More Volunteers Please!
By Cindy Klick
Cultivating a culture of amazing volunteers is a work in progress. Volunteers in youth ministry seem to fit into that post-COVID phenomenon of supply and demand – when you need them the most, the shelves are bare! Here are some strategies that our youth ministry has found helpful:
1. Keep up with annual background checks and safety training, so these processes become part of the expectation rather than a surprise or a roadblock.
Challenge: Getting Started or Feeling Stuck
Solution: Use existing free materials from Safe Sanctuaries (especially “Safe Sanctuaries Policies and Guidelines for Smaller Congregations” or “A Comprehensive Abuse Prevention Policy Development Guide”) to help start or refresh a policy. Get the updated Safer Sanctuaries in 2023 for additional training support.
2. Consider having adults who facilitate Sunday Christian education to start with the youngest youth and move up with them through high school. We know our students thrive most when adults are invested in them extend beyond their families and paid youth staff. Volunteers who stay with their group for several years help create a welcoming climate. Youth who alternate between two homes/two sets of parents or who don’t attend church regularly will encounter familiar, friendly faces whenever they can come. If youth stay in the same space/classroom as they mature, they will feel even more at home.
Challenge: Pitching Long-Term Volunteer Opportunities
Solution: You already know who the longest-term and dedicated volunteers in your ministry are. Talk with them about this model of ministry and have them champion the power of longer-term connections in youth ministry.
3. Assign prayer partners to each student in your confirmation program. Prayer partners then become obvious substitute leaders on those days that a confirmation family-group facilitator can't be present, cementing further that faith-based camaraderie. For the sake of relationship-building, an effective prayer partner can maintain family connections by serving in the same role as younger siblings travel through confirmation.
Challenge: Not knowing enough of the congregation to find prayer partners
Solution: Start being present in worship, attending small groups, and building relationships with those outside the current youth ministry orbit. When you make requests for prayer partners or similar volunteer opportunities, congregation members will know who you are and be more likely to say “yes” than to a general announcement in worship or a bulletin.
4. Hold volunteers accountable and let them know you're grateful! It's tough to have a conversation with a volunteer who has misspoken, or doesn't prepare for the lesson, or perhaps isn't a good fit after all. Our primary responsibility is to the youth, so those encounters with volunteers need to happen when things aren't going well. Every chance you get, let those who are showing up, pouring love into the students, and modeling their own Christian faith know how much they are appreciated!
Challenge: Fear of conflict or “rocking the boat”
Solution: Inform the pastor (or other responsible church staff) about the need for this conversation. Pray beforehand, rehearse your talking points about the conversation, and pray before, during, and after the conversation.