I remember what it was like the year our first child was born. I remember the joy and the stress that came from preparing to embark on this new journey that would change our lives forever. I remember all the fears we had.
The fear of us not being ready.
The fear of him not being healthy.
The fear of parenting him poorly.
The fear of him peeing on us during a diaper change.
Some of those were certainly realized. Regardless of what fears we had, we were in. We were all in. No fear would stop us as new parents.
Unfortunately the same is not true for prospective volunteers in our churches. They are not sure if they’re in, and they have some fears too. One of the biggest fears people have when they think about volunteering is the fear of not being able to do it well. Nobody wants to jump into a role and then be embarrassed by not knowing what to do. Our job as leaders is to ensure new volunteers are connected and prepared for what’s ahead.
Here are five steps we can take to help connect and train new volunteers.
Step One: Start with a strong orientation process.
The first step in connecting and training new volunteers is doing the best job we can when they begin serving. This should include some type of volunteer orientation where they hear the vision for the ministry along with how you accomplish it. There should also be an opportunity for them to learn about the environments and roles within the ministry so they can begin to envision where they best fit.
Action item: Implement or overhaul orientation process.
Step Two: Place them on a team with a point leader.
One way we make it hard for new volunteers to connect and develop is by not providing them with good leadership. Every volunteer should be led by someone who knows them, cares for them, and guides them weekly. Usually that shouldn’t be a staff person, and that means having volunteers serve in coaching roles where they lead a small group of volunteers.
Action item: Recruit and develop coaches who can lead and care for teams of volunteers.
Step Three: Use intentional apprenticing.
I love learning from other churches and leaders, and one of the many things I’ve learned from North Point Community Church over the years is their value of intentional apprenticing. The key to good apprenticing is making sure new volunteers serve alongside veterans who are assigned to mentor them. Put a time frame around it, and follow up with both the mentor and new volunteer after that time frame to debrief.
Action item: Add apprenticing to the volunteer onboarding process.
Step Four: Have a follow up meeting in the first six months.
As part of serving on a ministry team, every volunteer should have the opportunity to meet with their point leader 1-on-1 once or twice a year. One of the first times that happens should be in the first 6 months to evaluate how they’re doing and how they see the ministry. They have fresh eyes, something you don’t, so their feedback is critical. This is also a great time to reflect on how they’re doing and make any changes if necessary.
Action item: Schedule a 3-6 month follow up meeting with every new volunteer.
Step Five: Provide regular training opportunities.
Once new volunteers are connected, they’re ready to be developed along with the entire team through regular training opportunities. What will the rhythm of those trainings look like? What will we teach at each training? How will we personally invite volunteers to those trainings? How will we follow up and hold them accountable afterwards? Those are some key questions to ask when creating or evaluating your volunteer training plan.
Action item: Create a sustainable and repeatable plan for volunteer training events.
Many of our parenting fears were realized, but almost all of them were easier to push through because of the support we had. We had great examples in our own parents and with friends. We learned a lot from different books we read and classes we attended. We were connected with others and trained through different experiences.
New volunteers should be given that same gift as they jump in to serve in our churches. Like parenting, there are many things they can only experience on their own, but we can help create a strong foundation for them to build on.
Nick is the children and student’s team leader at Community Christian Church in Baltimore, MD. Nick is married to a beautiful and talented woman named Jennifer and they have one son named Isaac. You can reach Nick on his blog, or via Twitter.