Volunteers are a vital part of having a successful student ministry. Student pastors cannot effectively run their student ministry on their own. They need a team of committed volunteers who love Jesus and love students. Once a student pastor gets a few of these volunteers on their team they then have to decide how they will go about training and coaching them.
I use to get so overwhelmed with thinking through an effective strategy for training my student ministry volunteers. Part of the problem was in how I was assuming that training had to take place. I assumed the only way to train them was to have weekly or monthly meetings where the training took place. I even tried this during one of my first years in student ministry and found out very quickly how difficult it was to get all my leaders there and to actually make it enjoyable for the ones that did show up. After that I went to the other extreme and pretty much did no training. Both were not good and certainly not healthy for our volunteers or the student ministry. I have now found a decent balance in how I train and coach my volunteers. It involves less consistent meetings (who doesn’t love less meetings) and instead a focus on a few major training events throughout the year, ongoing coaching via social media, and the use of helpful resources. Below are more details on those things.
Two major training events. Instead of meeting consistently throughout the year we hold two major training events. One is called Equipped and happens before the school year program kicks off. The second is a mid-year training (we don’t have a catchy name for that one) that happens in January. Equipped is a half-day training event that involves fellowship (we provide food and time for leaders to connect with one another), worship, training sessions (both live and via video), and of course a bunch of free gifts (we try and shower our volunteers with gifts as a way to say “thank you” in advance for the work they are going to put in during the school year). The mid-year training event is shorter and more about touching base and seeing how everyone is doing. We do this one following Sunday worship services and provide lunch for our volunteers. We debrief the year so far and talk about what’s coming up. We also do one training session that is sometimes live and other times done via video. Doing two major training events has been a huge hit with our volunteers. Many of them have very busy schedules and this allows them to actually be at our training events. It also helps us plan these events out and do our best at making them quality events for our volunteers.
Ongoing social media coaching. A few years ago I created a Facebook group just for our volunteers. One of main reasons I created it was to have a quick way to communicate details about upcoming events and such with my leaders. I’ll be honest, the group tends to be used mostly for just that type of thing still. However, one thing I have done and plan to do more of is use it to coach up my volunteers. I can do this through posting articles and videos that may help them minister to students. I can also post quick notes of encouragement to them throughout the year. There are many ways to use a Facebook group like this for our volunteers.
Helpful resources. It’s hard to come up with new training material yourself. There is almost too many resources out there to even try. In addition to great books (that most or not all of your volunteers will probably never read) there are some great online resources that you can use to train your volunteers. You can use these resources at training events (as we did this year) or as an ongoing thing throughout the year with your leaders. Here are some helpful online resources you can use – Download Youth Ministry (grab a DYM silver or gold memersbip and get access to a library of training videos) DYM University (not free but worth the cost), and LeaderTreks. There is more stuff out there but these are three places I go consistently for resources to use when training my volunteers.
Training and coaching volunteers looks different in every student ministry. Student pastors will do well not to just copy what another ministry does but instead find a plan that works for their ministry and volunteers.
Some of my best student ministry volunteers are former students. For many years I overlooked former students and never recruited them to come back and be volunteers in our ministry. However, in the past few years I’ve leaned into this group and seen more and more of my former students come back to serve as volunteers.
We do have a policy that former students must be a year removed from high school before they can serve in our high school ministry. Because of this many of my former students start out serving in our middle school ministry.
I’m convinced that former students have the potential to be your best volunteers. Here are three simple reasons why I believe that.
1. You know them. One of the great things about using former students as volunteers is the simple fact that you know them. You have probably spent a few years getting to know them, pouring into them, and seeing them grow. You have a decent grip on their strengths and weaknesses. You know their personality and how they operate. Usually when you recruit a new volunteer you know next to nothing about them. All you know is what they shared in their application or when you met with them a few times. However, former students you know and this will help you put them in the right spot within your ministry.
2. They know you and your ministry. Not only do you know them but they know you. In addition to knowing you they also know your ministry. They probably have a good understanding of what you want your ministry to look like and be about. They know the culture and vibe of your ministry. This will save them much time and energy as they set out to be volunteers in your ministry. Sure there will be some things they don’t know. It will be new for them to be on the “leader side” of the ministry. However, they will know more than the normal new volunteer so that’s a plus.
3. They want to give back. The reason most former students come back to be volunteers is so they can give back to the ministry. Usually these are students who God impacted in huge ways through your ministry. Because of this they want to come back and be a part of God doing that for other students. This is the main reason they make great volunteers – they have experienced God through your ministry and they now want to help other students experience the same thing. That’s awesome!
Don’t overlook your former students when you think about volunteers for your ministry. Reach out to them and get them plugged in. They will make great volunteers in your ministry.
For a church to have a healthy student ministry it needs more than just a student pastor or director. A good student ministry should certainly be led by a gifted, passionate pastor or director but that person will need a solid team of volunteers working alongside them. It’s important student pastors understand this and make recruiting volunteers a priority in their ministry.
Recruiting volunteers seems like a never ending task in student ministry. One of the big things I do every summer is recruit new volunteers. It’s part of the job of being in charge of a student ministry. I want to suggest a few tips that have helped me in regards to recruiting volunteers.
Don’t make a desperate call, instead, personally recruit volunteers. The easiest way to recruit volunteers for your ministry is to put something in the bulletin or say something from upfront during announcements. This isn’t the worst thing you can do but it certainly makes it difficult as you will have many people “sign up” and you may have to turn some of them down because they are not a good fit. However, if you’re willing to just let anyone serve in your student ministry you can go this route. I’d caution anyone on this and encourage them instead to personally recruit volunteers rather than just make a massive call. This will allow you to find the right people for your ministry. This takes much more time and energy but I believe it’s the best way to recruit volunteers for your ministry. Before moving on, let me just add this – if you are going to make a call for volunteers (whether that’s online, in the bulletin, or from upfront) be sure to have a application process so you can find the right volunteers. More on this process next.
Have a process. Don’t just let people sign up and become a volunteer without you having them go through a short process. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Our process for bringing new volunteers on board is pretty simple. First, I meet with them one on one to share with them what our ministry looks like and explain to them the areas they can serve. During this meeting I usually try and find out where they best fit within our ministry based on their passions and gifts. Second, they fill out a short application. This allows me to get to know them a bit more and gives them the opportunity to share their faith story. Sometimes people will fill the application out before I meet with them. Third, we background check the potential volunteer. Everyone that serves in our ministry must have a background check. Whatever your process is, please don’t skip this! This is important for your church and for the safety of your students. Once these three steps have happened I bring the volunteer on board and they start to serve.
Look for young and old. Strive to not have a volunteer team that is made up of people of the same age. It’s easy for student pastors to fall into the trap of thinking the best volunteers are college students and young adults. There are many valuable things this age group brings to the table so by all means recruit them! However, realize some of the best student ministry volunteers in your church may be older individuals. Strive to build your volunteer team with people from all age groups and seasons of life. This will bring excitement, balance, and maturity to your team.
This is just a few tips to help you recruit volunteers for your student ministry. Here are a few resources that may help you in this area: Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry by Darren Sutton, The New Breed by Jonathan McKee and Thomas McKee, and Youth Pastor (chapter 9) by Houston Heflin.
Like many student ministries, we take a break from our normal programing structure during the summer. We don’t have mid-week meetings, small groups, or retreats. Instead, we always do mission trips (one for middle school and one for high school) and we have a few house parties scattered throughout the summer. I enjoy the change and benefit much from it. If you change things up in the summer for your ministry as well, let me suggest you make an effort to focus on three things.
Build relationships with students. One of the huge benefits of not doing a weekly program in the summer is the time and energy you can put fully to building relationships with students. You don’t have to spend hours writing a talk or planning for that weeks mid-week program, you can get out of the office and hangout with students. Don’t think to hard about how to do this, just text some students and meet up somewhere. You don’t need a huge plan or a program in place, just spend time with your students. Also, make an effort to connect with students in your community that may never step foot in your youth room during the school year. One way I do this each summer is I meet up weekly with some of the high school guys to play basketball at a local park. It’s a great way to do something I enjoy with my students as well a way to meet new students that may be at the park playing basketball as well. Bottom line is this, students are out of school and they are looking for something to do. Make an effort to hangout with them and don’t overlook the opportunity to do real, life on life relational ministry this summer.
Give volunteers a break and recruit new volunteers. One of the things I try to do during the summer is give my volunteers a break from our ministry. At the end of the school year we do an appreciation lunch and at that lunch I tell them “thank you” for serving during the school year and that they are off the hook for the summer. I usually give them a date near the end of summer that stands as a deadline for them to let me know if they are coming back to volunteer for the new school year. Not only do I give my volunteers a break, but I use the summer to look for new volunteers. It’s hard to recruit and plug-in new volunteers in the middle of the school year because small groups are in full swing and the program is running strong, so I usually try to recruit and plug new volunteers in at the start of the new year. This is not to say I will avoid recruiting and plugging in new volunteers during the school year, but I have found it more beneficial to do this near the end of the summer so they can jump on board when the school year starts up.
Focus on planning for the next year. Even though you may take a break from your normal program in the summer, don’t neglect planning and staying on top of being ready for the next school year. If your Fall/Spring calendar is not done by August you are probably not working far enough ahead. Look over the next school year (even next summer if you can) and plan out your events, retreats, and other things that you want to do during the next school year. Once you have everything laid out, start making a good calendar you can give to your parents before the school year kicks off (click here to view some great calendar resources you can use from YouthMin.org). We always do a parent meeting a week or two before the school year kicks off to go over the year and get calendars in the hands of our parents.
Focusing on those three things will help you stay on track this summer with ministering to your students as well as getting ready for the next school year of ministry.
Too many student ministries have leaders who are just filling a need instead of serving in a position based on their giftedness. Student pastors need volunteer leaders. Our job would be nearly impossible if it wasn’t for other adults in the church stepping up to serve our students. However, many student pastors fall into the temptation to recruit leaders and throw them into a position within our ministry where we need a leader instead of placing them in a position they are gifted for. We, yes I’m including myself in this, need to get better at placing our leaders in ministry positions based on their giftedness instead of just where we have a need.
It’s important to understand God has gifted every leader that comes into our ministry in a different way. We will never have a leader that is exactly like the next one. If we constantly throw leaders in positions we need filled we will start to have leaders who are serving, maybe with the right heart and attitude, but in a position they are not gifted. For example, there are some leaders who are great on stage maybe leading a game or even teaching. They do well in front of a large group of students. However, they may be terrible at leading a small group of 5-8 students. It only makes sense that that leader serves where he or she is gifted-on stage, in front of students doing what they do best. It would be a tragedy to waste their gifts by making them lead a small group, which is something they are not gifted for. The opposite is true as well. There many be a leader who is great at leading a discussion and pouring into a small group of students, but freezes up on stage and has no stage presence. Why would we put that person in a role where they do stuff in front of a large group instead of leading a small group?
When potential leaders walk into our office or we meet them at Starbucks to talk about serving in our ministry, our minds must instantly go towards placing them where they are gifted. If not, we will end up placing them where the need is (because let’s face it, we always know where the next need is). We always need more leaders and there are always positions to be filled. However, it would be far better to place a leader where they are gifted and have a few empty positions than place leaders in positions in which they are not gifted for.
There are great tools out there to help leaders understand how they are gifted and how they can best serve in student ministry based on those gifts. There are two resources from LeaderTreks that can help you with this: Sweet Spot and Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts. Both are great tools to use with your leaders so that you place them in positions based on their gifts instead of where there is a need.