In youth and children’s ministry we depend heavily on volunteers from the church to minister to children. Often the people who volunteer get burned out and need to take seasons off or just plain quit for no reason. In addition to that, some volunteers are just not faithful in showing for their responsibilities. Here are some tips to keep your volunteers engaged and thriving.
1- Pray with volunteers before class:
Taking the time before a service to pray with your volunteers personally is crucial in reorienting the reasons that we serve. In serving the kids in our church we are actually serving Jesus. Prayer orients our hearts toward service to God instead of just accomplishing tasks.
2- Give volunteers an outlet for feedback:
Often, the volunteer force of a children and youth ministry is the largest group of volunteers within the church. For many within these ministries there is the feeling that their voice does not matter, they just exist, like cogs in a clock. Send regular emails or text messages that invite feedback and remind them that their voice matters.
3- Give volunteers feedback:
Often, volunteers struggle to assess their performance in the classroom. Giving both positive and negative feedback is crucial to their success. Your feedback may be the only way for a volunteer to grow as a teacher or helper. When you give negative feedback, be sure to remind them that the goal is to enable them to grow and that as a team we are all growing and changing together. When you give positive feedback be sure to delight in reminding them that these are the reasons that you love having them on your ministry team.
4- Fire like an employer:
No one likes this one, but it must be done. When a volunteer continually doesn’t show up on time, or doesn’t show up at all, the entire ministry team suffers. Establish clear guidelines about poor performance. Before “firing” a volunteer establish a clear path for them to have opportunity to change. Your conversation should include statements that clarify or affirm established rules. An example might be, “Jim, this is the 3rd time you have been late for class without calling or communicating. When you do this your entire team suffers. Because of this, if you are late again without prior communication we will ask you to take a season off from ministering to our kids.”
5- Use your volunteers to train:
When you have an exceptional volunteer it is an great opportunity to train others and have that volunteer see their value on the team. Whether it is ever acknowledged or not, the people who work well with kids are known by their teams. When you acknowledge their strengths and ask them to share what has worked, you encourage excellence and enable that volunteer and others to think deeply about what they are doing.
6- Provide resources:
As ministry leaders we are always pouring over resources to make us better at our jobs. When you find a good tool like a website or training video, pass those resources on to your ministry teams. Sharing resources enables your team to see how your mind works, the ways in which you are growing, and encourages them to grow as well. Your ministry leaders will all grow together in the same ways and at the same time as you share the things that equip the entire team.
One of the hardest things within youth ministry to overcome is assumed understanding. We often assume that the people that are following our lead are just going to “get it”. Be clear, be concise ( no one likes novels for emails ), and communicate your tasks and goals clearly. Clear direction leads to good implementation. If your volunteers feel like they are in the dark or have to figure it out for themselves, it will lead to frustration.
8- Have fun:
Take your job seriously but not yourself. Imagine the difference between working in cubicles and at google. Enjoy serving together! Play practical jokes, make fun of yourself, and create the kind of environment that is fun to be a part of. If you love what you do, others will too!
9- Be unprofessional:
When every interaction between you and your volunteers is only about children’s or youth ministry, your volunteers feel unappreciated as people. Ask about their kids, and families as well as noticing why they are absent when they have to cancel out of a class. Ask about their family vacations, or if there is anything that you can pray for them about. When your volunteers feel loved, they will serve with all their heart.
10 – Remind them of Jesus:
It is so easy to get caught up in the activity of ministry without paying attention to the fact the the one most engaged and present in the classroom is Jesus. He cares about each of those children and is looking for people to use to reach those kids. Remind them that Jesus is wholly invested in loving and serving the young people from your church and that our “cup of cold water” for a child matters enough to Him that he writes that event down for eternity. Remind them that Jesus cares about these kids so much that He gave His life to save them, and has now called us to partner with Him. When we serve with excellence, we share in the mission of God to save and redeem His people.
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Jeremy Nehf is the Youth Pastor at Heritage Christian Fellowship in southern Oregon. Jeremy and his wife Kristal have three children, Acacia, Elijah, and Eva. After planting a church in the town of Cave Junction, Oregon and pastoring there for 12 years, he joined the staff at Heritage and oversees the needs of Jr High and High School youth ministry teams.