How to find GREAT volunteer Sunday School teachers

No teacher wants to be THAT teacher.

You know, the one that can’t ever seem to keep the kids awake during the lesson.

The teacher that all the leaders put on a brave face for, because it’s obvious by watching the kids that the only one listening to the lesson is the one who is also doing all the talking (the teacher).

No one WANTS to be a bad teacher. And that may sound like a terribly obvious statement, but if I’m not careful, and if you aren’t careful, we will secretly judge bad teachers for not “trying hard enough” or something to that effect.

But here’s the other side of this dilemma.

There isn’t a church leader on the planet who is comfortable throwing just anyone in front of the kids. It’s not like you can replace a Sunday School teacher with just anyone…there is definitely a “criteria”, even if it’s never been formalized, for what a qualified teaching candidate looks like.

To summarize, it’s hard to find teachers, and it is exponentially harder to find great teachers.

So what are we to do?

Can I make a suggestion?

Perhaps this won’t work in your situation, but before you decide that it won’t would you give me the opportunity to explain a little of what I’m thinking?

What if there was a way to “try teachers out” BEFORE you threw them to the “wolves” that can be a 3rd-5th-grade classroom?

What if there was a way to know, ahead of time, if a teacher was going to be any good BEFORE they got up to teach?

I’d like to suggest to you that there is.

I’d like to suggest that there are 2 huge opportunities in front of you to find great teachers:


1. Promote from within the ranks


Do you know how large organizations find their next great leaders? Do you know who often ends up being the ideal candidate for an important job opening?

People that already work in the organization.

I’ll apply this to Sunday School in just a second, but hang with me…

Too often companies decide they need to “go out and find” the next great leader / smart guy / etc… for their open position. The organization decides that this new person needs to be highly skilled, with lots of letters behind their name, and have years and years of similar experience.

But you know what happens? These companies bring in high-powered leaders from other organizations and other industries and try to plug them into a brand new job, a brand new company culture, and a brand new staff.

And it’s a disaster.

No… the company doesn’t go down in flames…far from it. Rather a bunch of little, subtle, deadly, activities start to take place. Things like:

– The staff quickly loses respect for someone brand new who was just “given” a big title

– The new hire finds out that his previous job experience only partly applies to his new position and he starts trying to compensate by making rash decisions and refusing to ever admit he’s wrong.

– The new hire tries to constantly prove his worth rather than to improve the company’s bottom line

On the other hand, I’ve seen over and over again in my 15+ years of work experience, that people who are promoted to new positions of leadership from within the organization tend to THRIVE. When they are given a new position they feel honored and recognized for their past contributions to the company and feel almost a debt of gratitude to the organization.

Not only that, but employees who are promoted to higher places in the organization already have a proven track record of success and dedication to the company. There is no question they are a great culture fit and many times new responsibility reveals new talents that you didn’t realize they previously had.

So….Sunday School.

Look at your early childhood classes….look in the nursery….look at your classroom helpers.

Who is doing a great job right now? Who has taken the responsibility you’ve given them and run with it?

My suggestion is that you “promote from within” to find new teachers for 3rd-5th-grade classrooms.

Find teachers or other classroom volunteers who are rocking it elsewhere and ask them to substitute teach one Sunday in another class. Ask them to help out with a drama…or an activity one week in a different class.

Find small ways to involve your rockstars in other parts of your ministry and see where they thrive. You just might be surprised…that 3-year-old teacher might have a lot more potential if she is given the chance to teach at a higher age level.

Use the weeks you need subs to try out volunteers already involved in your ministry in other classes and roles. You might be surprised what you find.


2. Find ways to give potential teachers / leaders “sample size” roles

You know a great way to “test drive” a new teacher?

Split your lesson up into 3 or 4 sections…

So let’s pretend you are teaching on Jonah. Split the story up into :

1. Jonah refuses to go to Ninevah and boards a ship to Tarsus

2. The Storm / Jonah thrown overboard

3. Jonah swallowed by the whale / spit onto dry land

4. Jonah preaches to Ninevah / Great Revival

Then, assign each part of a different teacher and team teach.

Start the morning off immediately with the first part of the story.

Once that is done, play a game and sing a song

Have your next leader tell the second part.

Then, play a quick review game / do a quieter activity

Have the next volunteer teach the third part of the story.

Do a short drama or have small group time

Then, come back for the big finale, using your final volunteer teacher.

With a scenario like this you could plug in 1 or 2 of your most reliable teachers for the first and last teaching parts and try out a newbie or two for parts 2 and 3.

Breaking a larger story up into smaller sections like this allows you to DRAMATICALLY reduce the risk of having a teacher really mess up a Sunday. At worst, you’ll have 1/4th of the story that doesn’t go as well as the rest. Best case scenario, you have more confidence in two brand new potential volunteer teachers.

Now you might be saying to yourself…I don’t have 4 volunteer teachers!!! You must be dreaming!!!

Ok, so just modify the scenario slightly:

Have your regular teacher tell the story, but coordinate with the volunteer to assist in the teaching.

Some examples of this might be:

– Have the new teacher sit in the audience and ask questions of the teacher at strategic times in the story.

– Or…have the new teacher in the audience actually “be” the character in your story and have him tell part of the story as if it happened to him.

– Have the volunteer teacher explain what the memory verse means to the kids and then practice reciting it together.

– etc…

You get the point. Find small points in your Sunday morning routine to give new volunteers a shot. It’s super low risk if it goes horribly wrong…and to be honest, most of the time, it goes a lot better than you expect.

Lastly – don’t expect any newbie is to be a rockstar their first time in a new role. What you are looking for is potential. Oftentimes potential, before it’s fully realized is a bit awkward and clumsy, so don’t expect the newbie to be as good as the seasoned teacher who has been at it for years. It sounds obvious, but so many times people get overlooked because their first attempt wasn’t amazing.

Look for glimmers of potential and then encourage the heck out of it!!

You might be surprised as time passes to see a volunteer, who used to be little more than a warm body in a classroom, thrive in a completely different environment or role.

Don’t ever assume that where a volunteer enters your ministry is where they should stay until they eventually quit. Instead, actively engage them by asking them to step into different roles and help them explore other areas of your ministry to find the perfect fit for them. Because ultimately, when a volunteer feels like they are their “sweet spot” they will stay MUCH longer and be FAR more dedicated.

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