Inexpensive solutions for church training needs

One of the best ways to get people to buy into your ministry as a volunteer is to equip them to do the ministry they sense God calling them to do. While plenty of conferences do just that, such events can be pricey. With the cost of a conference itself, plus hotel, food and transportation, you can be looking at $500 to $1,000 even for the most frugal individuals.

Don’t worry. You can get the same quality content for several volunteers and may interact with the same people for a fraction of the cost of a single person attending the next big conference. Here are three solutions, ranging from free to a couple hundred dollars, that will make your volunteers feel appreciated and equipped. 

Ethnically mixed group of students looking at laptop computer
Free and low-cost online courses can make training more affordable than sending staff or volunteers to conferences. Photo from

1. Go to class virtually.

The Internet has made many online learning options available to everyone. Universities and seminaries all over the world have begun to make their courses and special lectures available online for free. From computer programming to an introduction to biblical Greek, it’s all there. 

The path you choose will depend on how involved you want your course to be. If you’re just looking to watch a couple of lectures, iTunes U is just right. Just open the iTunes store, scroll to the bottom and click iTunes U under “Explore.” Or launch directly into iTunes U if you already have iTunes installed. Listed below are some courses we’ve found:

Jesus and Culture (Candler)
The Wesley Lectures (Seattle Pacific)
Fundamentals of Public Speaking (Missouri State)
Writing for Magazines (Ohio State)

If you want something closer to a full online course, check out the list of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), complete with course materials at the MOOC List. If you want an even more typical course, EdX and Coursera offer semester-long courses with exams and professors that are free to audit and affordable to get a certificate.

Some relevant courses we’ve found on these sites include the following:

• Digital Marketing
• Project Management
• Content Strategy
• Business Finances and Operations
• Virtual Teacher Program
• Reasoning, Data Analysis and Writing

One of the best and most affordable paid options for e-learning is The variety in classes and expertise is unmatched, and the video tutorials make it easy to learn just about any major application or program.

2. Skype in a keynote speaker.

What if you have a specific speaker in mind for your seminar but know he or she is way out of your league price-wise? Try Skyping.

Many well-known speakers don’t think twice about firing up their webcam for an hour for a drastically reduced rate. It is far more convenient for them to sit at a desk than to spend a day or two traveling.

You get the same speaker without the airfare and hefty honorarium and likely have much more personal interaction than you would get at a big conference.

3. Get training from boards and agencies.

The United Methodist Church consistently invites some of the top thinkers from around the globe to offer the best from their areas of expertise online via webinar. You might look ahead and plan your volunteer training to happen at the same time as a live webinar broadcast, but you need not do that. Each webinar or video is archived so you can call it up at your own convenience.

Custom-design a training day with content on communications, children, youth and adults. Check out the following resources:

Are you looking for something more formal? United Methodist Communications offers instructor-facilitated courses on everything from church vitality to hospitality ministry. Some courses are free and others are offered at affordable prices. For details and schedules, check out UMCom’s online training portal.

Now that you have these free or very affordable options, just pick the date of your stay-at-home conference and order a sandwich platter for your volunteers. Why stop there? With such great content, why not invite your whole district to join you and encourage connections among congregations?

-- Jeremy Steele writes for United Methodist Communications. To see more tips for churches at MyCom, click here.


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