I conducted a mini-survey earlier this year, asking youth leaders about their goals and challenges in youth ministry. On their Wish Lists, the no. 1 wish was for more volunteer leaders. The demands of a youth pastor are many. Having more bodies to assist in meeting those demands is crucial to the ministry and helps avoid burn out; but how do you go about recruiting volunteers and keeping them committed? Here are some ideas:
1. Do Not Underestimate the Power of the Call. Those of us who work in youth ministry realize it is not for the faint at heart. Because of this, we need to make sure the focus is not on having more volunteers but having the right volunteers. You can accomplish far more with fewer of the right people then more of the wrong people. People who are working within their calling are more motivated, productive and effective. This is a blessing to you, the youth and the ministry. It also creates an opportunity for you to have a healthier balance between ministry and personal life.
However, when you have people who are not suited for youth ministry, there are costs. When a corporation hires someone who is the wrong fit, the financial cost to the company is great. Research tells us it can cost up to one year or more of the employee’s salary depending on his or her role within the organization.
Although there may not be a financial cost for having the wrong fit on your ministry team, there are still costs. It drains you of precious time and energy. Time is spent putting out fires and having one-on-one meetings trying to make your proverbial square peg fit into a round hole. You can hack at the corners of the square to make it fit into your round ministry; but if one is not called, it never will work. We need to free people to find where God has called them to serve rather than hack at them to fit our ministry needs. When we become overwhelmed with the demands of ministry, we are tempted to compromise. Never compromise. Not only will you create more work for yourself, but you also may be putting the youth at risk. Youth deserve and need the right people to lead them. Seek those God calls to your ministry. After all, your ministry belongs to Him.
2. Make Youth Ministry Attractive. How do you go about recruiting volunteers? What do you do to make volunteering for youth ministry attractive? Often I see guilt-based recruiting techniques such as pictures of teens with pathetic looks on their faces and a caption something to the effect of, “We need you.” Guilt can be a motivator. However, creating desire and excitement to be part of something that matters is more motivating and lasting.
If you have people in your church who have a call and/or passion for youth, recruitment is easier. Unless you work in a very small church, chances are there are some people who meet this criteria. Sometimes, though, they are difficult to find. They may not speak up because they doubt their ability to be effective with teens or not sure what the commitment would be. So how do you discover who these potential volunteers are and attract them to your ministry?
First, ferret out those who have a passion for youth. Most youth leaders and pastors know about posting information in the church bulletin or making an announcement during the service. Make the most of those opportunities by using key words and phrases that speak to those who might want to invest in the lives of youth. Be strategic. Use words that ignite passion. What is the purpose of the youth ministry at your church? Use key words and phrases that tie into that purpose. This will attract likeminded people, which will make your work easier in the long run.
Next, be willing to meet with those who show an interest and have questions. I suggest not only holding a meeting for those interested, but also be willing to meet individually with potential volunteers. People are often more willing to ask questions and share doubts privately versus in a group setting. A one-on-one meeting creates an opportunity to alleviate doubts of someone who has an interest but may not see how he or she can make a difference. It also gives you an opportunity to get to know your potential volunteer better to determine if you think he or she would be a good fit. You might have to invest some time on the front end, but it will save you more time on the back end if you invest in finding the right volunteers.
3. Help Volunteers Minister from Their Strengths and Express Appreciation. If you want to recruit and keep the right volunteers, it is good to know their strengths, let them minister from those strengths and express that you value them. When people are operating within their strengths, believe what they do matters and know they are valued; they are motivated and more likely to stay for the long haul. In fact, research has shown that people are willing to take a job for less money if they know they will have the opportunity to operate within their talents and their employer values them. Because youth ministry relies to a great extent on volunteers, it would be wise to consider how volunteers are utilized and treated.
A passion for youth is a common thread, but where specifically does each volunteer shine? Some may be good at teaching, others at organizing; others have a gift for encouragement and compassion. What particular strengths do you note in each volunteer? Are they utilizing those strengths in the ministry? Take time to ensure every volunteer and future recruits are operating within their strengths. This may seem to be a lot of work up front, but it will save you more work on the back end.
According to the research, having your volunteers work within their talents and abilities is important in order to retain them. The other important ingredient is being valued. Your volunteers must know they are appreciated if you want them to stick around. Some leaders excel at expressing gratitude and showing appreciation. Others, however, feel appreciation and assume their team knows they are appreciated. Do your volunteers know they are appreciated? How specifically do you go about expressing appreciation to them? I encourage you to think about one new idea you can implement this month that would let your volunteers and staff know they are valued. Make it a habit, and the benefits will be lasting!
4. Provide Practical and Transferrable Training. Invest in your team and the members will invest in the ministry. One way to do this is to provide quality training with the emphasis on quality. Training needs to be practical and transferrable when possible. Practical training involves providing your team with knowledge that will help them be more effective in youth ministry and giving them tools that can be implemented easily. If these elements exist in your training, you will have a highly motivated and skilled team serving the youth.
Also, if you can show your team members that what they learn in training can be transferrable to other areas of life, you will hit a homerun. Let’s look at leadership development for example. Some foundational leadership development training not only will serve your volunteers well with the youth they serve, but also at home and work. If volunteers receive training that is invaluable to their ministry, as well as life beyond the ministry, they will be more motivated to show up to training meetings and implement what they learn. Because youth ministry is relational (as is life), providing transferrable training is doable.
5. Think Outside the Box. When you think of a youth volunteer, what image comes to mind? Is it someone young, outgoing, full of energy who loves teens? That person very well could make a great youth worker. What about someone who is middle-aged, elderly or introverted? They, too, could be invaluable to the ministry. Do not underestimate the wisdom that comes with age. Youth have plenty of friends. What they are in need of is men and women of God to speak truth into their lives. They need spiritual leaders who are not afraid to hold them accountable. Learning from those who have lived life long enough to have gained wisdom and insight is invaluable to all of us regardless of where we are at in life. Be willing to include a wide variety of godly adults to minister to youth at your church. It might be the wisest decision you make all year.
Introverts can be especially invaluable. They may not be comfortable or good at leading a group study, but maybe they shine at one-on-one mentoring or excell at planning and coordinating events. Utilize the strengths of your volunteers whether are young, old, introverted or extroverted. If you have a specific vision of a youth worker, I encourage you to consider those who might not fit your initial criteria. Youth leaders come in all different kinds of packages.
There are additional ways to recruit volunteers successfully. I encourage you to implement some of the ideas mentioned in this article. As God has called you to lead the youth in your sphere of influence, my hope is that you will experience the joy and blessings that come with serving alongside likeminded people who are impacting the lives of youth.