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Training Rut-Busters

Carmen Kamrath

10 unique ways to train your volunteers -- without another meeting

The last time you had a training meeting, how many seats were empty? More than were filled? You may feel all alone in your training meetings, but you're not alone when it comes to your peers. Children's ministers report that one of the toughest challenges to training volunteers is getting them to actually attend training.

It's easy for leaders to resort to the comfortable old training meeting -- you know, the kind you have to bribe volunteers to attend by offering lunch, gifts, and a high-dollar guest speaker. And even with all the bells and whistles, only a handful will actually show up.

The reason they're not coming isn't you -- you really are a likable person with great information to share. Really! It's because the volunteer landscape has shifted. It's time to step out of the old, reliable training meeting and shake up how you communicate with your volunteers. Try these innovative, timesaving ideas to get your volunteers to actively participate in training -- and apply what they learn.

1. Podcasts
What it is:
A video or audio file accessible over the Internet.
How to do it: Videotape or record your training sessions, then upload them to your ministry's Web site (for podcast providers, go to www.hipcast.com, www.audioacrobat.com, or www.libsyn.com). Or do a podcast search (visit www.podcast.net, www.podcastalley.com, or www.podomatic.com for easy searches) on specific topics already offered online, and then provide a link to the specialized training you want your volunteers to view. You can also offer a wide range of topics for volunteers to customize training according to their needs or interests.
Why it works: Volunteers train on their own time. Simply keep track of their podcast training through a site login feature or an email verification at the end of the podcast that lets you know who's completed the training. Volunteers appreciate the ability to view training at their convenience and learn about the topics they're interested in.

2. Observations
What it is:
Watch your volunteers in action and give immediate feedback.
How to do it: Set up a rotation schedule and observe your volunteers in the classroom. Use a specific checklist of qualities and skills you're looking for as you observe. At the following informal review, highlight successes first, then point out areas for growth. Do this at least once per quarter, setting aside a 10- to 15-minute review time with the volunteer following your observation.
Why it works: By observing your volunteers, you provide immediate feedback on what's going well and customize training to meet their specific areas for growth -- all with one-on-one attention.

3. Kid-Friendly Fun
What it is:
An out-of-the-box field trip.
How to do it: Some of the most productive training opportunities I've experienced as a church staff member were at one church when our team got to take a yearly trip to Disneyland. We were encouraged to enjoy the park's amenities, but we were also challenged to observe the family-friendly environment and its keen commitment to customer service. The trip home was incredibly productive as we gleaned information from each other about our experiences.
You can spend the day together in a family-friendly atmosphere and then debrief your experiences.
Why it works: This can be a unique learning opportunity that'll challenge your team to reach new heights in their ministry to children while allowing them the impact of firsthand experiences.

4. DVD Demos
What it is:
A videotaped master teacher or leader in action.
How to do it: Videotape your master-level volunteers as they deliver a lesson, lead worship, or facilitate games. Then burn DVDs to give to new or current volunteers stepping into one of these key roles. Sometimes new volunteers need to watch another person in action to fully understand how to deliver a lesson and engage kids for maximum impact.
Why it works: Sometimes all it takes for people to understand how to tell an engaging story or get kids actively involved in worship is to see it effectively modeled.

5. 10-Minute Huddle
What it is:
A 10-minute tune-up before (or after) volunteers' service time.
How to do it: Often the best time to catch volunteers to deliver a quick tip or update is when they're already serving at church. Ask your volunteers to arrive 10 minutes prior to their scheduled start time for a volunteer huddle each week. This is a great window of time to give them a quick training tip, such as an attention-getter idea or a discipline tip. Then give updates for your ministry or church -- and pray together.
Why it works: Your volunteers will appreciate your respect for their busy schedules, and you'll be confident in your volunteers arriving on time for their service times.

6. Job Shadow
What it is:
New volunteers shadow someone who's been successful on the job for at least a year.
How to do it: Provide new volunteers with an outline of specific responsibilities to observe, and encourage time for your new and seasoned volunteer to meet after the shadow experience to go over any questions or concerns.
Why it works: When someone begins a new position, often the best way to learn the ins and outs of the job is to shadow someone who's currently in the position. Job shadowing is also an excellent way to train individuals to cover your position when you're away.

7. You Pick
What it is:
Customized training for a volunteer's specific needs.
How to do it: Regularly ask your volunteers in which areas they'd like training -- maybe it's how to include all kids in small group discussions or what to do when a child can't focus during the lesson. Then customize volunteer training to meet those needs.
Why it works: As leaders we often think we know what our volunteers need most, but there are times when we may be off-base as to what training they'd like. Volunteers feel valued when you meet their specific, requested training needs to strengthen their felt areas of weakness and improve their performance.

8. Sabbaticals
What it is:
For volunteers who've been around for years, offer a sabbatical period with opportunities -- expenses paid -- to seek new ideas and renew their excitement for ministry.
How to do it: Pastors often take a sabbatical to renew and grow in their pastoral position. So honor your key leaders as well by suggesting they visit other churches to get fresh ideas, give them a book you'd like them to read (then let them give a brief review to the rest of your staff), or send them to a workshop to renew their commitments and re-energize them.
Why it works: After time off, volunteers return with new ideas and renewed vision for the important role they play on your team.

9. Book Club
What it is:
For volunteers who love to read, form a book club that includes selections that'll benefit their ministry.
How to do it: Choose books specific to children's ministry or kid culture, or a popular children's book. Spend time together and converse in a casual setting, free from the pressure of a structured meeting.
Why it works: Volunteers who already love to read enjoy this style of training and will form relationships with other volunteers who share similar interests.

10. Message Board
What it is:
Provide message boards that communicate pertinent information.
How to do it: Each week provide your volunteers with pertinent ministry information and a training piece such as a magazine article, a link to a Web site that offers great ministry ideas, or a seasonal tip from you. You can also post your message board on your ministry's Web site in a password-protected area, or post copies on classroom doors for volunteers to take as they enter the classroom for the day.
Why it works: This is a great training tool that volunteers can read at their leisure. cm

Carmen Kamrath is the associate editor of Children's Ministry Magazine and has been a children's minister for more than 15 years.

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