It’s funny how often your policy manual needs to be updated. When I got to Gateway over six years ago, I inherited a policy & procedure manual. I felt that it was about 60% accurate. There was terminology I didn’t like and many procedures that I felt were unnecessary. We gave one to every new volunteer and I would cringe a little every time we’d put it in a new set of hands. However, rebuilding a policy manual is one of my least favorite tasks. It takes forever and no one enjoys it. It’s the easiest thing to procrastinate on, so it ends up getting put off and put off. I was so proud to introduce a new volunteer handbook nearly a year later. Six years later, I feel the way I did about the manual I inherited with the beautiful handbook I created.

Our ministry has changed significantly in the past 18 months. We’ve integrated our kids and student programs in many different ways and we recruit, train and onboard our volunteers together, making our policy manual somewhat relevant to our kids volunteers and almost completely irrelevant to our student volunteers. It was time for a change.

Almost two years ago we started leading a volunteer orientation twice a month. We wanted to make it quick easy for new volunteers to onboard. We saw the volunteer orientation as a place for volunteers to catch vision but also be brought up to speed with what they could and couldn’t do when working with kids and students. From a staff perspective, this frequent orientation was a win as I knew that volunteers were beginning the roles properly. However, we questioned whether this start was best for the volunteer. Sure, they appreciated going into their roles equipped with the “need to know” information, but it seemed like orientation was missing the mark on several levels.

  1. Many people attending orientation hadn’t decided if or where they were going to serve yet. Orientation is a required step for all volunteers, but is often a first step. We felt that maybe we were giving too much information too early for these volunteers. If they weren’t sure if they were going to serve in elementary or middle school yet, how engaged are they really going to be in the content?
  2. Orienting all our volunteers at one time means a lot of irrelevant information to the people sitting in the room. As we talked about some policies specific to nursery, potential student volunteers would check out. When we’d talk about student specific policies, our preschool volunteers would check out. There had to be a better way to engage the entire audience for a longer period of time.
  3. Like I said earlier, orientation is often a first step for many volunteers. If I have their presence for 45 minutes, what should I do or talk about that will give me the best return on investment. We thought that 45 minutes of policies and procedures that may or not apply to them was missing the mark. What if we spent the majority of that time casting vision?

So, we began the process of rearranging our volunteer process over 6 months ago. It started first with rewriting our volunteer handbook. Instead of one handbook for the entire ministry, we created four handbooks for each age group. Most of the content in the handbooks are the same, but the differences are specific to implementing our mission/vision to the specific age groups. We decided that a staff member or coach would train a new volunteer on their first Sunday. After they had been cleared and oriented and they had selected where they wanted to serve, they would come to observe a Sunday and someone would walk through the volunteer handbook with them. This training would be far more relevant and engaging because it was done in the context of the environment where they would be serving in the matter of weeks.

This required us to completely re-write our orientation though. That happened this week and today is our very first NextGen orientation. It’s probably going to be a little bumpy. We’re going to experiment with our content and we’ll literally continue to develop it over the next two months, incorporating a visionary book new volunteers can follow along with, video content that captures hearts and even visionary props and items in the room that drive home points.

Stay tuned as we further develop our resources, I’ll sharing what we learn with all of you!