Why is volunteer onboarding and training so difficult?
In the book Church Unique, the author uses the analogy of a ship to describe the people in our pews. If a church is a ship, then there are four types of people on it: stowaways, passengers, pirates, and crew members.
I have adapted this analogy into a quadrant to help you categorize the people in your church. The X-axis is whether or not someone understands the vision of your church. Are they onboard or not? The Y-axis is whether or not they actively contribute to the church by using their gifts in service to Christ. While good works are not the cause of our salvation, according to Ephesians 2:10, they are a result of it. Finally, the Z-axis is the clarity of your church’s onboarding and training for volunteers. In most churches, there is often a breakdown in the communication and processes to effectively onboard, train, and equip volunteers to serve.
With these descriptions in mind, stowaways are not really on board. They don’t understand the vision and aren’t actively serving. Stowaways may be present occasionally, but they are going through the motions for the most part. They show up then go back home.
Passengers may be on board and somewhat understand the vision, but there’s not enough clarity to compel them to serve. They enjoy the amenities of the ship, but they are simply along for the ride. You may see them at a community-wide service project, but they do not regularly contribute by using their gifts in service to Christ. By providing a clearer vision and strategic onboarding and training, you have a higher likelihood of passengers responding in action as volunteers and becoming crew members.
Pirates are those who actively serve, even though they’re not on board with the vision. The problem is that their contribution does not align with the vision of the church, and any service contribution that does not align with your vision is an act of piracy. But if your church has not been crystal clear in your vision, strategy, and processes, then you can’t place all the blame on them. Like passengers, you can strategically shift pirates to become crew members by providing a clear and compelling vision as well as strategic volunteer onboarding and training to use their gifts in service to Christ. If this doesn’t lead to a shift, they may need to find a new role. Or even a new ship.
Finally, your crew members. Your crew is not only on board, but they are actively using their gifts in service to Christ. They understand your vision and can articulate it with ease. They know where your church is going and how their volunteer role helps fulfill that vision.
In my experience, churches often overestimate the number of people they have in the crew. We have unwittingly made baptism the finish line instead of the starting line and offer people a deck chair and a list of the ship’s amenities instead of equipping them to use their gifts to serve. In some cases, we have measured attendance and called it engagement, forgetting that people cannot grow into spiritual maturity apart from using their gifts in service to Christ.
We must create a clear pathway of development to onboard, train, and equip our volunteers. By doing so, we can build an army of volunteers in our churches, not just an audience of spectators in our pews.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. To help you in this process, we created a free ebook to help you onboard and train your new volunteers. You can download it here.