Volunteer Coaches: What, Who, Why, How

Joey Espinosa —  October 26, 2011

In our Children’s Ministry, we developed a volunteer role called “Coaches,” and we’ve had the opportunity to share these ideas with other churches. This volunteer structure can be incredibly useful in your ministry, whether you have 30 or 60 or 200 or 800 volunteers. And keep in mind that this type of structure is not just applicable for churches and children’s ministries, but any type of organization that is volunteer-dependent and where leadership development is a goal.

What Volunteer Coaches Do

Previously, we called volunteers in these roles “Administrators,” since administration was a big aspect of their job descriptions. But we wanted to expand their roles to include leadership and shepherding, as well.

Here are some ways that Coaches serve:

  1. Administration. Coaches are responsible for scheduling volunteers. Ideally, they are over about 8-16 volunteers in a specific ministry area, such as Nursery, Hospitality, Big Group (Band and Drama), or Special Needs. You could even have (as we did) have Coaches responsible for weekday support, such as preparing classrooms and materials.
  2. Leadership. Coaches help pass on the vision to the volunteers who serve under them. Instead of one person sending out an email to dozens of volunteers, Coaches can have more personal conversations with volunteers to cast vision and to give direction.
  3. Shepherding. We never expected Coaches to fulfill the role of a master counselor, but it’s always good for a volunteer to have just one more point of contact with a church leader. With a growing church, it’s easy for individual needs to get lost in the crowd. A Coach can provide immediate prayers and encouragement, and can pass up bigger needs to the church staff.

Who Your Volunteer Coaches Are

Most of our coaches have been women, especially married women with children. Likewise, you probably have talented moms (including those who stay-at-home) in your church who will flourish in a role where their leadership, shepherding, and administrative skills could be utilized.

Don’t limit yourself to thinking of a specific demographic. Like us, you could have single women serve as Coaches, as well as men.

There are many characteristics of a Coach, including:

  • Good time management during the week. Part of the role involves scheduling and following up with people outside of the weekend services.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Desire to help lead and develop other volunteers.
  • Desire to encourage others to use their God-given gifts and time.
  • Familiar with the job descriptions of those they are leading.

Of course, not many people are experts in all these characteristics. But one of the joys for me has been seeing how people with different personalities and skill sets have all served as coaches. The important thing is to maximize on each Coach’s strengths, while helping her manage around her weaker areas.

Why You Need Volunteer Coaches

Do any of these questions apply to you?

  1. Is your ministry growing, and are you having to manage more and more volunteers each year?
  2. Do you spend more than an hour each week scheduling volunteers?
  3. Do you want to develop leaders, and leaders of leaders? Do you want to equip and empower others to grow in leadership?
  4. Do you wish you had more time to spend on other passions, like shepherding or writing?
  5. Do you want your ministry to feel more intimate? Do you think some volunteers’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs get missed because they get funneled through you?
  6. Do you need help recruiting? Instead of you working to fill all the needs, wouldn’t you like some leaders who are bought-in to the mission, so that they can recruit others?
  7. Do you want more staff to get specific jobs done, but don’t have the budget (or the right candidate) available? Could you split that role into smaller roles that a volunteer could take charge of?
  8. Do you have volunteers who have been serving for years, and could use a change of responsibility and role, and who want to have a bigger impact?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should think about raising up some volunteer Coaches.

Be warned, however: your Coaches may not do things exactly like you want them to, and they will probably mess up. Know when to allow them the freedom to lead. (I once had a good friend who served as Coach who told me, “I feel like you are micromanaging me.” I’m thankful for these “wounds of a friend,” as he was exactly right.) I’m a big fan of Dale Burke’s motto (which I read in Less Is More Leadership), “If someone else can do your job 80% as good as you, and it will free you up to work on other things, let them do it.”

How to Get Volunteer Coaches

Another warning: Most Coaches will be raised up out of the ranks of your best volunteers. Be careful about picking a volunteer who is lukewarm about serving. Don’t put someone as a Coach who will only be there because he or she hates serving in a classroom setting (I’m speaking about this from experience.)

Here are some pointers for recruiting Coaches in your ministry:

  1. Start small.  Maybe you can think right now of 6 or 7 areas that you could use a Coach, but the thought of filling those spots is overwhelming. Start with one or two easy areas. Like the Dave Ramsey “debt snowball,” once you take care of a few areas, you’ll have the freedom and encouragement to recruit more Coaches.
  2. Cast vision. Don’t overwhelm the potential Coaches with your needs. Talk about your passion for your ministry. Tell them about the great things that are happening; even if they are volunteers, they may not know some specific stories. Tell them that they could be a part of a ministry that has an even bigger impact. (If you’re careful, you could throw in the “heavenly rewards” trump card.)
  3. Be specific, but open to new ideas.  Prepare a job description, and be clear on a few specific expectations. But also explain that there is  room to grow and learn, for you and for them. Ask them for other ideas on how they could administer, lead, and shepherd.
  4. Evaluate.  Once you get the Coaching role in motion, don’t ignore it. Regularly check-in with your Coaches for feedback and ideas. Look for short-term impacts, but don’t forget that you may need to sacrifice short-term comforts for long-term impact.

Remember, by elevating some volunteers to the role of Coaches, you may “lose” some of your best leaders. But the long-term rewards will be worth it. Your impact will be multiplied beyond what you could handle yourself, and what you can imagine.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you have a Volunteer Coach role in your ministry? Is there a spot in your ministry that could use a Coach?


Joey Espinosa

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After 10 years of working as a chemist, and 4 years as a full-time Pastor of Children & Families, Joey now works at-risk children (and their families) in the most impoverished area in his state. He is married to his best friend, and they have three children who are enjoying their family's adventure!

3 responses to Volunteer Coaches: What, Who, Why, How

  1. Great post Joey! We started having volunteer coaches in our ministry about a year ago and it has been super helpful. We couldn’t do what we do without them.

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