Volunteer training … this seems to be one of the biggest problems every church tech person that I have ever talked to struggles with, and for good reason, right? It’s tough.
I completely recognize that those who want to learn a ton quickly are tougher to train, because they want to run so fast that they are hard to keep up with...
What we do looks difficult from the outside. Once someone gets started, they want to know it all. Without proper preparation on our end, it’s very hard to know where to start and what to focus on. We feel so busy leading our team, knowing that there’s no time to train other people.
In this article, I hope to explore some options that I’ve tried over my years in ministry, to help you succeed in getting volunteers trained up.
First off, we need to attract the volunteers, so how do we make things not look so difficult from the outside looking in? What I have discovered is that your equipment will play a big part in this one. I think we tend to look at gear, always wanting whatever is the biggest, baddest, and most powerful tool at the time.
How often, though, does the thought, “Will this look user friendly?” cross our mind about a piece of gear? I really mean look user friendly, not actually being user friendly, because while making sure it really is user friendly is a huge part of success in training, no potentially new volunteer will ask you if they can help out, if they look at your booth and see a audio mixing console that is bigger than they are.
My rule of thumb on whether something looks user friendly or not is super simple. I take a picture (or screenshot) and send it to a couple of my nontechy friends. I have about three or four of them on this list that I always ask about gear, so they already know what kind of answers I’m looking for, i.e., “Hey, that looks like something I could learn to use,” or “Man, that’s a whole lot of buttons”. You don’t need detailed feedback; you just need to know if it’s attractional.
The other piece of the puzzle is culture. What does the culture of your booth look like to the outsider? Is it super serious all the time? Does your team have fun together? No one wants to be a new volunteer in a place where no life is happening. Therefore, make sure as the leader of the team, that you’re building life up in the booth, as this is where people are more than likely going to interact with you for the first time, if they want to join the team.
There is something else that I’ve noticed that gets brought up a lot when I chat with other tech teams, a mentality of resistance against people who want to learn too much. This one is a bit baffling to me, because I think, who wouldn’t more help around?
I completely recognize that these people who want to learn a ton quickly are tougher to train, because they want to run so fast that they are hard to keep up with, and we already have a lot going on. At the same time, I am absolutely of the mindset that I would much rather be pulling the reins on someone who is passionate, to slow them down a little, than being forced to push someone hard, who doesn’t want to keep going.
For the people who want to get in to start learning faster than I have time for at that particular moment, I have developed a pretty simple plan and phrase, to facilitate their needs and mine. After I get their base training done, I let them have full access to the gear, as long as they will contact me or one of my team first to schedule it that time to learn on their own. After that, they can play with the gear as long as they want, to learn how that piece of gear works.
The phrase that I use that enables them to do this freely and confidently is, “There’s nothing you can do on that console, that I can’t fix.” This is a completely true statement for two simple reasons:
1. You should know your gear so well, that you can fix anything that a mid-level volunteer stumbles into messing up;
2. You have everything in templates and have external backups, right? Then just reload your settings when they’re done, letting them learn at their pace.
Another common problem I have seen others encounter, and one that I also ran into a lot in the past, was not doing any proper preparation before trainings.
Ask yourself the following: Do you have a written curriculum? Have you thought about why you do things the way you do them? What order do you need to learn things in? Is there a timetable for when someone gets to learn the next piece or hits a benchmark, before they can move on?
Each of these things are items you really need to have thought through, to develop a plan, before you step into a training time with a volunteer. Too often, the volunteers are viewed as our solution to the problem of having too much to do, but we need to make sure that we are also serving as a solution to their needs, to grow as well.
Relationships are a two-way street, and we also need to do our part in them. These are people who are sacrificing their time to come serve alongside you, so even if it takes extra time outside of your work week, to develop curriculum, written standards, goals, etc., why is that such a bad thing? We can sacrifice some time to honor their sacrifice in return.
Finally, the most common phrase I hear over and over, “I’m just so busy. There’s really no time to train other people.” This is a broken thought process.
I get it that certain seasons are busier than others, and that extra events such as trainings just can’t be fit in at those times, but you need to make sure this is being communicated and that you’re intentionally scheduling a time for volunteers as soon as possible. That even means giving them access to your schedule, to see what they’re willing to do to fit in a brief training sooner than later.
If you get stuck thinking you don’t have time to train help for too long, you’ll find that you’re going to get really hurt at some point, and then it’s a long road back from there.
I’ve been there and trust me, you don’t want to get there.
People are our number one resource, and we were never called to disciple speakers, lights, and cameras. We are called to disciple people.
So, find the time and pour into them even at the cost of neglecting the gear a for a couple of hours. I promise, it’s worth it in so many ways. You’ll be surrounding yourself with a healthy community, one where you’ll get more done, and you’ll get more time with your family.
Short-term fixes are just long-term problems that will tear you apart, so get ahead of them, before you’re trying to play catch up.