How do you onboard a new volunteer? We know that if you don’t welcome and guide a new volunteer in your Youth Ministry or Children’s Ministry well, they will likely not last. So if it’s time for you to up your onboarding skills, then give this episode a listen.
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Brian Lawson: 0:00
Youth Ministry Institute original podcast. Welcome to the Making Sense of Ministry podcast, the podcast designed to help you lead well in your ministry, transform lives and impact generations. I’m Brian Lawson, back again with Kirsten Knox hey, kirsten.
Kirsten Knox: 0:18
Hey Brian, hey everyone.
Brian Lawson: 0:20
So we are right in the middle of season five, which is all about volunteers, which reminded me, kirsten, that I first got into youth ministry because I was asked to volunteer. But what’s so interesting about my asked to volunteers? I did not grow up in church. I had no idea what youth group was, I didn’t know what this thing was, and I had just started coming to this church, brand new in faith. And this guy comes over and says hey, I’ve got some teenagers. You want to come help hang out with us and help us out? And I said okay.
Kirsten Knox: 0:57
So wait, your first time volunteering. You had never experienced youth group before.
Brian Lawson: 1:03
Never, not once. I didn’t even know what youth group was.
Kirsten Knox: 1:06
Oh, that’s funny.
Brian Lawson: 1:07
Now there was a time when I was about 15 or so that I went, maybe went to church just a little bit, and I guess I guess that would have been a youth group ish. But it’s nothing like what I have now understand youth group to be. So I’m not sure that I’ve really classified as youth ministry, youth group, as we understand it. So anyways, yeah, so for the most part, yeah, I had no clue, no idea, I didn’t really know who the guy was, I just was willing, I guess.
Kirsten Knox: 1:37
Yeah, I was gonna say why’d you say yes?
Brian Lawson: 1:39
you think in that moment, Because I was young and didn’t really you know. I was like sure, why not, let’s see what this thing’s all about. So I had no idea what I was saying yes to and I, when I showed up, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Like I had no clue. I was just there and I observed for a little while and jumped in when I could, and I think it helped that I was young. I was kind of closer to their age. That probably made it easier for me. But, that’s not always true with our volunteers.
Kirsten Knox: 2:11
Brian Lawson: 2:11
They’re not always close to the to their age, they’re not always as willing, or maybe naive, as I was I don’t know, you choose the word and so oftentimes they’re intimidated, or or afraid, yes fair. Yeah, I don’t think I was afraid. I was too young to be afraid at that point in time. But if I was to like go in a situation where somebody asked me to volunteer with something that I had never been to before now, I think I would probably be a little more hesitant and unsure and uncertain. So, Kirsten, did you volunteer? I was trying to think.
Kirsten Knox: 2:48
I was like well, the first time I started was probably paid because I started right after I graduated college. However, there was a season in my mid-20s when I worked at one church and when I started helping, we started doing events with this other church and most of the volunteers there became like my friends. They were my age, so those are the people like became my community, also on off nights, because they met on a different night. I would actually, for a while, volunteered their youth ministry because it was a different night than my youth ministry and all my friends were part of that ministry.
Brian Lawson: 3:22
So wait, wait, wait, wait. Let’s hold on. Let me just clarify you were a paid youth minister.
Kirsten Knox: 3:28
Brian Lawson: 3:29
At one church and then you had another night volunteered as a leader in another youth ministry at another church.
Kirsten Knox: 3:36
I did yes, yes, sure. So we were on competition with one another right.
Brian Lawson: 3:43
I was like we’re all on the same team but this is a pretty good setup, maybe we’re on to something here Like maybe we all just volunteer for each other’s ministries and we help fill the gap. Yes, there you go. Probably, probably not healthy for us, but yes.
Kirsten Knox: 4:00
It’s probably on some. Yeah, I volunteered. I felt like I was hanging out with my friends but yes, looking back, that probably does I’d say that out loud and that feels different, but it felt normal at the time.
Brian Lawson: 4:13
And that that youth minister was probably like I’ve struck gold here. This is the best.
Kirsten Knox: 4:19
And then we started doing things with our youth groups together and, yeah, it’s funny, that is funny.
Brian Lawson: 4:25
I did not know that, wow, so okay. So you probably had some idea what you were doing, at least a little bit. I mean, you were young, right? You’re still growing and developing and understanding of ministry. But you had some idea of the overall goal. I walked into my situation having no idea what the goal was and in fact for a while I think I thought we were just playing games and spending time, you know like not really even trying to achieve anything really and so little different experiences. So we have to recognize that, that our volunteers come from a variety of different places in their life and different expectations and they may come into the ministry understanding but most often they don’t.
Kirsten Knox: 5:13
Yeah and if they, and if they do understand, they probably are bringing in whatever their experience was like in youth ministry. So if they were part of a student ministry, what was valuable to them? So on some levels, even bringing in, they may have some ideas, but there’s also probably some reshaping. That happens when you so, yeah, either they’re clueless, right, they have no experience, or they come in kind of sometimes with their own values and maybe agenda on some cases.
Brian Lawson: 5:41
Yeah, and that’s also true for those in kids ministry as well. I mean, they’ve got an expectation of like, maybe, what Sunday school was like for them 30 years ago or more, depending on how old they are. And we all know the world has changed dramatically, the church has changed dramatically, ministries, how we do ministry has shifted.
Kirsten Knox: 5:57
So even if they do have experience from a long time ago in those expectations, it’s it from a whole different world right yeah, which really just speaks to the value of Creating a process for onboarding, like, how do you do that when you have people and what does that look like? Which is great, because that’s what we’re gonna talk about today.
Brian Lawson: 6:16
Yeah, yeah. And if you missed episode Five, I would encourage you to go back and listen to episode five. In that episode of the season we talk about the documents that you need, the types of documents that you need. That will help eliminate frustration for you as a ministry leader. But in this episode we’re really kind of lean into what does the process look like of Acclimating a volunteer to the new role into the ministry. Imagine landing your dream ministry role or engaging with a community of other youth and children’s ministers as you learn practical tools and Enriching insights together. Whether you are looking for your next ministry job or you are looking for ways to grow your skills as a leader, we have opportunities for you. Head over to ym Institute, com to learn more. And now Back to you. So Kirsten did. Did you have like a checklist process that you like here, step one, step two, like are you that organized where you’ve got the workflow of exactly how they’re gonna do it every single time? No, I did not. I Particularly once they said yes.
Kirsten Knox: 7:23
Right, because depending on what they said yes to and their personality and their experience level. I found in that there was a lot of Flexibility and it was very individualized, based on that individual. So I did not Brian to do have a so process, not officially, but there was a point where the ministry started to get larger and I needed some systems. So I think maybe it’s contextual, based off the same.
Brian Lawson: 7:51
So I think that’s a good point. I think that’s a good point and I needed some systems. So I think maybe it’s contextual, based off the size of kids ministry or youth ministry that you’re serving in. If it’s a little smaller, it’s easier to manage and be more flexible. But eventually, if you get to a certain size you have, you probably have somebody else helping you manage that onboarding process and you need to make sure that they have all the steps that they need to follow. Yes so it does become a little more systematized. So you don’t miss out. So I so no, most of time I did not have an exact process. I played it case by case basis, based off, like you said, the role that the person is going to go into and also, how did I feel like they understood when we had conversations, that they really understand what we were trying to accomplish, and if, if I felt like they had a real good grasp, I probably would Shortcut some of the process a little bit. I’m not sure that always worked out the best though, like maybe it was good, maybe it wasn’t, yeah, I don’t, I don’t know, but I think in this, in this episode, like we’re gonna try to highlight Some key pieces, right, some things that we saw that worked. That may be helpful to our listeners.
Kirsten Knox: 9:10
Yeah, I Would say the first thing that I learned and it probably is real simple is introducing them, like when they said yes and they come for the first time. I did not do that well in the beginning and I realized I Like it’s real awkward. They’ve shown up as students, are like there’s this new adult, or maybe there’s new, several adults being on what season, you know Like what time of year it was. But being able to introduce them and so that help them make some of those connections Was key so when you say introduce them was what does that mean?
Brian Lawson: 9:42
Like you, you stood them up in front of all the young people and said, hey, here’s so-and-so, they’re gonna volunteer with us. Like how was your introduction? Would that look like?
Kirsten Knox: 9:50
yeah, it would depend one what their role was so for. But usually when they came for the first, like when the first night started, and they show up, I would walk them around and introduce them to students like, hey, this is Johnny starting with us, just want to make sure you guys know me is blah, blah, blah and maybe say something fun about him. And so there was more of that informal. Or Then, later in the night, when we got to more of the programming side, we were on stage to be able to say, hey, I just want to introduce and we would like at the beginning of year you did that with all your small group leaders- yeah. So if it happened throughout, then we would just say, hey, we just want to welcome so excited John’s gonna be one of our adult leaders. Blah, blah, blah.
Brian Lawson: 10:26
So did you make them stand up in front of everybody? That’s I’m asking this for. Yes.
Kirsten Knox: 10:30
That’s yes. Sometimes, yes, it depends on different ministries I served in where. If it, yeah, I would bring them up.
Brian Lawson: 10:39
Yeah, so probably yes that’s okay, yes, and the introverts and listening to this all just cringe like no.
Kirsten Knox: 10:49
I would make them speak, so that I would oftentimes do a lot of the talking for them.
Brian Lawson: 10:52
That’s good so. I think, I would introduce them to and I love your that. You mentioned about informally introducing them to people, and that is key, I think, and knowing who to introduce them to. So you want them to. Obviously, it know all of the other adult leaders and volunteers, that is for certain. You need to introduce them, but also the key young people or the key families, the ones who you know who influence all of the others in the best yes, the best kind of influence. Those are the introductions you definitely want to make, because when a young person’s like, hey, who is that? Well, the one you’ve introduced back, oh yeah, that they’re here to, they’re starting to volunteer, and then it’s done right, this conversation over, they can move on and all is good. But I would not. I never made my volunteers come up on in front, although I would yeah, I’d say their name and let them away from the back of the room or or the side of the room or wherever they were. Usually, if they’re new, they were where’s the side or back, because they weren’t fully engaged yet. But yeah, so introductions are important. I think we can easily easily overlook, overlook that one.
Kirsten Knox: 12:05
I think I started because I wanted the adult to feel more Comfortable, but what I recognized, it really made students also feel more comfortable. And that was a game that I didn’t always understand until it, because kids were like who is this? Yeah, yes, introduction seems simple, but I think it’s important to set the tone.
Brian Lawson: 12:22
Yeah, I think. For me, the introduction was usually about the the people in the room knowing who that person was, mm-hmm. So it’s interesting to say that you started because you wanted the volunteer to feel comfortable. Yeah the new volunteer. So it’s really both of those things happening, but we started in different places to get to how that introduction was important. So that’s good. You know I also. One of the things that I found helpful was to integrate the new volunteer into my team as soon as possible. So, you know, even even at times before they came to our main programming, so they may have come there were times where I would let somebody come to observe and kind of get a feel for what it’s like. If they were kind of feeling uncertain about whether they wanted to commit or not, or they were like me and didn’t even know what youth group was right. So maybe maybe they come in and observe or see pieces of it in action, or I’ve even let them volunteer on like a, like a trip or something small that’s in town, where they don’t they don’t play a super critical role, but it’s enough to give them a taste of what it’s like. But once, once they’ve gotten to that point and they’ve said yes, then in my mind I want to make them feel part of the team and the family of the team as quickly as possible, not just like I’m an outsider coming in, but we. I’m now part of the we in this state.
Kirsten Knox: 13:52
Brian Lawson: 13:53
Yes, so the sooner I could do that, the better I felt like.
Kirsten Knox: 13:57
Yeah, speaking to that belonging right that you belong. How would you do that Like? How would you help them feel a part of the team?
Brian Lawson: 14:04
Yeah, so we, we had trainings regularly and so we’re going to hit that another episode and we’ll go down that path. But getting them into those trainings, and every time my team met we did something fun every time. So whether it was fun as in we had to go somewhere at fun, or we did something there together where we were meeting, like on campus or whatever. But if you can laugh together and and you know hear one another, it goes a long way. Because as an adult, let’s be honest, how many places can you go and I don’t know flip cups on a table and joke around and laugh like that? I mean, most places that adults go to do that usually has adult beverages as well. So, I mean, how many places do adults nowadays get to really do that? And so it really builds that team.
Kirsten Knox: 14:56
Yes, I do. You can laugh together. There’s a unity and laughter that I think is so fun and valuable in that space.
Brian Lawson: 15:03
Yeah, so, kirsten, we you’ve introduced them. From my perspective, I try to integrate them into the team as fast as possible. What are other things that you found helpful when you’re trying to help that new volunteer feel comfortable and engaged and moving forward?
Kirsten Knox: 15:21
I would give them something to do Like particularly most youth ministries that I serve in. There’s like a hang time or, in the beginning right, some free time, and I always felt like that’s where I could lose them, because if you don’t have a job, that feels very intimidating and overwhelming. And so giving them something to do in that space, whether they help checking students, or they helped serve dinner, like whatever needed to happen, or helped at the four square core, you know, whatever that was.
Brian Lawson: 15:51
As we learned in episode five, helping at the four square court, where they all argue about who’s in and who’s out.
Kirsten Knox: 15:57
It’s very valuable. Think of it careful, because not everyone likes to be the referee in that space, but giving them something tangible to do and not just feel like they have to hang out. I felt like that was also, like that was key of being able, and I probably learned that through feedback. People you know you’re like, hey, you want to come hang out with us and they’re like, yeah, what does that really mean?
Brian Lawson: 16:19
What is it?
Kirsten Knox: 16:20
So what am I supposed to do?
Brian Lawson: 16:22
So they had the job that they did, that they did that night. Did they stay in that role? Or was it something you just gave it to them one time and then the next week maybe you changed it or kind of moved them to different places? How did that generally work?
Kirsten Knox: 16:35
I usually would move them, or I would move them around If I felt like they had skills to be able to do that, or if they were more like in one area, like I would try to put them in an area that I felt like leaned into their gifts. So would move them around because, like, when we’re doing that time, you want to spread out your adults, so you have adults everywhere, right, and so I usually assign adults to different spaces. All right, so you’re going to be here, you’re going to be here, so we know that everything’s covered and we have eyes, like in being able to connect with students. So sometimes I would put them usually in an area and say, okay, here’s, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish here. And I had one time out of this adult that was super, she loved just connecting. Like if she could sit and have one conversation with a student, she’d feel like she’d won the lottery. So I’m like, okay, so your job during dinner is just to sit around tables and talk to students, and that’s what she did and I mean I was like she loved it.
Brian Lawson: 17:31
So hers is the best job in the world.
Kirsten Knox: 17:33
Yeah, like I never moved her because like she would have felt like I had taken something from her. So she’s like, during the same time, your job is to hang out in the cafe and just have conversations one-on-one.
Brian Lawson: 17:42
She’s like, yes, yeah, and I love this idea of and I would do the same putting a new adult leader into a role to explore whether it fits them or not and give them opportunities to be in different spots, potentially especially early on as they’re trying to find their way. I also love the idea of putting them in a role that is meaningful, that they can find meaningful, but also isn’t detrimental if it doesn’t go well. So that way. that way they can learn and grow and feel more confidence, like to build their confidence, because that’s really what we’re trying to do. We want to make the volunteer feel comfortable, to feel like they’re part of the group and to build confidence in themselves and their ability to serve in the ministry. So I mean practically like small groups. For instance, if they’re potentially going to be a small group leader not being the lead person in the small group Just let them be there as the second adult who’s there for safety reasons and we’ll engage with kids some and learn and observe. That’s a good way.
Kirsten Knox: 18:46
Yes, and I’ve learned too, like if they’re that second person, then to tell them what their role is as that second person. Right, you’re going to help sit, not next to the other leader. Right, sit with the students, help do some crowd control while they’re having small groups. So, like they felt like, okay, I have something to do, versus just sit here, and I found also being able just to articulate. This is overwhelming and can feel intimidating.
Brian Lawson: 19:08
Kirsten Knox: 19:09
Like I think naturally most people feel that way and if we don’t speak it, then they feel like they’re unique in that, like they’ll look around and be like look at all these volunteers that feel so confident. I’m the one that struggles like feeling overwhelmed and I found no, we all like we all. For us. When everyone started, it felt intimidating, and some of us still. There are moments of it being intimidating, depending on what’s happening. So being able to speak, that, I think, helped them feel like oh okay, this is normal.
Brian Lawson: 19:39
Yeah, yeah, another. Another thing too that I found helpful was I would try to pull them into the game or Like that. We’re doing it at youth group that night, so I don’t know if you were somebody who played games or or if you’re the leader who just runs the game and never plays the game. You know, I was a little bit of both, depending on what the game was in the night, and sometimes I would. Other leaders would leave the game and I would be there. So I would intentionally pull them, if I could almost like pulling them beside me, shoulder to shoulder, into the game, whatever it is, especially if I felt like there was somebody who would respond well to that my goals to get them to see that they can relax a little there and to and to have some fun also that to be a reserve and it’s also fun, and it’s both, and that’s okay.
Kirsten Knox: 20:30
Yes, we hope right we for this to work. You’re gonna have to experience both of them. Yeah being the scorekeeper always helped in that space, too, part of the game. Because I Can’t run a game and keep the score, because I will flip that up and then I will hear about it From the students, right? Yeah so, like that was the other, can you help, like pull them in and then help them do something that helps actually Facilitate that game so they get to be a part of it?
Brian Lawson: 20:55
Yeah, and something happens. I think in the trust level that young people have with adults when they see an adult who’s willing to get down and play with them. Yes whatever that looks like and whatever age that looks like. You know you are building a connection with those young people and they’re seeing that you really care about their world. And so when you’ve done that play with them, then they’re more likely to hear you or seek you out when that something serious that they want some support in. So it’s a good way to bring in a volunteer to let them start to build that relationship. And they don’t even know that’s happening to them. They’re just doing something silly that they’ve never done before.
Kirsten Knox: 21:31
Yes, you’re like the value is much bigger than we, than they even understand in that moment.
Brian Lawson: 21:36
You’re like, yes, winning yeah, so For this episode, we hope we’ve given you some thoughts on how was the process that actually looked like to onboard. You know, we’ve both kind of mentioned kind of easing the volunteer into the role, helping them explore different possibilities, integrating them into your adult volunteer team and Young people as quickly as possible, making them feel comfortable, introducing them. All of those things are important and if you notice here so I’m not sure I didn’t realize this when we were doing this, but all of that is about helping them build confidence in themselves and the second part is to build relationships with the other people yeah those are. Those are both very critical pieces and onboarding a new volunteer. So, friends, as always, if you enjoyed this episode, if you leave us a rating or review, we’d appreciate it. Perhaps share it with others that you know. And until next time, I hope we’ve helped you make sense of this thing we call ministry. To learn more how we might guide you towards success in youth or children’s ministries, head over to yminstitute.com.