By Josh Hussung
Volunteers. Youth ministry can’t run without a lot of help from them.
Whether it’s Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, greeters, or anything else, we need them. And if you’re like me, you find yourself scrambling to find them in the months approaching the new school year. Here are a few ways that you can improve the way you find and recruit volunteers.
We are always going to have ministry volunteer needs but youth ministry isn’t a place where we just need warm bodies. We are trying to train up a new generation of disciples. There is a huge need, and we need people who are going to be passionate, competent, and following Christ to serve students.
Addressing his disciples, Jesus said that the fields were white and ready to be harvested, but that the laborers were few. Before Jesus sent them out, he commanded them to pray. He told them to pray that the Lord would send laborers for the harvest. (Luke 10:3) So the first step for us when we are trying to recruit volunteers (laborers) is to pray.
God is involved in everything. He is involved in bringing your students into your ministry, and He is involved in the bringing of volunteers into your ministry. Prayer is our first action point. Spend time bringing your ministry needs to God and asking him to provide people. Ask Him to bring just the right volunteers for your group of students.
2. Have standards.
We can often feel desperate to get our volunteer needs taken care of. Sometimes anyone who shows interest seems like a viable candidate. But one thing you can use to protect yourself from getting in a tough spot with volunteers is articulating your qualifications and expectations in advance.
What qualities do you look for in a person who will lead a small group of teenagers? What kind of character traits do they need to possess? What do you expect for their church membership? Their commitment to growth in Christ? Their commitment to teach within the doctrinal standards of your congregation?
And then expectations are important. How much time do you expect them to be there? Are they expected to come to youth activities other than the one they are volunteering for? Are they expected to meet with students in the week? Are they expected to spend time preparing?
Articulating all of your qualifications and expectations to potential volunteers helps you by being able to see whether a person is fit to do youth ministry in your context, and it helps volunteers to be adequately informed of what they are signing up for.
3. Look far and wide.
Once you have prayed and decided what you are looking for, it’s time to look!
But you don’t have to look in all the usual places. Sometimes our instinct is to go with “cool” people. You know, 20-somethings that have interesting jobs and are relatively cognizant of youth culture. Let’s be honest. More often than not, these folks are the people who have the time and energy needed to invest in the lives of students. So we often have a lot of people serving that might fit the above description.
But some of your best leaders might not fit the mold. Have you considered older members of your congregation? Some of my most impactful adults that have served with our students have been people who were retired. Look for anyone in your church who has a passion for Jesus and has the heart to serve young people, and use them!
4. Let your volunteers be recruiters.
While you probably do the majority of your recruiting yourself, consider letting your current volunteer team be a part of this process. Christ-loving disciple-makers will be able to identify people might be a good fit in your church’s youth ministry.
So, ask them for help. Ask them to think of two or three people they think would be a good small group leader or Sunday School teacher. Let them be the first person to contact them about it.
Let them tell stories of how powerful it is to work with students, and about students they saw grow over the year, or the way they were able to minister to a student in a difficult time. And then once they’ve made that initial contact, you follow up with that person.
5. Start early.
People need time to count the cost of serving with students if you want them to be invested. They need time to make a decision, and they don’t like to be put on the spot. So you need to start recruiting people months ahead of the time you think you’ll need them.
Have an announcement, email, or bulletin insert about possible volunteer needs. Maybe host a meeting after church for people that would hear what it might be like to serve with students. See if that yields anything, and then spend time following up with those who expressed interest. Allowing all of this extra time will help you to slow down and choose the right people for the job.
This doesn’t mean that you will have all of your positions filled right away, but you’ll have started. Starting early gives you time to do a lot of lead in and follow up with potential ministry volunteers.
A youth ministry with a competent team will be able to more effectively share Christ with students. So go and find those volunteers!
Josh is the Pastor of Youth and Families at Grace Community Church in Nashville. He has also written for Rooted Ministry and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.