by Michelle Romain
Volunteers are Busy
Anyone who has spent time in the Children’s Ministry knows the difficulty of having a well-attended training meeting. My experience is that twenty-five percent of your volunteers show up – the ones that are already doing it right. The other seventy-five percent that need the training do not attend. Now you have to personally contact the absentees or mail your notes to them, hoping they’ll actually read them.
In a time when baseball practice, school plays, PTA meetings, basketball games, piano lessons, doctors appointments, maintenance appointments, overtime, church meetings, board meetings, Sunday School preparation, and more are a part of our everyday lives, the last thing volunteers want in their schedule is another training meeting. As Children’s Pastors, we need to show our team that we are considerate of their time.
Alternative Approaches to Training
Communication and training are the keys to successful volunteers. As ministers, we constantly have new ideas, procedures and vision that our volunteers need to know. So, the question is not if volunteers need to be trained but how. The days of scheduling a generic training event and expecting most, or all, of your volunteers to attend is over for most churches.
Therefore, the key to providing effective training to an overbooked volunteer staff is to offer alternative approaches.
Begin to view training as small bites, instead of offering a full buffet. In other words, don’t plan on having all-departments meet each time or attempt to tell your volunteers everything you want them to know at one meeting. The following are ways to take small bites.
Weekly newsletters can be sent through mail or email. When people receive a written copy it serves as a tangible reminder that they can keep in front of them. In keeping with our idea that volunteers are busy, the best part of the newsletter is that it arrives directly to them.
When writing newsletters, it is important to be consistent. Send it regularly on the same day each week. This ensures that you write it, and volunteers expect it. Look at a weekly newsletter like a scheduled check-up to keep your team healthy.
Keep your information consistent by making a template, using the same headings each week. Layout the page clearly and creatively, allowing space between sections and keeping paragraphs short. If you have a long training article, present it in weekly segments.
Include the following in your template for weekly newsletters:
- Training: Send the newsletter to individual ministry areas, such as Elementary Sunday School teachers. This allows you to provide customized training. Training articles can be ones you write yourself or a quote from a book, or consider adding a link to an article on the web.
- Information – Include information about upcoming events for the entire Children’s Ministry. This helps create a bond among your team and enables teachers in one department to “talk up” another area. Consistently remind your volunteers of the Children’s Ministry weekly schedule, highlighting an activity or area.
- Reminders – The physics law of entropy states that “anything left to itself will disintegrate until it reaches the most elemental form.” In other words, if it is not maintained, it will fall apart. As a minister, it is important to keep your mission statement and vision in front of your volunteers on a weekly basis. If you have a theme or goals for the year, remind your team of those and how they can continue to achieve them.This is also a good place to include reminders of information you want to maintain, e.g. washing preschool toys after each service.
- Encouragement – In this section, acknowledge teachers who have shown exceptional service, such as doing something special for a child, visitor, parent, etc. Share compliments that come to you regarding the ministry.In the Old Testament, victories were celebrated by building an altar. They did this as a testimony of God’s greatness to all who passed by. It’s always a great idea to share ministry victories. Examples of these are salvation decisions and baptisms, successful events, visitors, testimonies of children’s lives, or God’s blessings of resources.
- Challenges – Challenges are two-fold. The first is to challenge teachers to grow through research and study. You might add the question in your newsletter to elementary Sunday School teachers, “If Jesus was your student, how would you have met His learning style?”The second is simply to encourage volunteers to read the newsletter. Give a trivia question, and when they can answer it, they will receive a prize. An example question is, “What are three Children’s Ministry events that will happen during the summer?”
Audio/Visual training is a way volunteers can train during their own time. Some of these are limited to your technical ability and resources.
- Record a CD or DVD of a training message. This can be your words or find a teacher training resource that you can purchase and distribute to your volunteers.
- Make a video recording of a training subject and upload your video to YouTube. Email the link to your volunteers.
- Pod Casts can be recorded and placed on your ministry’s website for volunteers to download to their devices.
- Recommend books or online articles for your volunteers to read. Include some study questions that coincide with the reading.
Director Support System
This is a great way to simplify the lines of communication for your ministry. Divide your ministry areas into smaller groups and establish a Director over each group. For example, assign a Director for babies – two year olds, three year olds – pre-k, kindergarten – second grade, and third – fifth grade.
Now when you need to train, you train the Directors, and they train their groups. Instead of contacting many individual teachers, you now only contact the Directors. In our example above, that would be four directors. This system also helps to meet specific needs of volunteers, such as different levels of experience or different learning styles.
Peer to Peer Support System
Pair teachers to stay in contact with each other. Establish guidelines to help your teachers keep each other accountable and motivated by contacting each other one time per week, praying for/with each other, discussing the weekly lesson, etc.
Arrive early enough so you can give your volunteers a personal greeting and touch base with them on any important issues. Leaders call this MBWA (Ministry By Walking Around). This personal touch allows you to minister directly to that volunteer.
Teacher Resource Room
This is a great place for teachers to view information, reminders, updates, resources, outreach materials, announcements, birthdays, or new ideas and procedures. To encourage volunteers to visit the room, serve refreshments or offer contests such as door prizes for those who come by to your Teacher Resource Room.
Repetition is one of the best ways to learn. The best training can go by the wayside if there is no follow up or consistency. Provide symbolic tokens to teachers that keep your theme, mission statement, vision, and requirements in front of them. Examples include printed bookmarks, pens, buttons, badges, posters, etc.
When training, listening is just as important as it is to teach. Offer questionnaires once a year that give teachers an opportunity to express their thoughts, needs, and ideas for the ministry. The questionnaire can contain questions that lead the teacher to think about their own service more deeply such as, “How many hours a week do you prepare for your lesson?” or, “How many students do you contact per week on an average basis?”
Incentives are one of the best motivational tools. Make a short list of requirements you would like to see your volunteers accomplish such as calling their students during the week, visiting your Resource Room, wearing their nametag, or recruiting other teachers. Give them points to earn rewards for these.
The Meeting that Doesn’t Feel Like a Meeting
If you must have a training meeting, make it not feel like a meeting. The following suggestions will motivate volunteers to set aside the time to attend:
- Dreaming Session – Instead of having a “training” meeting, have an enrichment, brainstorming, dreaming, or vision meeting. These sessions give volunteers ownership and value as their input is heard.
- Be Prepared – Do your research and plan meetings that are creative, motivational, and relative. A great meeting will be an encouragement for volunteers to come to the next one. As you speak, be visionary and bigger than life. A technique salespeople use is to “assume the sale.” For a Children’s Pastor, this means to state your goals and assume the accomplishment, using proactive statements, such as “We will…” and “We can…” Keep the meetings fresh by planning the unexpected with a surprise speaker or activity.
- Inspiring of Excellence – Help volunteers understand the importance of their ministry. It is a life-saving job! Doctors, policemen, and fireman save physical lives; children’s workers help save spiritual lives! Understanding this will help volunteers pursue excellence and challenge them to uphold their commitments. A great tool to inspire excellence is the testimony of other volunteers.
- Assessing Progress – Portray a realistic picture of how the ministry or their particular area is doing. Compare this to your mission statement, vision, and goals. Give standards that will help them assess this progress and discuss plans for necessary changes.
- Make It Accessible – When the reasons for not attending a meeting are removed, then the turnout will be better. Try these simple ideas to help accommodate volunteers schedules:
- Offer childcare
- Plan the meeting during mealtime and serve a meal.
- Meet when volunteers are already at church. For example, meet with your Sunday school teachers during the Wednesday night service.
- Remember to only plan information that applies to everyone.
- Be Appreciative – Show your volunteers you care by taking the extra step to express your appreciation. Give them a hand-written note. It’s easy to discuss the changes that need to be done, but remember to also talk about what is going well.
- Ministering Reminder – Remind volunteers of the need to serve out of love for God and a desire to bring glory to Him. Challenge them to line up all they do with the Word of God, including their preparation. Encourage them to understand the importance of prayer in their ministry.
Being a Children’s Pastor is a calling to lead children, parents, and volunteers. As you continually grow in learning how to do this, keep Galatians 6:9 before you, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if…we do not give up.”
This article is from INCM’s It Worked for Us: Best Practices for Ministry with Children and Families.Be watching for our new book highlighting Special Events. Coming soon! You can pick up your copy at CPC 2011.
Michelle is a speaker and writer for Children’s Ministry. She is the author and creator of Shapin’ Up Fitness Camp, a Bible-based health and nutrition program for children. As a former Children’s Pastor and with over 20 years experience in Children’s Ministry, Michelle’s passion is for kids to love God with all of their heart, mind and body. Michelle has three children and lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, Denny.