June 25, 2018

By Fred Koenig

Volunteer training is something that cuts straight to the mission of the church. 
    
“Volunteer training is important because when it works, you are making disciples,” said Melissa Baum, literacy project director at The Gathering, a United Methodist Church in St. Louis.
   
Baum was leading a workshop on meaningful volunteer training the evening before Annual Conference started. She shared that a meaningful training does three things:
-Inspires
-Equips
-Connects
    
“Throughout trainings we have the opportunity to create, lead and teach disciples,” Baum said. “It’s an opportunity to connect people, and make them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.” 
    
Baum said she does a six-hour training for all the school mentors in their literacy program. Most people coming in assume the training will be all about the literacy curriculum and how to teach it. The curriculum is actually a rather small part of the training. 
    
“The most important piece is that they get why they are doing it,” she said. “You’ve got to understand your why. Our why is to help kids become who they are meant to be.” 
    
In addition to stressing the “why” from the beginning, her training also involves a lot about cultural competency, because she has white volunteers serving in predominantly African American schools. She has also brought in trainers to teach about child development, and to address how trauma affects a child’s ability and approach to learning. Regardless of the type of program, Baum hopes that churches take their volunteer training seriously, for the benefit of everyone. 
    
“You can invest in your volunteers and teach them interesting things that may change their spirituality and commitment,” she said. “Everyday, someone tells me, ‘I just listened to a podcast on…’ People are hungry to learn. Why shouldn’t the church be somewhere they go for information?”