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5 Ways To Hook New Volunteers In Your Youth Ministry

Eric Turner
October 24th, 2019

If you have been a youth leader for very long, you know that getting adult volunteers to help out with youth group can be challenging.  Whether it be for weekly bible study, worship, camps or retreats, it seems like we are always looking for someone to help out.  Which means we sometimes end up settling for any “warm body” that will show up.  Or, we feel like we have to beg.  

There is a better way to hook not just leaders but the best leaders your church has to offer and get them to not just commit but invest in your teenagers.  Stop doing youth ministry alone and start surrounding yourself with quality, mature Christian adults with these 5 easy steps.

IDENTIFY POTENTIAL LEADERS

Know the type of leaders you want to surround yourself with and start to look for those type of leaders within your church.  Leadership books will advise you to look for leaders that will fill your weaknesses, which is good advice.  The best thing you can do is keep your eyes and ears open 24/7 for Christian adults who might be great leaders for the ministry.  And you never know where, how, or when you will come across such leaders.  

I once took a few students to a Christian concert and ran into a married couple from our church.  They had gotten a baby sitter and were at the rock concert on a date, just the two of them.  I immediately blurted out loud, “You came to a Christian rock concert for a date!?  Why aren’t you helping with the youth group?” 

You may not run into great leaders like that. However, I have worked for churches large and small, and if I knew where to look and didn’t give up or settle, I have been able to find great and amazing youth leaders (That couple ended up helping out with the youth group and are now some of the primary volunteer leaders of the group 10 years later!).

Furthermore, don’t just look for the hipster college kid.  Yes, you need some leaders with big personalities that naturally attract students, but you also need someone who can help with the tech side, music, or organization.  Some of my most valuable volunteers have been the more “seasoned” citizens who simply take attendance each week and make sure each kid is greeted and feels welcome!  In our culture, this simple action can be huge!

This next step may be quick if you already know the person really well.  But don’t skip it altogether.  It is still a valuable conversation and specific dialogue to have.    

GRAB A COFFEE AND GET TO KNOW THEM

If you don’t know this person very well, go grab a coffee and get know more about their life story, faith story, and what brought them to the church.  Discover what their spiritual gifts are and what they enjoy doing.  If your schedules don’t allow for you to meet outside the church, make arrangements to meet before or after a worship service.  Maybe they are a sound tech person, or the fun creative game type.  Having a variety of personality types and strengths will only strengthen your overall group of volunteers.  So as long as they love Jesus and love teenagers, there is a place for them to serve. Even if they love Jesus but don’t know if they love teenagers or not yet, keep working on them and hopefully this next step will help.   

INVITE THEM TO A PROGRAM/EVENT

Once you feel like they could be a good fit, let them know that you truly think they could play a huge part in helping reach teenagers for Jesus and you want them to consider it.  Then invite them to a typical youth group night. Don’t expect anything from them except for them to show up and observe.  If you are really “sneaky” you could have a couple of your upperclassman who are natural leaders in the group go up and introduce themselves and highlight an exciting part of the ministry (a recent camp, mission trip, or worship night).  Don’t overwhelm the potential volunteer, but make sure they get a good taste of the amazing things going on in the youth ministry.  Then when the night is over, be sure to thank them for coming and then let them know that you will be texting them to see when you could get together to discuss how the night went.  Try not to do it that night.  Allow them to process everything and allow the night to sink in.  Generally, connecting with them the next Sunday or sometime during the next week works great!

FOLLOW UP TO DISCUSS VISION AND CALLING

After they experienced an awesome night and got to see the ministry in action, invite them out for coffee again or arrange to meet with them on a Sunday morning and discuss how the night went.  Ask them for feedback, impressions, thoughts and comments.  Even if they are critical at times, listen closely, don’t push back and hear them out.  People want to serve where they feel they can be an asset and a valuable contributor.  If they saw a weakness or something they think might need changed, if you shut them down and dismiss them immediately, they might feel like you don’t want what they have to offer.  Even if they have bad suggestions, there are ways to “affirm” them without shutting them down (e.g. “That’s an interesting idea, I’ll have to look into that more”).  

Next, it’s your time to share the vision God has given you for the ministry.  Share the big picture of what God is doing in the ministry.  Share how important it is for mature Christian adults to come along side these students and help them on this spiritual journey.  Lastly, share how and why you think they would be a good fit for the ministry.  Then ask them to spend the next few days or couple of weeks praying about it and praying if God is calling them to work with teenagers.  You can have a very gifted leader, but if they aren’t called by God to work with teenagers, they won’t last long and will probably end up hurting more than helping.  

Some might think it’s strange to talk about calling so late in the process.  But in my experience, I can stand in front of the congregation every Sunday and ask (even beg) if anyone is feeling “called” to help with teenagers to fill out a connection card.  It’s no surprise that very few, if any, ever do.  However, if I show them the ministry in action, if they can put names and faces to actual students in the group, if they can hear and see my God given vision for the group, and then be invited by me personally to join the team, it changes everything.

GIVE THEM A SPECIFIC ROLE

Many times, youth leaders can be good at getting new volunteers but struggle to keep them.  One primary reason is because they don’t give the leader a specific role to play each week.  The majority of adult volunteers end up on “discipline duty” where they spend the whole night telling kids to stop talking, put the phone away, or to wake up and listen.  They don’t feel valued, appreciated or needed, so they fade away.  Find a spot and a role for every volunteer.  Whether it be simply taking attendance, greeting students as they come in, handing out Bibles, arranging the chairs, or leading a small group.  Make sure they know their role each week and how it’s important to the health and growth of the group.  Get creative and be flexible.  Don’t make a volunteer do the announcements, if they hate public speaking.  At the same time, don’t put the wacky, fun and games guy with adult ADHD in the sound booth running the slides.  Find the right fit and balance for each volunteer.  

Then, especially for your new volunteers, ask them to commit for only one school year.  If they are really hesitant, ask for one semester.  This way it sets an end date where they can reevaluate their calling.  One fear new leaders have is that they will be trapped and never get a break or be able to step away if they don’t like it.  Give them an out.  It settles their minds early on (It gives you an out too, just in case they aren’t as good as leader as you thought they were). I can count on one hand the number of volunteers I’ve had step aside after the first year, compared to the dozens upon dozens of adult leaders who stick around for years to come.  Generally, once they become a part of the culture of the ministry and the kids get to know them, they’re hooked! 

Eric Turner

Eric has been working with high school and college students for over 15 years including more than a decade of full time youth ministry. He has a B.A. in Christian Ministry and M.A. in Theological Studies. He currently lives in Oklahoma City with his amazing wife and three kids where he is a theology teacher at a college-prep Christian high school.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.

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