Volunteers. You can’t (and shouldn’t) do youth ministry without them. If you’ve been working in youth ministry long, you’ve probably spent some significant time and energy trying to recruit, equip, and keep volunteers. Having a team of spiritually healthy, well-trained, ready servants will greatly enhance your ministry to teenagers.
Often, the conversation revolves around strategies to recruit the best volunteers; how to get them, and how to get them ready. I’d like to give some thoughts, not just how to get the best volunteers for your ministry, but how to serve your volunteers best as they partner in youth ministry with you.
Volunteers need to understand what they are being asked to do. If they are brought into a ministry setting but given no guidance, volunteers will quickly become discouraged.
I have failed in this area countless times. I have asked people to come and be a part of an area of ministry, yet given them a vague list of theoretical responsibilities, and proceeded to leave them on their own. And in these cases, I’ve left volunteers discouraged, unengaged, and ready to quit. For example, I like the idea of having extra adults in a Sunday School class, who are not the primary teacher. When I’ve brought these folks in, I haven’t given them anything specific to do, I didn’t check in with them, and I rarely thanked them. After a few months, they just stopped showing up. I allowed myself to treat them like a position to fill instead of a person to be ministered to. It was my fault they stopped serving.
I’d like to propose three ways we can avoid leaving our leaders like this: Clarity, Community, and Celebration.
Before we even begin recruiting volunteers, it’s important to have an idea as to what we actually want them to do. Naming the role and creating a vision for the responsibility will be a great help to your volunteers.
Let’s say you need someone in a Sunday School class to help set up and clean up, welcome students, take attendance, as well as other tasks needed. Give that role a name: Youth Sunday School Host. Put that down on paper, and include the responsibilities listed above. Then, when you go to find a volunteer, show them specifically what you are looking for.
This serves the volunteers, allows them to know what they are getting into, and gives them a gauge for success. They won’t feel defeated because they know what to do, how to do it, and can look back and say, “I served well in this area.”
In Acts 6, the church was not caring for the Hellenist widows. So when the Apostles heard about it, they created a job. That job had a clear purpose: care for this underserved group of women. They were recruited, commissioned, and then went about the business of their work.
If you clearly communicate the work you need volunteers to do, it not only sets them up to succeed, but makes for a more successful ministry event overall.
My wife and I enjoy a show called Alone, in which survival experts are left in the wilderness totally by themselves to see who can survive the longest. And while the dangers of living in the wilderness, like the lack of food, are significant, for many of them, loneliness can be the biggest obstacle. It goes without saying, then, that no one likes to serve alone.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is downtrodden because he believes that he is literally the only person in all of Israel serving God. You can hear the sadness in his voice, he believes he is totally by himself.
God then encourages Elijah by telling him that there are actually 7,000 others who have not bowed down to Baal. It’s good to know you have other people serving alongside you.
When you feel like you’re alone, you lose your energy and can easily become discouraged over little things. When we serve alongside other people, however, we can find ourselves encouraged and with a new supply of strength to press on.
So remind your volunteers they are not alone by creating a community. In our Wednesday night programming, we have small-group Bible studies. These leaders don’t serve together. They lead groups individually. There is no real, practical reason for them to meet together. But it is immensely valuable to get all of them in a room together. Periodically we have a meal together, open the Bible together, and share about the work we are doing. Why? Because it’s not good to be alone. It’s a good thing to be reminded that you are not the only one.
Giving thanks and acknowledgement is a ministry in itself. Encouraging people for the work that they’ve done is vital. Just think about the amount of space the apostle Paul gave to acknowledging people who worked alongside him. We know names like Epaphroditus, Prisca, and Aquila simply because Paul took the time to recognize them and greet them in his letters.
Showing honor and appreciation to our fellow workers is important. This is also the case for youth volunteers. You know teenagers. While they may love their small group leader a lot, it may not always be so obvious to the leader. Because of this, we need to find ways to encourage and thank our volunteers.
Thanksgiving and encouragement can be done in a variety of ways: notes, a meal, gifts, getting them up in front of the group or the church to acknowledge their service, or just a good old fashioned face-to-face “thank you”. But the most important thing is that you do it.
Remember, volunteers don’t just serve students. We are called to love and serve them as we co-labor for the gospel. Lift them up, pray for them, encourage them, and consider their care a part of your ministry.
Purchase the audio from Josh’s workshop, as well as all the audio from the Rooted 2021 conference here.