For the majority of youth ministries we interact with, the adult volunteer teaching Sunday School, small groups or discipleship groups is the lifeblood of the ministry. So it goes without saying that as a youth minister, part of your primary responsibility is recruiting and keeping your volunteers. While finding volunteers certainly has its own challenges, in my experience youth ministers seem to struggle most with keeping them.
For volunteers to stick around in your ministry, they must feel like they are a vital part of something meaningful. Plain and simple.
How do we do this? As a way of changing it up a bit, I thought we’d take the opposite approach. I thought we’d look at four sure-fire ways to make certain your volunteers DON’T stick around. Practice these approaches and I promise, they’ll leave. And leave frustrated.
(Which means, of course, if you practice the opposite of these approaches, you should be on the right track!)
Approach #1: Embrace the 80-20 Principle
If you want to make sure your volunteers only stick around for a year (or less), frontload all of your big-picture vision casting. It’s the “80 percent up front, 20 percent the rest of the year” approach. Youth ministers kick off the school/ministry year in the fall with high energy meetings full of information and encouragement. They’ll go over the calendar, curriculum or content direction and all sorts of details. These meetings will often have plenty of motivational language, reminding volunteers of the overall direction of the ministry and challenging them to make a difference.
There’s nothing wrong with these meetings. In fact, they’re awesome. The problem is that this is one of the only times this level of intentionality is given to communication. Vision and mission are rarely communicated throughout the year. If communication happens at all, it’s via email or text and it’s mostly informational (see Approach #2).
To make sure volunteers feel like they’re part of something meaningful, youth ministers have to figure out a way to sprinkle this level of big picture thinking throughout the year.
Approach #2: Communicate More Information Than Inspiration
Looking to have your volunteers lose track of why they’re volunteering in the first place? Make sure that all of your communication is purely informational. Minimize communication that has motivation as its only purpose.
Communicating information is vital. If you aren’t consistently communicating important info to your people, you have a much bigger issue. But if the only time you send a text or an email is to remind volunteers when to be somewhere, or something similar, you’re blowing it. If you want to keep volunteers, you have to regularly motivate, inspire and encourage them.
Approach #3: Don’t Do Anything to Foster Community
Many adult volunteers sacrifice being a part of an adult small group or Sunday School class to teach teenagers. If you’re looking to drive them away, try not to create a sense of community among your volunteers. They’ll go running back to their adult small groups in no time.
Creating a sense of community among your volunteers is a HUGE way of keeping them invested in your youth ministry. What if you saw your adult volunteers as their own small group (or a collection of small groups) and yourself as the “small group leader” or other similar role? There are limitations, for sure. But the more you create a sense of community, the tighter the overall bond will be across your ministry. And this will trickle down into your students, I promise.
Approach #4: Don’t Equip Them to Be Successful
There may be no more effective way of driving volunteers away than giving them a task and not equipping them to be successful at it. If you’re tasking volunteers with teaching Bible study and aren’t training them to be effective at it, you’re well on the track to having zero volunteers next year!
Training is essential. It’s vital. It’s foundational. (Get my point?) You have men and women in your youth ministries who love God and have a heart for teenagers. Yet most come to you with little experience teaching the Bible, facilitating a small group or understanding the changing face of youth culture. You have an endless supply of resources available to you to remedy this issue. But you have to make training a priority in your ministries.
There’s a lot involved in keeping volunteers. And this list isn’t exhaustive by any means. But it’s a good start.
What about you? What are some key approaches to keeping volunteers?
(Or, if you want to run with the thread of the post, what are some key approaches to RUNNING OFF volunteers?)