How to Fire Up Your Volunteers
By Jerry Carline
24 Proven Ways to Encourage Your Adult Leaders
Last week, the six slices of jalapeño pizza I ate just before bedtime led to one colossal nightmare. Brace yourself for this:
I dreamed that my entire volunteer staff had gone on strike. They were picketing outside my office window. A few of them burst into my office and dumped songbooks, lesson plans, and phone lists on my desk before joining the gathering mob outside. I awoke screaming.
“You’re having a nightmare,” said my sleepy-eyed wife, Amy.
“That’s for sure,” I thought. I can’t think of anything worse than losing my volunteers. A solid core-group of volunteers is crucial to a strong, far-reaching junior high ministry.
That night, groggy with sleep, I committed myself anew to encouraging my volunteers. I’ve discovered three basic principles for building a rock-solid volunteer team:
1. Show Genuine Concern
Personal attention is the “superglue” you need to hold your volunteer staff together.
* Call a different volunteer each workday. Allow for a few minutes each day to pick up the telephone and catch up on the details of a volunteer’s life.
* Keep a staff prayer-reminder list. Check up on past prayer requests regularly.
* Do lunch. Once a week, plan to meet a volunteer for lunch near his or her workplace or home.
* Schedule time in every staff meeting for open sharing of needs, joys, and frustrations.
* Ask for exam schedules from volunteers who are attending school. Lighten their church responsibilities during midterm or final exams.
* Organize “staff only” volleyball games. Afterward, ask your volunteers about their life goals.
* Plan “staff only” nights out (no junior highers allowed!). Watch DVDs together, or play relational games such as Time’s Up! or Apples to Apples.
* Invite individual volunteers over for dinner occasionally.
2. Offer Genuine Support
Give your volunteers the physical, emotional, and spiritual support they crave.
* Pray for your volunteers every day. It’s impossible to overstress the positive effect that regular intercessory prayer for your volunteer leaders can have. Pray specifically for at least one volunteer every day.
* Remind volunteers you’re praying for them. They’ll be encouraged to know they’re not facing their struggles alone.
* Send encouraging notes with Scripture verses. Make sure you personalize your notes by focusing on the person’s unique gifts.
* Be available. A sympathetic ear can greatly relieve the tension brought on by a frustrating night in the junior high ministry trenches.
* Offer training. Schedule regular training sessions for your staff on teaching techniques, youth culture, and denominational theology. Encourage volunteers to participate in training conferences and seminars in your area. Better yet, provide church funds to pay their way.
* Share your youth ministry resources with them. Create a checkout library of all your youth ministry books, CDs, and DVDs, and back issues of Group Magazine.
* Offer help outside the ministry. A helping hand at moving time or during an illness is a powerful reminder of your commitment to your volunteers.
* Plan staff retreats. Go for a weekend retreat once or twice a year that’s geared for spiritual renewal and deepening relationships.
3. Express Genuine Appreciation
Affirmation to a harried volunteer is like cool water to a withering plant.
* Never underestimate the power of a thank you card.
* Brag about your volunteer leaders in front of your junior highers.
* Plan volunteer-recognition Sundays to present your leaders to the church. Ask the congregation to give them a standing ovation.
* Surprise them with small gifts. Simple gifts such as candy bars, soft drinks, fast-food coupons, or even T-shirts will mean a great deal to your volunteers.
* Plan “staff only” fun days. Ask your church to finance a once-a-year volunteer-appreciation trip to an amusement park, zoo, or other enjoyable destination.
* With your junior highers, host a “staff-appreciation dessert night.” Ask kids to plan, prepare and carry out activities for this annual event.
* Have appreciation cards available for your junior highers to use. Regularly encourage kids to write appreciative notes to their volunteer leaders. Offer to mail the notes at the church’s expense.
* Ask parents to invite volunteers to dinner occasionally. Tell parents a dinner invitation is a tangible way for them to say thanks for the impact volunteers have on their kids’ lives.
Time invested in your volunteers is a long-term investment that pays big dividends in junior highers’ lives. You multiply yourself and your ministry through solid volunteers. And kids receive the kind of personal ministry they hunger for. When that happens, it’s a dream come true.