Written by Aaron Helman

A youth minister’s job is incredibly important, but your volunteers are the backbone of your ministry. That’s the truth that too many of us are unwilling to confront.

If you left your job tomorrow, there’s no shortage of people who are applying for youth ministry positions. Most churches can replace their youth minister within two months…

…but it can take years to build a competent, well-trained team of 10-20 great volunteers. That’s why once you’ve got them team in place, it’s so important to make sure it stays in place.

Clear expectations, rewarding ministry, and spoken gratitude will go a long way; but those are things that almost all of us are shooting for. Those are the absolute minimum that you need in place to properly care for volunteers.

This post isn’t about those things. It’s about four ways that you can go above and beyond to care your volunteers and to keep your team in place for the long haul.

Give really cheap, really great gifts.

When I go to Starbucks, I always order a grande bold roast. It’s boring, I know. In Indiana, a grande bold roast runs $2.05 after tax.

One of the coolest gifts I ever got was a Starbucks gift card for $6.15 with a note that said, “Have your next three coffees on me.”

Contrast that to the $50 Applebee’s gift card someone gave me. I don’t love Applebee’s. I mean, I’ll go if I have a gift card, but it’s not something I’d ever choose on my own.

That $6.15 Starbucks card meant more to me than the $50 Applebee’s gift card.

It’s pretty easy to give great gifts if you know your volunteers. Learn their favorite restaurants (it’s a great icebreaker the next time you have a volunteer meeting). Figure out where they stop for coffee on the way to work. Find out what kind of music they like.

Cheap gifts can be great gifts. A $5 gift card to the right place or gifting the right song on iTunes are easy and cheap ways to do something really thoughtful.

Protect their time for them.

We all know those people in our ministries and churches who we can count on to do anything. When you’re pressing a deadline or having trouble finding bodies to staff your overnighter, it’s tempting to go back to the well of those people who are always willing to help.

The catch is that at least some – and maybe most – of those people say yes simply because they struggle to say no.

While I hope that all of my volunteers have enough trust in our relationship to be completely honest with me, I have to understand that at least some of them won’t say no when they should say no.

Want to keep your volunteers for the long haul? Don’t overburden them, even if they’re willing to be overburdened. Protect their time for them.

Have at least a few more volunteers than you need.

My volunteers serve virtually every week during the school year, but I don’t want them to feel like they’re trapped in our ministry.

Volunteers need the freedom to miss occasionally because they’re visiting family, because their boss gave them free baseball tickets, or because the migraine is just too bad.

If you’re stretched too thin with volunteers, they’ll have to skip out on other good things or feel an incredible amount of guilt for practicing proper self-care. Either scenario will lead your volunteers toward burnout.

By having a slightly-more-than-adequate number of volunteers, your leaders will still feel valued and important, but can also know that it’s okay if they are sometimes not there.

(Don’t go too far overboard on this. Having way too many volunteers will make them feel unneeded and unnecessary, and that’s not conducive to keeping them for the long-term either.)

Help your students share meaningful appreciation.

We always encourage our students to publicly thank and appreciate their small group leaders and all of our volunteers. And while they generally do a pretty good job of saying thanks when we remind them, sometimes we really need to push for something meaningful.

Once or twice a year, we’ll preprint thank you cards for our students and give them a chance to write a heartfelt message. This is totally optional – we don’t want mass-produced forced gratitude here.

But it’s been my experience that the best way to keep volunteers onboard is to make sure they understand their making an impact because they heard it directly from students.

So, how about it?

Which one of these four things are you going to try next? What do you do to make sure your volunteers feel loved, appreciated, and cared for? Leave a comment below.

Liked this blog post? You will also enjoy this one…

4 Ways to Make Your Youngest Students Feel Comfortable at Youth Group

Aaron-Helman-150Aaron Helman is on a mission to end youth worker burnout by providing the training and resources that you haven’t been taught… until now. Smarter Youth Ministry exists to help you learn how to manage their time and resources better so that you can do more ministry with less frustration. All of that having been said, you most likely know him as the creator of “Lamentation or Taylor Swift Lyric.”


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