As a ministry leader, attracting volunteers can be a significant task, especially in youth ministry where people are often intimidated by the age group. But keeping volunteers in your ministry can be a challenge as well and it’s vital to the long-term success of your ministry. After all, their success is your success, but it’s hard to succeed if a volunteer isn’t present to fuel and drive the ministry. It’s also discouraging to sit down with that one rock-star volunteer and hear them tell you that they’re stepping down.
Here are Five Keys to Keeping Volunteers in Your Ministry:
#1: Keep your vision clear and repeat it often.
Many times volunteers will step out of a ministry because they’re dissatisfied with something that they can’t quite put their finger on. They’ll likely step out quietly and won’t tell you why they’re leaving, but it’s likely because there’s something about the direction of the ministry that they’re unsure of. A ministry leader’s first inclination might be to avoid talking about where the ministry’s headed. After all, isn’t that why the person is discontent? However, your best bet is to cast vision repeatedly to your volunteers. Talk about it in your emails, when you see them one-on-one, at your leadership meetings, and even when you’re giving your messages. Get your leaders to share when they see the vision in action and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! When you’re sick and tired of hearing yourself talk about the vision is when your volunteers will just be grasping the concept. And once they do, it’ll be your job to keep them thinking about it so that little details don’t distract them from the mission of the ministry. A volunteer who is bought into the vision will remain dedicated to its cause despite incredible odds.
#2: Give freedom within a clearly defined role.
Every volunteer desires to express their gifts and passions in whatever function they have in the ministry. Letting them know exactly what their responsibilities and expectations are will keep them from becoming disillusioned due to ambiguity. Once they understand what is expected of them, take a step back and let them do their role without you looking over their shoulder. This will give them the sense that they aren’t just hired hands, but are valuable members of the team in their own right.
#3: Provide opportunities for volunteers to self-equip.
Let your volunteers know ahead of time that you will want to evaluate them and help them grow. Establish an expectation of evaluation early as it will help them to stay teachable and open to constructive feedback. When you give feedback, spend most of your time helping them see what they do best, then choose one area for them to work on and give them a way to improve. Don’t just tell them to work on it. Give them tools. You can do this by sending them web resources, meeting with them again to train them one-on-one, including training in your next volunteer meeting, etc. Whatever you do, set a precedent that they are responsible for their own growth, but that you’ll be there every step of the way.
#4: Develop a culture of big dreams wrapped in grace.
When volunteers are free to dream, they are free to forget the past and pursue a bigger vision. Find opportunities to encourage your volunteers to dream on their own, within the ministry’s vision but apart from smaller constraints. Ask them what they would do if they didn’t know you were there watching, or what goals they might have that they’ve never expressed out loud. Whether these dreams are met or not, meet them with encouragement. This is what it means for the dreams to be “wrapped in grace.” If your volunteers believe that they can take risks and be encouraged no matter what happens, they’ll keep dreaming, perhaps beyond even your own vision.
#5: Point out wins and show public compassion.
Keep looking out for those powerful God-moments and times when your volunteers go the extra mile. Don’t just say “Good job.” When a small group leader stays after church to pray with someone, point it out at the next gathering and praise them for their passionate service. In one ministry, we gave an award after every ministry gathering to the volunteer who displayed an effort to “go the extra mile.” It not only showed our volunteers what mattered most, but resulted in more momentum than we ever could have expected. In addition, look for opportunities to show compassion to your volunteers publicly, in a way that helps others rally around them. Pray for them and speak encouragement to them, especially in times of need.
As much as recruiting volunteers is vital, retaining them is equally as important. Developing habits that help to keep your volunteers over the long haul will create a culture of loyalty, passion, and Godly pursuit of your ministry’s vision. Keep casting vision, giving freedom, equipping, dreaming big, and celebrating wins, and your volunteers won’t just hang on. They’ll give God their absolute best because it flows from a deep, intrinsic passion for the mission.