Getting volunteers for youth ministry can be one of the most difficult things about the job.  Even harder is getting good, committed leaders!  We see those high-profile church workers who have WHOLE TEAMS of really cool volunteers and we get discouraged.  What do us normal folk and smaller churches do to create a great atmosphere for our students?

First, the old ways of recruiting volunteers must be abandoned.  We can no longer expect an announcement in the bulletin to reap committed volunteers.  The requests have to be thoughtful, personal, and prayerful.  

Second, we need a comprehensive strategy.  I have seen so many Facebook posts about this issue, and I try to share my thoughts, but it really is a long-haul issue that requires more than a tweet or clever idea.  

Here are some long-term strategies I’ve used to get great volunteers:

Change your language:  You don’t have a need, you have an opportunity.  Celebrate having openings to serve in your ministry.  Leaders will be blessed by saying yes!  I hate the language “We need your help.”  Who is we and why do we need help?  Your church hired you to help them serve and lead youth.  By hiring you, they are saying, we want youth!  Help us!  Take out all the guilt-tripping and desperation language.  Here are some examples of better recruitment language:

We have some opportunities to serve coming up and we know you’ll want to get in on the fun.  

Great news:  Our youth ministry is growing and we have openings for you to be a part of it!

Your youth want to serve, learn and grow together and they want you to join their mission!

Do not wait for summer:  Start now recruiting for fall.  Summer is too late, and if you haven’t noticed, spring is also too busy for people to even think about the next school year.  The longer you wait, the more likely they will have committed to something else.  Recruiting now gives your candidates some opportunities to come to youth group times or leader meetings to check things out.  It also gives them the opportunity to chaperone a summer event and start fall knowing names and hearts in your group.  

Identify Leaders: I have four ways I like to identify potential leaders for my ministry.  

    1. Sit down with your lead pastor or pastor to adults and identify some people together.  It is that pastor’s job to know the gifting of the adults in your congregation.  Get together and brainstorm some names.  Once you’ve determined a list, have that pastor reach out the them individually and discuss the opportunity.  Make sure if that person is committed elsewhere, you discuss what duties your pastor is comfortable asking them to replace with youth work.  NOTE:  I think it is also important to make sure whatever timing on the calendar your church does “nominating” (or whatever they call putting people on committees) that they do so with youth workers in mind.  You need to find a way to sync up with that process so they aren’t poaching your leaders for other jobs, and so they perhaps consider who can work with youth when they are thinking of all the other needs of the church.  
    1. Ask everyone on your current team to identify one person to ask.  Have them all come to the next leader’s meeting with 1-2 people they think would be a great fit.  People like to serve with their friends, and no one knows what leading looks like better  than your current team.  Discuss it as a team and then decide who should do the asking.  
    2. Identify parents who will be a good fit.  Maybe you noticed that one parent who stays up late playing cards with students when chaperoning a retreat.  That parents who hangs around and helps you clean up after service.  The parents who knows lots of student’s names and gives lots of rides to help other parents.  These are people who should be doing more than driving and signing up for snacks.  Tell them you’ve noticed their heart and need more people like them on your team!
    3. Ask your students who they would like for you to ask.  Whenever I ask students, they always have ideas of who they want to lead them.  It is so great to be able to go up to a potential leader and say: “Our youth have personally asked for you as a potential leader.”  

Ask Personally:  Once you identify leaders, ask them personally to join you.  I like to start with an email that spells out exactly what the job will entail, ask them to pray, and follow up in person.  You might find a phone call is better (okay, Boomers).  This is the time to reassure them there will be training and support.  This is also when you share your vision for youth ministry and get them excited to serve.  Make sure you mention that others (pastor, leaders, youth) identified them as someone they want to see leading youth.  People want to feel like you believe in them and they will be important to the ministry, not guilted into helping.  

Offer Training:  I find people are more likely to serve when they know they will be equipped for the job.  Training can be tricky because that is even MORE time they will have to dedicate to serving.  That’s why I love DYM University.  You can even just start with the training videos included in your DYM membership!  I do think offering more than one opportunity can help people fit training into their schedule.  Here is a list of possibilities to for training for your team:

    1. DYMU:  DYM University allows leaders to train at home on their own time.  The best part is that you get to monitor progress know who is getting the training.  This is a fantastic way to allow busy leaders to serve. 
    1. NDYWT:  Sign up to host or sign up to attend a National Day of Youth Ministry Training event.  This event brings a national-level training directly into your church.  Get conference-live training in just one morning.  You can make the event really fun and network with other churches who have the same goal of reaching youth in your community.  Last year was incredible and most hosts and participants received overwhelmingly positive response from their teams.  
    1. NYWC:  Set a goal of brining a team…or even one volunteer with you to the National Youth Worker’s Convention in November.  Then you can split up and cover more sessions and bring twice the information back to your team.  My brother-in-law sent a small team of volunteers this year to NYWC instead of going himself, and that team he sent is leading all his leader meetings this spring with what they learned at the convention.  What a great idea to equip leaders to train each other!
    1. Church Training Day:  Many churches have a day when all their new positions (greeters,  finance officers, etc.),  are trained for the year.  Get in on this!  Some folks might even come to your session out of curiosity.  Use a video training or prepare a more customized presentation for your church.  It is easier for adults to prioritize attending one church-wide training day than a bunch of different days.  There may even be childcare and food provided that doesn’t come out of your budget.
    1. Local Denom Training:  In my denomination, they offer training for youth ministry several times a year in my local conference.  Usually this is free or for a very small fee.  Also, in my denom, conference staff (for instance our Director of Next Gen Ministries for our state) will come to your church free of charge to speak or lead training.  I have taken advantage of this many times!
    1. Local Seminaries:  Many times, your local seminaries will offer “Seminary for a Day” type training events.  Our local seminary is not a huge institution, but it offers this for free through a grant, and gets top names!  This can be an easy way to get top-notch training for your team.  

Your strategy will certainly look different for your own ministry, but I hope these examples have inspired you to create a strategy that will work in your context.  And don’t leave out prayer!   Pray over each of these steps, and get ready to be blessed by God’s faithfulness your students!

Ansley Higginbotham is a great youth worker (our words, not hers) and we’re totally fans. Hoping for more posts from her in the future!