All around me, students are headed back to school. As school looms before us, so, too, does the start of fall programming. In my context, fall programming for students begins the day after Labor Day. Fall programming for adult leaders begins two weeks earlier.

We switched to this format several years ago. Prior to that, we claimed to value leader training.

After all, we wholeheartedly believe the best leaders are those who are equipped for the roles we’re asking them to fulfill.

Despite this stated value, at the time, leader training was happenstance. I’d occasionally throw out a date and say, “We need to do a leader training.” If most leaders could attend, we’d move forward with it; If not, we’d continue searching for a date. Such a pattern left leaders ill-equipped for effective ministry and questioning whether or not we really valued them, their training, or even their service.

As a result, four years ago, we made significant changes to how we trained leaders.

1. We began including training as part of our recruitment spiel for new leaders. This clearly communicated training as a non-negotiable part of serving as a leader.

2. Making training non-negotiable for leaders forced us to schedule trainings in advance. We now approach each year with about six hour-and-a-half long trainings on the calendar. Leaders know these dates from day one.

3. Out of respect for our leaders, rather than ask them to give up more time for training, we instead hold it during the time they’re used to serving anyway. To facilitate this, we replace our normal youth ministry gathering with a movie or game night held at someone’s house. Parents then serve as the “adult leaders” for that night. This communicates how much we value training to both leaders and our youth ministry families. The more aware families have become of the extensive training leaders undergo in order to serve in our ministry, the more confident they’ve become in our ministry and it’s leadership.

4. We moved leader training from the church to my house. Doing so created a much more relaxed environment. Additionally, by holding training in my house, I essentially invited leaders into my life – powerfully showing them I value them both as friends and leaders.

5. We began serving dinner at each leader training. Throughout Scripture, fellowship happens around a table. Thus, we decided to experiment with serving a meal in order to more intentionally build community (and, on a more practical note, enable leaders to come straight from work to training). As leaders began sharing meals together, they also began sharing stories with one another. This enabled them to form relationships with one another, which they can now model for the students they serve. As an added bonus, the genuine community with one another makes leaders much more likely to continue serving for the long-haul.

As a result of the aforementioned changes, leaders now know how much we value them. When we say they’re the backbone of our ministry, they know it’s true.

How do you communicate value to your leaders?