How to Build a Ministry Team of Veteran Volunteers

Our junior high ministry has its fair share of what I like to call “transient leaders”; those volunteers who are only with us for a year or two before moving on to another area of ministry. Older high school students who volunteer during their senior year before heading off to college and parents of junior highers who serve for a year or two while their child is in our ministry are the two predominant transient leaders on our team.

But over the years, we have also had tremendous success creating a ministry atmosphere that excels at keeping folks on board for long periods of time. We have tons of 5-year veterans, numerous 10-year veterans, an occasional 15-year veteran and one volunteer who has been on our junior high team for over 20 years.

While those certainly no “silver bullet” for creating a team of JH ministry veterans, I do think there are some things we’ve done real well over the years that have contributed to our success. Here are a few that come to mind.

– We focus on relationships more than on formal training. If relational ministry is the type of youth ministry we acknowledge is best, then it makes sense that a relational approach to building a leadership team would take the same approach.

– We empower like crazy! We believe in the power of giving ministry away. As long as it fits within our purpose/strategy/paradigm…go for it! Our team tries to view ourselves more as coaches, encouragers etc. of the team instead of a ball-hogging quarterback.

– We share life. As your team grows this becomes harder to do, but we’ve found that a good chunk of our veteran leaders have stuck around because of the friendships that we have formed outside the walls of the church and activities of the junior high ministry.

– We are professional. Quality leaders want to be part of something the perceive as being somewhat professional. We do background checks, we have good training, we have clear guidelines, we have their backs, we clearly articulate the various ministry opportunities, we have a purpose statement and values that we can point to. One of our volunteers is the CFO for the western region of UPS. Somehow we’ve managed to convince him that we sorta know what we’re doing.

We’ve been around a while ourselves. I’ve been involved in our junior high ministry for 15 years. Katie Edwards, who leads our ministry, has been involved for almost 20. Jason Pogue, one of our JH Pastors has been on our team for about 10 years (first as a volunteer himself, then on our paid team). Because folks can look around and see a handful of people who have invested in our ministry for decades, it sends the message that it may be worth their long-term investment, too.

Healthy, veteran volunteer leadership teams don’t happen overnight. Be patient, be intentional in your efforts and don’t quit when the going gets tough. Building a team of veterans is hard work…but it might be the most important and most rewarding hard work you do!  

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Kurt Johnston
Kurt Johnston has been involved in junior high ministry since 1988 and is currently the junior high pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of Controlled Chaos: Making Sense of Junior High Ministry and Go Team! He loves providing resources for junior high ministry almost as much as he loves junior highers themselves.

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