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 and 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 1: It’s not the right fit
Youth ministry has a long history of simply shoving “warm bodies” into the volunteer void. Sometimes, there are volunteers who are enthusiastic to serve in an area that doesn’t match their skill set–and they seem to have no idea. So what do you do when the person serving is willing but they are not gifted to serve in that capacity?
Solution: Help find the right spot to serve
Chances are the person who is willing to serve wants to find the place that’s the right fit for them. Several years ago, we had a mom who wanted to help the youth ministry program here. However, she didn’t really care to chaperone or teach. Instead, the mom gladly volunteered to help organize fundraisers (and workers) for the National Youth Gathering. This woman also helped keep track of all monies that were earned, who earned them, etc. She was an invaluable asset to our ministry because the role fit her gifts and passions in a way that both encouraged her and benefited the kids.
Bottom line: talk to your volunteers. Observe your volunteers. Give them a “trial run” teaching Sunday School or helping out with a smaller event before you make any final decisions. Find out what they’re really passionate about and things at which they excel. Not everyone is a teacher or suited to be a retreat chaperone. And they may not know that about themselves. Your role as “equipper” means that you might have to take some extra time with them to find their spot serving in the body of Christ.
Problem 2: I didn’t sign up for this!
I’d love to say that I’ve taken perfectly prepared youth workers on every trip. I’d also love to say that I’ve had leaders who were ready to teach Wednesday Bible Studies. But, I would be lying. As a full-time youth worker, I live, eat, sleep, and breathe the youth calendar at Messiah and I sometimes make the mistake of assuming that volunteers are the same way. News flash: they aren’t. Along with work, family, sports, and other events, volunteers have lots of things going on besides church. Sometimes, you get a volunteer who signs up to help and realizes that they are in over their heads. What do you do then?
Solution: Clear Expectations
The best thing you can do is have clear expectations. Sit down with the volunteer BEFORE they begin and outline the things for which they will be responsible. Allow them time to ask questions and clarify things. That also means allowing the volunteer an “out” if what they were signing up for isn’t what they thought. Several years ago, our church attended a middle school weekend event. I hadn’t spent much time preparing the volunteers and the weekend was spent in chaos. The next year (and all the years after), I’ve taken some time to sit down with the adult leaders attending, talk about responsibilities and what’s expected. It’s been much, much smoother.
Next time we’ll talk about two more problems and solutions. Have any suggestions? Leave them in the comments!