3 Questions to Ask When Training Volunteers

“Whenever I could not get the results I wanted, I swallowed my temper and turned inward to see if I was part of the problem. I asked myself three questions: Did I clearly articulate the goals? Did I give people enough time and resources to accomplish the task? Did I give them enough training? I discovered that 90 percent of the time, I was at least as much a part of the problem as my people were.” –U.S. Navy Captain Michael Abrashoff

I laughed when I first read the quote above. As I reflected on my leadership, I felt that the 90% Captain Abrashoff was talking about was generous. It seems like usually 100% of the time I am part of the problem when it comes to training my team.

The three questions he asks himself in the quote are so powerful that I want to expand on them.

Did I articulate the goals?
One of the challenging parts of ministry is being able to define success. How do we measure faith? Numbers are not enough. However, I have used this as an excuse to not give my team good direction and clear goals. When someone joins the team, I need to sit down with them at the beginning and name the goals of what I am asking them to do. But we have to be clear and specific. “Put on a good retreat” is a lousy goal because it doesn’t say much about what work the volunteer needs to do to make it a good retreat. What aspect of the retreat are they in charge of? What are some defining marks of their planning that help them know they are successful? As leaders in ministry, we have to think these things through first before we expect a team member to figure them out and understand it.

Did I give my people enough time and resources to accomplish the task?
This is usually where I mess up. It’s one thing to be clear about the goal, but it is a whole other thing to make sure they have the tools to be successful. I often expect my team to be to know exactly where to get all the resources they need. I also make the mistake of assuming that my team has seen all the resources that I have seen and know how to access it. I set my team up for failure when I do this. The most helpful thing I can do with a volunteer at this point is to sit down with them and together articulate a clear action plan of the steps that need to take place. This is especially true if they are a new volunteer. The action plan needs to include a time-line, specific action steps, and naming the resources they need to be successful. Once I have trained a volunteer to do this, in the future they can do it on their own with less guidance from me. My goal is to create a ton of volunteer team members who can do this step once we articulate the goals.

Did I give them enough training?
There is only so much training I can give a volunteer. The worst mistake I can make is presume that I’m the only one that can train them. That simply is not true. I should build into my budget to send my team to different trainings or conferences that will help them gain the knowledge they need to succeed. If the budget is tight, there are so many other avenues that we can send our team. podcasts, blogs, online videos, are some of the best training I can give my team. I call this non-gathered training. This means I don’t have to gather them in a room to train them. I can send them helpful links to websites that they can browse on their own. Plus, my personally library of books and resources is always a great tool that I can loan out. (I sometimes have a hard time getting them back!)

All of these questions help me understand that I need to make growth their priority. If I can help my team grow, then there is no doubt that my ministry will grow too.

Which of the 3 questions above do you struggle with the most?

John Rinaldo

As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.


John Rinaldo


As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.



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