grow a healthy church


4 Ways to Create a Better Volunteer Onboarding Journey

How To Create A Volunteer Onboarding Process (1 of 1)

A few years ago Di and I visited Crossway Church, a megachurch in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, to discover what they were doing with volunteer onboarding, small groups, and more.

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 that try all manner of things to see what works and what doesn’t in today’s church world.

We visit churches like Crossway to pick up ideas, observe trends, and 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.

volunteer onboarding

Anyway while we were there one of the pastors told us this stunning fact.

93% of new people leave within one year if they do not start serving or join a small group

Crossway Pastor


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

It is also worth noting volunteers tend to see their volunteering as an act of generosity. Mobilizing people to serve in your church increases their generosity, enhances spiritual growth, and helps you grow a healthy church.

volunteers onboarding process
Barna Research

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 of a volunteer onboarding checklist.

1. Recruitment Well

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 allows your current volunteers to try something new.

Here are 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

You may want to set up information points in your foyer with details of various opportunities.

Give people a chance to do a first serve which is an easy entry point into serving.

In each service ask everyone to fill out your Volunteering Opportunity form.

Use our template to produce a simple and effective Volunteer Opportunity form.

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All these elements help build an excellent volunteer onboarding experience.

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 skilled leadership that understands what motivates people.

Always remember people prefer to serve in a way that utilizes their inherent gifts and passions.

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 these 3 aspects of McClelland’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 to volunteer will rise as you align your words and actions with the fundamental needs of people for mastery, purpose, and autonomy.

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 develop highly motivated people without the burden of a substantial payroll.

2. Give People a First Serve Opportunity

A First Serve is an excellent way to recruit people who lack confidence in their ability or who are uncertain about 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 that ensures the First Server is followed up and has a chance to debrief on their First Serve.

If it works 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 the right fit.

During the recruitment drive, it is vital to use an opportunity form.

volunteer onboarding

3. Training Phase

Training is vital in any volunteer onboarding process. It can provide orientation for volunteers and also welcome volunteers into a team.

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.

4. Empowerment Phase

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

You can boost your empowerment phase by leading an emerging leaders development group.

I have written extensively on how to run this type of group which can provide leaders for your church’s leadership pipeline.

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

Pastor you can boost the serving culture in your church

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John is a wellspring of information, experience and advice in all things church. His responses were often out of the box of what's been said before.
Ps Christie Blaikie
Oasis Church

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