What is the best way to onboard a volunteer at your church?

What is the best way to onboard a volunteer at your church?

a. Carefully

b. After they have proven faithful

c. When they have completed the membership class and been baptized

d. As quickly as possible.

Most of us grew up on a cocktail of a, b, & c. Ministry was to be "protected" from the weakness and baggage of "new people", as if our baggage and weakness never impacted the way we served...!

As a Sherpa who connects people to God's family, my answer is now "d" all the way,

If assimilation is the journey that a guest takes to become a connected serving member, than consider this: Some people connect by rolling up their sleeves and doing something along side others...even before they would choose a small group. Take John and Sandra for an example, as told to me by one of our Guest Services leaders in a recent email:

John had always been a two time a year church attender so after they married they started looking for a church where Sandra could get involved.  They "graduated" from the First Step Experience and Sandra signed up to be an outdoor greeter.  Whenever she would greet, John would just  stand to the side and wait until she was finished.  I asked him a couple of times if he would like to greet with her, but he always declined.  Then one day I got a call from them saying that he changed his mind and would like to be a greeter.  Then it wasn't long until he had signed up to serve communion and offering, then he was asking if he could greet every week!  Sandra told me, with tears in her eyes, that he suddenly just couldn't get enough of church.  He wanted to be there every time the doors were opened. When I sent out the Christmas schedule asking for door and line volunteers, he took a week's vacation (he works nights) so he could greet every night!

Nelson Searcy points out that if guests at your church don't find 6 people they can know fairly well, they will leave in 6 to 12 months after their first visit. We owe it then to God and our guests to place any volunteers as quickly as possible so they can make these connections.

Let me talk about what the phrase "as quickly as possible (AQAP)" includes:

     A healthy interview process

     Full knowledge of what the position involves

     Proper training

     Appropriate screening if volunteering with children

The quickest way to accomplish these things, is "the quickest way possible.



As a Sherpa, here are the things I dread hearing from guests the most:

"I filled out a card 4 weeks ago, but I haven't heard from anybody".

"Yeah, I had an appointment with a staff member but they forgot and didn't show up"

"I heard the next meeting to onboard new volunteers isn't for 3 months when I will be out of town"

I wish I could say I've never heard these things at my church....but my churched is where I heard them! 

So let me tell you how we exchanged that reality for a whole new one where we currently onboard 1 out of 5 guests as volunteers...AQAP).

Julie Liem/ Volunteer Director/Eastside Christian Church

Julie Liem/ Volunteer Director/Eastside Christian Church

Julie Liem, our Volunteer Director, is a power house of process. Julie did one of the highest rated sessions at my Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp Gathering last month where she shared the insurance policy against us hearing the dreaded phrases I listed above:

Volunteer Champs.

These people truly are the champions that insure our process for onboarding volunteers actually works and works well-AQAP. Here's how it works:

  1. An admin from each ministry department is designated as the Volunteer Champ for that ministry.
  2. After our main volunteer recruitment takes place (our All Access Tour) everyone on the tour is asked to fill out an AAT card and turn it in. They are asked to reply promptly to an email they will receive that week.
  3. The Wednesday after the Tour, the Volunteer Champs (VC) from each ministry department sends an email to each person who signed up for their area. In this email, the potential volunteer is told to read the attached job description and return the email with any questions affirming they still want to proceed. 
  4. When they respond with questions or acknowledgment of that information, they will be assigned by the VC to a staff person in their department to be invited to the next step in their on-boarding process for that ministry (i.e.an interview, a team meeting, a training session, etc.).
  5. Since the VCs are already admins for the staff in their departments, they are the perfect people to set up interviews, invites and more on behalf of the staff to keep these new people moving forward in the process. 
  6. Where people are at in the process is reported at weekly VC meetings with Julie our Volunteer Director which in turn provides data for our volunteer metrics that our given to our Elders.

The result of Volunteer Champs? Try this recent email from someone who graduated from our First Step Experience just two months ago after their first time serving in Guest Central:


I wish you were here so you could hear the enthusiasm in my voice! 

First let me start by saying the team I worked side by side with was AMAZING! They really made me feel welcomed and they all gave me a quick run down of how Guest Central ran. 

I was able to assist 4 new visitors and when I talked to each one of them I honed in on my spiritual gifts and began to mentally store parts of our discussion so I could use them in the cards we wrote later that night to say thanks for coming by. 

So after my last card was finished and sealed, I looked up and some of the lights were off, the crowd was no where to be seen. We were in that room for quite some time but only felt like two blinks of the eye. 

Greg, I can't tell you how excited I am still from the experience and please, please, please keep me in mind when First Step With Gene needs table hosts! I so want in on that!!! 


Basically, Volunteer Champs insure that we never hear new people use one of the dreaded phrases I mentioned above, and that guests find an opportunity to serve, AQAP.

What is the best way to onboard a volunteer at your church? Let me know on the form below and I will include them in an upcoming blog post so we can learn from one another. Also look for Julie Liem in an upcoming podcast on placing volunteers that I will post in the next month or so.

Name *
  • If you were to identify a vulnerability in your church's volunteer onboarding process, where would it be? Recruitment? Follow up? Training? Screening? First serve?
  • When is your next volunteer recruitment? What is one thing you can do as Sherpas to shore up that vulnerability before the next recruitment takes place?
  • Did the Volunteer Champ concept inspire any new thinking for onboarding volunteers at your church?
  • What do the experiences of Andy, John, or Sandy as newly placed volunteers tell you about the impact of a well implemented assimilation process? What struck you most about their stories?