This weekend I had a new weekend volunteer start. It was really cool to see her excited to jump right in and get started. While we were talking she told me that she felt God calling her to youth ministry with kind of a nudge specifically towards teen girls. It was great to see how excited she got talking about something she was so passionate about which got me thinking…I believe she received three things yesterday that we all need from time to time.
UnderstandExpectations – Just loving on students is not a goal or expectation. Don’t get me wrong, I use that phrase a lot but leaders need to know in what way do we love on students. They need to be able to understand what you expect of them. So be clear in your expectation, and if it takes a long time to explain it than you probably need to look for ways to explain them as simple as possible.
Express Ideas and passions – I have to remember that God called them to serve. He also gave them the passion for ministry. So I must not take that lightly and make sure they know that their ideas and insight are just as important as anyone else. I would probably say their insight is even better with them being on the outside looking in. Also, when a volunteer feels heard and valued they buy into the ministry even more. Allow them to express their ideas and passions. It doesn’t have to be done just the way you want it done all the time. They may surprise you and give great ideas and insight.
Early Wins – I remember when I first started in youth ministry. Every win I would get gave me more confidence to keep going and even gave me the confidence to stretch myself and try new things. Volunteers are there not for monetary reward, but their reward is in the change they can make in others and themselves.
If you’ve been in youth ministry for a while maybe you need to revisit the expectations that are set. How often do you get to share your ideas and passions? Maybe it’s time for a one on one with your boss. Maybe you need to take the time out to just reflect on some of the wins in your ministry. Sometimes when you’ve been in ministry for a while you can become numb to these three things. It can cause you to set your youth ministry on cruise control and you never really get excited or have that fire you once had for ministry. I know there are more, but I wanted to highlight the three that I valued as a volunteer and as staff. What would you add to the list?
This is not the end all be all to this topic. I love starting conversations and getting people thinking. I was just thinking about when I was a volunteer leader for two years and how I now lead a few of our volunteer leaders. I know how easy it is to become unmotivated when it comes to being a volunteer. So I thought I’d write some ideas on how to keep them motivated. I’m pulling from my experience as a volunteer and also as a person who has and is managing volunteer leaders.
Here are a few ways to keep your leaders motivated and engaged in my humbled opinion:
Allow your volunteer leaders input into the planning process. – This does not mean that they have to be at all the meetings for something you are programming. You want them to feel invested so figure out an area they can own and allow them to take ownership.
Try to be specific when you are celebrating and encouraging your volunteer leaders. – When I was a volunteer it meant a lot to me when I would get a complement that was related to something that I did specifically. Example: Ac..it was awesome how you made that student feel so comfortable with being here, even though they didn’t know no anyone. It didn’t mean a lot because I needed the complement, it meant a lot because it was confirming that God is using me just as he created me. We all need that from time to time.
Be consistent in meeting or connecting with them. – whether it’s a meeting monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. However you connect, be consistent with it. The more you put into your volunteer leader program, the more it shows them that they are valued.
Make sure that their duties are worth their time being there. – Plan very carefully what they will be doing, if possible let them know in advance. There is nothing worse than showing up to serve and you end up doing something because things where not planned out. I know things are never perfect but just be a wise steward of their time and yours.
Avoid having them serve at multiple events if at all possible. – As you plan your calendar think about how not to burn your leaders out, because it’s super easy to do.
Build Community – plan something fun to do together. Plan a picnic and invite their families, bowling night, pot luck dinner, etc. Whatever you do make it informal and highly relational. Which means make sure you all are doing something where conversations can be had.
Lead by example and not the iron fist. – Don’t tell them to greet, meet, connect and pray with students if you are not doing it. We are in this together, so don’t treat them as hired help.
Offer Training and/or Resources related to their job – It says you care about their success. I wanted to be the best at what was asked of me as a leader. Training and resources that can better assist them in doing their best is a win win for everyone. Even if you just have people who setup the youth group room, have a time of encouraging them, and pouring into them whatever God lays on your heart.
Acknowledge their sacrifice and their families sacrifice – They are definitely not looking for you to do this, but when you acknowledge their sacrifice it lets them know that you do not take their them for granted.
In youth ministry the concept of pastoral care for students can be a little unclear. I would love to start a conversation about what pastoral care for students should look like. I’ve talked with a lot of youth workers and leaders about this and I usually get one or two answers.
“Well, it’s on a case by case bases.” – what does that even mean?!?!
“Who ever knows the kid well enough and their personalities kind of click handles pastoral care.”
For most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, we are just winging it. I can tell you that if there isn’t an intentional plan it is most likely not being done. I like to think pastoral care is a proactive response of ministry. We think about what is the ministries response to students who are going through tough situations in their faith and life, and how can we be proactive in our response. Most of the time when we give the answers above it’s because we have made some assumptions by default.
A few assumptions we make about our ministry when it comes to Pastoral Care are:
Our programs are good enough.
Our kids are serving so they must be on the right path.
Attendance equals growth – students who come to every event you have are healthy.
Our small group leaders are handling it.
I definitely believe this is an area we must be intentional about and we must make this just as much of a priority as the programs we create for fellowship, evangelism, etc… I learned from my own ministry that there are students I will over look who are struggling with their faith or are having major issues going on at home because of my assumptions and lack of intentionality. So what are the steps I took towards being intentional in this area? Well, first I had to ask myself some questions about the ministry.
Have we made pastoral care a priority?
Within the programs we do have, how can we create opportunities to care for students better?
Are we training our leaders to care for students, or are we assuming since they signed up that they know what to do? – most of the time if we are winging it than they are to.
Are we assuming that our core students have it all together because of participation?
Here are a few ideas that we’ve implemented:
Our large group time volunteers have been trained to be proactive. We have really maximized our time with our students by commissioning our leaders to not just be available but be active. Check out – Active or Just Available?
Prayer during service for students that is tied into the service. – We’ve also had them fill out a “contact me” card just so we can follow up for continue care if needed. Most of the time you will get students who need prayer but also some guidance, so being able to follow-up is critical.
We also give each student a prayer request card so they can fill it out and request prayer. We are intentional about not being super generic about those who need to fill them out. Example: If the message is about students making bad decisions, then we will ask those students who have done so to write “contact me” on the back of the card if they need someone to talk with. We work that part into the message because it carries more weight than just making an announcement.
We used a “text in” if you are dealing with porn. So students were able to text in for someone to contact them and talk with them about their struggle with porn.
Grab a group of trusted volunteers to meet with core students one on one. Your core students would love it. I can tell you from experience, the students who are there all the time need to be met with. Those are the students who get the less care because of the attendance equals growth factor.
Start a prayer chain with your leaders for the ministry and students. – This can be open to any church member who is willing to spend a few minutes in prayer a week for the ministry. – If I was listing in order of importance this would definitely be at the top.
Training our staff and volunteers on how we will respond to students who are dealing with hot topic issues like same sex attraction, self harming, etc…
These are some super simple things that we’ve added to our ministry. These are just examples of what we’ve done. You know your ministry better than me, so come up with your own ideas for your students. The point I want you to get out of this post is to be intentional about caring for your students. Just because the students are coming out and sharing things voluntarily doesn’t mean it is not going on. We have have to think proactively.
Would love to hear more ideas on how you are caring for your students.
I have had the pleasure of revamping our volunteer youth group leader program. I can’t tell you enough how awesome it has been dreaming about how to make our weekend youth group services more relational. Now, I know that youth group volunteer leaders are nothing new. Probably every youth group has some form of adult volunteers serving in their youth ministry. I definitely applaud and commend any adult who takes on the task of being a leader in youth ministry. It can be tough at times, as students can be everything but friendly and open.
When I first begin this process I looked at our current program and kind of surveyed a few other ministries. I really felt like we were all in the same boat in terms of expectations and the actual duties of the youth group leader. The model consisted more about the leader being comfortable, present and available. Leaders were asked to do the setting up and the labor of the youth group more so than the connecting with students.
So I had an idea to challenge our leaders to be proactive in connecting with students. Instead of them waiting for students to approach them, they would approach students. I definitely understand how hard it is so I basically trained them on how to approach new and core students. I created a simple four step model for them to use. The four steps are greet, meet, connect and pray.
Greet – We want to greet students. We will greet students instead of wait in a corner for them to come to us. We will reach out to them instead of waiting for them to reach out to us.
Connect – We want to make sure that we are intentional about our conversation with students. We want to look for ways in the conversation to suggest a next step. For new students we want to guide them towards community. That could range from life groups to serving opportunities within the ministry or summer camp. You can even suggest grabbing coffee, lunch or ice cream with them sometime. For students who are already in life groups, you can suggest serving in a ministry, missions or summer camp. We want to make sure students are getting connected.
Pray – We want to pray for students. While you are connecting through conversations, once an area of struggle, pain, disappointment, hardship and trial appears offer prayer. We want to avoid saying “I’ll be praying for you”. Pray for the student right there on the spot. Even pray for the core students you already know that have been met, greeted and connected. Go deeper in conversation and pray for them. Just because they are a part of our core students doesn’t mean they have everything together. Every situation will be different but when the opportunity presents itself feel free to pray.
I also added a small after service snacks to slow students down so that we could have a chance to connect with them. I explained to our leaders that success would be just getting to greet the students. So if you walked away from your service and all you were able to do is say hi to students then I consider your time at service successful. Never underestimate the power of hi and a smile when the intention is to show God’s love to someone. The great thing about it is that most of the students will be back the next week. So now you can build relationships with those students who you have already greeted. If the leaders have the privilege to move on to the next 3 steps then I would consider that a bonus.
Yes, this definitely stretched our volunteers so it’s important that you stress the difference between what success is and what’s the added bonus. Success being the hi and a smile, and the bonus being meeting, connecting and praying for students. We launched this last weekend and it was a great success. Our leaders rose to the challenge and did an awesome job. The very site of leaders proactively greeting, meeting, connecting and praying for students was super encouraging.
I believe the key to volunteer leaders being able to really move forward in the 4 steps with confidence is making sure they feel and students know they are fully apart of leadership. We are doing 2 things to make that happen.
Our leaders were introduced from stage so students would know that they exist and would understand their purpose. This gives the leaders license and confidence to speak into the lives of the students and spiritually lead them.
They will also have the opportunity to be a part of the service (could be a video, announcement or handling communion). We want students to know that they are a part of the student ministry leadership team and getting to know them is just like getting to know staff.
How does your weekend leaders differ or resemble this process?