Empowering volunteers is a critical, yet challenging process. Failure to empower others inevitably leads to the “do it yourself” mode. This culminates in volunteer under-utilization and leadership exhaustion!
The solution is simple. To create a culture where volunteers are enabled to solve problems without requiring constant supervision, they need intentional, hands-on training. Volunteers who internalize the mission, heart, and policies of the church can make decisions based on those values.
Your Empowerment Strategy: the “Three E’s”
“Three E’s”—Engagement, Equipping, and Empowerment—will help your nursery leaders strategically prepare and train volunteers. The tutoring process is much like coaching a team of motivated athletes.
1. Engage Your Team: The children’s leader initiates, imparts vision, and invites volunteers to learn from a seasoned veteran. Volunteers observe, respond, and then “buy in.”
- Guiding Principle: Come and See, Come and Follow
- Leader Role: Invite and Envision
- Volunteer Role: Watch and Respond
Example: The coach envisions the athlete’s potential and invites him or her into the training process. The athlete considers and then responds to the invitation.
COACH: “I’d love to take you to the next level of ability! Your performance will likely improve.”
ATHLETE: “I’m in! What do I need to do?”
2. Equip Your Team: The children’s leader seeks to equip the volunteer with specific knowledge and skills, also pointing out character growth areas. While serving, the volunteer learns through observation, participation, and reflection. Because people often learn more through discovery than through directives, be sure to lead volunteers into a process that they can own and reproduce!
- Guiding Principle: I Do, You Watch; then: I Do, You Assist
- Leader Role: Model and Instruct
- Volunteer Role: Imitate and Practice
Example: The coach teaches and then models the desired skills. The athlete imitates and then rehearses the skills.
COACH: “If you shorten your sprinting strides, your legs will touch the track more frequently. You’ll have more power in each stride and shave some time. Watch how this works. Now you try it.”
ATHLETE: “I see what you did there! Let me practice!”
3. Empower your Team: Now it’s time for the children’s leader to observe the volunteer in action and respond to his or her performance. The volunteer is ready to take the reins and lead out, knowing that the mentor is available for support and encouragement.
- Guiding Principle: You Do, I Watch; then: You Do, I Evaluate
- Leader Role: Observe and Delegate
- Volunteer Role: Perform and Excel
Example: Under the coach’s watchful eye, the athlete warms up before the race.
COACH: “Shorten your stride a little more. There you go!”
ATHLETE: “Does that look right? Do I need to change anything?”
After the race, the athlete openly receives the coach’s feedback.
COACH: “Great job! If we work on your first few steps, I think you can do even better next time.”
ATHLETE: “It felt really good! I’m ready to continue training.”
Daryl and Krystal were parents of four children—all under the age of eight. While serving in the church nursery, they often encountered fussy babies, inquiring parents, and conflicts among toddlers. Surprisingly, they rarely called for leadership support. Many volunteers who served with Daryl and Krystal were college students and teens who loved children but lacked personal experience. These volunteers watched Daryl and Krystal; they observed their responses to each “problem” that arose.
Kerry, the children’s director, quickly realized the potential for Daryl and Krystal to train others. Sunday mornings were busy for Kerry, and she needed to remain free to oversee all the classes. She invited the couple to consider mentoring the volunteers who served alongside them each week. Daryl and Krystal enthusiastically agreed! They began to take time to encourage each volunteer and to explain their thought process for each situation.
One morning, Morgan, a 20-year-old college student was helping two fussy babies; Krystal offered to assist. While holding one of the babies, she explained techniques—things to check (hunger? pain? diaper?), and ways to playfully engage with each child. Meanwhile, Daryl sat down on the floor beside a junior helper and modeled interactive play, songs, and ways to shepherd toddlers through class transitions. With each scenario, though Daryl and Krystal just responded “normally,” other nursery volunteers gained insight into their choices.
After a morning in the nursery with them, Morgan left encouraged. “I learned so much in just one day!” she shared with Kerry later. “I have always watched Daryl and Krystal respond to situations, but I never knew the heart, reason, or wisdom behind it. It helped so much!” Several weeks later, Morgan served again, trying out her new skills. Daryl and Krystal observed Morgan successfully respond to several situations. They affirmed and encouraged her growth!
Over time, Kerry noticed a growing confidence among her new nursery volunteers. They greeted parents with confidence, engaged potential problems, and showed leadership initiative. Kerry attributed this “culture change” to the amazing coaching skills of Daryl and Krystal.