I’m convinced that volunteers represent a sleeping giant in most churches. You’ll never embrace God’s vision for your church without mobilizing volunteers. In most churches, you have ready-to-go volunteers looking to serve if you give them the opportunity. In fact, our greatest need in churches today is for people to find their niche and use their God-given SHAPE (Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences) to serve Jesus by serving others.
A Gallup poll I read a few years back showed that only 10 percent of church members were active in ministry. The same poll showed that 50 percent of people won’t volunteer in your church no matter what you do.
However, the other 40 percent would serve if they were given that opportunity. That’s why I think it’s so important to look at obstacles that stand in the way of engaging more people in the ministry of our churches.
I’ve found that most churches spend too much time training volunteers before they get started. It’s an obstacle that’s stunting their ability to mobilize volunteers.
Please don’t misunderstand me: training is important, but you don’t need to load people up with too much training, and here’s why:
- You’ll wear people out. It may seem like it’s a good idea for volunteers to go through a robust training process before they get started, but that isn’t beneficial long-term. After a few weeks, many volunteers will grow tired of giving up a considerable amount of time before they can start making a difference.
- People learn best when they’re already serving. Training is helpful, but the best learning happens once people begin to serve. We want people to dive in and get all wet. Then they are highly motivated to learn how to swim!
- People don’t know the right questions to ask before they get started. Your volunteers don’t know what they don’t know before they start serving. Plus, if you’re mobilizing volunteers without a church background, they will have little context for what they must know before they serve.
So how do you train people without requiring a huge time commitment upfront? You train people while they’re serving. Jesus did on-the-job training—just read the Gospels. He didn’t require a long time of training before he sent the disciples out to serve others. He trained them while they were doing ministry.
Here’s a simple training process that works in just about any setting, including preparing people to serve in your church. (It also works in families as you help your children learn and grow!)
- You do it. You can’t lead people to do anything you’re not doing. Your training begins with the trainer being an active practitioner.
- You do it, and they watch. You do the ministry as those you’re training watch what you’re doing. Let them see how you do it and ask questions along the way.
- They do it, and you coach them. Do the ministry with the people you’re training along with you. They will have additional questions as they begin to actually do the work, and you’ll be right there to help.
- They do it. Now that they’ve watched you do the ministry and done it alongside you, release them to do what God has called them to do.
Don’t stop your training there, though. In fact, your training should never end. For years at Saddleback, I did a monthly two-hour training for all of our leaders. We spent time in worship, recognized volunteers, and even handed out a “giant killer” award to honor particular volunteers. Today, our individual ministries hold similar regular trainings for volunteers.
Your volunteers play an instrumental role in your church’s efforts to engage your mission. Don’t overwhelm them with endless training before they serve. They are too critical to what God has called your church to do to risk losing them!