Our job as church leaders is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, according to Ephesians 4:12. There’s no asterisk in Scripture that we can skip this approach when it comes to training new volunteers in our ministry. We must walk alongside and equip our volunteers to feel both competent and confident to serve each week.
This diagram illustrates four steps to equip someone to serve in their new volunteer role.1
Consider for a moment Jesus’ relationship with the disciples. Jesus modeled how responsibility is transferred, as He rarely did the work of the ministry by Himself. Sure, He spent time alone, but when He ministered to people, His disciples were always nearby. Early on, they listened and watched Jesus, but soon He asked them to serve with Him. Jesus then flipped the script and asked them to serve while He observed and helped. And after He ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit. You see, Jesus wasn’t shirking His responsibility for the mission when He recruited and commissioned His disciples; He was sharing it.
Pairing a new volunteer with someone who has previous experience allows them to learn in real time. And if you follow these four phases, it will better prepare and help the new volunteer to serve in their role.
First, when you look at the experienced volunteer’s responsibility, you see the word “intentional.” Intentional ministry means that “I do, you watch, then we talk about it.” In each of these four steps, there is always a feedback and coaching component. For example, if I’m a kids ministry teacher and you’re new to kids ministry, I teach the class, you observe, then we talk about it.
Maybe we do that for a week or two, then we move into the second phase: Guided. During this step, “I do, you help, and we talk about it.” So I’ve moved from teaching the class each week and you watching to asking you to come alongside and help me with the Bible story and activities.
Next, we move into collaborative ministry. Here’s where we flip the script and “you do, I help, then we talk.” Now you’re primarily teaching the class, and I’m there to jump in and help as needed. When we talk, we have the opportunity to troubleshoot and discuss what’s working well and what’s not working well.
Finally, we move into the equipped phase. Now you’re doing the work. I’m just watching but am still giving you feedback. I’ve released ministry responsibility to you and now you’re able to teach the class on your own.
These four phases may take weeks or even months to complete. It really depends on the level of responsibilities and specifics of that volunteer role.
Even though equipped ministry is the last of these four phases, it doesn’t end here. Now that a volunteer has walked through this framework, they are equipped to do it again, this time with a new volunteer. A volunteer in the church nursery can develop a new nursery volunteer. A greeter can train a new greeter. A small group leader can equip a new leader to launch a new group. You get the idea. This process is scalable and repeatable.
We created a free ebook to help you onboard and train your new volunteers. You can download it here.
1. Adapted from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, Better Learning Through Structured Teaching (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2014), 3.