Effective youth pastors understand that leading a youth group well is not a solo endeavor. That means that finding adults willing to pour their lives into teenagers is vital.
But one of the challenges, besides recruiting the right kind of volunteers, is keeping them long-term. In the busy business of life, even the best youth ministry volunteer can lose momentum (and eventually interest) if you’re not leading them effectively.
Here are three keys to keeping your best volunteers involved in your youth ministry over the long haul:
1) Pray for them consistently.
‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ Luke 22:31-32
If most of the disciples were teenagers, then Peter was probably the only “adult sponsor” in the group (since he and Jesus were the only ones old enough to pay the temple tax in Matthew 17:24-27). It’s interesting to me that Jesus pulled Peter aside and warned him that he was about to endure an intense spiritual attack. He then told Peter that He’d prayed for him to not only survive this attack, but to come back as an even stronger leader for the younger disciples of Jesus to follow.
The very fact that Jesus was praying for Peter against Satanic attack should have been a great encouragement for this rugged fisherman. Nineteenth-century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies.” Imagine the comfort of knowing that the Son of God was praying for you, which, by the way, He is (Romans 8:34).
In the same way that Jesus prayed for Peter, one of the most effective ways to encourage and keep your best volunteers is to consistently pray for them. Pray for their divine protection. Pray for their spiritual growth. Pray for their family situations. Pray for their ministry impact. Pray for them, and let them know you’re praying for them. It will help them see that you care for them personally and not just for how they can benefit your youth ministry.
2) Spend time with them relationally.
After this, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them…. John 3:22
I’ll never forget being a youth ministry intern serving under a youth pastor named Kab. One of the first things he did was to gather all of the interns and volunteers together to say: “There are too many teenagers in this youth ministry for me to disciple personally. So I’m going to pour into you, and you’re going to pour into them. What I do with you, you do with them. What I teach you, you teach them.”
Sure, Kab still taught most of the lessons in the big group meetings, but on a relational level, he invested mostly in us as adults and we invested in the teenagers. This strategy worked powerfully in our youth ministry context, because it modeled Jesus’s ministry.
I challenge you to look at your adult volunteers as vital to accomplishing the mission God has placed in your heart of reaching and discipling teenagers. To do this will take getting up close and personal with your adults. You’ll have to shepherd them like you want them to shepherd your teenagers. Author and seminary professor Howard Hendricks once said: “You can impress from a distance, but you can impact only up close.”
As you invest in your adults relationally, they’ll become exponentially more effective at investing in your teenagers. What you model for them, they’ll model for teens. One of the results will be keeping more of these Grade A volunteers engaged in your ministry long-term.
3) Invest in them strategically.
If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time. ~Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
In competitive rowing, up to eight teammates row in a long, slender boat that’s about 60 feet long. The key to winning one of these races is to have all the rowers rowing in the exact same direction in the exact same rhythm throughout the competition. The coxswain is the leader of the crew in the front of the boat who faces the other rowers and keeps them in rhythm, making sure they’re running at maximum capacity.
You are the coxswain of the crew. It’s your job to keep all your adult volunteers in rhythm and rowing in the same direction, as you work toward the goal of winning the hearts, souls, and minds of the next generation.
As the leader of the boat, it’s essential to make sure your crew is effectively trained and that you know what the end destination is. For help in getting your leaders on board with a Gospel Advancing ministry philosophy, consider going through my newly update book Gospelize Your Youth Ministry together. It’s available in print, e-book, and audiobook versions—whatever floats your boat! Each chapter includes discussion questions designed to help you and your team figure out how to apply key ministry principles in your own ministry context.
Pray for your leaders consistently, spend time with them relationally, and invest in them strategically. If you do these three key things, you’ll not only attract the best volunteers, but you’ll keep them coming back!