Equipping Volunteers for Excellence

Imagine you had flour, sugar, baking soda, and water in front of you. What might you make? Even if you don’t bake, things like cake, brownies, bread, muffins, biscuits, cookies, and so much more might come to mind. Add some chocolate chips, and you’ve got chocolate chip cookies. Add some bananas for banana bread or sprinkles to top a cake or cupcakes. All of this mouthwatering goodness from four key ingredients. It’s amazing, really!

Now remove one of the ingredients. It’s just not the same. Remove the flour, water, or sugar, and what do you have? A mess at best. More likely, something that is simply inedible.

In many ways, equipping volunteers for excellent ministry is not much different. There are four key ingredients that ensure volunteers have the tools they need and the training necessary to use the tools well. When these four ingredients are in place, you may see increased attendance to volunteer trainings, more meaningful ministry taking place, and even increased opportunities for more people to serve in the ministry in the future. Gone will be the days of no one showing up for the training or the potential for the church to conduct the exact same training as it did in 2010 — more than ten years ago.

Are you ready to bake up something good for your ministry? Here’s what you’ll need.

1. An Invitation into the Ministry Vision and Goals

Inviting volunteers into the ministry vision can take place during a leader launch in the fall (if the church follows a school year calendar) or another appropriate time of year. Generally, this can be done as a large group or with the full volunteer team. It involves taking time for casting a vision, sharing goals, and considering how the various volunteers will help accomplish these goals. The aim is to make sure the team is all on the same page as the year begins.

It is also a good time for storytelling from the past year, sharing successes, and even naming the challenges that the team might face in the coming year. You might consider inviting staff, experienced volunteers, and possibly some children or youth to participate in the storytelling as well.

2. Sharing New Information

This is the time to share all the new things you are learning about your ministry and culture as well as any new processes you’re implementing in the ministry or the church. You might share insights from books, podcasts, blogs, conferences, and other materials you are engaging. It’s the time to gift your volunteers with brand new tools, demonstrate their use, and explain how volunteers might improve the work they are doing.

Sharing new learnings can be conducted in a large or small group. Occasionally, these training opportunities might apply to a few volunteers in one ministry but not to other volunteers in a different ministry. For example, a change to formation programs might not affect the team that helps with worship.

3. Collecting and Sharing Experiences

This is the time for your team to share what they are learning and experiencing while serving in their role in the church. This time offers members of the volunteer team a chance to share with others who are serving in a similar way. The goal is to focus on enabling volunteers to contribute what they are learning.

Again, these conversations can take place with a small group of program-specific volunteers or the whole team. A leader can guide them. You can also have volunteers come prepared to share about a specific topic.

4. Volunteer Appreciation

Demonstrating appreciation for volunteers is an important act of gratitude. It is not a recruiting opportunity. This is the time to say, “Thanks!” It’s not the time to say, “Thanks; can you help again?” When recruiting is tied to appreciation, it’s no longer an act of appreciation; it’s simply recruitment for volunteers who still need to be thanked for their previous commitment.

Appreciation at its best is done in a larger public setting. While personalized notes throughout the year are also helpful, recognizing volunteers in front of other members of the community is important. It can include highlights from the year, stories of success, the goals that have been met because of these volunteers, and people expressing their gratitude for the work and accomplishments of the volunteers. It can also involve tangible signs of appreciation, like a gift, meal, or pictures. To be successful, appreciation needs to be sincere and set aside as a special time in the life of the ministry and church.

The Importance of All 4 Ingredients

Like baking, all four ingredients are important, and leaving out or exaggerating any single ingredient can lead to volunteers feeling confused or unequipped. Imagine that only volunteers taught other volunteers, and an invitation into the purpose and goals for the ministry were never offered. Imagine never saying thanks for the impact of volunteers upon the ministry. The result is no longer sweet. But take these four ingredients and use them appropriately, and the ministry will begin to thrive in unexpected ways.

Take another moment and imagine that these four ingredients are just a part of how you train and equip volunteers. What might your ministry look like if you incorporate all four into your volunteer training? When volunteers help the church or ministry accomplish its goals, the goals will be new next year. The experiences of volunteers in each position will be evolving year to year, and the things ministry leaders and teams need to learn will be different year to year. This approach to equipping volunteers leads to trainings that are new and fresh each year. The trainings will reflect the growth in the ministry over time and help set the trajectory for the ministry in the year to come. Instead of repetitive, poorly attended trainings, your volunteer team will look forward to learning, growing, and witnessing the impact that each volunteer’s time will have.

Volunteer Training Planning Worksheet

To help you get started, I’ve created a worksheet that will encourage you to consider how each of these ingredients for equipping volunteers can be implemented in your programs and ministries year after year. You can access my Equipping for Excellence worksheet here.


If you need additional support with volunteers or other areas in your ministry, you can visit Ministry Architects. This organization partners with churches to help your ministry thrive with systems, personal support, and strategies that work. You can also contact Bryant Johnson by email.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles by Bryant Johnson on recruiting volunteers. You can read his first two articles at these links: “Creating a Healthy Climate for Ministry Volunteers” and “Moving from Mistakes to Success in Recruiting Volunteers.”

Featured image is by Pam Menegakis on Unsplash

  • Bryant Johnson (he/him/his)

    Bryant Johnson is a Senior Consultant with Ministry Architects and has been a member of the team since 2010. Since that time, he has supported over 120 churches with many denominations and judicatories and provides support for other consultants on the Ministry Architects team. He created the Volunteer Recruitment Intensive, helped launch the Sustainable Stewardship eCourse, and hosted The Sustainable Ministry Show. He began working in ministry in 1996 in the United Methodist Church. He has been a worship speaker for summer camps, taught seminars for pastors, children’s directors and youth directors, and written curriculum for the Florida United Methodist Camping programs. Bryant graduated from Florida Southern College with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology in 1996. In his free time, Bryant enjoys all things outdoors, technology, movies, and spending time with his wife, Tonya, and two boys in Kernersville, NC.


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