3 Ways to Train Volunteers During the Onboarding Process

This post is part of a series on 7 Keys to an Effective Volunteer Training System.

We often tell parents and preschool volunteers how kids learn more in the first 5 years of their life than they do in the rest of their life combined. They can do that because of how their brain works, but God also wired us that way because we need to learn so much early on to function well.

People who sign up to volunteer for the first time in our ministries also need helpful training in the very beginning to prepare them well. Here are 3 ways you can train volunteers during the onboarding process (we’re overhauling ours right now to maximize these).



Orientations are helpful for attracting potential volunteers since it gives you something to point to and promote for people who are not serving. A good orientation can be part of the training process, and the big thing that can be accomplished in the orientation is casting vision. Use the orientation to talk about your church’s mission, vision and strategy. Talk about the vision and specifics of your ministry and how everything you do supports it. Connect the dots for people to show them how the roles they might play are part of the bigger picture.

The goal: Orientation attenders leave understanding why your ministry exists and feel motivated to be part of it.

Environment & Role Discussion

It’s important for new volunteers to fully understand the environment they’ll be in and the specific role they will serve. This is where environment handbooks and volunteer job descriptions are important. Take time to create those resources and schedule time to walk new volunteers through both. Help them understand the essential policies and systems of the environment. Give them a clear win for the role they’ll serve in, along with all the expectations that come with that role.

The goal: New volunteers grasp the essentials of  the environment and know how to “win” in their role.


We have always talked about apprenticing new volunteers and have done it to some extent, but not nearly as well as we could have. In fact, there’s been a clear difference in how well new volunteers have done when they experienced a real apprenticeship. The key to good apprenticing is making sure the new volunteer serves alongside a veteran who is assigned to coach them. Put a time frame around it, and follow up with both the mentor and new volunteer after that time frame to debrief.

The goal: New volunteers experience exactly what you’re looking for in the role they will serve in.


Those are 3 ways we seek to maximize the training opportunity we have when new volunteers come on board.

How do you assimilate and train new volunteers?

7 Keys to an Effective Volunteer Training System

volunteerI recently had a good conversation with another family ministry leader who was looking to improve his volunteer training system. One of the biggest challenges ministry leaders face is in training and equipping volunteers on their teams, and we got to share ideas and learn from each other.

In many cases, training and coaching is not a core strength or skill for the leader. In all cases, Sunday is always coming and the pressure of being ready for the weekend, along with everything else (meetings, events, care, etc.), pushes out time for investing in volunteers.

At CCC we have utilized a number of different strategies for volunteer training and we’ve settled in on a pretty consistent system. We continue to improve that system, and I’ve found these 7 Keys to be helpful in creating and maintaining an effective volunteer training plan. I’ll unpack each one in a separate blog post, but here they are.

Strong Onboarding

The first step in having an effective training system for volunteers is doing the best job we can when they begin serving. This includes orientations, learning the environment they’ll serve in, the role they’ll play, and being partnered with someone who can coach them early on.

Sustainable Rhythm

Once volunteers are in place, it’s important to have a rhythm for volunteer trainings. That rhythm will differ depending on your specific context, but the key is figuring out the best rhythm and making sure it’s sustainable.

Helpful Content

Good volunteers are always hungry for content that will help them have a greater impact in their role. They are not, however, open to giving up their time for something that seems like a waste. Helpful content is required to develop volunteers and make them want to attend training events.

Personal Invites

It’s really easy to mass-invite volunteers to a training event, and we should do that. But, we also have to include personal invites somewhere in the process if we want everyone to show up.

Follow Up Accountability

Follow up after a training is essential for people who attended and those who missed. There are 3 different types of follow ups needed after a training, and all 3 are necessary if you want the best engagement possible.

Easy to Attend

Training events need to be as easy to attend as possible. You can’t appease everyone, but you can do a number of things to take away excuses people have for not attending training events.

Can’t Miss Culture

The best way to have strong participation in volunteer trainings is to make the events themselves have a “can’t miss” feel to them. What can you do to make those who attend feel glad they did and want to come next time?

I’ll dig down into each one of these in this series of posts, and I’d love to hear from you as I do.

What keys have you learned?

What challenges have you faced?

What The Orange Conference Has Taught Me About The NextGen / Family Pastor Role

{It’s Orange Blogger Week. Scroll down to the bottom to see what it’s all about.}

My favorite aspect of the Orange Conference has always been connecting with other leaders and learning from them. Some years ago at our church we shifted our staff structure around and I transitioned into a new role of leading our Children & Student Team. It’s a role that is becoming more popular in churches, often called the Family Pastor, NextGen Pastor, or Family Ministry Director. These folks are charged with leading the team that is responsible for everything a church does for kids from birth all the way up through high school or college.

The Orange Conference is the best way to connect with other people who serve in the same role as you, so you can learn from each other. Here are some things I have learned about this newer role from my time at the Orange Conference.

It’s a very new role

Some people have been in the role for over a decade, but that is very rare. Any time there are a bunch of people gathered at Orange who serve in this role, the average experience the group has in the role is about 2-3 years.

It’s a confusing title

The titles can be confusing because churches can have a Family Pastor and they just lead Children’s Ministry. They can have a NextGen Pastor and they just lead college. “Family” can sometimes be part of some job descriptions, but only to emphasize partnering with parents, like Children’s & Family Pastor. If you’re really just looking for people who lead the charge for birth through high school or college, you have to state that since the title alone is not common enough, like Executive Pastor.

There are similarities across all church sizes and structures

Like all roles on church staffs, people who serve in this role come from churches of various shapes and sizes. One person may lead a team of part-time and/or volunteer ministry leaders (preschool, elementary, students), while another leads a staff of 30 across multiple sites. All of them have similar responsibilities and challenges, however. Responsibilities such as leading and organizing great ministries for children and students. Ensuring the church partners with parents well. Making the transitions between age groups seamless. Championing family ministry in leadership conversations.

They all face challenges too, such as the hiring, training and firing of staff. Balancing their time across multiple ministries and needs. While there are plenty of differences between two people in those role who serve in very different contexts, there are also some big similarities and we can all learn from each other.

These people are big time leaders of leaders (or should be)

For most people in this role, they’re leading staff and they must be a leader of leaders if they hope to succeed. Children and student ministries are a HUGE aspect of every church and usually have the largest team of volunteers. Tony Morgan has a helpful post on the 4 Stages of Leadership. People who serve in this role, in my opinion, must at least be on the 3rd stage: Lead Other Leaders.

Orange has been a vital contributor to my growth and knowledge as I serve in this role. I know it can be for you as well.

Are you going to the conference?

It’s Orange Blogger week, where tons of people who lead children’s ministry, student ministry, and family ministry in churches write about their experiences with Orange. Orange is an organization, a strategy, a team of ridiculously awesome people, and a lot more. They create curriculum and resources to help churches serve families as best they can. The Orange Conference is an annual gathering of church leaders (staff and volunteers) that includes main session speakers, tons of helpful breakout sessions, worship with 5,000 friends and a plethora of new ideas, resources and connections.


Ideas to Help Team Members Grow & Develop

teamIn a previous post I talked about a forgotten aspect of building a strong volunteer team, developing people currently on the team to help them get better. Here I’ll share some ideas for helping develop people on your team, broken down into three categories.

Meeting 1-on-1

In most cases, helping people grow and develop requires meeting with them regularly to encourage, coach, challenge and equip them. Here are some things you can do to help people develop through 1-on-1 meetings.

  • Schedule a regular meeting (monthly, bi-weekly, etc) and have it on both of your calendars. Put notes in the calendar item about what was talked about last week and what to work on next.
  • Have them take some assessments to get a better idea of how they’re wired and gifted. Assessments like spiritual gifts (here, here, here), personality profile (here, here, here, here), Leading from Your StrengthsMyers Briggs (here or here), StrengthsFinder, Right Path, or one of the great resources out there that hits much of that in one, like Chazown or Game Plan.
  • Identify a small set of goals for them to work on and check progress at each meeting. Include goals only related to their personal development.
  • Read a book together, specific to the area they want to grow in the most.
  • Have someone shadow you on a specific event or project you’re working on, so they see everything involved with how to pull it off. Talk along the way to help coach them through it.
  • Have someone sit in on a regular decision making meeting, but only to listen and observe. Decision making is a huge part of leadership, and seeing how an existing team of experienced leaders goes about it can be very helpful to developing a team member.

Meeting in a Group

Meeting with a group of team members you hope to develop is a great way to multiply your time and help everyone benefit from the input of the group (not just you). Here are some ideas to do together:

  • Use ChazownGame Plan or a custom plan you create to walk a group of people through a 6-8 week plan for development. I created a custom plan some years ago, primarily based on Chazown, that we have used and found to be pretty helpful. It was especially helpful in identifying leadership capacity in volunteers that we did not know existed. Email me if you’d like a copy.
  • Take a group of people to a training conference. That may sound expensive, but there are plenty of options that are smaller and have events all over the country.
  • For an even cheaper alternative, buy the videos from a conference and watch each session together and discuss.
  • Listen to a leadership podcast together and talk about how to apply it personally and to your ministry. I recommend the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, Catalyst Podcast, Perry Noble, and the Harvard Business Review Ideacast.
  • Bring a group of people that serve in the same ministry together to talk through issues or challenges, opportunities for improvement, and how to address them. This is a great way to organically develop leaders as you help them learn how to identify areas for growth or improvement and how to make it happen.

List of Specific Things We’ve Done

Some of the things on this list are included in the above ideas, but most of it is pretty specific and might be even more helpful. You can see the list of specific things we’ve done in the past in an old blog post here.

These could be used with volunteers or staff, and next week I’ll write about a great new resource that can specifically help with staff development.

What have you used to help develop team members?