I’m currently doing some research for Exodus World Service, an organization that mobilizes the Christian community to welcome refugees. As part of this, I was reading some background information on the organization written by one of it’s founders, Heidi Moll Schoedel. In it, Heidi states, “The quality of support we provide to our volunteers has a direct correlation with the long-term impact of our volunteers.”

Isn’t that also true in youth ministry?

If so, then supporting leaders should be a priority in every youth ministry. Here are 10 ways every youth ministry can and should support their leaders:

  1. Train leaders. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve met with a potential leader who has said, “I’d love to help but I don’t know how to work with teenagers!” or “I don’t know how to lead a Bible study!” Don’t let this be a barrier to serving in your ministry! If people love God and like teenagers, through quality training, we can equip them with the skills they’ll need to thrive in ministry. So schedule regular training for your leaders. Use your training times to equip leaders to lead Bible studies, deal with various personality-types, handle crises, and understand youth culture. Doing so will create community in and amongst your leaders while also giving them the confidence to lead effectively.
  2. Resource leaders. Provide your leaders with books and articles that will help them more effectively minister to teens.
  3. Affirm leaders & offer constructive feedback. Pay attention to your leaders. When you catch them doing something good in your ministry, tell them so. In the same way, coach them. Provide them with direct and ongoing feedback that will help them minister even more effectively to the teens in your ministry.
  4. Protect leaders.  When they make a mistake, defend them. If someone is upset, intervene. Make it clear that criticism comes to you; That it’s not OK for people to rant and rave at your leaders. 
  5. Give leaders time off. Remember that your leaders are volunteer, not paid. Don’t ever make them feel imprisoned by your ministry. Instead, willingly give them time off. Take breaks during the holidays and summer that will force them to take time off. Beyond that, when a leader needs a week off – for ANY reason – give it to them!
  6. Pay for leaders. Most adults don’t spend their free-time at amusement or water parks. So when you ask them to serve as leaders at these kind of events, cover their cost. In the same way, no matter how much a leader might enjoy camp or your ministry’s mission trip, it’s not a vacation for them. What’s more, if your leader works outside the church, they have to take vacation time in order to serve on these trips with you – something that has a very real cost. As a thank you, cover their cost.
  7. Get to know leaders outside of ministry. Inevitably, my youth ministry leaders become some of my closest friends. Why? Because I take time to get to know them outside of the ministry context. To do this, share meals together. Ask leaders about their life outside your ministry. Get to know their families. When you get to serve with your friends, everyone benefits.
  8. Celebrate leaders. I still remember the time in college when the youth ministry I served with celebrated the upcoming weddings of my husband and I as well as two other couples who served as leaders. Our church loved and honored us – not just as leaders – but as people. To that end, celebrate milestones in your leaders’ lives like birthdays, job changes, moving, and the birth of children.
  9. Publicly thank and honor leaders at least once a year. This can be as simple as including an insert in your congregation’s worship bulletin or a slide on your announcement screen or as elaborate as a thank-you dinner that involves gifts and is also open to your leaders’ families.
  10. Pray for leaders. Pray for what’s going on in the lives of your leaders outside of your youth ministry. Additionally, pray for their ministry with teens. Unashamedly let leaders know that you’re praying for them and ask them how else you can be praying for them.

By doing these 10 things, you can help your leaders feel loved, equipped, and supported. When leaders feel loved, equipped, and supported, they’re much more likely to continue serving in your youth ministry long-term. That, in turn, will benefit you and your ministry for years to come.