Over the course of my youth ministry career I have had lots and lots of people serve on our youth ministry team only to transition off way earlier than I would have hoped. I’ve also had more than a few stay for way longer than I would have hoped, too, but those are stories for another day.
People will leave your team for all sorts of reasons, and many of those reasons will be perfectly acceptable and healthy; nobody serves the same church and the same ministry forever. Change is inevitable. What I’ve learned about myself is that I often assume people leave for one or two of a handful of typical reasons: new season of life, not feeling properly equipped, not believing in direction and leadership of youth group, etc. The truth is that while some people do leave for these reasons, a shockingly large number of youth workers leave youth work for one simple reason:
They don’t feel encouraged or appreciated.
Youth ministry has a way of zapping the confidence of otherwise highly successful people. I’ve seen corporate CEOs whither under the pressure of giving announcements to a group of 7th grade boys. Because of this, when discouragement sets in, it’s fairly easy and seems perfectly natural for volunteers to cash in their chips.
So if people walk away from our teams because they feel discouraged and unappreciated, it makes sense that part of our “volunteer cycle” would be the encouragement our volunteers! And here’s the best part: encouraging your team is easy and incredibly fun. Toss in the fact that it’s highly effective and you’d be a dope not to be doing more and more of it.
Need a few ideas? Here you go.
Catch Them Doing Something Good. Did a volunteer go out of her way to make a loner feel accepted? Did he stay for 20 minutes after church to help clean up? Did you overhear somebody defusing an upset parent without throwing you under the bus? Make a mental note and follow up with a phone call, or text the next day thanking them for going above and beyond.
Give Them A Day Off. Surprise a leader by volunteering to cover their small group so they can take one night off. Or hand her a movie ticket on her way into youth group and tell her to see a movie instead of serving in the youth group this week.
Show Up When They Need You. Are they sick? Stop by to pray for them. Did somebody in his or her family just have surgery? Organize meals for a couple of weeks.
Celebrate With Them. If they get a new job or promotion, send them a congratulations card. Give them an anniversary card. Take them to coffee on their birthday. My personal favorite is when you can talk to a spouse or friend and find out something smaller and seemingly insignificant and congratulate them for that. “Bob, I’m so proud of you for doing the laundry for your wife last night….You go, Bob!”
Treat Them Like Your Personal Youth Group. In essence, encourage your volunteer team and minister to them in the same way you are hoping they encourage and minister to the teenagers in your youth group. The larger your youth ministry becomes, the more important it is that you spend your time pastoring your volunteers while they shepherd students.
P.S. For more ideas on encouraging your volunteers, read Tony Myles’ article “Volunteer Appreciation on a Budget.”