My DCE professor, Mark Blanke, used to say that working with volunteers was like managing a company. The main difference is that in the “company” called the church, workers weren’t paid and didn’t have to show up to do the work they were asked to do. If you are a volunteer youth worker, part-time, or full-time working with volunteers, you know that sometimes things can get a little dicey. Below are some potential volunteer problems and solutions. We’ll talk about a couple each post for the next few posts. Feel free to add your own in the comments and we’ll try to cover that one too!
Problem 3: “We’ve never done it that way before!” or “But that’s not how the old DCE/youth worker/parent did it!”
I’m not sure if it’s because we’re Lutheran, or simply because we’re human, change can be difficult. It can be particularly difficult when trying to help volunteers accept a new program or when you’re contemplating making changes to a well-loved one that isn’t working as well as it should.
Solution: Ownership and Information
I may begin to sound a little bit redundant, but it bears repeating. Communication. Is. Important. Repeat. The more you can work with your volunteers so that they are a part of the planning process, the more they’ll back what you’re doing…or they’ll realize it’s not the right fit and (hopefully) bow out gracefully. Humility is also an important key. Listen to what your volunteers are saying and recognize that they may have some very valid points. If you show that you’re someone who is willing to listen and compromise, they will be more likely to do the same.
Problem 4: The Hoverers
Youth Ministry can sometimes seem like an extended day care program. While you usually get a few good chaperones, other parents drop kids off for bowling/lock-in/weekend trip and squeal out of the parking lot before their kid is in the door. However, a few parents tend to be a little more, shall we say, observant. Some parents watch over your shoulder wanting to know everything from the insurance policies of the drivers to the calorie count of the snacks. How do you appease their need for information and control without losing your mind?
Solution: If you can’t beat it, join it
There is not an easy answer to this problem. First see if you can determine from where the need to “hover” comes. Sometimes it simply takes time and the parent’s confidence in your abilities. When I was a young, inexperienced intern, parents would sometimes volunteer because they didn’t think that I knew what I was doing (and to be honest, I didn’t, but I faked it really well), but after they saw I could handle situations, they backed off. There are other parents though, that you may have as a part of your youth program for the long haul.
There are ways to make this a lot easier (for you and for them). If you know that a parent will only let their child ride with them, see if they can take 3 or 4 other students with them on the way to the next event. If you know that a parent of a certain child will always go on an overnight trip, use that to your advantage! There have been times that when Mom says that she’ll go on a trip with her daughters, but I’ve asked if Dad can go instead to help with the boys. Usually, that satisfies the need to be close to the student, but also helps me as well. I am also very clear that when a parent wants to go on a trip (usually an overnight or extended trip) that their responsibilities will not just be for their child, but will have the same responsibilities as other chaperones. I’ve found that responsibilities for that parent such as leading a small group–that their child may or may not be in, driving the van, or picking up breakfast for the group also help give parents a purpose at the event beyond just their child and both (usually) have a better time because of it.
Next time we’ll talk about two more problems and solutions. Have any suggestions? Leave them in the comments!