When I came to Alexandria Covenant Church in February of 2006, there were about 20 adult youth leaders on board. As of this past spring, we had 72 adults serving in one capacity or another in the youth ministry. Most of recruiting comes down to having a strong vision that compels people to become a part of a movement that’s bigger than they are. Keeping them on board for the long-haul involves not only the vision, but also a couple other key things that I do, as the youth pastor.
1. Continually cast the vision. The vision drives everything you do in ministry. People don’t get excited about serving because you beg them to teach a Sunday school class that no one else wants to teach. They need to know why, the difference their involvement will make in the bigger picture of where your youth ministry is going, doing, and becoming.
2. Pray for them and with them. Your ministry needs to be saturated in prayer. That includes the adult leaders. Ask them how you can pray for them and their families. Whenever you’re together, pray for them. When you pray alone, remember them.
3. Make sure everything they do with the youth group is free. Reimburse anything that is ministry-related. If they take a kid out for ice cream, if they go on a trip, if they drive kids to an event, reimburse it all. We even have a youth group account set up at a local grocery store where leaders can charge food if they buy it for their small group or a class. (More on why volunteers should always go for free.)
4. Provide opportunities for training. The largest budget line item I have for our youth ministry is training. It is easily the best way we can invest money in our youth ministry. There is no substitute for a well-trained, passionate youth leader. Buying curriculum only lasts a couple weeks, but a leader who loves what they do and feels confident and supported by the church will do it for a long time. And we all know that longevity in youth ministry is essential for effective ministry.
5. Shower them with gifts, notes, and praises. Every Christmas I make sure I write a thank-you note of appreciation to every leader and include a little gift. Throughout the rest of the year I sent random postcards and emails encouraging them, thanking them, and telling them how much of an impact they’re having. In fact, I don’t think I ever send an email to a youth leader, either personally or to a group of leaders, without thanking them.
6. Always publicly support them. Not only do they need you to thank them and praise them privately, but they need to hear you praise them publicly, as well. Every year our church has a special Christian Education Appreciation Sunday where we highly them, thank them, and publicly “show them off” in front of the congregation.
7. Model the boundaries and expectations you hold for leaders. It really helps unify the team when you all follow a common “code of conduct” together. It shows the rest of the team that it’s not just something you expect them to do, but that this youth ministry thing is something you’re all in together.
8. Value their input. If you call it a “team,” then make sure you treat it as such. It’s not a one-man show with a bunch of little followers who do your bidding. You may be the team captain, but you’re all still on a team together. Listen to them, include them in decisions, and hear their criticisms and encouragement equally.
9. Delegate the authority that goes along with a responsibility. Every responsibility usually comes with authority in that area, but unfortunately too many “leaders” put people in charge of something while retaining all the authority of the responsibility. If you put someone in charge of an event, give them full authority over that event (within reason, of course). When one of my adult leaders or a student leader is in charge of putting something together, I support them 100% and do whatever they ask me to do. I even let them veto me.
10. Utilize their passion. Every youth leader feels like there are “holes” in their ministry that they need to fill — small groups that need leaders, classes that need teachers, trips that need chaperons. While it’s tempting to use leaders to make a more “complete” ministry, use leaders were their passions lie, not just where your ministry’s “holes” are.
Someone on MinistryQuestions.com asked for advice on how to retain youth leader volunteers. I gave a brief version of what I listed above. Do you have any advice for her?
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Posted on July 6, 2009