Volunteer management for religious education

Today in the New DRE (Director of Religious Education) workshop, one of the topics we addressed was volunteer management, and we focused on volunteer teachers. I said that the way I think about volunteer management is that it is a cycle that begins with supporting your current volunteers, then moves to recognizing volunteers at the end of a semester or year (or for volunteers completing service), then moves to recruiting new volunteers (or recruiting current volunteers to volunteer for another semester or year), then moves to training volunteers beginning service.

I asked workshop participants to brainstorm ideas for ways that we can support, recognize, recruit, and train religious education volunteers (especially volunteer teachers). Below is the list of ideas they generated:

Supporting current religious education volunteers

(N.B.: We start with support, because in real life we always have at least some volunteers in place whom we have to support.)

making sure needed materials are available
sending reminder emails
check in with them
be available for questions or problem solving
ongoing recognition, “stroking”
have children do something for them, e.g., write notes or draw pictures
give teachers input in ongoing curriculum development
empowering teachers to change curriculum
in-service trainings
safe dialogue with the DRE
clean and safe classrooms
communicating with volunteers in a timely manner
clear chain of accountability
feed them special food
coffee, tea
monthly teacher meetings


Recognizing religious education volunteers

mention in newsletter
recognize during religious education worship service
recognize during during regular service
teacher appreciation breakfast
special hats they get to keep
ribbon, pin, other identifier on name tags
pictures of RE teachers on bulletin board
general check-in
saying: “You’re doing a great job!”
sending thank you notes
having the kids thank them
have non-teaching parents talk about impact teachers have on their kids
ask volunteers how they want to be recognized


Recruiting religious education volunteers

recruit existing volunteers
ask prospective volunteers face-to-face, tell them why you think they would be good
announcement in newsletter
announcement in service
put another announcement in newsletter
post signs
big sign-up sheet
get RE Committee to help recruit
assign someone to recruit
build a culture of high expectations, everyone will engage in a ministry
asking people what they need to become a teacher
having options other than just teaching
volunteer surveys
make teaching so satisfying, people want to volunteer


Training religious education volunteers (before their service begins)

(N.B.: I subscribe to the theory that adult volunteers tend to learn best when confronting immediate problems. Therefore, in-service training and coaching (which I have included under support) work better than a big chunk of up-front training, and I would devote much less time to an elaborate formal training programs before volunteer service begins. See Carl George’sThe Coming Church Revolution: Prepare Your Leaders for the Future for more on this concept.

provide beginning of the year orientation/training
provide mandatory safety training (universal health precautions, child protection, emergencies)
provide classroom management training