Creating Volunteer Expectations

February 15th, 2017

We all have them. We had them when we first came to the church we are serving at. We had them when we met our spouse or thought about raising our children. We had them when we were in school. We had them as we graduated. We had them as we went on our first mission trip or planned our first retreat.

We certainly have them when it comes to people volunteering in the ministry we serve.


It’s almost a whispered word said in secret… expectations. Too often these things go unspoken and yet become one of the greatest points of tension between a leader and a volunteer. I am certainly no expert, but there are a few things I have learned about creating volunteer expectations.

1. Expectations must be expressed.

An unexpressed expectation will be an unmet expectation that leads to frustration. If you, as a youth pastor or leader, want something to happen, if you expect a certain thing to be accomplished, then you must communicate that.

[bctt tweet=”An unexpressed expectation will be an unmet expectation that leads to frustration.” username=”ys_scoop”]

This is one that I learned the hard way. I’m sure you can relate. I wanted my leaders to show up early so that they were ready and prepared for when students began arriving. But, my problem was I hadn’t expressed this expectation. I just hoped it would happen. I lightly joked about it with leaders as they came in late, “Oh, hey, look who made it!” and that sort of thing.

When I finally took the initiative, I actually wrote it into a youth leader contract at the beginning of the year and talked about that expectation with all of our old and new leaders. I turned this time before into a short pre-group meeting and prayer time together with all of our youth leaders. It became a met expectation because I expressed it in written and verbal form for my volunteers.

Expressed expectations can be the difference between setting your volunteers up for success or setting them up for failure.

2. Expectations must be clear and realistic.

Clear expectations separate good volunteers from great volunteers. With the help of clear and expressed expectations, your volunteers can be the best of the best. How can your expectations be clear?

First, you must spend time writing them out.

It is not enough to simply say, “I expect you to be here on time.” That certainly should be an expectation, and one we should hold all of our leaders to, but flesh this out more. If you want your leaders to be great, you need to speak to the why. Speaking to the “why” of the expectation will help them catch the vision and not just follow the expectation but hold others to that expectation as well.

If you expect leaders to be early, paint the picture of what difference it makes if they arrive early. There are students who come early every week. These students are at youth group during a time when there is no program, no set schedule, but just downtime before programming begins. This provides unique discipleship opportunities and an occasion for the leader to learn more about this student in a context that is not crazy and loud. Maybe that student comes early because he or she can’t stand one more minute with mom or dad and comes as a way of escape. Maybe that student comes early because he or she wants to serve and plug into the youth ministry somehow. Whatever the reason, paint the picture for the expectation.

Second, once they are written out, they must be taught to volunteers.

Whether this happens in training meetings, video training, emails or text messages, expectations need to be consistently and clearly referenced by the leader. This keeps them in front of the volunteers, reinforces that these expectations actually matter and give the leader a reference for leader evaluation at a later date.

What kind of expectations should be set? Expectations can communicate to a youth volunteer, “You are an integral part of this ministry. We could not do this without you.”

I think it depends on the volunteer what kind of expectations are set. Some volunteers we can ask big things of. What I mean by this is certain volunteers have a great capacity to handle certain expectations and roles than others. Some volunteers may be in charge of the snack bar, while other volunteers are asked to be emcees every time group meets. These may both be “big” asks, but they are different types of “big.” They are “big that fit.” The right person is in the right place. You may want to avoid asking the shy, quiet, behind-the-scenes person to be the up front game person each youth group night; you may want to avoid asking the boisterous, loud, passionate young adult to only do administrative work and never interact in a small group or large group setting.

Creating realistic expectations means that we need to know our volunteers.

What gets them fired up? What makes them tick? What upsets them? What situations would be a good stretch out of their comfort zone, and which asks will actually drive them away from volunteering again? I think expectations can best be set in relationship with volunteers.

3. Expectations must be expected

This one seems to be a no-brainer. Obviously, if there are expectations, they will be expected. But we know that’s actually not true, is it? Just because something is expected of you does not mean you’ll actually be held accountable for it.

Whatever ministry you lead, express the expectations, make them clear, set realistic expectations, and then stick to them.

Holding volunteers to set expectations is easiest when it is started at the beginning. Midway through the year if you vent your frustration to a volunteer because he or she isn’t meeting your expectations, they may have no idea where you’re coming from.

As soon as a new volunteer enters your ministry, be certain they know what is expected of them. Build a culture where they know they will be held to this standard of expectations. This is a culture where volunteers will feel challenged and valued.

When volunteers feel challenged and valued, they will be integral parts of a ministry that makes and builds disciples. Expect your volunteers to meet your expectations.

BONUS: Some expectations must move beyond into requirements.

There are some set expectations that should be in place for EVERY volunteer, regardless of role or personality. These expectations should be regarding conduct and character.

For example, every volunteer in our children’s and youth ministries must pass a background check and adhere to a Safe Haven policy. This is a written expectation that every single volunteer is expected to follow.

Another example would be a character requirement for volunteers, especially small group leaders, who are going to be in close contact with students for a significant period of time. We want our volunteers to live in a way that reveals Christ. Don’t expect perfection, but do expect a growing Christ-likeness.

We cannot effectively be the Church unless we have volunteers. When you are recruiting and leading volunteers, be certain that you think ahead and create volunteer expectations. You will be glad you did!

Ben Marshall has served as a Youth and Young Adult Pastor in Holland, MI since 2014. Ben has a passion for discipling youth and young adults and helping them realize their God-given potential. He is married to Connie and they just had their first child Aliya Joy in October 2016. He loves playing guitar, soccer and football. Follow Ben on Twitter @BENMARSHALL3 or on his blog at FAITHLIVEDOUT.WORDPRESS.COM.


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.