Nurturing (and Keeping) Volunteers



By Britt Martin

When I first started in youth ministry in rural Georgia as a college student, the last thing that was on my mind was small groups. The associate pastor continually stressed the importance “getting more adults involved in youth ministry.” In my young (and in hindsight, egotistical) mind, this meant that I should bring more adults into the room to hear my awesome lessons. “They’d probably get a lot out of hearing me, too,” I’d reason with myself.

It never made sense to me why I couldn’t keep volunteers in the room long term. They all seemed to stick around for a few weeks and then find something better to do. I’m sure you are much more humble, down to earth, and in tune to the rhythms of people than I was back in the day; but here are some things I’ve learned about keeping adult volunteers plugged in to youth ministry:

Everyone wants to be wanted. Chances are, a valuable adult volunteer with a real life, family, job, and responsibilities doesn’t want to sit in the back of the room every week and hear an awesome lesson taught to some teens. (I wish someone had told me that). Give your volunteers a job to do. Heck, give them a job description: the more specific the better. Maybe even take a chance to meet up with them for some formal or informal training. They’ll know you need them and you mean business. Give them a reason to show up.

Small groups have a BIG impact. A great way to keep volunteers plugged in is by implementing small groups. Even if there’s only a hand full of students in your group at the moment, every student can benefit from another adult relationship in his or her life.

One easy way to begin to think about employing small groups is to shorten your lesson a bit , write a couple discussion questions, and break out into groups after the lesson to discuss more in depth. Break the groups into guys and girls, and even split up ages if necessary. This gives adults a long-term relational role in the lives of your students. I’ve had more people fall in love with youth ministry through leading a small group than any other way. They invest in the lives of the kids and they keep coming back.

Say thank you. Next to not feeling needed, I’ve had more volunteers leave our team over the years because they didn’t feel appreciated. Today, at our church, we invest a significant portion of our ministry budget into our volunteers. Whether it’s training or appreciation, you can never invest too much into your volunteers.  We do everything from big thank-yous (like a volunteer appreciation dinner where we give them gifts and let students serve them) to small thank-yous (like making sure we take the Keurig and some awesome coffee just for them on retreats).

ASK! This one was the toughest one for me. I remember always going to my pastor and complaining about not being able to find volunteers. I’d created job descriptions. I had a good plan. I couldn’t wait to appreciate them and tell them thank you, but I couldn’t find any people!  I’d put it in the bulletin. I’d made announcements from the pulpit. I’d done it all. Here’s the secret sauce to recruiting volunteers. People want to be asked. It can be a scary or feel presumptuous to step up and declare that you are qualified to work with teenagers. Many people won’t respond to announcement-style recruitment (and often if they do, they’re not who you want). If you see someone that you feel would be a good fit with your youth ministry, ask him or her directly. It sounds so simple because it is.

Use these as guidelines and before you know it you’ll have an incredible volunteer team building awesome relational momentum in your ministry.