2 Keys to Retaining Church Volunteers

The challenge with recruiting volunteers is it’s not always sticky, meaning just because you’ve signed up several new volunteers doesn’t mean they’ll stick around. After learning a few lessons the hard way, I know a thing — or two — about keeping your volunteers coming back. What’s the secret to retaining church volunteers? You have to effectively onboard and train them.

Here’s how to develop a successful onboarding and training plan.

#1 – Onboarding

Before you get to the details of training for specific roles, you must first get all your onboarding to-dos checked off. Start by vetting your volunteers through background checks, interviews, and by checking references. This is especially important for those volunteers seeking to serve around children, in security roles, or with your church’s finances.

If a volunteer is given the green light, find out where their interests, skills, and availability intersect with your church’s needs. Then, assign them a role!

Once you’ve given an assignment, I highly recommend giving your volunteer a trial period of about a month. This is helpful for both you and the volunteer in determining if the role is a good fit before either of you makes long-term commitments.

#2 – Training

No matter the role, every volunteer position will require some level of training. Even if you think a job is self-explanatory, it’s important to provide clear directions so volunteers understand your expectations. If you don’t do this, things will probably not get done to your standard. Pointing out the “wrong” in their work when you never trained them the “right” way is one reason why volunteers quit. Set them up for success from the start and they’re more likely to stick around.

Working with Children

While it’s true that all roles require training, some roles will inevitably need more than others. As mentioned before, volunteers working with children, in security roles, or with your church’s finances will require extensive vetting. They will also need more specific and sensitive training. Ensuring the safety of your church members should be your top priority when recruiting volunteers. Taking the extra step to properly train them is beneficial to not only them but to the members they serve.

Tips For Your Training Program

Keep in mind, these training sessions don’t need to be lengthy and arduous, but they should happen often. Try conducting them at least once a month and provide handouts during the training for reference. It’s hard to expect anyone to remember everything you tell them, so providing documentation will help to reinforce the main points of the training. Plus, some people just learn better by reading.

Take your training program a step further by assigning each new volunteer a mentor. The mentor should be another volunteer who has served in their specific role for at least a few months. This gives the new volunteer an opportunity to get to know someone else on the team and learn from them. It also communicates to the volunteer mentor that you trust him/her to help the new volunteer succeed in this role.  This is key if your goal is to increase volunteer retention.

When it comes to retaining church volunteers, remember: nobody enjoys being recruited for a job and then not told how to properly do that job. Your volunteers have taken time out of their lives to serve their home church. Now, it’s your turn to take the time to help them help you.

For more reading on leading the volunteers in your church, check out my book “The Volunteer Management Toolkit (Church Edition).”

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