If you’re facing some struggles – such as lack of accountability or volunteers overstepping responsibilities – here are four pointers I’ve seen work in my two decades of youth ministry service.
1. Train your workers. Never bring an adult volunteer onboard for student programs without first sitting down with them to walk through the church’s handbook of guidelines. Meet with each individual outside of a church service to go over the hows and whys of your program. Make sure they understand their role and what’s expected of them. This isn’t a one-time meeting, either. I’ve found it works best to do annual one-on-one meetings as well as group volunteer meetings.
2. Do your pastoral care. Pastoral care is often overlooked and underutilized for volunteers. I’ve found when an adult leader isn’t performing well, it’s usually because they don’t feel valued. A phrase I have loved and used with our volunteers is, “We care more about you than your spot.” If a volunteer needs some time to heal from a difficult season, be sensitive to that. An unhealthy leader can’t lead. Be sure to check on your volunteers and strengthen friendships with them – these relationships are ministry – and that positivity will flow throughout the church.
3. Set the standard. Lack of accountability among volunteers isn’t OK. Conversations to confront volunteers about this aren’t easy – and I still struggle with this myself – but I have learned it helps volunteers either step up or find a better role in which they can flourish. If you don’t hold a standard you will lose high capacity volunteers. Over time you will attract and keep dedicated, talented leaders – thus improving the ministry.
4. Know when it’s time to let a volunteer go. This is a hard situation, but I’ve seen times when a volunteer has needed to be released from their responsibilities. This is the individual you’ve met with numerous times, cared for and encouraged them in different roles. Some people are not meant to be in your ministry and that’s OK. It may cause hurt feelings or tension, but for the sake of your ministry you must know when it’s time to release them from their volunteer responsibilities. You’ve been charged with creating environments that help young people grow closer to Jesus. Nothing should distract from that.
It may take some time to implement these four practices, but the more you hold your ground the better your student ministry will be. Dive into the Word and saturate your life, ministry and heart in prayer. But most importantly, trust God will use you, your efforts and your ministry to draw more lives to Him.
Joe Smith is a veteran of youth ministry, having served as lead youth minister in multiple churches over the past 20 years. He’s also served as a senior minister and preaching minister of churches in Florida, and currently serves on the ministry staff at Shift Church in Gainesville, Florida. To contact Joe, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.