Train Every Volunteer

At a job interview, or on a first date, you know the first impression is important. It’s just as important if you want to retain that new volunteer you just recruited. What will their first impression be of the task you’ve recruited them to do?

A volunteer once told me about her first experience serving at our church, helping with Vacation Bible School snacks. The women she worked with were friendly, but more with each other than with her. They asked her to deliver the snacks to the rooms, but she had to ask them for directions to each room. They asked her to get more paper goods from the basement storeroom and that was hard to find, too. I was surprised she stuck it out all week, and more surprised that she ever volunteered again.

No volunteer should ever have such an experience. All it takes is some time and attention given to orientation and training.

Training shows a person how to do a task. Would you train someone on how to pour small crackers in paper cups? Probably not. But showing people where the rooms are and where supplies are kept is obviously necessary.  So is how to handle food allergies. Training all volunteers to be aware of, and helpful to, newcomers would have been good in this case, too. And every volunteer benefits from understanding the purpose of the ministry, and its place in the overall mission of the local church, too.


  • Can be periodic as well as initial
  • can be scheduled or ‘on demand’
  • helps both new and long-term volunteers
  • can be led by leaders or fellow participants
  • communicates new information or reinforces previous information
  • can be combined with fellowship or appreciation activities

Training can be interesting and fun. It doesn’t have to feel like being back in school. Some effective ways to train:

  • pair the new volunteer with an experienced partner
  • written instructions
  • audio/video recordings
  • online information and assessments, yours or others
  • commercially available trainings
  • books, magazines, articles
  • conferences

Volunteers want training. They want to do the job right. They don’t want to embarrass themselves. They want a safe place to ask questions.

Training helps you, too. It reduces conflict and problems; builds teamwork and unity; increases volunteer retention and improves results. Training advances the church’s mission.

It’s an investment in the body of Christ.

rev. 1-29-17

Resources on training volunteers:

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