Are they Hole-Fillers or Disciple-Makers? Training your volunteers to be Disciple-Making machines.

Now that you have a team of volunteers, what should you do with them? Obviously you want to train them, but how? And what do you train them to do? Most coaches would die for a Peyton Manning to transfer to their team, but that’s not likely going to happen to you. You probably feel like you’ve got a whole bunch of project players instead of the all stars you were hoping for. That’s alright. Because great volunteers are made, not born, but it’s not going to happen by accident. You are the coach. It’s up to you to train and develop them to be successful on the youth ministry playing field.

Here is a short list of the things you should cover in your training times with your volunteers.

#1. Policies & Procedures – this is the boring legal stuff, but your volunteers are acting as an extension of you and your ministry. You can be held liable in a court of law for the actions of your volunteers. If one of them does something wrong, it’s seen as almost the same as if a member of your church staff did it in the eyes of the public and at times the law. Make sure your volunteers both understand and abide by your guidelines.

#2. Hard Knowledge – whatever role you are asking your volunteer to fill has a skill set attached to it. Whether they are driving the van, running sound or leading a small group, there are functional skills that you will want your volunteer to know. Make sure they have both the training they need, and the supplies necessary, to do what you are asking them to do.

#3. Contact Work – Believe it or not most adults are not comfortable around teenagers, and in some cases are out and out intimidated and afraid of them. You should train every leader how to connect with teenagers. Some of this they will learn through trial and error, but every youth worker should be skilled in how to relate to teenagers in engaging and appropriate ways.

Lastly and most importantly:

#4.  Disciple Making – Are your volunteers making disciples or are they just doing a job for you?

Most people have never been discipled and do not know how to disciple anyone else. And yet if there was only one thing that we really want our volunteers to do, this is it. The best way to teach discipleship is to model it. And I don’t mean having your volunteers watch you disciple teenagers, although that can work. I mean YOU should disciple your volunteers, and in turn they will learn how to disciple teenagers. Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho does this better than any church I know. I can’t speak for their youth ministry any longer since I am not involved, but this is the model they use to make disciples throughout the entire congregation.  I remember a specific weekend while I was on staff, when we cheered as a congregation because even though we were running 5,000 in attendance each weekend, and we had more people in small groups that week than we did in our weekend services. Suffice it to say, they take discipleship seriously in that congregation. And that is the purpose of each small group.  At Real Life we used to say, “We create relational environments for the purpose of discipleship.”

You can make disciples in any relational environment. A small group created for the purpose of discipleship can have anything as a hook. Dance, drama, coffee, …. you name it, can be used as a tool around which a volunteer can make disciples. Why should the sound guy only teach the 3 teens on his tech team how to change the slides? Instead have the sound guy create a small group with those 3 kids, start giving them pastoral care and praying together; now he’s making disciples. Why should the kids on worship team also have another group that they have to meet with at another time to get discipled? Instead have the worship leader go deeper relationally with the team and watch what happens to your entire worship culture. Instead of having 2 kids show up with a volunteer to just set up chairs, what if they showed up 30 min earlier and had a small group together?  Of course you can divide up by schools or by area as well; but the purpose isn’t to force teens to go to whatever group their supposed to go to, it’s to put them in a relationship of trust with a caring adult who can invest in their spiritual life. As a leader, I don’t care what they connect around, I just care that they connect.

Even when our security guys would have to remove someone, I’d encourage them to try to not just be a cop but instead to look at it as a ministry opportunity… “So, what’s going on in your world right now that you can’t seem to focus in there?” It very well may be the best ministry that happens in that kid’s world all year.

Challenge those on your youth staff to do more than fill a hole in your leadership flowchart. We are all called and empowered to make disciples one person at a time.  Your volunteers did not volunteer for Boys and Girls Club, or 4-H. They are volunteering at a church, not a secular organization. We need to be much more than a Big Brother or Big Sister to students. It is completely appropriate that our volunteers make the turn to spiritual things in their relationships with students. Train them to make disciples. The Great Commission is not just for you as the youth pastor, it’s for all your volunteers as well, and they all need to be disciple-makers. And it’s your job as the leader to both train and release them to do just that.

You are not the New York Yankees of churches. You cannot just go out and buy a championship team of volunteers. But you can compete and win. But you have to build the team from within your organization. Stop making excuses. Stop waiting for a the big free agent church transfer. If you don’t know how to develop your leaders, go find help. For some reason God has appointed many us to lead beyond our comfort zone… but make no doubt about it, if you are the leader, God has placed you there. Now Lead.



Help! I need more Volunteers!

Recruiting Youth Ministry Volunteers

This is the time of year where every youth worker is asking the same question.

How can I get more help?!

It doesn’t take you long as a youth worker before you figure out this is the whole youth ministry game: recruiting, training, and deploying leaders. You are only as good as your team. You can only reach as many students as you have leaders to handle them. If you have not come to this conclusion yet, then you are either on your first youth ministry tour of duty or on the path to burnout; where you will find this statement carved into the edge of the cliff at the jouney’s end: “I can’t do this by myself anymore.” Other than integrity, your ability to recruit, train, deploy and retain leaders may be the single most significant factors in determining your youth ministry’s success or failure, regardless of how you measure it.

So let’s take these one at a time. First up: Recruiting.  Where do you find good leaders?

Many new youth workers think that simply putting an ad in the bulletin or making an announcement from the stage is the way to recruit. Wrong. In both big churches and small churches this is not the silver bullet that you’d expect it to be. Recruiting is not a one shot deal from the stage. Yes, you still need to do it, but temper you expectations. And here’s how you want to frame it.

Key #1. Paint a picture that the potential volunteer can see themselves in.

Many people believe teenagers need help and that helping them is valuable. Most just don’t think they have the skillset or the ability to do it. Whether you’re recruiting from the stage in a video or in person, paint a picture for the volunteer that they can see themselves in.

Have a volunteer talk about how fearful they were when they started, about the simplicity of what they actually did. Have them speak about how meaningful and fulfilling it’s been, and the difference it made in their own life personally, as well as that of the teenager. Most of your potential volunteers feel like their missing something in their lives. People want to do something meaningful, something that makes a difference. Youth ministry can provide that, and they need to know it.

Key #2. Tell them you will not feed them to the lions.

Promise to train them with whatever skills they need before you leave them alone with teenagers!

Key #3 Make the time commitment BITE SIZE.

This is the most common mistake that keeps your volunteer pool dry. Too often leaders require youth staff volunteers to be at everything. Youth Service, Sunday School, Events, Leadership Meetings, Sunday Service, Pre-service prayer… and on and on. Quality people are not just out there sitting on their butts. They are already busy with something else. You want to make the time commitment small enough that quality people can easily add it to their schedule, but meaningful enough that the volunteer feels it is making a difference. If you cannot do this, you will forever have one kind of volunteer; the 18-25 yr. old single person, or the awkward person that has no life. If you want to recruit awesome people you must make the weekly time commitment bite size. Besides, I’m convinced that if I can just get my foot in the door with a new volunteer, youth ministry will beat out everything else eventually, hands down.

Key #4 Make the application long but the process easy.

Insurance companies will tell you that a long application discourages pedophiles from applying. When “hiring” a volunteer, the process should be that same as if you were hiring a paid employee. A background check doesn’t always catch everything. Having an extensive application discourages bad people from applying. However, make the process simple. In that I mean, don’t have 17 steps over a 6 month period to get people in the door. Fill out and process the application, have a face to face meeting; and get them volunteering as soon as everything checks out. The only exception I would make to this is if a person is brand new to your congregation and is unknown to anyone.

Key #5 Create a list of expectations.

Here’s what you can expect from us and here’s what we expect from you.

People are afraid of the unknown. People want to make sure that by saying yes they are not committing to helping you until Jesus comes back. Creating a short list of expectations gives you some talking points that will help you close the deal when recruiting a new volunteer. Here are a few of the things I like to include:

What we expect from you:

  • Length of commitment (generally the school year)
  • List of what they need to be at.
  • Communicate ahead of time when they are going to be absent.
  • A short job description of what they’ll be doing.
  • A short list of character or behavior policies that you require.

What you can expect from me: (this is EXTREMELY beneficial!)

  • Pastoral Care: I will be your primary pastoral care giver. When you volunteer for me, I care for you in return.
  • You won’t have to pay for youth events. Charge students extra if you don’t have the budget for this policy. People shouldn’t have to take off work and pay as well for the privilege of volunteering at your event. I have done this at every church I have ever been at, both large and small; it not only works, it speaks volumes to your volunteers about their value.
  • We will publish our yearly calendar in August.  Planning ahead tells volunteers you know what you’re doing, and aren’t flying by the seat of your pants. Don’t be surprised if you spring something on people if they don’t show up. People have lives.
  • We will pay for the resources you need to do what we are asking you to do (curriculum etc…)
  • We will train you and give you opportunities to go to conferences to receive additional trainings.

Wow. This is a lot longer article that I intended it to be when I began, but I hope it’s been helpful.

One last thing about recruiting:

Everyone on your team must recruit, all year long. Recruiting cannot just be relegated to a 3 week push each Fall. Yes have the push, but make sure your entire team is recruiting all the time. Many of your volunteers have friends that would be great at this. Ask teenagers what adults they know who would be awesome youth ministry volunteers. And make sure every current volunteer understands the application process, and how to get an application to people.

Next up… Training Volunteers. What do you do with them once they show up?

I’m a CEO. Why I volunteer.

Did you know if you put a Reese’s PB Cup on your smores it’ll rock your world? This is the night that happened for me.

It’s true. I have 50 employees in 3 states. I have millions of dollars that needs to be raised annually for the non-profit that I run. I’m married and still have a teenager at home. Fact is, I’m a busy person, and so are you.

And I volunteer every week in my church’s youth ministry, here’s why:

1. Volunteering with teens has helped me become a better parent – Being around teenagers has helped me learn how to relate to teenagers in general, how to have conversations – and learn what issues they’re dealing with. It’s also helped me learn what is normal developmentally and helps me freak out about the right things, instead of over-reacting about the wrong stuff.

2. The church needs parents in to be involved in youth ministry – I was a youth pastor for about 5 years before I had children of my own. I always thought I understood the relationship between parents and their children, but after I had my firstborn…. WHOA! I really understood it! I suddenly understood why parents freaked out about safety issues, about transportation, about who was supervising, about getting home late. I now get why some go off on coaches, and teachers, and Little League umpires, and youth pastors. Not that it make’s it okay, but I get it.

3. Teenagers need positive older male role models – this generation has been called a “fatherless generation.” Men are by-in-large gone from daily involvement in their teenager’s lives. Even the ones who have a father figure in the home, often are not engaged in relationship with them.  I used to think that my best days as a youth worker were  when I was in my early 20s; as a kind of big brother to teenagers. But now that I am the age of their parents, I am enjoying the STRONGEST platform I have ever had for youth ministry. Young men and young women alike need a responsible appropriate adult male in their world.

4. Teenagers need to see functioning marriages – Heidi & I have been married for 24 yrs. That’s like 172 in dog years. Our 17 yr. old son brings his friends over all the time.  We encourage them to stay for dinner. We invite them to watch a DVD with us. We ask them to tag along while we walk the dog. Many people want to mysticise discipleship but it’s really not that difficult and neither is youth ministry.  Teenagers need to see Godly men and women, responding to everyday situations, through the lens of the Gospel, from someone who loves them deeply.

And at the end of the day, that’s why I volunteer with teenagers in my church. As Christ followers we are to follow Christ in His mission.  In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commissions all would call themselves Christians to go and make disciples. You do not have to disciple teenagers. But if you call yourself a Christian, you’d better be discipling someone. I’m choosing to disciple teenagers and those who work with them. I invite you to do the same.

Think back on your life for a moment… who was it that influenced you as a teenager?

What did they do to influence you?


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