Almost a decade ago I was at a conference for churches who were thinking about going multisite. It was a small gathering of about 100-200 leaders, so it felt different than a typical conference. I'm not sure how it came up, but the speaker was talking about volunteer trainings they do and polled everyone to see what kind of participation we got at training events.

The most common answer was less than 50%. In that room, the average church was getting less than half of their volunteers to show up at training events. My experience talking with most family ministry leaders is similar, with a lot of people saying about 1/3 of their volunteers show up on average.

So, what's the secret to getting better participation?

The Secret to Better Volunteer Training Attendance

There are a lot of factors involved with getting volunteers to show up at training events. Most of them are obvious, including:

  • Make training events fun
  • Tell stories to celebrate together
  • Cast vision to remind them why they do what they do
  • Feed them great food
  • Provide childcare if possible

All of that is extremely important. But, the secret, I believe, is follow up.

Why and How We Follow Up

Imagine one of your volunteers never RSVPs for your training and doesn't show up. What now? I think what happens here is key. Often times they receive no contact because we don't want to feel like we're punishing them for not coming. The problem is if we don't communicate anything, that alone communicates they were not missed. Why should they come if nobody notices if they were present or not?

We follow up differently to 3 groups of people, with one specific way geared just to them.

  • People who RSVP'd “yes”, or didn't RSVP, and came to the event. These people receive a mass email thanking them for attending and we provide any reminders or notes from the event.
  • People who RSVP'd “no” and did not show. We email these people letting them know we missed them and we give them any important information from the training.
  • People who didn't RSVP and didn't show. This is the important one. We contact them individually via email or text and simply say we missed them at the event and then we ask an open-ended question, like “Is everything okay?” By doing that, they know they were missed and we open the door to hear what happened. No matter the response, we shower them with grace. We do our best to make them feel missed, not judged.

Following up 3 different ways is not easy. It takes more time. But, in the long run, we've seen this translate into better attendance at events we do for volunteers. For us, 60% would be the low end of volunteer turnout with 70% being about the average. There's also a direct correlation between level of commitment for the role and how often they show up for trainings. But, that's a post for another day.

How do you encourage volunteers to attend training events?