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“I can run a ministry alone,” said no youth worker ever. We simply can not do everything ourselves. Yet, so many times we recruit volunteers in a way that acts like it.

Having been on both sides as a volunteer and recruiter I am more convinced than ever that there are some key ways we can shake a really great unpaid team member. (Notice… large doses of sarcasm ahead.)

Never Communicate Expectations or Just Don’t Communicate Anything Ever

This is super simple. Never tell your volunteers what you want from them, don’t reach out to them regularly and merely avoid being clear on much of anything. Along these lines, use the excuse that you are “too busy” or that you “just aren’t administrative,” when they ask simple questions about logistics. Bring them curriculum they should use the day you want them to teach it, without allowing any space for preparation. Run around like a crazed lunatic all the time without directing anyone. They can figure it out as they go, this is a great learning opportunity for them.

Never Ask Anyone Where They WANT to Volunteer

You have ministry needs. If someone shows up to help, just put them wherever there is a gap, without asking them if they are all right with that. Just don’t bother to empower them or give them ownership of anything in the ministry. Make assumptions based on obvious skill sets that this is exactly where someone wants to give their time. In addition make sure to either raise the bar too high, or too low. It is really helpful to treat someone who is giving their time for “free” as if this is the only activity they participate in. You can also create an environment where everyone sort of stands around with no direction. As a matter of fact just give your volunteers a funky name like “Servants” and then you can treat them like this is the only thing they ever do.

Complain That “No One” Is Helping

Ignore the key team members who always show up, drive, go on trips, or generally pour their hearts out. I mean we are all “doing this for Jesus,” so those that are coming don’t really need encouragement. At the end of the year throw a half-hearted gift at them, and hope they feel like they have done something worthwhile. Better yet just send a mass email saying, “Thank You,” with no personalization. Nope, do nothing. This is best. Make sure you spend all of your time whining how you are “doing this by yourself,” then put an “ad” for more help in the bulletin and keep grumbling that the masses don’t come.

Don’t Bother Offering Training- At ALL- Ever

You can’t get anyone to come to meetings, so why would you want to bother to help your team know how to reach teens better? Chances are they are going to do everything their own way, no matter what you say. Never send them an article, suggest a book or video or take them to any sort of conference (one day, local or in house included.) I mean you have heard it said that those who volunteer believe they are there to support the youth pastor, as opposed to loving teens. You have also heard something about most people who “give” their time really don’t intuitively “understand” youth ministry. Ignore these thoughts. Avoid being creative, or brainstorming with your team ways they would like to be better equipped.

I have done all of these. I have had the tables turned and seen just how frustrating it is when they happen to you. Over the years I have come to learn the quality of volunteers matters more than the quantity. It is possible to keep a team member for a long time. The key is to treat them like the precious jewel they are. Stop making it easy for them to walk away. And remember this one thought: most of the time they will feel guilty telling you why they go, because they do see how hard you are trying so they will make an excuse or better yet- just stop coming and never tell you why.

How do you lose volunteers?

- Leneita

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underappreciatedIt’s been my experience that most staff members in churches feel under-appreciated.

Feel free to correct me.

What you may not know is how it feels from the other side of the desk.

As a Lead Pastor, I often struggle with limited resources to make our church’s paid and volunteer teams feel loved on. It’s honestly less about me feeling appreciated and more about how restrained I feel in being able to love on leaders.

Sometimes saying “thank you” needs to be felt and not just heard.

appreciationSteven Furtick (pastor of Elevation Church) wrote an inspiring article early in his ministry about the lengths he wanted his church to go to appreciate its staff.

The various values he proposed at the time include:

  • Provide lunch for the families of Directional Staff every Sunday. “It’s a long and grueling day, and since many of these couples rarely get to sit together in a worship experience, the least we can do is ensure that they don’t have to worry about what to cook when they get home.”
  • Pay all expenses for each couple to attend a marriage conference. “An investment in the marriage of our leaders is an investment in the health of our church.”
  • An attorney provided estate planning for all Directional Staff families. He did this “to make sure that the leaders of the church have their houses in order, at no expense.”
  • All staff are required (not advised) to take one Sunday off from their ministry areas per quarter. “This helps refresh perspective and reenergize performance.”
  • We pay well. “We bonus generously based on performance. We offer great benefits and retirement plan options. We resource well, via books, conference budgets, etc. We celebrate a lot, finding as many ways to reward the sacrifice of these leaders as possible.”

Does anything remotely happen like this for you?

On the other end, how are you appreciating others around you in every direction – those above you, below you and side-to-side in how your ministry plays out?

What do you think it looks like to appreciate each other on a budget?

Thoughts? Reactions?



As we’ve already discussed, summer is a chance to change up your student program; why not let it be a chance to change up how you care for your leaders as well. This summer we’re trying some new things, and bringing back some time-tested classic ways to encourage and care for our leaders. Here are a few of both!

Kick it off with a BBQ.
Nothing says “You’re important to me” like a double cheeseburger fresh off the grill….unless  you have ribs, too. By now your summer is in full swing, so take an evening to relax, eat some tasty food, and love on your volunteer team. They’ll need the encouragement to make it through the rest of the summer schedule!

Think about a ball game.
A while back we did a big tailgate party with our leaders and bought them tickets to a baseball game. Pick a great night (with fireworks) and if you’ve got the chance, spring for tickets for their whole family as well. Everyone makes sacrifices when a parent serves in youth group—give them all a ballpark dog and a seat in the upper deck to say thanks.

Host a coffee drop-in.
As you care for leaders in the summer, consider this one: Drive-By Coffee. You bring your MacBook and work from Starbucks for the bulk of the afternoon and let all your leaders know if they drop by you’ll buy them a drink. In our experience most will stay for maybe 10-15 minutes, so you can get in a ton of relational time as well as crank on a few emails in between. Of course, you need to be prepared for the awkward leader who decides to hang around for the majority of the afternoon!

Have some end of summer beach/pool fun.
Summer has been incredible, so why not pull everyone together for a little fun poolside? Maybe break out the grill again or just do s’mores at the firepit. Forget any formal program; just circle everyone up at the end of the night to share highlights, favorite moments, and stories that are destined to become legendary in your ministry for years to come.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

In thirty years of youth ministry, I can honestly say I’ve tried every recruiting style possible. Take a look at these four fall-back recruiting approaches:

The “Cruise Director
‘Come join the youth team! Free trips, free food, hotels, fun and you’ll have a great time! No, you won’t have to chaperone at lock-ins!’”

The “Beggar
‘If you don’t join come on this trip, we’ll have to cancel it and lose our $2,000 deposit. We really, really, really need you! PLEASE???????’”

The “Lone Ranger
‘Hey, great having you on the team! Here’s your job description. Thanks for doing your part. You know? Let me do that for you…the kids are used to it being done a certain way. Oh, and I’ll do that, too. Why don’t you just watch for awhile?’”

The “Do-It-Yourselfer
Building a team? What’s that? Nobody wants to volunteer so I don’t even ask.’”
See yourself here? (I’m a combo of the Cruise Director and the Lone Ranger.)

Don’t do these!

Instead, I’ve learned a little something from Jesus’ example when he put a pretty awesome team of 12 together. I call it, “The Five I’s:

Invoke: Bring the Holy Spirit into the process anything. Go somewhere and pray.

Identify: Listen for who the Spirit lifts up. Identify those people He reveals would be an asset to the team. Don’t assume anyone will say “no.”

Invite: Talk to them one-on-one and ask them to pray for a week before saying “yes” or “no.”

Initiate: Let them come and check things out; give them a peek into what you’re asking them to do.

Inform: Hand them a volunteer packet so they can make a well-informed decision. Info would include a specific job description, volunteer guidelines, a ministry covenant, program purpose statement, 12 month youth ministry calendar and something fun, like a $5 card from Starbucks to enjoy a hot cuppa while reading and praying.

That’s how I do it, anyway. Hoep this helps!

Stephanie Caro is a youth ministry blogger at Small Church Youth Ministry and has written a book on the subject you might want to check out, too.