By Dan Iten
Back to school is underway and that means a new season of ministry has either started or will soon begin for your church as we enter into the fall. While we might have had big plans to use the summer as an opportunity to start large projects or finally get to those overdue “To Do” list items, we often forget just how crazy the summer can be. It’s easy to look back at the summer and think, where did all the time go?!
One “To Do” item on the list for many of us is to use the summer to provide volunteer training. We pray during the summer months that we can find new volunteers to onboard into our ministry areas and also provide training for our returning volunteers. Yet for various reasons, training gets pushed down the priority list as other things come up.
Well, worry not! It’s never too late to provide onboarding and ongoing training to your leaders and volunteers. Below are 5 practical tips to get started with training your people this fall:
- Recruit new volunteers by casting a vision to serve.
Despite our best efforts to recruit new volunteers over the summer months, this task can feel impossible. How can you use the summer to train new volunteers when you barely have enough volunteers to keep the ministry going as it is? While summer church attendance can often be low, just remember that new church attendees will start coming now that school is back in session.
Use this strategic time to cast a vision to the church that serving is a way to get connected to your community. Show your congregation that no matter if they’ve been attending for 2 years or 2 weeks, there is a need and a place for them to use their God-given gifts within the church.
- Create a streamlined onboarding process for new volunteers.
As you get new people interested in serving, don’t simply throw them into your scheduling system. Rather, take the time to go through a formal application process and, if approved, initial onboarding training.
So often when we meet someone interested in serving, we jump at the chance to get them plugged into our scheduling holes. Yet we really know nothing about this person other than that we had one good conversation with them. Don’t get ahead of yourself! Slow down and have them go through an application process that includes:
- A volunteer application form
- A job description for the specific volunteer role
- Background checks
An application process is a great way to make sure the person is actually qualified to serve in a specific ministry area.
Once you approve a new volunteer to serve, this is where most of us typically stop and add the individual to the schedule or rotation. However, it’s the best time to give this person proper training for their role. Think about providing overall church information as well as ministry-specific training before you put them on the calendar.
Below are onboarding training suggestions:
- An overview of the church’s mission, vision, and values
- An explanation of general church policies
- An explanation of specific ministry policies and procedures
- Expectations of their role
- Volunteer checklists
- Information on your scheduling process
- Information on what they need to know before their first time serving
- Tips for their new role
Slowing down to onboard your new volunteers will help them feel empowered and equipped to serve. The worst thing we can do is have a volunteer show up feeling confused and useless. They most likely won’t be eager to sign up for another shift. However, if we onboard our volunteers well, they will have the potential to become long-term leaders who begin to recruit others to serve.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel.
At this point you might be thinking, I don’t have time to set up an onboarding process for my church. I didn’t have time this summer, and I definitely don’t have time now! Don’t reinvent the wheel. You don’t need to start from scratch. There are many resources out there that can help you in your efforts to create an onboarding process.
Ministry Grid training has sample application and onboarding templates that your church can customize with your own people. There are sample job descriptions, ministry checklists, and training videos that can be used or modified to fit your church’s context.
While onboarding can seem like a big task, if you put in a few hours of time, you can create a lasting system to streamline your volunteer onboarding for years to come.
- Catch up your returning volunteers.
Once you’ve streamlined your onboarding processes, ask your returning volunteers go through it as well. Many might have been serving for so long that they aren’t aware of some updates to your policies and procedures or could use a refresher. Having your returning volunteers get re-educated ensures everyone has the same information and is synced within a ministry.
A new volunteer will get confused fast if they hear one thing in your onboarding process and another thing from a returning volunteer when serving together. Use this new system to get everyone on the same page.
- Provide ongoing training resources.
In today’s world, it is increasingly difficult to get your volunteers together in the same room, on the same date, and at the same time. However, it’s still a very worthwhile cause and experience for your team. It creates a sense of community among volunteers and gives you an opportunity to provide training.
To make the most out of those times, consider coupling an in-person meeting with a resource like a video training course on Ministry Grid. Prior to the meeting, send your volunteers video training that will be helpful to them. Let your volunteers know that you will discuss these videos when you meet together. At the meeting, provide a quick overview of the content then use it to allow table discussion where your volunteers further engage with best practices for your ministry. Doing so will prevent you from preparing a 45-minute talk and will help your volunteers feel more involved in the training, walking away with a deeper understanding of their roles.
No matter what time of year, it is never too late to start investing in ways to train your volunteers!