5 Simple Steps for Successful Volunteer Onboarding

Learn strategies around five basic steps for having a solid volunteer onboarding plan in this detailed article from a trusted expert in the field of children's ministry.
11 min read

Children’s ministry has unique volunteer needs. There are small ratios, specialized circumstances, and we serve a vulnerable population. We also minister to multiple sets of people, which include kids, parents, and volunteers.

One of the hardest things about our jobs is that we can’t do it ourselves. We can’t be in the room with the babies, in the preschool room, in the middle, and in the elementary room. We can’t do all of the things at once. I’ve tried, believe me.

Doing It All

The church is in a time of transition. This might result in fewer volunteers and new policies. Be sure to build your team so you don’t run yourself into the ground.

I can say that no matter the size of your church, it’s possible to have strong volunteer teams.

In the past, I found myself trying to do absolutely everything. I was too busy to recruit volunteers because I couldn’t possibly recruit volunteers when I was doing everything myself. This led to me being frantic. I was begging people, and I was desperate. At that time, the volunteer job description was literally to keep everyone in the room alive.

I’m not the expert. I’ve made all the mistakes. I’ve learned from my mistakes over the years—I’m still learning from some of them, and I’m still making some the mistakes.

I just remember the desperation I experienced and thinking how am I going to lead this ministry and get enough people? It felt overwhelming.

I had to build my first volunteer team one person at a time. I want to encourage you if you’re feeling overwhelmed, dreading fall, new programming, and you’re feeling like you’re doing it all. If you don’t know how you’re going to fill your spots and you don’t know how you’re going to get your team—I’ve been there.

I can say that no matter the size of your church, it’s possible to have strong volunteer teams. No matter the size of your church, it seems to be the same 20% of the people doing 80% of the work.

Challenges

I have some tips for you. I want to make this super easy and super practical to help you build your volunteer team. You might be thinking, where do I start? Where do I get the 200 new volunteers when I want them by next Sunday?

Some of the mistakes that we make, especially during and after a pandemic, can be challenging. There are new challenges that we’ve never encountered before. I started at my current church in the middle of the pandemic. For months, I was doing ministry virtually just praying that there were people out there.

Church Re-Entry

Woman showing a paper page saying WELCOME
Image Credit: mikroman6/Moment/Getty Images

We’re all in different phases of coming back. My church has families returning to our building. This is a unique time for families, and that includes the volunteers in our programs. I had a volunteer say to me recently, “I just got lazy. We got comfortable staying home every Sunday. And we have no reason that we haven’t been back and haven’t been serving other than we’re just out of the habit. We’re just not used to serving anymore. We just kind of need that kick in the pants to get back into it.”

Some people love being home and not having to engage in relationships. And some people are craving those relationships and just feel so disconnected. As people are coming back, this is an awesome time to reach out to all of those people. Rebuild those relationships and focus on community among your church people and among your volunteer teams.

I am reaching out to those families who have not been back to church, and you can too. Let them know that you care about them, that you want them there, and that you miss them. Whenever they’re comfortable coming back, welcome them. If they’re not comfortable coming back, still be there for them. Assure them you still care about them.

Be Strategic

This is a great time to rethink your vision for your ministry and to launch something new. It’s a great time for launching new ministries, new programming, a new vision, a new mission for this year. Don’t just start something for the sake of starting something, be strategic. Have a plan for your ministry and for your volunteers—a specific strategy, a specific plan.

I’m going to share five steps for onboarding and recruiting your volunteer team. Do them in the way that works best in your church. If you’re not doing any of these things, you can still start. This is a natural time to begin something new.

God’s Ministry

This is God’s ministry. He has entrusted it to us and to the families and people who are a part of our church.

This is God’s ministry. He has given us the opportunity to equip people to do the ministry. This is a great opportunity for people to serve God, use their gifts, and make a difference for Him. The volunteers are not serving me. They’re not volunteering for me. It’s not my ministry. This is God’s ministry. He has entrusted it to us and to the families and people who are a part of our church. We have the opportunity to serve Him, and we get to empower others to serve Him.

The 5 Steps

1. Prepare

Prepare for your volunteer team. People want to be a part of something significant. Create a ministry that people want to be a part of. Write down your vision and make sure it connects to your church’s mission.

This is a time to cut programming and other things that are not a part of the vision. Launch things that are purposeful and intentional. Then communicate that as often as you are able.

Next, determine what volunteers you need. Write down every single volunteer role you can dream of. Know exactly who and what you’re looking for and get it on paper.

With a comprehensive list of each job needed, you will know who you’re looking for. Then you can recruit people to fill those exact spots in those exact roles instead of an ambiguous, “Who wants to serve in the children’s ministry?”

Know your vision and know who you need. Those are the two most important things in preparing for your volunteers.

2. Seek

Once you know what you need, then it’s time to recruit for each position. Asking people personally can be more effective than doing a blanket statement to recruit volunteers in children’s ministry. Then name their qualities such as a gift of teaching, hospitality, or organization. Think outside of the box.

We have a retired dentist who volunteers, and he is so fun. He led games during VBS and he’s jumping in to be a Sunday school teacher. I have one woman who has older kids and is super detail oriented. She’s going to come in and help with all the paperwork, supplies, and preparations. I have a teenager who’s going to start volunteering.

Look at people across all age groups, all kinds of life places, and invite them to be a part of your team based on their skills, their passions, and their spiritual gifts for a specific job.

Invite people within their sweet spot. Ask them personally and give them real responsibility and real significance in the ministry.

People want to be a part of something that’s important. They want to be a part of something significant. If they’re using their gifts in their sweet spot where their passions match up with their experience, then they will have the opportunity to do something significant. Invite people within their sweet spot.

Pray for wisdom, pray for discernment, ask your staff, and ask your volunteers for other recommendations.

3. Screen

I take safety very seriously. Begin by checking with your church’s insurance company, or your denomination, about any specific safety requirements that they might have.

Once you have someone interested in serving, I suggest having a talk to get to know them. You might have them fill out an application, ask for references, ask about their passions, and their experience. You can learn some really cool stuff about people through the interview and the application process.

I also like to have volunteers fill out and sign a volunteer covenant. This covers the expectations for leadership and serving in the ministry.

We want to take care of the children in the community, and we want to be proactive about keeping them all safe.

It’s okay if you don’t already have any of this as part of your process. It’s totally fine to start now and have all of your current volunteers go through this process. It can be a phone call, a Zoom call, or an in-person chat before the service. It can be meeting at a coffee shop or a restaurant. You can get a strong feel for people if you meet face-to-face. A phone call is definitely an acceptable alternative.

Background checks are crucial. There are a number of different companies that you can use for background checks. Check with your church’s insurance company about how often you must repeat them.

4. Train

It’s essential to have a plan for effective volunteer training. Equip your team with the skills and basic information that they need to serve in the ministry. It can inspire them while communicating the vision of the program. Solid training will prepare them to excel in their role and grow as leaders.

I encourage four types of volunteer training:

Annual Training Meeting

This is for everybody in the entire ministry: new volunteers as well as seasoned ones. Consider also inviting those who are interested in volunteering. I like to keep these annual volunteer meetings really fun. It’s about relationship and community building, vision casting, and equipping them with hands-on things that they can’t read off of a handout. You might do icebreakers and play games so they can get to know the other volunteers. This can help everyone feel like they’re part of an actual team. 

Take time to share stories and wins. I feature a video of the volunteers from the prior year. It highlights the things that they’ve done, inspires them, and shows them moments they may have forgotten.

You can also bring in special speakers. This might include someone from your church’s security team or local police department to talk about training for emergencies. You could bring in a child development specialist to talk about how to connect with kids at different age levels and how to engage them. There is some really interesting, specialized training that focuses on topics like the art of storytelling or how to work with parents.

New Volunteer Training

Determine a timeframe that works for you. The following model includes a suggested four-week course. First, I pair every new volunteer with a seasoned servant. Choose your seasoned volunteers very carefully as they will be the models for your new volunteers.

Week 1

The volunteer will watch, observe, and learn the policies and procedures. They receive a volunteer handbook and tour the ministry area. They learn where the bathrooms are, where the supplies are going to be picked up, and where their check-in station is located. Don’t just assume that people know all these things. As you give them a tour, talk to them about your policies. Let them observe a class.

Week 2

It’s time to build in a little bit of responsibility. This week they are mostly observing again and learning different policies and teaching techniques. It’s more about curriculum and ministry.

Week 3

It’s time for even more responsibility and direct training. Give them feedback.

Week 4

Time to be on their own. I like to have the seasoned volunteer observe and evaluate them and give them feedback.

Ongoing Training

My personal favorite way of doing this is by having a volunteer huddle for all of the volunteers every Sunday before the service starts. It can take five minutes, or longer. This is a time to gather everyone together as a team to pray, share information, share wins, cast vision, and do quick training as needed.

You can go over a policy such as diaper changing, tornado drill policy, or your intruder policy. Choose a different policy every week and add some light training. You can talk about how to include kids who are on the fringes, engaging kids who are not paying attention, or connecting with parents. This is ongoing training that you’re doing every single week to connect with your volunteers. Always close your meetings in prayer.

Those huddles can be super important, and they set good groundwork. They invite the Holy Spirit in and lay a foundation for the day to prepare everyone to serve.

Digital Training

This training can be via text message, email, video vlogs, blog posts, social media posts, or even a Facebook group. You can utilize your church’s website. Through digital training, you can send your team Bible verses, podcasts, or simple inspiration. With this method of training you can still reach our people, even when they can’t be there in person. You can definitely utilize social media and digital training at any time.

5. Evaluate & Follow-Up

Business woman holding pens and papers making notes
Image Credit: TravelCouples/Moment/Getty Images

This step is one that gets skipped over easily. It’s so easy to just kind of keep going once your volunteers are on the team and doing great. But we want to invite questions, communicate with volunteers, and stay curious about how they’re doing in the ministry.

I choose to set a time to do this—90 days after they start is good. I ask them how things are going. They might say that they want to try something different. Ask for their feedback and listen to them, follow-up with them, and then evaluate how you might want to make changes.

You can send out surveys to all the volunteers once a year and ask about how they feel, if they feel like part of the team, that I’m communicating clearly enough, thoughts on the curriculum. I ask them to share any wins, feedback, and concerns.

Appreciate

Volunteer appreciation is important and should not be underestimated. Ways to show you are grateful can include: a thank you card, a cup of coffee, or their favorite snack. You can find easy ideas on Pinterest or check out the ideas in 6 “High Fives” Perfect for Volunteer Appreciation.

These small gestures lead to the team feeling appreciated. It doesn’t have to take a big budget—you can meet them at a park and have a picnic or take a walk. Let them know that you truly care about them. Check out this article for simple and heartfelt ways to thank your volunteers when you just can’t find the words!

Volunteers who are well cared for are going to be your best recruiters.

People will love being a part of a team where they’re serving in their sweet spot—a place where they feel equipped, trained, and valued. They’re going to be lining up to serve in your ministry. They might be inspired to tell their friends and invite others to serve. Volunteers who are well cared for are going to be your best recruiters.

Volunteer Onboarding Kit

Empower your ministry team & create a strong foundation for excellence

Volunteer Onboarding Kit

Empower your ministry team & create a strong foundation for excellence

Volunteer Onboarding Kit

Empower your ministry team & create a strong foundation for excellence
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  Updated on September 10, 2021

About the Author

  • Renada and her family live in Birmingham, Alabama where she volunteers in her local church's kids' ministry and pretends she lives in the United Kingdom by drinking tea and listening to Celtic music.

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