Raise your hand if you are pumped about your volunteer training strategy.

I’m guessing you didn’t.

Most of us don’t feel terribly confident about our training methods. I think this is because most of us have been following a system of volunteer training that, well, doesn’t really work.

Here’s a snapshot:

  1. Recruit volunteers
  2. Provide some sort of orientation for volunteers
  3. Once a month or a couple times a year, hold a volunteer training meeting
  4. Wonder if what we are doing is effective
  5. Repeat

volunteer_training_cycle

Based on what I’ve seen and experienced, there is a much more effective way to train volunteers. But, it really doesn’t have that much to do with training. It has a lot more to do with what volunteers actually need. Let me explain…

Volunteers Need a Relationship not a Training Meeting

In my opinion, the best training strategy for volunteers is built around relationships. I firmly believe that volunteers need relationships much more than a training meeting because relationships build trust. No volunteer is going to cry out for help at a leader meeting. However, a volunteer is much more likely to open up about how they feel like a failure as a small group leader over coffee with a person they believe likes them and cares about them.

Secondly, relationships are better than a training meeting because relationships promote honest feedback. Again, a frustrated volunteer is very unlikely to speak up about their frustrations concerning how disorganized worship practice has been at a training meeting. But, at lunch, with a person who has intentionally built a relationship with them over the last three months, the chances are much higher.

Third, relationships are better than a training meeting because relationships lead to high volunteer retention. As I shared in a previous post, one of the drivers of volunteer longevity is relationships. People like to serve with people they know and like. Because of this, a training strategy that is built around relationships is also a great strategy for volunteer retention.

Here’s my point: Instead of banking on a few training meetings throughout the year, create a volunteer care structure that is all about mentoring relationships. The payoff will be tremendous.

Volunteers Need Coaches not Teachers

The second strategy for a more effective method of training volunteers comes directly from a breakout I led at the Orange Conference called “How to Coach the Best out of Your Volunteers.” Here’s the idea: Volunteers need coaches not teachers.

In the training meeting strategy, church staff function as teachers for volunteers. Teachers help people understand. But, what’s really needed is not understanding. We want our volunteers to win. Coaches help people win. Teachers tell. Coaches demonstrate.

In other words, volunteers need coaches within the ministry they are serving. They need people who they can watch and learn from.

Here’s my point: Volunteers don’t need people to tell them what to do, they need coaches who will show them how to serve. They need mentors who they can watch and ask.

What if your volunteer structure involved apprenticeships so that our veteran volunteers could show your rookies the ropes?

Volunteers Need to Know When They Need to know

The last thing volunteers need is to know what they need to know, when they need to know it.

Confused? Let me explain.

When our volunteer training is bi-annual or even monthly, we give them the firehose treatment. We blast them with a million ideas, practices, and policies and expect them to remember it all. And, of course, they can’t.

In addition, when we rely on infrequent training, we miss opportunities to speak into weekly opportunities or situations as they arise.

What if we started to give volunteers what they need when they need it? What if we broke our training up into weekly chunks that are targeted toward what our volunteers are going through or need that week. Here are some ways we do this in our church:

  • Weekly Blog: We create a weekly blog for our student ministry and children’s ministry volunteers giving them all the info they need for that week.
  • Weekly Meetings: Our children’s ministry volunteers gather for 15 minutes before serving and our student ministry volunteers gather for an hour before serving, for the purposes for connecting, updates and training. This happens every week.
  • Weekly Check Ins: Check in with each volunteer every week through text to make sure volunteers have what they need.

Is there a way that you can deliver your training content to your volunteers when they need it? Could you use a blog, videos, or a short volunteer gathering before or after they serve? Who could you empower to check in with volunteers every week?

Let’s wrap this up. I believe there is a better way to train volunteers. Our volunteers don’t need a training meeting. They need relationships and coaches and they need to know what they need to know, when they need to know it.

I’d love to hear your ideas on how to train great volunteers.

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