I have this conversation at least once a month with a stressed out youth worker: “Jeremy, I can’t get/keep my volunteers. No one wants to help, they don’t show up, and when they do they just stand off by themselves. How do I get good volunteers, or even any volunteers?” When people call me with volunteer woes, 75% of them aren’t following these basics, and once they fix these are smooth sailing.
Volunteers are the key to any youth ministry. Often the first warning sign that something is wrong is a difficulty in retaining or recruiting your volunteers. However, if you take a moment to develop your volunteer strategy and commit to caring for them you can have an incredible team! Here’s where to start:
1. People recruit people, flyers and bulletins don’t – These are a crutch and almost universally unsuccessful at recruiting volunteers. If you want people to join in on what you are doing, you are going to have to use the Jesus method: walk up to them and say “follow me” or something like that. Only using flyers and announcements is a symptom that you are thinking incorrectly about volunteers. Recruiting and developing good volunteers is a relational task, and impersonal ads are not the place to start.
2. Have something for them to do – I know that this sounds ridiculous. You have youth group, of course there is something for them to do! However, very few people are comfortable just showing up to a room with teenagers with no clear task. When you recruit someone, recruit them for a job. Yes, that means you have to sit down and make a list: greeter, discussion leader, fire-eater, etc. Start by describing in one sentence specifically what you want them to do. Then, when you walk up to the potential volunteer you say, “Hey, would you be willing to try helping out with the youth, I could really use someone to be a _____ and take care of ____ on Sunday nights for us”
3. Train everyone – As clear as you were when you said, “I could really use some one to be at the door saying hello and telling students where the youth room is,” they need to be trained. For a simple task it could be as simple as you meeting them ten minutes before their first time serving and saying, “Stand here, open the door, smile and tell them the youth room is down the hall on the right.” If they are going to be a discussion leader, you may need to set up a lunch the week before to show them the ropes and give them some tips.
4. Thank, Pamper, and Bribe – Seriously. They just took two hours out of their weekend. Sit down and write three sentences on the church’s stationary with line art drawing of the building (they all have some of that) and put it in the mail. Not every week, but do it after their first week, and then about once a semester from then on out. Then, every once in a while feed them or give them a gift card. If you pamper your volunteers, they will love serving and feel supported rather than like they are having to pick up slack.
5. Give them a heads up – They are your P.R. and question answerers in the congregation. Give them your info before you publish it. Tell them your reasoning for doing what you do, and get their input via some advisory group or deciding committee depending on how your church rolls with that.
Jeremy Steele has been working in youth ministry for the past sixteen years and now serves as the Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. He writes for Group Magazine, RETHINK Church and various publications and organizations. You can find a link to all the places he contributes on his website at JeremyWords.com.
Follow him on twitter: twitter.com/unpretending