Healthy/effective youth ministries, function on the backs of healthy/effective volunteer youth workers. Volunteer youth workers are usually in the most important relational positions in your ministry, and the longer volunteer youth workers can stay in those positions, the more effective they become as spiritual shepherds in the lives of youth. Biblically, this is how it should be. According to Peter, we (including our volunteers) are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). The role of spiritual shepherd is not just for the “professionals”, it is for the “Christians”. As point leaders in our ministries, one of our primary tasks is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
In our ministry, we had 6 focus points for building healthy/effective volunteer teams.
1. Create a clear vision/mission. Volunteers need to know why they are doing what they are doing. This helps our leaders focus, and creates motivation.
Share the need. Make sure leaders know what is at stake if you do not pursue the mission of your ministry.
Tell stories. Make sure leaders hear the stories of students lives being changed (from students, or from other leaders) through the work of other volunteers.
2. Communicate clear expectations. Volunteers need to know what is expected of them…both in terms of “doing” (amount of time required, activities they must engage in, extra events they need to attend etc. etc.), and in terms of “being” (what does “integrity” look like for your team? Who do you need them to be/pursue/believe? What are your values as an organization?). If you do not have clear expectations, it is very difficult for your team to define and celebrate success, and it is impossible for you to hold your team accountable.
Develop volunteer job descriptions. Include both the expectations of “doing” and “being” as well as a list of values you will never compromise as a team.
3. Equip your team with the tools and resources they need. As we already said, our primary role as a point leader is to facilitate the ministry of our volunteers. Our volunteers have limited time and resources, so if they are going to succeed at what we are asking them to do, we need to make sure we are creating an environment that allows them to steward their skills, talents and time well.
Evaluate your budget. Does your budget reflect the reality that your volunteers are the most important element of your ministry? Are you financially investing in your volunteers?
Evaluate your program. Is your program designed to help your leaders build relationships and spiritually shepherd the kids in their care?
Evaluate your training. Are you providing quality training for your leaders throughout the year?
4. Support your team emotionally and spiritually. Relationships with adolescents are never done. Volunteers that commit to a relational/shepherding ministry, are constantly pouring themselves into their kids. If we want our volunteers to stay in it for the long haul (and we usually do), than we need to be pouring into them, what our ministry is taking out.
Find older, wise people in your church, that will specifically pray and encourage volunteer leaders assigned to them. Get older people in your church who would be willing to have leaders come to their house, once every month or two for supper…simply to find out how they are doing, thank them for what they are doing, and pray for what they are going to be doing.
Develop a volunteer support position. Find someone in your church whose only role is to encourage your leaders. Give them a budget so they can do coffees, write notes, buy small gifts. They should keep track of special events like birthdays etc.
Do short term bible studies with groups of leaders. Invite groups of 6 to 8 leaders to sign up for a 6 week bible study. Do it in the morning before school/work or in the evening after work or school. Repeat throughout the year a number of times so that you can connect with a different group of leaders for each session.
5. Hold your team accountable. We all need accountability. Biblically we are called to it because we belong to each other as the body of Christ. Missionally it is essential, because what we are asking our leaders to do is eternally important. And culturally, when we raise the bar of accountability in our ministries, we both attract and develop godly leaders.
Create a ministry covenant for your leaders to commit to. It is impossible to hold your team accountable for actions and behaviours you have not asked them to commit to. Meet 1 on 1 or in small groups with your leaders. At least 2 times per year, schedule in 45 minute meetings with your leaders to find out how they are doing in their ministries and how you can better support them as they journey with their kids.
6. Develop community with your leaders. As human beings, we are not designed to journey alone. We do not have the energy or the skills to do it all ourselves. We need the body of Christ. We need community. In fact, how our leaders interact and treat each other, may be one of the most effective apologetics, we can give to our kids (“they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another”).
Build retreats into your year that are just for your staff. An overnighter at the beginning of the year can be a great way to create community and equip your team for the coming ministry season.
Gather before your youth program each week for supper and prayer. In our ministry, one of the best things we did was get different parents to cook supper for our leaders each week before our kids showed up. It allowed our leaders to refocus, pray and care for each other before the night began. We had to budget about $2 per leader per meal, but it was the best $2 we spent on our ministry. It was well worth the investment.