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Caring for Rockstars (aka Volunteers)

Volunteers are rockstars. As point youth workers, we couldn’t do what we do without them. They are the ones who journey alongside students and do life with them, encourage them, challenge them, and live out what it looks like to love and follow Jesus.

Caring for volunteers is one of the most important things we can do for the health of our ministries… to reach students with the love of Jesus and to see lives transformed.

Far too often, we get “too busy” keeping up with event details, prepping to teach, and hanging out with kids ourselves, that we “run out of time” to pour into, care for and equip our volunteers effectively. Our ministries suffer as a result.

While it may seem counter-intuitive as a youth pastor to spend more hours with our adult volunteers than with our youth – it is actually the best investment we can make as we steward the time and resources God has given us as we lead! This is more and more crucial as our ministries grow.

So how can we care for our amazing volunteers?!

Here are 6 simple, meaningful ways.

1. Get to know them. (Actually!) Learn as much as you can about your volunteers (Yes, beyond discovering just enough information to let you know they’d be a great fit for that role you’ve been hoping to fill.)

  • Take them for coffee
  • Listen to their story
  • Ask about their family, friends, work, and life outside of their job and church involvement (if you’re like me, you’ll likely want to write these things down afterwards so you can be sure to remember them!)
  • Discover why they’re involved in youth ministry
  • Ask what makes them tick?
    • What are their gifts?
    • Passions?
    • Skills?
    • Hopes for the future?

2. Ask for feedback. Don’t just take them for coffee once to convince them to volunteer and then forget about them until they stop showing up. Connecting regularly should be an ongoing part of your care for volunteers. Asking for (and listening to) their feedback helps you learn, and communicates how much you value them and their voice in your ministry.

Questions to ask:

  • What do you think is working well for your youth workers?
  • Where do you see opportunities to improve our ministry?
  • Is there anything you’re unclear about?
  • How have you seen God at work?

3. Set them up to win. Paint a vision of what you’re working towards together as a team and how you plan to get there. Even better, invite them into the process! Make sure everyone is clear about both the why and how. Be clear with the expectations of their volunteer role:

  • Attendance at weekly program, events and retreats?
  • Connections with youth outside of program nights?
  • Any prep that’s expected prior to youth nights, etc.?
  • Lifestyle agreement/commitment?

4. Encourage. Encourage. Encourage! I would argue that this might be the single most important way to practically care for and retain volunteers. Just like any of us, our volunteers want to know that they’re known, valued, and that they’re doing a good job. So…

  • Encourage often.
    • Write a card. Yes, pick up a pen, find a card, write nice things in it, and send it to your volunteers. Trust me, it goes a long way!
    • Send a text. “Hey – saw you chatting with Johnny’s new friend tonight – thanks for introducing him to the rest of the group!” “Great job leading the game tonight – so appreciate you Zach!” “Abbie, thanks for sharing your story tonight, it set everyone up for such amazing conversations in small groups!”
    • Pick up the phone. On your way home from youth, call a volunteer or two just to thank them and tell them you appreciate them.
  • Encourage genuinely and specifically. Avoid offering encouragement that is insincere or that may come across as too generic. Look for opportunities where you can authentically affirm your volunteers for who they are and how you see God at work in and through them.

5. Care consistently and practically. Care enough to ask how they’re doing, and stop long enough to actually listen. Care enough to follow up. How did that big work meeting went that they told you about at coffee last week? I’m praying for your midterms. Text to see how they’re doing if they were sick and missed youth last night.

Ask how they’re doing spiritually. Are they involved in a small group? How’s that going? Where are they being fed spiritually? What is God teaching them these days? How can you support them in their own faith and walk with God?

6. Pray for them. Ask your leaders how you can be praying for them. Pray for them in person. (Even if you’re going out for coffee and it feels a bit strange, take the opportunity at the end of your time together to pray for them about the things they’ve shared.) Pray together with your volunteers for your students, families and ministry. Commit to praying for one or two of your leaders specifically each week. Text them to let them know you’re praying for them.

Caring well for our volunteers doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated, but it needs to be intentional.

What can you do THIS week to care for the rockstar volunteers who serve and love the students in your ministry?

Sarah Stanley | Pastor of NextGen Mobilization, Trinity Church | Kelowna, BC