Volunteers: Make it Difficult To Sign Up – Make It Easy For Them to Minister…

Just last week I was talking to a friend who is a volunteer youth worker at his new church. He loves students and is a gifted volunteer who I would recruit in a heartbeat if he lived nearby! As we talked, there was a statement he made about his experiences as a volunteer that really made me think about how I recruit and develop my volunteers:

“It was really easy for me to start as a volunteer, but since I have started it’s not been easy to minister to these kids. I don’t feel like I know what is going on, and I don’t have any important information about them to follow up…”

After I had spoken to him, I started to reflect and think about the experience my volunteers have under my leadership? Is it easy for them to get in the door, but hard to know how to do ministry once they are  there? As I reflected further I concluded that it should be the opposite experience: It should be difficult to sign up, but easy to minister…

1) We Should Make It Difficult To Sign Up: You might think this statement sounds crazy, but in my experience, it is better to have a diligent process that will have healthier long-term impact. Having some “hoops” to jump through and making potential volunteers work for it, is not always a bad thing:

  • Give them a few weeks to check out the youth program with “no strings” attached and allow them to see if it is for them
  • Take a few weeks to ask around about them and get to see how the students interact with them
  • Meet them at the end of the process for a coffee and lay out specifics and expectations
  • Have them sign an application AND a commitment sheet that all the other leaders have committed to
Again, this might seem like a lot to ask of a potential volunteer, but in my experience the ones who are committed and will be good for the long-haul will always be prepared to jump through my hoops if they truly love working with students. There have been times when I have been desperate for volunteers and have moved them into the ministry on a “fast-track” with disastrous results.
2) Make It Easy For Them To Minister: This should be a given, but unfortunately it is not always the case. Using the excuse that we are disorganized is simply not good enough. If we say that we care about students, we should be prepared to work hard to support the volunteers who are in the trenches with them. It should mean we consider their ministry needs as a priority. Right?
  • Weekly emails communicating that weeks programatic happenings
  • An easy to access online calendar that has youth events and meetings at least two months ahead
  • Regular youth leader meetings. (We meet every two months)
  • Regular one to one meetings. (When I say regular, this might depend on how many volunteers you have. I try to meet with my volunteers once a quarter)
  • Contact lists with students information and contact details is available in an easy way to access
  • Yearly training events (I take a number of my volunteers to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference and have a yearly training day with them)
  • On going training tips, information, and youth ministry tools. (Includes articles, quick “training videos” from me, and the occasional book that gets passed around.
Recruiting, training, and keeping volunteers can be hard work, but the pay-off for students is massive! In my opinion, it is better take my time recruiting someone and take as much time afterward training them. What could your volunteers look like if you were to take more time recruiting and investing in them? What else would you add to this list? What experiences have you had in recruiting volunteers?
Phil <><

4 Responses to Volunteers: Make it Difficult To Sign Up – Make It Easy For Them to Minister…

  1. Benjer McVeigh October 26, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    This should be required reading for every youth pastor, Phil.

    It hasn’t been until the past couple of years that I’ve really made it difficult for someone to join our team. But it’s really paid off. There have been a few people that during the application process (about four weeks when all is said and done for me, between the background check, reference checks, and just checking out what we do on Sundays) that it became clear serving in the YM was not a good (or safe in one case) fit.

  2. Phil Bell October 26, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    If you would like a copy of the commitment sheet I refer to, leave a comment for me.

  3. Phil Bell October 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm #


    I am so glad to hear that your process has changed. Like you, I have found a few people not suitable and I am glad that I had a good process in place to help keep the best and discourage others who would not be a good fit. It’s one of the hardest things to say to “no” to a potential volunteer, but I find it is a lot easier than dealing with all the issues that will arise later.

  4. Jeremy Smith October 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    I fully agree. We need the cream of the crop volunteers and allow them to do the best ministry possible, whatever that be! Unfortunately, too many ministries are struggling to get volunteers to do their programs well. (I would suggest just cutting ministry back.)

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