How to OnBoard and Train Your Volunteers

When it comes to pulling off a successful church event, volunteers are an absolute necessity. If many hands make light work, then too few hands make heavy work. As a church leader, you don’t have the time to be doing all the heavy lifting yourself.

That’s why recruiting volunteers is so important.

The problem with recruitment is it’s not always sticky, meaning just because you’ve found volunteers for one event doesn’t mean they’ll stick around for the next one. After learning a few lessons the hard way, I know a thing — or two — about keeping your volunteers coming back again and again. What’s the secret? You have to know how to onboard and train your volunteers.

Here’s the guide to creating a successful onboarding and training plan.

1. Onboarding

Before you get to the nitty-gritty of training for specific roles, you must first get all your onboarding to-dos checked off. First things first, start by vetting your volunteers through background checks, interviews, and by checking references. This is especially important for those volunteers seeking to serve around children, in security roles, or with your church’s finances.

If a volunteer is given the green light, find out where their interests, skills, and availability intersect with your church’s needs. Then, assign them a role!

Once you’ve given an assignment, I highly recommend giving your volunteer a trial period of about a month. This is helpful for both you and them in determining if the role is a good fit before either of you make long-term commitments.

2. Training

No matter the role, every position being filled by a volunteer will require some level of training. Even if you think a job is self-explanatory, it’s important to provide clear directions so volunteers understand your expectations of them. If you don’t do this, things will probably not get done to your standard. Pointing out the “wrong” in their work when you never trained them the “right” way is how you lose volunteers for the future. Set them up for success the first time and they’re more likely to come back a second.

Working with Children

While it’s true that all roles require training, some roles will inevitably need more than others. As mentioned before, volunteers working with children, in security roles, or with your church’s finances will require extensive vetting. They will also need more specific and sensitive training. Ensuring the safety of your church members should be your No. 1 priority when recruiting volunteers. Taking the extra step to properly train them is beneficial to not only them but to the members they serve.

Tips For Your Training Program

Keep in mind, these training sessions don’t need to be long and arduous, but they should happen often. Try conducting them at least once a month and provide handouts during the training for reference. It’s hard to expect anyone to remember everything you tell them, so providing documentation will help to reinforce the main points of the training. Plus, some people just learn better by reading.

Take your training program a step further by assigning each new volunteer a mentor. The mentor should be another volunteer who has served in their specific role for at least a few months. This gives the new volunteer an opportunity to get to know someone else on the team and learn from them. It also communicates to the volunteer mentor that you trust him/her to help the new volunteer succeed in this role.  This is key if your goal is to increase volunteer retention.

Nobody enjoys being recruited for a job and then not told how to properly do that job. Your volunteers have taken time out of their lives to serve their home church. Now, it’s your turn to take the time to help them help you.

For more reading on managing the volunteers in your church, check out my book “The Volunteer Management Toolkit (Church Edition).”