You can’t effectively onboard, train, and equip volunteers until you’ve clarified and simplified ministry systems and processes for them.
By Todd Adkins
Volunteers are the lifeblood of our churches and ministries. Your church can’t carry out essential ministries without them.
Lifeway Research’s Greatest Needs of Pastors study revealed 77% of Protestant pastors in the United States say developing volunteers and leaders is a difficulty they face in ministry, and 68% of pastors struggle with training current volunteers and leaders. Odds are, you feel these same pain points as you lead your church or ministry.
As church leaders, we should have high expectations of our volunteers. And they should have a great expectation of us to set them up to succeed in their ministry roles. But you can’t effectively onboard, train, and equip volunteers unless you’ve clarified and simplified ministry systems and processes to share with them.
Here are six essential volunteer resources to help your church with onboarding processes, ministry training, and ongoing development.
1. Ministry checklists
When you simplify a ministry process by creating a checklist for your volunteers, you improve your ability to train and hand off ministry tasks to them. Equipped volunteers know what to do and how to do it. And the more often they do it, the better they become in their roles.Equipped volunteers know what to do and how to do it. And the more often they do it, the better they become in their roles. — @ToddAdkins Click To Tweet
Take the time to write down the weekly ministry responsibilities for your volunteers. As you work through this task, identify the essential steps someone will need to follow to be sure ministry is accomplished week to week.
If you already have checklists for your ministry volunteers, now might be a good time to review them to ensure they’re accurate and up-to-date.
2. Volunteer job descriptions
Unfortunately, many churches are unclear in their expectations for volunteers, which creates confusion. However, handing someone a volunteer job description before they step into a new role in your church or ministry allows them to know the expectations before they commit. It also keeps them from having to guess what success looks like as they serve each week.
Each volunteer job description should include the weekly ministry responsibilities for the role and the core competencies required to serve. Whereas weekly ministry responsibilities will vary from ministry to ministry, core competencies include things that reflect a person’s character, regardless of which ministry they serve in. These things don’t change between ministry teams.
Keep in mind the average volunteer serves in multiple ministry roles. By creating volunteer job descriptions from the same template for all ministry teams, you can streamline core competency training for volunteers, saving you and your people valuable time. Again, this clarity and consistency across ministry teams help your volunteers know how to succeed.
If your church already uses volunteer job descriptions, evaluate and make sure they’re up-to-date and reflect current ministry responsibilities and core competencies.
3. Onboarding applications
As church leaders, we know Sunday is coming and we need people to fill the volunteer roles in our ministries. However, we shouldn’t hand the ministry keys over to someone who may not be qualified to serve in that role. So what do you do? Ask them to apply.
Ask prospective volunteers to submit a volunteer application. This application allows you to get to know the person’s spiritual story, ministry interest, and previous ministry or community involvement. This application should include space for the person to list references. You can follow up with these references to learn more about the person and any concerns they may have about this person’s interest in serving in your ministry. Most churches also require a background check for volunteers, especially those who serve in kids or student ministries.
After you’ve reviewed a volunteer’s application, contacted their references, and received the results of their background check, you can evaluate whether or not you’re ready to move forward with this volunteer. If a person seems like a solid fit for your ministry team, it’s time to provide ministry training to help them get started in their new role. If the person doesn’t seem like a strong fit for this role based on your review, be upfront and honest about the concerns raised. There may be a different volunteer role for which they’re gifted to serve.
4. Onboarding training
What do you do when you need to train new volunteers in your ministry? Onboarding training for a new volunteer should overview the ministry team and the weekly responsibilities of the role. It’s most helpful if you provide them with a weekly ministry checklist and volunteer job description. After all, we want them to know what to do each week and what success looks like in the role.
While in-person training may be beneficial, there can be barriers to this type of training. While we don’t believe you can digitize all training and development, you can deliver resources and training to new volunteers through digital tools like Ministry Grid, with onboarding training templates in key ministry areas for you to customize and create your own.
5. Ministry hand-offs
After someone has completed their initial ministry training, it’s time for them to step in and serve through hands-on experience. Jesus gives us a model for transferring responsibility. He rarely did ministry by Himself; rather, His disciples were nearby. Early on, they listened and watched Jesus, but soon He asked them to serve with Him. Jesus then flipped the script and asked them to serve while He observed and helped. Jesus wasn’t shirking His responsibility for the mission when He recruited and commissioned His disciples; He was sharing it.Jesus wasn’t shirking His responsibility for the mission when He recruited and commissioned His disciples; He was sharing it. — @ToddAdkins Click To Tweet
Pairing a new volunteer with someone who has previous experience allows them to learn in real-time and ask questions along the way. We break this down into four phases that can be utilized regardless of the leadership position or complexity of the role.
- Observation phase: I lead, you observe, and then we talk about it
- Guided phase: I lead, you help, and then we talk about it
- Collaborative phase: You lead, I help, and then we talk about it
- Equipped phase: You lead, I observe, and then we talk about it
Even though equipped ministry is the last of these four phases, it doesn’t end there. Now that a volunteer has walked through this framework, they’re equipped to do it again—this time with a new volunteer. And after we’ve onboarded and trained a new volunteer to serve, we must continually invest in developing those who serve in our ministries.
6. Ongoing development
Your job isn’t done when you release a volunteer to serve in ministry. If you think it is, you’re probably providing an information dump of what it takes to keep their heads above water but not what will help them thrive in ministry. We must help volunteers continue to grow in their roles. Some may grow in their leadership capacity and take on additional responsibilities. Some may serve in the same role for years to come. Whatever the case, you must help them continue to develop in meeting their ministry responsibilities and core competencies.
Leverage both online training and in-person experiences as you provide ongoing development to your people. Doing so allows you to provide various levels of training on the same subject, depending on each person’s experience and level of competence. When your volunteers gather in-person, have them sit in circles to debrief and discuss the training they’ve viewed. As the group learns and grows together, the volunteers are no longer spectators but participants. Flipping the classroom in this way helps experienced volunteers engage in the development of new volunteers and positions you to develop the right people into higher levels of leadership.
I hope you have found these six essentials helpful and insightful as you develop organized, streamlined processes to onboard, train, and equip new volunteers to serve. You’ve got the people, the talent, and a mission worthy of eternity. If you can bring clarity to these six areas you’ll dramatically increase your ability to recruit and develop the best volunteers in your church.
If creating these six essential volunteer resources sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. We’ve created samples of these resources, training courses, templates, and more that are ready for you to use on Ministry Grid. Each resource has been designed to help you onboard, train, and equip new volunteers to serve.
Todd is director of Lifeway Leadership and a co-host of the “5 Leadership Questions” podcast.