Youth ministry is all about working within different seasons. At times, you will have more students attending your events than you ever thought and at other times, you are unsure where everyone is at. The same is true with volunteers, sometimes you have little or no volunteers and at other times, you are unsure what to do with everyone you have. Of course, the number of volunteers you have is sometimes based directly with how much effort you put towards them but we must not forget that sometimes there is no new resources to draw from to find new volunteers to replace those who are done for now.
Youth Specialties highlighted a rockstar volunteer, Verna Kline, recently on their website who is an 81 year old volunteer youth worker who has been volunteering for 63 years. Here is the video of Tic Long at NYWC honoring her many years of service.
Because there are different seasons to volunteers’ lives and getting new volunteers, we need to always be promoting an environment of life-long service in youth ministry. So when we run into those seasons of low numbers of volunteers, we can lean on those who are in it for the long haul. Some of the ways we can promote this attitude of life-long service include:
- Let them know your expectations from the start. If you tell them they are going to be doing games up-front, do not force them to do a sermon or lead small group without first asking for their permission..
- Publicly praise their years of service. If you have those volunteers who have served for 5, 10, 15, 0r more years, praise them to your staff, students, congregations and other volunteers. Let them know you love them as well as other volunteers who may look up to them.
- Know their love languages. That means that you need to know what stresses them out and what builds them up. Then use that valuable knowledge to put them in the perfect volunteer roles. If they hate public speaking, they may be the perfect small group leaders. This also comes in with affirming them, some leaders would rather get a starbucks gift card as a sign of a job well done, others would rather be told how much it meant to the students.
- Set them up for the win. We all love to have those moments when our excitement is renewed because of some kind of win. If we can become selfless and give that opportunity to a volunteer when we see it, we will be empowering them more than words ever can.
- Allow for “vacations” from ministry instead of “retirements.” Life is hard and when volunteers have their own children, careers, and other expectations and goals, you can do everything right by your volunteers and they may still need to stop volunteering. But instead of saying good-bye to them, communicate instead that it is good-bye for now, letting them know you are welcoming them back when they are ready.
- Invest in them personally, rather than just professionally. I am all about talking with volunteers, getting their opinions on topics of youth ministry, and asking for creative ideas for ministry. But I love to simply hang out with my volunteers, over coffee, a dinner, or board games. Open up the opportunities to be with volunteers beyond trainings and at youth group and live life with them.
How else do you try to get life-long volunteers?