Making Volunteer Meetings Worthwhile

A few weeks ago a friend who is starting out in ministry asked me two questions:

First Question: “How often do you meet with your volunteers all together”?

1) Meetings Every Two Months, Not Every Month: My volunteers are busy and I prefer to honor their time and their families by keeping it to every two months. However, it’s important to “supplement” them with other training and communication.

2) Weekly Email Updates: This helps them to keep plugged in with the details of the programs and upcoming events. I also text, call, tweet, and email leaders individually.

3) Training / Update Videos: On the months we do not meet I create quick (6-8) minute videos that include programmatic information and a quick training tip for them. The training tip is usually something I have seen in the previous weeks that I want my volunteers focus on.

Second Question: “What do you do in meetings to make them worthwhile”?

1) Keep them Short! If I can get get meetings done in under 90 minutes that is my goal, (I actually shoot for 60 minutes). Again, it’s important I honor leaders time, but it’s also imperative that I realize that more than 90 minutes of a meeting equals too much information for them. I want my leaders to walk away with one or two pressing applications.

2) Create a Healthy Format: I have found a healthy format that seems to work for my volunteers and I have had good feedback too. Here’s what it looks like:

a) Share your “God moments” in students lives. (This is kind of what Andy Stanley refers to as talking about your “wins” in ministry).

b) Share struggles you need help with. This is where I open up the meeting for anyone to share to struggles or ask for clarifications about the ministry. I also ask other leaders give their feedback and advice to leaders who are struggling – It’s a great way to empower the knowledge base of veteran volunteers to help the rookies too. When they can give the advice, I love to sit back and listen!

c) Training Tip. Usually a “teachable moment” training tip based on what I have been seeing in our events and programs.

d) Message series and teaching schedule coming up in the next two months. (This includes a handout of a schedule that includes the message title, big idea, bible passages, and creative ideas).

e) Calendar, events, etc.

f) Any other business?

3) Meet in a Great Place: Whenever I can, I try to meet at a coffee house or place like that. In our city we have a Panera Bread. We have our meetings on a Saturday morning and the leaders get treated to coffee and breakfast. I find it helps us all to relax and be more conversational. Panera Bread is not incredible, but it still beats church coffee!

4) Ask Them When to Meet: Instead of assuming I know best, it’s better to ask the leaders when the best time would be. For my discipleship leaders, they said that Saturday morning is the best time to meet. For my large group leaders, they want to meet immediately following the program on a Wednesday evening. Given the option of being out on another day, they said they prefer to “get it all done on the same day”.

5) Split Teams: I have all my leaders together for BBQ’s, Christmas parties, and Year end “Firing Parties”, (you can ask me about that if you like). However, for my meetings every two months, I meet them by team / program. If I was to have everyone together, it would only water down the content and make much of it seem irrelevant to certain leaders for parts of the meeting. Even when I have had small volunteer teams, I have still found it important to meet seperately. With that said, as mentioned, it is imperative to have times when “we all come together” to celebrate, connect, and build each other up. It’s also important that I connect the dots for how all the programs and teams work together to fullfil the vision… Make sense?

AND FINALLY, and I think most importantly… Don’t forget that when we are at youth programs with our leaders, some of the best training opportunities come when we can have a quick teachable moments with a leader and encourage them in what they are doing. Don’t think it all has to be covered at a meeting…

This is what I do, I am sure there are better ways… What ideas can you give me for leading your volunteers?

Phil <><


16 Responses to Making Volunteer Meetings Worthwhile

  1. Brian Seidel May 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    great thoughts Phil, I need to institute a few of these. We currently meet once a month but I think that is going to change…

  2. Scott Spratlen June 1, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    This is such a great article. I have been having so much confrontation in meetings that I have decided to do something very similar. Such a great validation with a lot more positive reasons and purpose!


  3. Dave Hirschler June 1, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Great article, Phil! I have struggled for YEARS with staff meetings. So much so that I went to meeting one-on-one with my leaders once every month and a half to two months. I like the idea of making them team specific (that was a big part of the struggle). Also, your ideas about what to do in the meetings are golden! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I stumbled upon your blog through a link sent out via Life In Student Ministry. After poking around a bit on here, I am DEFINITELY subscribing to your rss feed!

  4. Shawn June 2, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Just found this article, thanks for the insight Phil. I struggle with my volunteer meetings. I think they need tons of work!!

    I love the idea of meeting every other month and doing a “training video” on the off months. Never thought about that. Currently we meet every month, and we do very little training. My leaders are already strapped for time … so practicing your ideas will help them get the info and training they need, without sacrificing another day.

    Thanks again

  5. youthworktalk June 3, 2011 at 2:35 am #

    Thanks for all the positive comments! So glad this can be helpful for you. I used to dread volunteer meetings, but with a few of these changes, I always look forward to them now… I even think my volunteers do too 🙂

  6. Dave June 3, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    Thanks for the thoughts Phil. We’ve often struggled on the when aspect of meeting. How did you land on Saturday mornings? Also for your leaders is it a required deal or maybe expected??


  7. chris June 3, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    How do you have a teachable moment with someone ten plus years older who has been volunteering longer then you have been in ministry and not sound condescending? Sorry for the long loaded question

  8. youthworktalk June 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    @Dave, GREAT questions! We landed on Saturday mornings since it’s what the leaders told me was working for them as they met prior to arriving at my current church. That time has simply continued to be the best time for them as I checked with them. I think they also enjoy the fact that I buy them a bagel and coffee too. We start at 8:30 and are done close to 10am. It gives them the rest of the day to have family time… Is it “required”? Yes, to a good degree. Every year at the end of August prior to kicking off the school year, I have my leaders sign a commitment sheet (that is the same every year). One of the commitments is consistency and a commitment to make the leader meetings. I post the dates for most of the school year, (usually 1st or 2nd Saturday of the month). If I have to change any of them for “bigger church” conflicts that come up, I usually try to give my leaders 2 months notice. All my leaders tell me they appreciate this advance notice. As of now, I have the Fall planning meeting on the schedule already… Does that answer your question?

  9. Dave June 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Thanks yea it does. Among our core leadership team we are talking this summer about how we replicate ourselves. How we equip and honor leaders is going to play a big role in that. I like the idea of a commitment sheet and advance dates. Aside from the obvious… healthy relationship with Christ etc. what else do you call leaders to commit to?

  10. youthworktalk June 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    @Chris, Great question also! There’s a few things I try to do. First of all, it’s important to consider 1st Timothy 5: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity…” Timothy was himself in the situation of trying encourage and correct older leaders in the church. Having the the focus on treating older men and women like we would care for our own parents gives us a good mindset.

    Second, I would say that it’s important to build a solid relationship with them that is based asking them about their ministry and their heart for students. A lot of the time us young guys forget that older people can feel insecure about their age and effectiveness. It’s imperative that we listen first and teach second. With this in mind, I find it is better to ask questions of their effectiveness and let them tell you where they are need to grow. If they are able to admit areas they need help with first, it’s often easier to be able to say, “can I tell you what I would do if I was in your shoes”?

    Third, by teachable moments, it’s also important that I take notes and log them over the month so I can address them in a training video, or the next meeting. That way I address the whole team and not point out one individual. This kind of group training makes older leaders feel less defensive.

    Most of all, the most effective way I have found is to build trust, set an example, earn the right to teach older leaders. There’s no short cuts on this one… It takes time. Next week I am planning on writing a series about gaining influence with others so they will follow us. Check back, you might get a lot out of it?

    Does the help? Feel free to ask more! Great stuff! Brilliant!

  11. Dave June 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    @chris I’d come with a teachable spirit you might be the lead guy I bet there’s a lot to be learned from that leader. Once they see that you’re coming from a humble approach my guess is they’ll be more open to receiving instruction. I’ve found that they way I phrase has a lot to do with it too. “Hey wingnut do it this way…” vs. “Here’s what has worked for me what’s worked for you?” type questions. HOWEVER if the leader needs correction on a moral or ethical issue scripture gives you all the authority you need. Yet deliver it with love.

  12. youthworktalk June 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    @Dave, I also ask my leaders to commit to the following: (I have “stolen” many of these ideas from youth ministry friends who are smarter than me).

    – I am committed toward growing and maturing my relationship with God through quiet times, active attendance at church, and involvement in accountability.
    – I am committed to choices and a lifestyle that are both Godly and “above reproach”, knowing that my lifestyle is a model for the students.
    – I am committed to pursuing healthy balance and making sure my family comes first after God.
    – I am making a commitment to the student ministry for the full school year.
    – I will attend the bi-monthly staff meetings.
    – I will make a committed attempt to help recruit at least one other adult volunteer for our growing need in the student school ministry.
    – I commit to understanding and implementing the direction of the student ministry program.
    – I commit to being a member of the Church
    – Because I am making a significant commitment and my presence is important, I agree to be consistent and timely to the program(s) I commit myself to. I also agree to communicate with Phil if I will be absent.

    This might seem like a high bar, but I would rather “scare away” flaky leaders if they cannot commit.

    Is this what you were looking for?

  13. Benjer McVeigh June 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm #


    Love the commitment list…definitely going to “borrow” many of the items on that list!

  14. Phil Bell June 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Thanks Benjer! Haha! I “stole” the list, you “borrow it”. I think I should start using that term instead.

  15. Jeff Kammerer December 14, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Great article, I’ve been looking for some direction for my volunteer meetings and all the stuff you mentioned is great. But now I have to know… what are Firing Parties?

  16. Phil Bell December 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Jeff, great question! You are not the first to ask this. I should have been clearer 🙂

    Once a year in May I have a BBQ with all my leaders and they all get “fired”. I let them know that they are free to leave youth ministry if they are feeling called elsewhere or if they are tired out. I would rather have volunteers who are passionate about working with students as opposed to volunteers who are serving out of obligation. When they get fired, there are no strings attached to keep them.

    In the short term we run the risk of losing people, however, he ones who stay are deeply committed. This in my opinion is a better way to have volunteers serve in my ministry and make an impact for the long-haul.

    Over the last few years of doing this, I have only lost one or two volunteers this way. Every year we have added many more than we have lost…

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