Practically Speaking: How to Train Your Volunteers

Recently, I have had several student pastors approach me about how I train my volunteers. There are obviously many ways to train volunteers; this is by no means the final word. What follows is an explanation of how our church goes about leadership development as a whole, and what that specifically looks like for my student ministry.

Here’s the context: our particular student ministry serves somewhere between 80-100 students from 6-12th grade. We gather together once a week for worship, word and small groups for the middle schoolers. The high school students worship and listen to the sermon with the middle school students, but instead of small groups, they stay behind and I host a Q&A. (We vary the Q&A a little bit depending on the night. On some nights we engage in extended worship, in others we host specific “breakout” sessions, or on other nights we use that time to eat queso and play games). Throughout the week, in homes throughout the city, our high schoolers meet in what we call “Community Groups.”

For the purpose of this post, I have two “tiers” of volunteers I train. 1. Small Group Leaders, who facilitate discussion with the middle school students after my sermon. 2. Community Group Leaders, who are considerably more autonomous and lead mixed-gender communities in our city. Most of the training I will address is more specific to my C-Group leaders.

The pastoral staff at my church recently began to walk through many of the suggestions lined out in Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck’s new book, Designed to Lead. I would highly recommend you check it out. Each of our pastors was tasked with creating a “Leadership Pipeline” for each ministry role they provided oversight or training for. A “Leadership Pipeline” is simply our plan to train/develop leaders into or through a particular role.

We were asked to name competencies that we wanted in a leader that fell into three broad categories:

  1. Character
  2. Skills + Doctrine
  3. Cultural + Conviction

“Character” refers to exactly that, character-qualities you want in your leaders. “Skills and Doctrine” would include: “relationally warm,” or “gifted in apologetics,” or even “Calvinistic.” “Culture and Conviction” might be the most nebulous, but refers to the church-specific values or methods you want your volunteers to share. Another way to put it would be: “They won’t feel like they belong with us if they aren’t ___________.”

Under each of those headings were three sub-headings:

  1. Competency
  2. Training Plan
  3. Assessment

“Competency” is the specific trait. The “Training Plan” is a particular book, article, or video that we think teaches or exemplifies that competency well. “Assessment” is how we process the training with our volunteer, our determination on how to disciple them further.

The chart that follows is the example of the Leadership Pipeline for my student ministry. It’s not complete, and it’s missing some competencies, but it offers a clearer picture of what I am talking about.



The next question you are probably asking is, how do I even use this?

I can use it in two ways:

  1. General mentoring. I meet with each of my community group leaders twice a month. In those meetings we walk through specific issues in group, the struggles/issues of particular students, ways to pray for them, and also the leadership pipeline/chart seen above. I assign the leader homework from the pipeline, we discuss that article or video, and then I ask them the assessment questions.
  2. Raising up a new leader. I use the pipeline for someone who is not ready to lead a C-Group, but wants to be. I walk them through the same process on the front end, rather than during their tenure as a leader.


As it stands, I only have three community group leaders (we’re hoping to add a fourth in the near future). I have time to meet with them one-on-one and go through the above process. That is not true of my middle school volunteers. We separate the middle school students by ages and grade for their small groups. The minimum number I have is twelve. Obviously, I can’t approach them with the same level of energy. And my middle school leaders do not have to be as skilled as my C-Group leaders. Keeping those things in mind, I’ve found that this works best:

  1. Write the questions for the small group leaders in advance. This allows me to provide some indirect oversight for the direction of their time with the students.
  2. Meet with all of these leaders every week (or at least most weeks) together as a group for 15-30 minutes immediately after service. We debrief their small groups, pray for students, survey the service, and give announcements. If I want or need to, I can also provide resources, blog posts, articles for them to read.

To the extent this is helpful, I am glad! If not, I’m glad your own system has been so effective. I would love to read about your experience in training student volunteers (what has worked, what hasn’t) in the comment section below.

Also, click here if you’d like a template for the Leadership Pipeline to use in your own ministry.

Seth Stewart is a husband and a dad, and after a decade in student ministry is now working as the Editor-in-Chief at Spoken Gospel. Spoken Gospel creates online resources that point to Jesus from every passage of Scripture. Seth spends his day writing, speaking, and being his family's chef.

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