Turnover is a great thing…as long as you’re talking about a pastry.
But turnover in youth ministry can be a big headache. It takes time, energy and commitment to recruit and train new volunteers in the church. The kids suffer because they’re cut off from deeper relationships with their adult helpers. The church suffers because the youth ministry is systematically “frying” its members. And, of course, the volunteers suffer because they’re the “fry-ees.”
Some turnover among volunteers in the church is normal. But chronic, wide-scale turnover is damaging to your ministry. Here’s how veteran youth workers have learned to cure the “revolving door syndrome”:
1. Recruit volunteers who’ve grown up in the church.
Virginia youth leader Pat Sleeth has two couples on his senior high volunteer staff who’ve served for seven years. Both couples grew up in the church and were active youth group members.
“They had a wonderful relationship with the youth group,” says Sleeth, “and now they’re choosing to pass it on to the next generation.” Long-time church members bring stability and commitment to your volunteer team.
2. Be a burden-bearer, not a burden-maker.
When Good Shepherd U.M.C. hired Sleeth as its first full-time youth minister, the volunteers who’d been running the show weren’t exactly thrilled. Sleeth was full of great ideas, but they balked at implementing them. They didn’t want an “outsider” telling them what to do.
“So, I basically sold myself as a resource to them,” says Sleeth. “Instead of adding to their burdens, I helped to shoulder their burdens.” He proved his expertise by giving the Volunteers in the church programming and organizational ideas that made their work easier and more effective. He looked for ways to reduce their stress, not add to it.
3. Look for learners, not experts.
South Dakota youth leader Dale Weerts says he’s noticed that volunteers who consider themselves “experts” tend to tire of youth ministry more quickly. So he looks for people who are eager to grow and learn, not people who think they’ve already arrived. Weerts says, “I tell them, I’m not an expert, either. But I’m willing to work hard, and that’s all I’d ask of you. We’ll learn together and grow together’.”
“Learners” will stick with youth ministry longer because they’re watching themselves grow. That’s a powerful motivator.
4. Give church volunteers short-term responsibility, but encourage long-term commitment.
The hectic pace of modern life makes most people afraid to commit long-term to anything, for fear they’ll have to break their commitment. That’s why veteran youth leaders often sign up their volunteers for short-term commitments—three months to six months. After the term is up, volunteers are free to step down without guilt. However, they’re encouraged to sign up for another short stint now that they’ve had a “taste” of youth ministry.
5. Use a cooperative team philosophy.
When Weerts joined the Memorial Lutheran Church staff, he reorganized the youth ministry volunteers using “team philosophy.” He split the youth ministry into separate groups of senior highers, junior highers, fourth- and fifth-graders and younger kids. Then he set up a youth ministry planning team and recruited one adult for every two kids in each age group. He set no maximum limit for the number of volunteers on the team.
The team meets once a month, and Weerts follows this agenda: (1) a report and review of last month’s activities; (2) an active-learning devotion; (3) community building activities that train team members to develop relational skills; and (4) age groups meet separately to brainstorm programming ideas for next month, then decide how to follow through with the ideas.
6. Offer a wide variety of responsibilities and terms of service.
California youth leader Anne Herrick breaks down ministry responsibilities into short, medium and long-term assignments.
First she asks prospective helpers about their plans for the next five years. If they plan to move soon or start a family, she tells them about short-term service opportunities such as retreat planning. People who plan to be around for at least a year can sign on to be teachers. And those who want long-term involvement can become adult advisers.
This way, prospective volunteers in the church can choose responsibilities they know they can handle. And turnover is neutralized.