Your church volunteers are the heartbeat of your church.
Your church volunteers the first people new visitors see.
Your church volunteers are the last people to leave.
Your church volunteers are, head to toe, the lifeblood of the entire church experience.
And, very much like your body’s circulatory system, you want to have a healthy volunteer team.
You want church volunteers with quantifiable experience.
You want church volunteers who are reliable.
You want consistency.
You want buy-in.
You want team players.
One of the best ways to build a strong, healthy, vibrant, and attractive team of church volunteers is to implement a verification system so that you can create a team of verified volunteers.
“Verified” has become a popular concept through social media.
Volunteer verification filters out inconsistency, off-brand, poorly trained, culturally toxic elements in your team.
Volunteer verification also serves as a way to safeguard and hardwire your church’s core values in your volunteer team so that visitors and members alike have a unified church experience.
In this article, we’re going to unpack a 9-step system for implementing verification into your church volunteer strategy so that you can create a sold-out team of verified volunteers for your church who you can trust to and advance your church’s mission with every person they talk to, every pie they bake, every child they care for, every door they open, and every chair they stack.
Let’s dive right into it—a 9-step system to create a team of verified volunteers at your church.
1. Make volunteering easy
There are many ways that churches make volunteering too difficult.
Opt-ins aren’t accessible or discoverable.
Opportunities are over-guarded.
These are easy obstacles to remove.
As a church, you should be proactive about giving everyone the opportunity to serve, to find a place, to share their gifts, and to gain a sense of participation as a member of the body of Christ.
If you make volunteering too difficult, there are two likely consequences: (1) you will struggle to find sufficient manpower for your church teams, and (2) you will create a culture of in-groups that are difficult to access in the church, creating a sense of “us and them” between members and leaders.
Thankfully, this is easy to overcome.
Place a button on the primary navigation of your website that makes volunteering extremely easy. The button can say Serve, Volunteer, or Join Our Team—whatever best fits the brand and culture of your church.
Make this button highly visible.
More than that, drive people to get plugged in as volunteers by inviting members to sign up during Sunday service.
State specific program needs that people can apply for—childcare, security, greeting, chair stacking, etc. Always have a culture that communicates: “We want you to be involved! And we are serious about finding everyone a place to participate.”
Volunteering is a great way for members to feel like they really belong in your church.
Make sure that your web design, volunteer culture, and volunteer recruitment philosophy communicates that you believe every Christian has something to offer the church.
2. Use a third party vetting system
Background checks are very important.
Using a third party vetting system for background checks may sound a bit intimidating, but it’s a great way to safeguard the culture among your volunteers.
Vetting people, even in a church that wants to communicate radical inclusion, is important, because it communicates two things: (1) “We care about the safety of our volunteers so much that we want them to feel safe,” and (2) “We take church security so seriously that when you trust us to serve you, you can trust that these are safe, law-abiding, vetted people.”
Vetting can be an awkward tool for a church to implement.
However, most people are very forgiving of this process.
They understand that the desire to serve is a desire to be depended upon.
To serve is to be trusted.
This is especially important for childcare. In fact, formal background checks for any volunteers who work with children is a nonnegotiable element for any church.
This straightforwardly translates into church growth. If people don’t feel they can trust you with their kids, they won’t come to your church.
Church growth 101: If you want people to become members at your church, make child safety priority #1 for every single event, and communicate that unapologetically.
3. Train your senior leadership team in leadership
Management is a skill.
Like all skills, it must be learned.
The fastest way to build a toxic volunteer culture, and gain a bad reputation among your members, is to place an amateur with no leadership experience in a leadership role—with no mentor, no training, no guidance, and no direct oversight.
This obstacle is easily remedied.
Create a leadership training curriculum for all volunteer leaders.
Articulate a leadership philosophy that you can appeal to when you face difficult situations.
Make it abundantly clear how leaders best lead, how teams best function, and give your leaders opportunities to self-develop as team leaders, responsibility takers, and competent people-managers.
Some important management skills include dealing patiently with delays, teaching simple concepts to new learners, project management, task tracking, and the ability to set, meet, and revise key performance indicators (KPIs).
Good managers and leaders alike have a mix of analytical and interpersonal skills.
If your leaders are lacking in one area, provide them the opportunities to self-develop under the guidance of the church leadership to become more competent in that area (an opportunity to lead by example).
4. Train your volunteers in the soft skills of their job
Every volunteer will likely be doing two things at once—their actual task, and the important soft task underneath it.
For example, a church greeter’s job is to greet new people. But imagine a church greeter who greets a new family with a half-smile, “Good morning!” and then rushes to give a hearty hug to a long-time family, leaving the new family alone in the lobby.
That new family probably feels a bit neglected.
This volunteer lacked the emotional intelligence to combine the hard skill of his job with the soft skill of making new people feel truly welcome.
Here are some ways that volunteer could have been trained better:
- Practice making sustained eye contact
- Rehearse 3-4 “Ice breaker” questions to ask new visitors
- Discuss the values that shape your greeting team—what are you trying to accomplish as a team, and how can you keep your eye on the ball while performing this task?
Some of these tasks may be a bit awkward to practice, but successful businesses have no embarrassment about doing this.
When I was a college student, I took a summer door-to-door sales job for a roofing company. They hired about 50 college students every summer to sell roof remodeling packages all day every day.
For the first month of the job, we didn’t knock on a single door. They gave us scripts to memorize and had all of us practice role playing among ourselves and with our supervisors.
When I knocked on my first door, instead of getting the door slammed in my face, I had a solid 3-minute conversation with the person. That was a huge victory! He ultimately declined my sale. But 180 seconds is a long time to have a conversation with someone at their front door. Some of the tactics we were taught were:
- Asking people about themselves
- Distracting from awkward pauses with small jokes
- Organically tying in their answers with the product
What’s the point? Practice makes perfect. Don’t shy away from asking your team: “What soft skills can we improve with practice?” It will add a level of quality to each of your volunteer teams that many other churches will find difficult to match.
5. Create a healthy volunteer culture
We’ve hinted at this a bit already, but a toxic culture can lead to death—not only of your volunteer teams, but of your church altogether.
A toxic culture is like rust at a church.
Some ways to create a healthy volunteer culture are:
- Always opt for positive reinforcement over negative criticism
- Celebrate every win
- Invite as many people as possible to team
- Communicate concerns with a light touch
- Create a sense of camaraderie
- Let people know that they personally are making a big difference
- Give people shout-outs at big meetings
If you can create a healthy volunteer culture, your church will grow at a much faster pace than it otherwise might have. When you create a healthy culture, you create a community that people will be desperate to join.
6. Use a Church Management System (ChMS)
If you’re not using a church management system (ChMS)—a software specifically designed to manage your church members, leadership, events, giving, volunteers, etc.—that needs to change immediately.
Because if you’re not using a ChMS, that means you’re scurrying around Google Docs, Excel, iMessage, and Gmail to organize everything.
This is chaos.
You know this.
Get a ChMS so you can centralize all your management, communication, and strategy into a single sign-on interface.
In my experience, Tithe.ly ChMS is the very best in the game is Tithe.ly ChMS. They acquired Elvanto ChMS a while ago, and ever since, no other option has come close in terms of functionality, usability, design, and efficiency.
7. Streamline your on-boarding system to scale
Hone your volunteer on-boarding system with your most important team.
Find what works best for your management style, team, and staff.
Then, when you have a system that works really well for your church, implement that same exact sign-up, onboarding, and training, protocol with every other volunteer team.
That way, teams can talk to one another in the same terms, you can train multiple teams at once, and you remove heaps of inefficiency and time waste from your volunteer management experience.
A great resource on this is General Stanley McChrystal’s book Teams of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. I’ll add one more for leaders to personally self-develop the right mindset for personnel management: Jocko Willink’s book Extreme Ownership: How U. S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.
Invest some time and resources into honing your process and removing inefficiency so that you have more time and resources to invest in and optimize your teams.
8. Offer advanced training
Depending on the size of your teams, advanced training in leadership, theology, and productivity may be very helpful for your core group of verified volunteers.
This can serve not only as a way to improve your team, but as a way to measure levels of verification and as an incentive for new volunteers.
For example, as a church, you could purchase corporate access to a service such as Lynda, an online course hub that allows people to work through self-development video courses that range from 1 hour to 20+ hours.
Teams will then have access to this training in order to track and achieve new levels of competence, training, and formally put, new levels of verification.
9. Use a visual system to demarcate verified volunteers
This piece is extremely important.
Imagine if Twitter had a verification system, but didn’t have a blue check mark.
Same for your volunteer’s verification system.
Set up measurable achievements that unlock levels of verification for your volunteers, and find a way to signify who on your team is verified, and in what way.
The best way to do this is to provide a special colored name badge that clearly and formally signifies: “We endorse this person to do this job.”
One example of a reason to develop multiple tiers of verification is child care.
You may want one group of volunteers to go through “Greeting Training,” some of whom may also be verified in “Childcare Training,” which includes a more extensive background check and signifies: “We guarantee professional level child care with people who are wearing green badges.”
Develop a visual system that communicates to members and visitors alike that you take seriously the verification of your volunteers.
Videographers call this “color coding.” In a TV show, they will create different color palettes for various characters to help audiences distinguish between them and subliminally recognize their purpose or role.
Apply this to your volunteers with a color-dependent indication scheme for your volunteers. Even more effective than badges are different bright-colored shirts.
Over to you
Creating a team of verified volunteers will have an enormous payoff for your church culture.
Follow the protocol delineated here, take it slow with your team, practice patience (remember: a leadership skill), and take the necessary steps to communicate to your church that you take serious the trust they place in your volunteer team.
You won’t regret it.