, have people open their eyes to discover their new groups. Say: The second customer-service principle is to find and bond with customers. And the third principle is to serve and keep those customers. So from now on in this meeting, you’ll stick with this group. To get to know each other better, have a seat and take turns telling each other about the best or worst customer service you’ve ever received.
4. Race Time
- dry spaghetti and
Give each group an equal amount of spaghetti and gumdrops.
Say: At the opposite end of the room, each group will build the tallest possible structure using these supplies. Each group will choose one person to be their builder. The builders can’t act independently. They must take only one direction at a time from their groups, such as ‘stick all the spaghetti into a gumdrop.’ Then the builders must run to the other side, perform the direction, and return to their groups for the next step. Don’t think on your own, builders, you must go back to your groups for directions.
Play this game for five minutes. Afterward, have each group discuss these questions:
- How easy or difficult was it to build your structure with the rules I gave you?
- Builders, how did you feel about having to get directions for each step?
Say: The fourth principle of excellent customer service is to give front-line people the freedom to make decisions.
- How is this game like or unlike when front-line people are not empowered to make decisions?
- What decisions have you been empowered to make in your ministry to parents and children?
5. What’s My Line?
For each group you’ll need:
- the two questions below written on newsprint,
- a marker, and
- a copy of the “Oops! Situations” listed at below, cut apart.
Say: It’s important to value people with our words and actions-even if we’re confronted with difficult people. But what does that look like in our ministry, in our church, in our lives? The following five situations actually happened to real children ministry volunteers. I’ll give each group a different situation. Answer these questions on the newsprint for your group’s situation:
- What would you say or do first to diffuse the situation?
- What could’ve been done to avoid this situation?
Allow time for discussion, then bring groups back together and have them report to each other. As a closing prayer, pray Philippians 2:1-4 for your volunteers.
Oops! Situation 1
A parent drops off her angry fourth-grader. He hits another child. By the end of the class, you’re frustrated and you confront the parent about the behavior. Amid tears, she explains that her ex-husband came to her house earlier that morning and yelled at her and her son.
Oops! Situation 2
A new mother arrives at your nursery four weeks after the birth of her baby. This is her second child, and her first child died shortly after birth. One of the other volunteers doesn’t know this and aggressively tries to enlist the new mom to work in the nursery.
Oops! Situation 3
A single parent is late picking up his child because he was having coffee with his girlfriend and the time just slipped away. The child is in tears because it’s after 9 p.m., and this isn’t the first time this has happened.
Oops! Situation 4
A couple is offended by an Easter lesson that used a black egg to represent sin. The couple immediately writes a letter to you.
Oops! Situation 5
After a roller skating party with the elementary kids, you return to your church. Within minutes, a parent arrives and wants to know where her son is. You left her son at the skating rink.
Volunteer Training Plan 2: The Good Shepherds
Use this meeting to minister to a wonderful group of highly committed volunteers-those people who shepherd other leaders in your ministry. Give your leaders the encouragement they need to faithfully feed their flock!
1. A Scar is Born
Say: Show us a scar that we can see and explain the ‘story’ behind it.
After everyone has shared, say: Being a shepherd involves binding up the wounds of the people we minister to. Every day, we minister to people who have hidden scars that we must bind up with God’s love.
2. A Shepherd Is…
- markers, and
- masking tape.
Form four groups. A group can be two or more people. Give each group a marker and a sheet of newsprint. Say: Work together to write as many words as you can that describe what you think of when you hear the word “shepherd.”
Have groups tape their newsprint to the wall.
3. What a Babe
- a TV/DVD and
- the movie “Babe” cued to 40:57-before the farmer says “Get ’em up, pig.”
Say: God wants to use you to shepherd his people. It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re a natural born shepherd or not. God can use anyone. Watch this movie that’ll help illustrate what I mean.
Show the video clip from the start cue to 44:12 when the farmer scratches his head in disbelief.
4. A Shepherd’s Life
You’ll need a Bible for each group.
Say: Let’s take a look at what the Bible tells us a shepherd does.
Say: From your passages, list any new words that you’d add to your shepherd lists.
After the new words are added, ask:
- What new things did you learn about shepherding?
5. A Healing Salve
- giant adhesive bandages and
- fine-tipped markers.
Give each person a giant adhesive bandage and a fine-tipped marker. Form a circle, and have people each unwrap their adhesive bandage and write their name on it. Say: Think of the ways you’ve seen each other be ‘salve’ to wounds in the adults and children in our ministry. Write those ways on each person’s adhesive bandage as we pass them around the circle.
When people receive their adhesive bandages, close in a prayer of thanks for all the ways God has used these shepherds to take care of the adults and children in your ministry.
Volunteer Training Plan 3. Extra! Extra!
Equip your volunteers to capably share their faith in Christ with children.
1. Stick ‘Em Up
- Post-it self-stick notes,
- tape, and
As people arrive, give them each Post-it note. Tape three sheets of newsprint to the wall. Label the first one “children,” the second “youth,” and the third “adult.”Have your volunteers place their Post-it notes on the sheet listing the age span when they believed in Christ as their Savior. Note the age that most people became Christians. Then say: Eighty-five percent of people who receive Jesus Christ do so between the ages of 4 and 14.
- Why do you think more people believe in Christ between these ages than at other ages?
Say: Turn to a partner and discuss this question:
- Why did you place your faith in Christ at the age that you did?
Allow time. Then ask for reports. Say: I’d like to hear what you talked about.
Say: Children’s hearts are receptive to God. They need someone to explain the gospel to them and what they need to do.
2. Softened Hearts
- thick string,
- duct tape,
- large paper clips,
- cardboard circles that’ll fit the end of a toilet paper roll,
- empty toilet paper rolls,
- camping stoves, and
- old metal pots.
Give each person some wax, a thick piece of string, a large paper clip, an empty toilet paper roll, a cardboard circle, and duct tape. Ventilate your room, and turn on your camping stoves.
Say: The process of a child believing in Christ is like melting and molding the wax you’ve been given. Imagine that the wax in your hand is the soul of a child and the paper roll represents Jesus Christ whom all Christians are to conform to.
- How can you get the wax into the mold?
- How is that process like or unlike our hearts softening to Christ?
Have people melt their wax in the pots.
Say: Our lives weren’t meant to remain melted, unusable, and without form. God wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Have volunteers each tape their string to a cardboard circle and tape the circle to the bottom of the toilet paper roll, dropping the string down through the center of the roll. Have volunteers each attach the loose end of the string to the large paper clip so the paper clip is at the open end of the toilet paper roll with the string pulled taut. Now, have them each pour the wax into their paper roll until they have about 2 inches of wax in the roll.
When everyone’s finished, ask:
- If you were to remove the candle from the mold before it’s ready, what would happen?
- What helps to mold a child’s faith?
Helping a Child to Follow Jesus
Say: It’s important not to get bogged down in theology when talking to a child about believing in Jesus. The simple approach should consist of the following points:
- God loves us and created us to love him.
- Our sin keeps us from God.
- God provided his own Son to forgive our sin.
- We must believe in Jesus to be forgiven.
- If we believe, we become a “forever friend” of God.
Give each volunteer a copy of the “Child Evangelism Tips “below. Have them silently read through the tips. Then deal with any questions they may have.
Child Evangelism Tips
When talking to a child about the gospel, follow these tips.
1. Use concrete terminology.
Avoid “ask Jesus into your heart.” Instead, emphasize that God wants to “become our heavenly father.”
2. Don’t talk about heaven.
While that is the reward for those who are “in Christ Jesus,” it unnecessarily creates fear in young children because they don’t want to go where their parents are not, and they certainly don’t desire to go all by themselves. As they grow in Christ, they’ll come to understand heaven in a more positive light.
3. Ask questions.
Ask open-ended (not “yes” or “no”) questions so you truly understand the child’s grasp of what you’re saying.
4. Celebrate each child’s decision.
If the angels in heaven get totally fired up, shouldn’t you?
5. Memorialize the occasion.
Write the date in the child’s Bible, or give the child a new Bible.
6. Train the child.
Follow up the decision with special instruction designed to help the child grow in faith.
3. Little Light of Mine
- matches and
- candles from the previous activity.
Have volunteers peel away their cardboard molds to reveal their candles. Have people light their candles. Then say, “God will use your life to shine before kids so they can see Christ and want him for themselves. Let your light shine!”
Sing “This Little Light of Mine” and close in prayer.
10 Ways to Get Volunteers to Show Up to Training
Want to know how to get more people to turn out for training? Try these ideas…
1. Feed the flock.
You might not want to serve an entire dinner, but finger foods should be in abundant supply.
2. Give door prizes!
LuAnne Oklobzija, children’s pastor at EagleBrook Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, gives out gift certificates for restaurants, video rentals, and even The HomeDepot.
3. Advertise your topic, not your meeting.
“QuarterlyTeacher-Training” just doesn’t seem to excite the volunteers as much as “Active Kids in a Lively Classroom.” Be specific.
4. Give start and end times.
This helps people plan around your meeting and keeps you on schedule.
5. Child care at volunteer training is a must.
Even if people don’t use it, just offering it will eliminate that inevitable excuse not to attend. And feed the kids too.
6. Budget for training.
Don’t skimp on training. Plan for the frequency and type of training you’ll do.
7. Specialized training.
There are some topics that’ll appeal to your midweek elementary volunteer as well as your once-a-month nursery volunteer. But, the fact is, not every training opportunity will meet everyone’s needs.
8. Let someone else do it.
Take your volunteers to a children ministry workshop or to a ministry convention.
9. Don’t give up.
Keep trying different times and new approaches. Celebrate the people who come.
10. Ban the name “Teacher Training.”
Not all your volunteers are teachers, and not all your training is for those with a title. Try a new name such as “Volunteer Enrichment,” “Shepherd’s Training,” or even “Children’s Ministry Meeting.”
Keith Johnson is a former children’s pastor and church consultant for Group Publishing, Inc.
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