Okay, I don’t consider myself an expert at many things. But I think I am an expert at having my volunteer youth leaders quit! Quite a claim to fame, don’t you think?
From lots of painful experience in this arena, let me tell you some of the repeating bottom lines that have emerged. Maybe you can avoid repeating some of them with your leaders:
1) Volunteer youth leaders quit because they’re tired of feeling like huge youth ministry failures. Nobody signs up to attend “Failure 101” each week, and neither do your leaders. So connect them with specific students and responsibilities that can give them positive feedback on a regular basis. I often send some of my most affirming students to new leaders to “take care of them.” Why? I don’t want their insecurities and sense of awkwardness to chase them away. Remember the old sports motto: “Nothing hurts when you’re winning.”
2) Volunteer youth leaders quit because they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. We’re pretty decent in the church world when it comes to motivation. But we’re often rotten when it comes to giving specific training. Please know I’m not suggesting those long, 12-week training courses most people quit by the third week. Just make sure you give clear marching orders to your leaders. A vital one I tell all my leaders is, “Show up 15 minutes early and stay 15 minutes late.” Another clear directive is, “Make phone contact with the students in your small group at least once a week.” My guidelines are specific and doable. Make sure your directives are the same.
3) Volunteer youth leaders quit because they feel like servants more than partners. Your leaders should constantly get the vibe from you that they are honestly some of your most valued relationships. This means that you occasionally pick up the phone and check on them as “people” ‒ not just as “leaders.”
4) Volunteer youth leaders quit because they find little fulfillment in merely moving chairs and playing security policeman. Make sure your leaders have students as their primary focus, not just tasks. Tasks and responsibilities are obviously part of every ministry. But make sure that is not all they are doing. People want to feel like they are making a difference in a few teenagers’ lives. So set them up for success and make sure this is the focus of their involvement with you. Tell them often about students who like them.
5) Volunteer youth leaders quit because we “give orders” more than we “give encouragement.” Mark Twain said that you can keep a man going for a whole month with one good compliment. I think he was really right. In like manner, those on your volunteer staff need to feel authentically and frequently appreciated by you. Don’t wait for the yearly “Appreciation Banquet.” Words are cheap then. Make constant “encouragement calls” on a rotational basis to your leaders every month. Even a sentence of sincere appreciation in the church hallway will mean the world.
Most of all, don’t allow discouragement to set in when some of your volunteers choose to walk away. It happens to all of us ‒ more often than we want to talk about. It’s easy to take those times very personally and want to quit yourself. (I’ve considered a new defense mechanism. Someone comes to resign and I quickly say, “You can’t resign to me because I just quit myself yesterday!”)
Just tackle these five reoccurring challenges and leave the rest to the Lord. And when you’re tempted to think He doesn’t understand, remember that He once said to His volunteer team, “Are you going to walk away too?”