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6 Secrets to Olympic-Style Volunteer Training

What you can learn about children’s ministry volunteer training from Olympic athletes.

What would happen if athletes showed up at the Olympic Games equipped the way children’s ministry volunteers often enter their classrooms? Some would be gripped by fear, since they’d never really competed before. Others might quickly study the rule book as they waited for the starter’s gun.

The image is absurd.

But now turn the image around and think what might happen if we took passing on faith to our children as seriously as Olympic athletes take passing on a baton in a relay. Imagine how strong a children’s ministry volunteer team you could have if you prepared volunteers with an Olympic-style workout program.

Search Institute surveyed about 1,500 children’s ministry volunteers in more than 500 congregations as part of its national study Effective Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations. The study found that fewer than half of all churches offer in-service training for teachers more than once a year (42 percent), and just 3 percent offer training five or more times per year. The findings suggest several key components of a well-rounded, Olympic-style workout program for children’s ministry volunteers.


Athletes get a physical examination before they start training. Your ministry also needs a physical to determine its fitness level.

The Search Institute study is a checkup for children’s volunteers. It reveals who volunteers are (see “The Typical Children’s Volunteer” box) and their perceptions of their work and needs.

Most volunteers recognize their need for a strenuous “workout program,” because many miss some of the basics:

Just 38 percent of teachers know and understand the Bible. Only 39 percent of teachers know how religious faith forms and develops. Even fewer (30 percent) know about different learning styles. Only three out of 10 know and understand their denomination’s theology and tradition. And one out of four (27 percent) know educational theory and practice.

Despite the clear need for growth, many teachers don’t appear eager to get involved. According to this study, just 44 percent of volunteers say they’re interested in more teacher-training events. Part of the problem may be that the available training opportunities don’t always meet their interests and needs.


By tackling the areas of greatest concern during training, you’re more likely to get children’s ministry volunteers interested and involved. One guide to help address volunteers’ top needs is to know their interests. (See “Volunteers’ Top Interests” box.)

Another way to customize the training program is to ask your volunteers what they’d like to learn about. What are they struggling with? What challenges are they facing? Sometimes we worry so much about meeting kids’ needs that we forget about the volunteers’ needs.

That’s why the Christian education committee at my church calls teachers occasionally to ask how things are going. These calls gain important information for how to shape future training programs-while also reminding teachers that they’re important and supported.

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