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Getting (and keeping) ministry volunteers

I saw a post on Marathon Youth Ministry called “4 Reasons People Aren’t Getting Involved“. In it Christopher Wesley lists four “don’t” for recruiting volunteers.

  1. Don’t Threaten Them With Guilt. . .Most people don’t want to be guilted into a situation they want to be inspired.  Even if you do recruit a few chances are they are going to only perform the bare minimum and that’s because guilt is not a key to longevity.
  2. Don’t Inundate Them With Information. . .Some of us feel the impulse to talk about every single detail pertaining to our ministry, when all that does is overwhelm them.  What you want to do is give them a clear and simple explanation.  Make it engaging and memorable.  After that let them ask questions.
  3. Don’t Go All Or Nothing: Many people ask how I get most of my ministers to serve week in and week out, the answer is that we paint a clear vision and we give them the ability to take a step back.  Someone who is uncertain about ministry could easily burnout…
  4. Don’t Leave Them Hanging: Always have a next step and always make it tangible. . .The idea is to make the steps clear so that they don’t turn away because they didn’t know what to do next.

So much good stuff there! The “don’t” I would add is “don’t judge”. For a long time I judged those who didn’t jump in as enthusiastically and with as much commitment as I did. God had to gently (but firmly) explain that I was judging their actions by my call – not fair. Youth ministry is my life’s call and so it is my joy to jump in full speed – I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t! Recognising that each volunteer comes to ministry with a different calling, different skills, different experiences, and a different ministry background gives me the freedom to appreciate each of them individually. Rather than be disappointed or frustrated at volunteers who show up now and then, I’ve learned to be joyfully thankful for every person who believes in ministry to youth, regardless of what they have available to give. An attitude of thankfulness and understanding makes you the sort of person volunteers want to work with.

Of course, this isn’t to say that commitment is unimportant. My point, rather, is that we should be thankful for a heart to serve our youth, and then take the time to get to know the person individually – how would they like to contribute? How does that fit with the present structure? Is there something we’re not doing that they could start? See yourself as helping them find a ministry fit, rather than claiming a scalp to fill your ministry needs. Serve potential volunteers – even if you end up helping them find a fit in a different ministry of the Church.

I really like what Wesley says about not leaving people hanging. I’ve seen this happen often; I’ve done it myself. There’s a sense of “ah! we need help!” and the call goes out. People respond, but when they do there isn’t active follow-up. Before asking for help, know exactly what help you need. Have specifics. Then, when someone responds, and you quickly connect them to a practical need or a specific role, don’t just abandon them! Talk to them about how it fits them (see the paragraph above). When they agree to serve, walk with them. Give advice, be available to talk to, check up to see how it’s going.

Ministry leaders are ministering to their volunteer staff as much as to the youth. Without volunteers, the ministry doesn’t happen. We are leaders of leaders, and that is an important role.

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