While you and I are called to serve teens and their families, our most important audience is the volunteer who serves alongside of you.  Without them you can only do so much and last so long.  That’s why every summer you make a huge effort in recruiting and training them in your craft.  Every year there is a mad rush to get them and then when you do you are happy because you have a team.  But, you aren’t done.

The hardest part about building up your volunteer base isn’t asking them to join, it’s retaining them for the long haul.  When you have a volunteer who not only commits to your ministry for one year but five or even ten, the amount of fruit their service will bare is immeasurable.  So, how do you keep them around?  Well, it’s all about how you pour into them.  Some of the big ways to do this is by sending them to conferences and hosting all day training events.  However, the investment doesn’t always have to be expensive and complex.  There are a few small things that you can do that will go a long way.

Here are three practical ways you can invest in your leaders:

Send Them A Note – There is nothing better than receiving an authentic hand written thank you note in the mail.  It communicates; I took the time and effort to express my gratitude for you.  You don’t have to write anything profound, just thank them for something simple or small that meant a lot to you.  It’s another way of telling them how valuable they truly are to you and the ministry.

Get Personal With Them – You might meet with your volunteers constantly; however, how many times is it personal?  Agenda-less meetings are essential to the relationship you have with your ministers.  Find time to take a few of them out for coffee.  Invite a couple of them over for a bite to eat or to watch a movie.  Indoctrinate a couple of the key leaders into your family.  The more they get to know you the easier it will be for them to return the investment.

Brag To The Pastor – Our pastor encourages the staff to introduce to him the all star volunteers and first timers.  While he’s not going to get to know all of them, he wants to know the people making an impact on the church.  When you introduce a volunteer to the pastor it shows them that you are so impressed with their work that you want the boss to know.  That just might be the public affirmation they need to bring their service to the next level.

It’s important to note that you can’t do all these things for everyone.  Not only is that a difficult task but also if you tried to praise everyone equally your investment would lose value.  Lastly, always think simple.  Your investment doesn’t have to be expensive or overly creative.  Just make it authentic, transparent and spontaneous.

What other ways can you simply invest in your team?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

1. Go to More Student Activities. This is something I didn’t do nearly enough as I should’ve last year. Showing up to a game, play, concert, etc. makes a HUGE impact on students. Showing up to an event says that you care about what they care about. It is something that will stick with them. Recently, a co-worker and I went to a high school football game to see two of our students perform as the school mascots (hilarious). I was blown away by the response that we got from students! Students would climb over people in the stands to come say high to us and hang out with us! It is such a good tool for relational ministry… too good to pass up.

2. Write More Letters.  I was talking with a student recently about how much he hated getting mail. He said that the only thing that he ever gets in the mail is report cards, which sucks. Because of that, I decided that I am going to send at least one encouraging note to a student in the mail per week for the next year. I feel like there is something so personal about getting a letter from someone. We are so used to text messages and emails that it really means a lot when someone takes the time to write and mail a letter. Plus it is something that the student can revisit. I’m all about it.

3. Build Relationships with High School Faculty. On the first day of school, students from our ministry covered their campus with encouraging sticky notes. The next week, I spoke on the phone with the school’s Student Government Director and she RAVED about our students. It would have been cool if she stopped there, but she then let us know about an upcoming event that we could be a part of! Relationships with faculty are powerful. I am stoked to continue building relationships with the schools. I want them to know that we are here to support them and partner with them. I want them to know that we are here to serve in any way possible.

What are you committed to doing this school year?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.