How To Create A Volunteer Onboarding Process

Let Me Show You How to Recruit Volunteers in Church

Last year Di and I visited Crossway Church, a mega church in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It’s a superb church with a long history of serving the people of Melbourne and the nations of the world.

I think mega churches are laboratories of innovation and research who try all manner of things to see what works and what doesn’t in today’s church world. So we visit churches like Crossway to pick up ideas, observe trends and generally keep ourselves informed.

By the way, I think it would serve all pastors well if they did the same and occasionally visited a larger church on a Sunday and during the week to see how other churches go about their business.

Anyway while we were there one of the pastors told us that that 93% of their new people leave within one year if they do not start serving or join a small group.


Now that is alarming and should encourage all pastors to make serving and small group involvement a huge priority.

You can boost serving in your church with a simple four step volunteer onboarding process:

  1. Recruit
  2. First serve
  3. Train
  4. Empower

Let’s add some meat to these bones.

How To Create A Volunteer Onboarding Process

Recruitment Phase

An annual recruitment drive is an excellent means of not only celebrating the work of your volunteers and inspiring your current workers it enables you to recruit new volunteers.

Also it gives your current volunteers an opportunity to try something new.

Here’s some key elements of an annual recruitment drive:

Conduct it over two weekends

Preach on serving

Get your small groups to discuss serving

Get volunteers to share their serving stories

Highlight unsung heroes

Train your current volunteers to recruit their friends with a ‘tap on the shoulder’ approach

In each service ask everyone to fill out the Opportunity to Serve form

You may want set up information booths in your foyer with details of various opportunities

How Can You Motivate Your People To Serve?

In today’s urbane world it is unlikely that a simplistic “you must serve because Jesus gave His all for you” approach will suffice when recruiting people to volunteer and serve in your church.

While challenging people to follow Christ in wholehearted service is an excellent foundation, it needs to be coupled with a skilled leadership that understands what motivates people.

Let’s consider a couple of contemporary theories of motivation.

McClelland’s Theory of Needs

McClelland’s theory of needs is helpful when considering how to motivate people to volunteer and serve in your church.

These three needs are identified as:

Need for achievement          drive to succeed and excel

Need for power                     desire to be influential and change the behavior of others

Need for affiliation                desire for close interpersonal relationships

When people in your church volunteer in teams and see significant results they these 3 aspects of McCleeeland’s theory kick in.

Therefore, it’s important to remember to integrate new volunteers successfully into teams and also continually remind your volunteers of the fruit and impact of their labours.

Motivation will rise as you align your words and actions with these fundamental needs of people.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory

This theory proposes that you tend to decrease motivation when you introduce extrinsic rewards for work that previously was intrinsically rewarding due to the pleasure associated with the work.

In other words,  volunteers’ motivation decreases when they get paid or are given a bonus for something they used to do because they just loved it.

While this sounds counterintuitive, author Daniel Pink clearly explains this theory of motivation in his New York Times bestseller book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Pink states that people are more highly motivated by three intrinsic and internal factors rather than extrinsic, outward ones. These are:

Mastery                 urge to get better and better at something that matters

Purpose                yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

Autonomy             desire to direct our own lives

When you align your recruitment with excellent training (mastery), your overarching vision (purpose) and healthy delegation (autonomy) you will motivate people to serve.

As you tap into these God-given intrinsic motivations, you can actually develop highly motivated people without the burden of a substantial payroll.

First Serve Phase

A First Serve is an excellent way to recruit people who lack confidence in their ability or who are uncertain where they want to serve.

A First Serve is a one off, low risk opportunity to try something such as youth ministry or media productions. It’s a tried and true method of taste and see.

WARNING: First Serve only works when you have a diligent evaluation system in place that ensures the First Server is followed up and has a chance to debrief on their First Serve.

If it worked then offer them ongoing involvement.

If the First Serve didn’t work out, offer them another First Serve in a different department.

Keep trying until you find their right fit.

Training Phase

Training is vital in any volunteer onboarding process. I think the best style of training is hands on with experienced volunteers using a show and tell method.

Show and tell training involves four simple steps:

  1. Demonstrate what you want them to do.
  2. Ask them, “What did you see?” Now you know what they didn’t see and therefore don’t know.
  3. Get them to lead another trainee robotically through the activity giving them precise instructions as to what they are to do. Now you are testing their knowledge.
  4. Tell them to do it while you observe. Now they experience it and act out what they have seen and been told.

Empowerment Phase

Release them to get on with the role without breathing down their neck while providing support, encouragement and coaching.

So there’s a simple volunteer onboarding process that will enhance your volunteer pathway.

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