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How To Acclimate A New Volunteer

by Amy Grisham

So, you, your volunteers, your pastor—whomever it may be—has done an AWESOME job recruiting new volunteers for your family ministry environments. Now you have new volunteers who are excited to get started, and you want to be sure they “stick!”

One of the best ways to create sticky volunteers is to introduce them to your ministry well. So what does this look like, in the practical sense? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have clearly defined descriptions for each volunteer role. Sometimes we want to sugarcoat our expectations for certain roles because we don’t want to scare people away before they even get started. While you may (or may not) attract more people in the beginning, as volunteers discover what is actually expected in the role, they can be left with the perception of a bait-and-switch. Or, they may feel frustration because they are getting the sense that they are not meeting expectations but they are doing what is listed on the role description they were given. Volunteers do truly want to do what they have been asked to do, but when we fudge a little on stating what we actually want, they are left feeling that they aren’t hitting the mark, and they aren’t sure why. When they know what you expect, and they know they are fulfilling the expectations for the role they are filling, they feel accomplished and more satisfied in their role—they are able to enjoy what they are doing even more because they know they are doing a GREAT job!
  2. Explain the WHY behind your expectations. This dovetails on the first point. While you may set the bar pretty high for some of your volunteer roles (like asking small group leaders to commit to serve every Sunday for the school year), if you explain to volunteers WHY you want them to do this, most can then get behind your vision and are willing to jump on board. When you tell a volunteer that your ministry puts high value on placing a consistent leader in the life of each child so they can develop a relationship that will allow for great growth, transparency and relational connection, well, people can get behind that! But just saying, “This is the way we do it,” doesn’t allow for volunteers to catch your amazing vision and join with you in it. Most adults have a memory of an important adult who took the time to pour into their lives when they were a kid. Giving them the opportunity to now be that adult in the life of a kid is an amazing vision to become a part of.
  3. Allow volunteers to “shadow” before committing. It can definitely feel intimidating to sign on the dotted line of a volunteer commitment before you’ve seen what your committing to in action. A great way to help acclimate a new volunteer is to allow them to spend a couple of weeks watching the environment where they think they might want to serve. I love to pair a new volunteer with an outstanding seasoned volunteer (someone I know is going to do an awesome job modeling what serving in that role should look like) so the seasoned volunteer can show the newbie the ropes. This not only allows the new volunteer to see how we do things in our ministry, but it also allows them to determine, before fully committing, if this is actually the right spot for them. I always tell new volunteers they are NOT locked in by shadowing. And after the two weeks, they are free to shadow a different age-group or role, if they would like. This also helps put the new volunteer at ease knowing we are not just going to throw them in and hope they can figure it out.If the new volunteer decides the spot is for them, they can spend another two weeks with a trainer, this time taking the lead in actually doing the role with the seasoned volunteer there to assist, just in case. Then, after that, the new volunteer is ready to sail on their own!
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Throughout the above process with a new volunteer, be sure to give them ample opportunity to ask questions, see multiple environments (if they would like), and give honest feedback about what they are experiencing. Not every volunteer role is for every volunteer. This is one of the reasons to have multiple role options available to volunteers (different age groups, small group leaders, Bible lesson teachers, tech team, greeters). So even if a volunteer doesn’t feel that leading a small group of three-year-olds is their thing, maybe making large group an awesome experience with music, lights, visuals, etc., is their thing. The great news is, we can definitely find somewhere to plug them in.

When we as leaders are clear in our expectations, provide opportunities for volunteers to actually see and participate in our environments, pair them up with excellent current volunteers and communicate well, we have the opportunity to create for them an awesome experience on our volunteer team.

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