In youth ministry, we are always trying to get more adults on board with raising up the next generation and equipping them for a lifetime of faith. Recruiting volunteers is no easy task, and landing a high-capacity leader is even more difficult. After all, we want more than warm bodies leading our students, we want leaders who are fully invested, leaders who see student ministry as their ministry.
In our pursuit to bring new leaders in the front door, what is often over-looked is the back door. How many leaders did you lose last year? Why did you lose them? Did you even ask, or did you accept their stock answer of “I just have too much on my plate right now.” What I have discovered is that people don’t like to tell why they are leaving a ministry. It’s awkward. This is the church after all, and many adults feel weird telling the youth pastor, “You are just a really bad leader and fail to equip those under you.”
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the back door.
Here are 5 Ways to Lose a Volunteer:
Don’t Set Expectations
A sure fire way to send a new volunteer running is by failing to set expectations. Leaders new and old need to be reminded annually or bi-annually what you expect from them. There is nothing more frustrating than asking how follow-up with new students is going and hearing a volunteer say, “Wait, we are supposed to follow-up?”
A good way to remind volunteers of your expectations is to have them sign yearly agreements. This gives you a chance each year to remind them what you expect of their involvement in ministry, their personal character, and their pursuit of Jesus.
Don’t Train Them
Your volunteers are a ticking time bomb if you fail to train them for ministry. While you are a youth ministry veteran who knows all the tips and tricks of the trade, many of the leaders stepping in to volunteer with students feel ill-equipped to lead well. Training goes FAR beyond just teaching crowd control and should involve a high level of theological and spiritual development.
I truly believe that the tide of ministry will rise and fall with your ability to train leaders. When you are equipping leaders to lead students to Jesus, ministry will flourish. When you are trying to do everything yourself or fail to equip leaders, ministry will flounder and fall.
Give Them an Insignificant Task
Have you ever been asked to do something you deemed pointless? Yes. How did it make you feel? Pointless. If you cannot find a meaningful task for a leader who wants to volunteer with the student ministry, point them toward another ministry in the church that could use their services.
If you do not have something significant for a volunteer to do, pass them along. Don’t create a new position for the sake of accommodating a potential volunteer. Know where you need people and where you do not need people. If a volunteer cannot fulfill one of the needs that you already have or desperately need, have the courage to pass them along to another ministry in the church. If you create new positions with no vision or ask a leader to do something fruitless, don’t expect them to stick around long.
Fail To Communicate
How would you feel if your pastor or executive pastor stopped communicating with you concerning the direction and vision of the church? (Maybe some of you already feel this way and others wish this happened!) Here’s how you should feel: disconnected.
If a volunteer feels out of the loop, like they are learning everything last minute, or if they have to create direction and vision because you have failed to deliver it, they will leave. It might not be right away, but it’ll happen. Communication is key in retaining volunteers. You should see this as a two way street and not only be quick to communicate, but quick to listen!
Here’s the deal. Not everyone is Mother Teresa. Not everyone can work as unto the Lord void of any personal or public affirmation. Your volunteers are there because they want to see students grow into men and women of God, but they also want to know they are valued and that what they are doing is making a difference.
If you want to retain volunteers affirm them early and often. Don’t wait until they expand a Small Group to 30; affirm them when they go from 2 to 3! Celebrate small wins. Going back to our point on training, often appreciation and affirmation are needed so that leaders know they are doing the right thing! Affirm you leaders by email, texts, and social media. Affirming you leaders publicly can even open the front door for more volunteers!
What else have you done to lose a volunteer?
May we learn from each other’s shortcomings and shut that back door as much as possible. Let’s get leaders in positions for the long haul.