3 Secrets to Get Church Volunteers Engaged in Training

Engagement has always been the engine of church growth. In the past, people engaged with their church body at a church building. That engagement usually pivoted on worship services as the central engagement event. Other engagement tools included Sunday School (before the Sunday service), midweek ministry (music, prayer, children’s ministry activities, etc), outreach events, and training activities.

Life was great, if not overly busy, for ministry leaders during those days. If you could plan a worthwhile ministry activity and let people know about it, most of the time you’d have a decent turnout.

The formula was simple:
Ministry Activity + Announcements = Engagement

Many churches are still doing their best to milk this formula for all its worth. And, granted, some of those churches are succeeding, but even those churches are finding that the formula doesn’t yield the same results it did a decade ago.

The Nature of Engagement is Changing

People are the same today, but the way they engage has changed drastically. The local church used to be the central hub of a community. Sure, there were other things to do during the week like little league games and school plays and the occasional concert. But the church was a weekly source of something wholesome to be involved in. Engaging with your church’s activities was easy and positive.

Engagement is changing because people’s options are changing. As communities grow, those people have more options for things to do. Those growing communities aren’t built around a central hub; it’s more like a spiderweb of loosely connected venues. And those venues engage people first online before getting people to engage in person. I can’t remember the last time I went to a concert that I didn’t hear about online, research online, and buy a ticket for online.

Carey Nieuwhof has been writing about the changing nature of engagement in ministry for a while. He predicts that engagement will drive attendance, not the other way around. He warns, “If you want to see your church grow, stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people.”

Training Engagement is No Stranger to this Challenge

If getting people to attend a high-energy worship service with great music and relevant preaching is difficult, then it’s downright impossible to get people to get a decent turnout to “boring training events”. Ministry leaders have worked hard to make training more fun, but most of those efforts have been more like putting lipstick on a pig.

Our people have caught on. They know that the free lunch after church is going to be about diaper changing and the two-adult policy with minors. Their other options are going to the beach with their family or watching the game or getting a nap after a long week. We can’t really blame them for skipping the training lunch for something more fun when their weeks are mostly filled with work, commuting, chores, and endless sidelines at kids sports.

That’s why I created TrainedUp. Getting people to show up at training events is way more difficult than it used to be…and it was never really that easy to begin with.
Often we respond to the challenge of low training engagement by making training optional or doing away with it altogether. That only leads to unprepared volunteers, which leads to confusion and frustration for everyone, which leads to higher volunteer churn, which leaves your team both understaffed and underequipped.
That’s a nightmare situation for a volunteer-dependent organization like the local church.

Three Secrets to Get Your People Engaged in Training

What I’m about to share with you is something I should have been talking about sooner. Honestly, I didn’t know they were secrets. I discovered these truths when I was young in ministry and solving my own training challenges.

Also, these secrets aren’t tricks or tactics. They’re little-known truths that will change how you make training decisions in your ministry. You can take these truths and apply them a thousand different ways.

Secret #1: People are the most open to training when they join your team.

The best time to train people is when they join your ministry team. You’ll always have the most engagement in training in the first two weeks from when someone signs up to serve. After that, it becomes much harder to get them to participate in training.
New volunteers assume there’s going to be things they need to learn. In fact, they WANT to learn what that need to know so they can be helpful and not be a burden. Many people have actual fear of showing up to serve and not know what to do. That fear might even stop people from showing up.
That means your onboarding process for new volunteers must include all the critical training you need a volunteer to know. If you don’t train them when they join, they will likely not be fully and properly trained ever.

Of course, doing onboarding training would be tough if you only did training with meetings. Instead, use video. When new volunteers join your team, send them a link to the training they need complete in their first week. They’ll have the confidence of showing up fully prepared for their new role.

Secret #2: People are choosing on-demand over live more than ever.

On-demand is winning over live experiences. YouTube dominates online video. Netflix is beating television and making movie theatres hurt. My wife shops online for groceries and then picks them up when she has time. TrainedUp’s lead developer learned everything he knows through online, on-demand courses, not in live college classes.

People have begun to expect on-demand experiences over live whenever it’s possible. That expectation absolutely applies to your training. Your people know that training doesn’t have to happen in person. Most of them have taken some form of training online, whether it’s a driving class, a college class, a DIY home repair course, or a course about Google Sheets.

You can provide your training on-demand, too. You don’t have to hold meetings to train your volunteers anymore. Instead, use video. Let people watch your training videos on their own schedule.

Secret #3: People are more guarded with their time than ever because they have less of it than ever.

This one is less of a secret and more of a reminder. As family schedules fill up with piano lessons and school sports and homework and quality time with family, your training meeting is getting bumped down the priority list. The reason is that your hour-long training meeting is really 2 hours of their time.

It involves driving to the meeting, attending the meeting, chit-chatting after the meeting, and driving home from the meeting. Boom, 2 hours are gone in a week that’s already packed with events on their calendar.

But here’s the upside of that truth. You can take less time to train people. It doesn’t need to take an hour. It doesn’t require driving to the church building. It won’t take them hours.

Instead, use video. You can keep training succinct and quick. It shouldn’t take more than 20-30 minutes to fully cover everything you need to say. That means you’ll cut their commitment from 2 hours to 30 minutes, giving them back the time they cherish. And your team will appreciate you making their time a priority.

About Scott Magdalein

Scott Magdalein is the founder of TrainedUp. Previously, he worked as project manager for YouVersion and Church Online, a software developer at Treehouse, a digital director for an ad agency, and as an Executive Pastor in multiple local churches. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife and three kids.