Are you a youth director wondering what your volunteers are really thinking? For over a decade, I was on the church staff member side of the equation…now I love my role as a youth ministry volunteer. The perspective of a youth director’s primary job is different on this side…whether you realize it or not, the most effective youth directors understand that their job is just as much about managing and leveraging their volunteer team as it is to work with youth. The larger your youth ministry becomes, the more this is the case. So what do your volunteers really think about the job you are doing? It depends on the volunteer.
Volunteers fall into four basic categories based on their skill levels and willingness to participate – you can think this of as a quadrant of skill/willingness:
High Skill, High Willingness
Low Skill, High Willingness
High Skill, Low Willingness
Low Skill, Low Willingness
The High Skill, High Willingness (HS/HW) Volunteer
What they are like: HS/HW volunteers have been working with youth for a while, having either experience or training in youth ministry. They are highly capable of doing youth ministry well and love doing it. In fact, they are often more qualified for your job than you.
How to effectively manage them: HS/HW volunteers need very little hands on management. Be sure to communicate the basic goals and guidelines and keep your volunteers in the loop of any schedule or program changes. Other than that, HS/HW volunteers can receive basic instructions and run with it. You might even benefit by asking for their opinions and insights.
What it looks like when you do it wrong: If you try to give your HS/HW volunteers step-by-step instructions or speak down to them (albeit inadvertently), they can get frustrated by your leadership and resent your wasting their time. HS/HW volunteers do not need to be babied, they thrive on opportunities to use their creativity and skills.
The Low Skill, High Willingness (LS/HW) Volunteer
What they are like: LS/HW volunteers may be new to youth ministry, or new to the role of leading – a young youth ministry intern comes to mind. They want to help and want to do a good job, but lack the skills or training needed.
How to effectively manage them: LS/HW volunteers need training and skill-building. Affirm their enthusiasm and make sure they understand the program goals and objectives. Especially in the beginning, LS/HW volunteers will benefit from more hands-on management – supervise the jobs they do and offer feedback and reinforcement. Low Skill volunteers need specific instructions on what they are to do and say.
What it looks like when you do it wrong: These enthusiastic volunteers need good training. Imagine trying to spur on your LS/HW volunteers with a pep talk, “You can do it!” but, as it turns out, they can’t actually do it. Few things will kill the enthusiasm of a LS/HW volunteer than not providing the skill training and instructions they need for success.
The High Skill, Low Willingness (HS/LW) Volunteer
What they are like: HS/LW volunteers may have received training or have experience in what they are volunteering to do. They know how to do their volunteer responsibilities, but they don’t want to do them. Why would a volunteer not want to be there? It’s possible they were recruited out of guilt (“We need you to come or the trip won’t make.”) or don’t want to do this particular task. It’s possible to be really good at things you don’t love to do.
How to manage them: HS/LW volunteers don’t generally need to be given specific instructions on how to do a task, but they do need to be sold on the value or importance of what they are doing. Try to kindle excitement through encouraging their help and recognizing their contributions. Find out what these volunteers really do love to do and what makes them excited and try to align their volunteer tasks with their interests.
What it looks like when you do it wrong: Similar to the HS/HW volunteers, giving unnecessarily detailed instructions or talking down to the HS/LW volunteer will make an already unwilling or unexcited volunteer even more discouraged. If you do not provide motivation to be there, the HS/LW might not show up or they will end up quitting altogether.
The Low Skill, Low Willingness (LS/LW) Volunteer
What they are like: This might be an occasional volunteer that has been assigned a youth ministry task they are unfamiliar with or just don’t want to do. What comes to mind is a parent assigned to cook snack supper against their preferences.
How to manage them: Be sure to affirm this volunteers time and willingness to serve. Showing appreciation is always a good idea, but it’s especially important for a volunteer who is less than excited to be there. Provide as specific and detailed instructions as possible. Make the volunteer task as bearable as possible – Clear communication of expectations is very important.
What it looks like when you do it wrong: Not providing clear instructions to the LS/LW volunteer will frustrate them even more. Worse, the LS/LW volunteer might just make things a big mess if they don’t know how to do the ministry task and don’t care if it’s done right anyway. Keep in mind that the LS/LW volunteer doesn’t want to be there – so you’ll need to remind them of the importance and time of their task or they might not even show up – it’s not high on their radar.
These Levels ARE TASK SPECIFIC. Note that each of these volunteer categories can be situational. For example, you might have a Highly Willing volunteer who is Highly Skilled in some things but not in others. I love youth ministry and am highly skilled at teaching a Bible study, but I am low skilled in leading a praise band. Enthusiasm does not translate to skill – Keep this in mind with each task as you assign volunteers. When it is possible, find tasks for volunteers that are in line with their skills, gifts and interests. It is worth your time to work through skill/gift inventories with your volunteer teams and parents to determine the best volunteers for specific tasks.
No matter what category your volunteers fall into, you can encourage them to grow higher in skill and willingness. Recognize in what categories your volunteers fall now, and then be sure to provide vision and resources for growth. It is always a good idea to say thanks as often as possible. In an effective youth ministry, volunteers are the front line, the hands and feet of Christ making a difference in the lives of young people – it takes a team, not just the solo youth director trying to do it all.
Yours in Christ,
What strategies do you use in recruiting the right volunteers for the right tasks?
Do you provide training for volunteers? If so, what has worked well?
Who in your youth ministry or church has experience and wisdom you can learn from?