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Raising Volunteers Who "Get It"

If you work in a non-profit, then you need volunteers.  Lots of them.

But not just any ol volunteer.  You need lots of good ones.  Cuz a bad volunteer can cause as much pain in your life as a bad hire.  Maybe it’s worse because we somehow tend to tolerate more cuz you don’t have a paycheck to hang over their head.  I was talking with some former students of mine, who are now youth pastors in their own churches tonight and it reminded me of one of my most recent learnings about volunteers and saving ourselves a ton of headache because they just don’t “get it”.


Most youth ministries I know of ask people to commit to a set of behaviors to be on their volunteer team.  Here’s a sample set:

  • go to our adult church services on Sundays
  • adhere to some moral standard
  • support the vision and doctrine statement of the church
  • come to our student ministry mid week.
  • lead a small group
  • prepare for a small group before you lead it
  • show up for our leader meetings “x” number of times a year
  • pray for us.
  • be consistent
  • etc…. 
I’m done asking my leaders to sign this kind of commitment.  It produces compliance, not ownership.  It enforces rules, not vision.  Instead, I’m working towards stacking hands on this kind of stuff.
  • We value teaching students how to think above what to think.
  • We value grace, because failure is part of life and learning.
  • We seek to mentor students, not manage them.
  • We love God first, students second.
  • We are committed to face to face relationships and value coming together.
  • We humbly listen to God and one another. 
  • We value process learning.  There is no fast track to discipleship. 
  • etc…

The second set, may result in some of the first set.  But I’ll stack hands on vision every day a thousand times over before I stack hands on rules and regulations.  I don’t want to manipulate behavior, I want to lead into mission.

And if I need to correct a volunteer or have a hard convo about a behavior… I want to discuss the values that are the root issue, not the circumstance that is the current subject.

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Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.