Recruiting and Retaining Leaders in Youth Ministry
People are often surprised to hear that I actually enjoy hanging out with junior high students. I’m frequently told that I must have a “special” heart—most people I talk to are intimidated by the thought of spending time with this age group. Because of this, recruiting leaders is one of the most difficult tasks I’m asked to do. How am I going to find quality adult leaders who want to give up their time and energy to hang out with a bunch of messy, awkward, and rambunctious junior high students? It can be difficult to recruit leaders and help them overcome their fear of these young adolescents, so why do I do it? I do it because my ministry is very limited when I try to lead all on my own. When I bring along others to help me, I see the ministry multiply and flourish. Our students come in with a variety of personalities and interests, so having a variety of leaders helps me reach more types of students. We all bring different gifts and talents into the ministry, and God uses us together to create a more efficient and complete ministry. So how do we get great leaders and keep them in our ministries?
Ideas for Recruiting Leaders
Maybe this seems obvious, but the best way to start recruiting leaders is to pray that God is working on the hearts of those He desires to use in your ministry. Pray, and ask others in your church for names of potential leaders. Pray for wisdom and discernment as you seek the right leaders for your ministry. Trust and know that God is in control over this whole process and that He will help you as He calls leaders into your ministry.
Probably the best way to ask someone to serve in your ministry is to do so in person. I usually start by telling the person that I have—or someone else has—noticed great leadership potential in them and that I would love to meet with them over coffee or lunch to talk about the opportunity to work together in ministry. This is a great way to get to know the person better, hear how God is working in their lives, discover their heart for ministry, and begin to discern if they would be a good fit.
During your coffee/lunch meeting, provide your potential volunteers with an information packet. This should include the following information about your ministry: mission statement, vision, core values, volunteer job descriptions with clear expectations, volunteer application forms, and ministry calendars. Give this packet to your potential leader, and ask them to look through it and pray about the possibility of serving in your ministry. This is a great way to share how God is leading your heart and passion for the ministry, and it demonstrates that you’re organized and desire for them to have a better understanding of what you’re asking of them.
Give your potential leader a timeline for when you would like to follow up with them. Be available to meet or answer any questions they may have. Make sure you follow up in a timely fashion. Ideally, it’s best to recruit your leaders approximately six months out from the time you need them. For example, your fall leaders should be recruited around March or April. This allows them some time to decide and prepare for leadership, and it keeps you from becoming desperate at the last minute.
Ideas for Retaining Leaders
The best leaders are those who are consistent and remain in your ministry for years. These are the leaders you can trust and rely on—the leaders who continue to grow in their own faith as they disciple others—the leaders who become cheerleaders for your ministry and are able to encourage others to be part of the exciting things God is doing in the life of your church and ministry.
You need to spend time leading your leaders. Provide them with regular training/equipping sessions. Give them resources that will help them grow as leaders. Expect them to be growing in their own faith through worship and personal Bible Study. Meet with them regularly to pray for the ministry. Some of the ways I disciple my leaders is through leadership training videos, weekly youth culture trends, weekly prayer and debriefing meetings after youth group, and monthly leader meetings that include some training and some specific discussion about our ministry (prayer requests, evaluations, upcoming needs).
Let your leaders know you appreciate them. Find fun and creative ways to thank them. Point out specific actions or qualities you notice in them. Treat them to coffee or lunch to catch up with them. Get to know them personally; learn about their families, interests, and hobbies. I can remember a specific meeting with a leader who was frustrated by the behavior of a student in his small group and on the edge of stepping down from our ministry. I invited him to coffee and was able to encourage him in leadership and talk about some ways we could improve his experience while serving. This simple meeting allowed him to see that I genuinely cared about him as a leader and a person. We were able to work through his frustration, and he continues to serve in the ministry seven years later.
Leaders who know what is expected of them, are excited about the ministry, are growing as leaders and followers of Jesus, and who feel encouraged by your leadership and care will eventually be the leaders who recruit new leaders for you as your ministry grows. They’re the leaders who are in the trenches with you—they see God at work in their lives and in the lives of those they’re serving, and they’re able to get their peers excited about being a part of that kind of ministry with them!
ANDY JUVINALL is the Director of Junior High Ministry at Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, IL. He is the husband to Melissa, Father to a baby girl named Magdalene, and has been working in Middle School Youth Ministry for twelve years.
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.