I should probably confess from the outset that I have been a volunteer drop out. There have been 2 times in my life that I have said “yes” to serving at different organizations and have quit early in the game. Once, having been asked to use a specific skill and put into a volunteer rotation requiring a skill set that I did not possess (Read: not good with power tools), I quit after 2 hours of frustration and the other time I was asked to help an organization that had more help than they knew how to manage, leaving scores of us standing around with nothing to do for 4 hours. Both of these situations have motivated me to examine how I recruit and care for the volunteers who want to support the ministries I have been involved with, hopefully learning from and not repeating the same mistakes.
One of my best volunteer experiences has been with Operation Christmas Child. Before I signed up I knew exactly what my commitment entailed, what training I would receive and when my commitment was completed. While I served, the ministry leaders made sure I knew how my small job, done well, would impact both the ministry and the children who would would receive the packages. I have no qualms about signing up to help again and recommending this service opportunity to others.
That’s what I want for the folks who volunteer in youth ministry. I want them to feel successful: confident that their time is being honoured and well used and competent in the task they have signed up to do. Making this happen takes some intentionality on the part of those of us overseeing the ministry. We need to be clear on what our needs our and so clear about what we are asking of our volunteers. Too often I have observed that ministry leaders under-ask and over-expect. Let me explain--when we feel pinched because we do not have enough volunteers the temptation is to sell our need as an easy one for someone to fill and then get frustrated when the person we have asked does not give what we think is 100%. I will use another example from my own experience. I was once asked to come to a youth group to talk about an upcoming retreat opportunity which would take me maybe 20 minutes to do only to find out that nothing else was planned for the rest of the 1 1/12 hour meeting and the only other adult there was disappointed I did not have more planned. We were all frustrated.
No one wants to be a volunteer drop out. I feel bad to this day about my leaving those power tools in the dust. One tool I use to make sure volunteers feel successful in their roles is a chart of the volunteer lifecycle specifically with youth ministry in mind. It reminds me to Invite new volunteers into the ministry early, to give people time to observe or volunteer on a temporary basis, to be intentional about training and integrating folks into the current team and finally, to have regular check ins and an out if it is not a good fit. It also reminds me to do year end interviews to hear how the volunteer’s year went and whether he or she wants to sign up for another year-- NO assumptions on my part.
With the help of the volunteer lifecycle as a guide, I have found that intentional recruitment and regular check ins have created a strong foundation for volunteer care, a concrete way to love on volunteers even before they sign up to join the team. I would love to hear how some of you show care for your volunteers and invite you to use the attached lifecycle, if you think it might help bless your ministry volunteers.