Developing a Strong Volunteer Team
We often measure the size and impact of our youth programs by counting the number of students that come each week. But have you ever thought of your ministry in terms of capacity for developing transformational students? It’s easy to talk about how many students are coming; after all it’s what most sr. pastors want to know. However, we didn’t get into student ministry to count numbers. We want to see students’ lives changed. So how do you determine the capacity of your ministry? The best way to calculate your capacity is to count how many adults in your ministry are in mentoring relationships with students. I am not just talking about students in small groups; I am referring to the number of adults you have developing spiritual relationships with students.
When I interact with most youth groups, I notice that many of the adult volunteers are there to help the youth pastor, not to build spiritual relationship with students. My guess is most youth groups have only a few adults focused on mentoring relationships. Often adults are afraid of students. They don’t understand students and they don’t think students will like them. So they work in the shadows “helping the youth pastor” while the youth pastor talks with the students. The problem is the capacity of most youth pastors is about five spiritual relationships. The youth pastor needs other adults to develop spiritual relationships with students; so how to do develop a strong volunteer team?
LeaderTreks uses a five step process for developing transformational adult volunteers.
Step one: Recruiting the right people
If you blow a dog whistle you know that only dogs hear the call. The same is true when we call for people who will want to be heart to heart with students, so we need to learn how to attract the right volunteers. So often we feel like we are intruding in someone’s life if we ask them to mentor a student – why? This may be the greatest calling in a person’s life; especially if God wired them for deep spiritual mentoring.
It is important to avoid giving volunteers the perception that the youth ministry is in trouble and desperately needs their help. Who wants to help a ministry that is failing? People who are natural leaders want to be part of a team that is successful. Offer a positive view of the ministry and talk about how students are moving to the next level. Make it clear that people with the special gift of mentoring are needed to help students develop strong relationships with Jesus. This approach keeps people from feeling guilty or that they are helping you and not students. Keep the focus on students. Be sure that the volunteers understand their role is to help students develop spiritually. Tell them how you’re going to train and support them through the journey. Invite those that are interested to an orientation meeting.
Step two: Vision casting – Orientation
The orientation meeting is so important, however most youth workers miss this step. This meeting allows you to share the vision for the youth ministry. Volunteers learn that you’re not just inviting them to work with students, you’re asking them to join your vision. This is very important because lots of adults want to work with students but they want to be in charge and focus on what they want to do. Great volunteers buy into the mission as much as they buy into students. At LeaderTreks, we don’t interview anyone until we ask them if they are willing to join our mission, share our values and work under the LeaderTreks leadership. We value our team culture. We need to insure that everyone who joins the team shares the same values; and you need to as well.
When planning this meeting make sure to include your expectations of adult volunteers. Most youth pastors share their calendar so adults know when to be there. This is not enough. You need to explain your expectation for mentoring relationships between the adults and students. Explain what training and resources you will give them. Remind them of the difference it will make in the lives of students and in the kingdom of God. This orientation has to be clear and specific. This is the most important meeting you will have with your adults. Ask for the world. I would often tell my volunteers that it will cost more than you want to spend, take more time then you have and be the greatest experience of your life.
Step three: Training
Training is hard. It takes time most people don’t have but don’t neglect this step. At least once a month plan a great training even if you have to take a week of youth group off. Take what we do at my church now (I am not the youth pastor) as an example. The first week of every month we cancel youth group and have an adult training in its place. By doing it this way we don’t add another event to an already busy schedule for adult volunteers. Remember, at the end of the day it is the adult volunteers that will really determine the effectiveness of your youth ministry.
Training should not be simply a discussion of the calendar. It is important to go over the calendar but don’t spend more than five minutes on it. Devote your time instead to discussing how to build relationships with students, how to be a transformational teacher and tips for mentoring. These resources will make the difference for your volunteers. Remember you have recruited people who have a heart for students so now you need to equip them with the skills they need to be successful.
Step four: Supporting
As a leader it is essential to encourage the people God has placed in our ministries. They are His people, His servants, called by Him to do a great work. You are in charge of making sure they don’t lose heart and lack encouragement. You need to confront them when they are off track, speak words of truth into their lives and be a leader worth following. Remember when you find the right people and they are connected to the ministry, they are going to be alive in Christ in a way that they have never thought possible. You will have the greatest team on your hands. Remember to treat them to notes of encouragement, acts of kindness and love. If you can afford it, buy them gift cards. If not watch their kids, say specific encouragement and do acts of kindness for them. Treat them with value and love.
Step five: Evaluating
It is easy to forget to evaluate the job our adult volunteers are doing. I don’t mean check up on them to find the things they are doing wrong. Instead, find ways to help them to improve and give them encouraging feedback. Many youth workers have never seen their adult volunteers leading a small group or interacting with students. You need to evaluate them in order to show them you care and to help them grow as leaders and mentors of students. This reinforces your vision and unites the staff in a purpose bigger than themselves. When they realize that they are not alone doing the ministry they will be encouraged.
When your volunteers see that you have a process for helping them and understand that you want them to be successful doing what God called them to do, they are going to be energized. Developing your core volunteer staff needs to be one of your highest priorities. By spending your time and energy developing this essential group of individuals, the capacity of your ministry will continue to grow.
About the Author
Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners who never leave their side. Doug grew up in… Read More