Want to spot a healthy youth ministry in 10 seconds or less? Show up at a meeting and count the number of parent or adult volunteers. If there is less than one adult for every 4-6 youth, youth could be falling through the cracks.
Volunteers are crucial to a healthy youth ministry. If you are essentially running a one person or staff-only led program, you might just be on the way to running yourself into the ground. And if you’ve found yourself thinking you just don’t have enough volunteers to help, maybe it’s something you are doing wrong. Here are some common “Not Enough” pitfalls when it comes to working with volunteers:
1. Not enough volunteers.
Sure, you probably can teach a message to your youth by yourself. You can run the whole show…and if we’re honest, it’s probably simpler to plan if you are the one leading everything. But is that biblically sound and healthy? Is it sustainable in the long run? By putting all the responsibility on yourself, are you leaving others out of the opportunity to minister to others? Consider this: when multitudes came before Jesus, he didn’t try to individually minister to all of them, he trained disciples to do that. He was closer to some people than others, and as much as you love your youth, you will be closer to some more than others, too. Instead of leading everything yourself, enlist the help of volunteers to lead different parts of your youth ministry according to their gifts.
If an average adult can reach 4-6 youth, you should have a 1:5 ratio of adults to youth to make sure you’ve got enough volunteers to cover the group. While that covers the ideal number of adults, you also need a variety of volunteers. I know that as a female in ministry, I can only teach young men so much about what it means to be a man of God – so you also need a healthy mix of male and female adult volunteers. (For more cool facts, you can check out this article on youth ministry numbers.)
You may already have a handful of faithful volunteers who you know will say yes whenever you need help. That’s awesome – It’s great to have consistent volunteers, but you can enrich your ministry just by adding new voices to the mix. You never know with whom teens will relate, so a mix of old and young and a variety of personalities is a good thing, too.
2. Not enough GOOD recruiting.
So you want to get enough volunteers, but no one is raising their hands. It could be a problem with recruiting technique. Maybe you are frustrated because you sent an email asking for volunteers or you made an announcement in church, yet nobody signed up? Mass calls for volunteers like this, just like any kind of mass marketing, often leads to low response rate or worse, the wrong people volunteer.
To recruit well, spend time in prayer first. Ask God to bring to light the ministry gifts you need to find and the right person. Ask trusted church members and parents for suggestions. Ask the youth to pray about it. When you’ve come up with a potential list of volunteers, ask each person personally (or have the youth ask) to pray about volunteering.
And the key to great recruiting: The more you ask specific people to do specific tasks, tasks that align with their interests and gifts, the better results you will have. It takes a special personality to volunteer with youth all the time, but I bet there are adults in your congregation who’d be happy to volunteer for special projects.
3. Not enough caring for volunteers.
Once you’ve got an awesome team of youth ministry volunteers recruited, what’s next? Care about them. Even the most faithful of volunteers needs to know that you care about them if you want them to care about your program. Want a volunteer team that goes the extra mile? Care about them. Know what is going on in their lives, pray with them, keep updated. Volunteers are going to really care and support what you do once they know how much you care about them.
In fact, if you want to multiply your youth ministry, realize that you are probably in volunteer ministry first. You can only really reach a handful or so youth yourself, but if you can really invest in volunteers and get them to minister to youth, more youth will be positively impacted.
Keep a log of your contacts with volunteers – How often are you face-to-face with your volunteers, are you checking on them? Praying for them? Have you had your student leaders say thank you to your volunteers? A best demonstrated practice: a youth minister meets with his team at the local coffee shop right after youth group – they debrief the evening, plan for the next week & share concerns and prayers for each other. Bonus: they minister to the employees at the coffee shop while they are there.
4. Not enough training.
Whether you lead the class, it’s a continuing ed class across town or the National Youth Workers Convention, volunteers love to be trained. (Bonus, the time spent traveling to training is a great time to catch up on what’s going on in the lives of your volunteers.) If you are the one leading the training for your volunteers, this is a great chance to share your vision for the youth ministry with your team.
A best demonstrated training practice is weekly training as part of a weekly planning meeting. For example, it could be that one hour before the youth group time, all volunteers get together to go over the meeting plans, as well as learn something about better youth ministry together.
5. Not enough pruning.
It’s painful, but from time to time, you may have to ask a volunteer to step down. Sometimes, we have volunteers that need to be asked to take a break from youth ministry because of personal issues or personality conflicts. There are a multitude of reasons – maybe they don’t have the gifts for the role, or youth ministry has become their outlet for airing personal problems. Whatever the problem, if you have a volunteer that does not support you and your leadership, they can be like poison for your ministry. Do not keep unhealthy volunteers around just because no one else is lined up to volunteer.
When you decide it is time for a volunteer to step down or switch roles, do pray about the conversation. Bring in a pastor and keep things as loving and kind as possible.
Recruiting and taking care of volunteers may be the most important part of your ministry. When I reflect on my own youth group as a teen, it was a volunteer 40-something year old hairdresser who touched my life and encouraged me to be in ministry (not the youth director.) You never know who God will use in ministry.
What volunteer ministry successes/struggles have you had? Would love to hear your comments and ideas.
Erin Jackson is National Director – Community & Care for the Center of Youth Ministry Excellence and the YouthWorker Movement. She is a veteran & certified youthworker as well, and loving her current role as a volunteer Senior High Bible Study teacher. She lives in Arlington, Texas with her husband Dennis, three kids and a dog. She can be found blogging at http://umyouthworker.com/