5 keys to leading a volunteer team
I’m not ashamed to say it, I love our young people. They are fun, courageous, tenacious, thoughtful, open-hearted, kind and authentic. I look forward to hanging out with them each week, and I have come to develop a deep affection for them.
And I know you feel the same for your children and young people too! I know you got into this job and continue to give the best of yourself because you love them, believe in them, desire the best for them, and long to see them fulfil their God-given potential.
But there is a group of people that you cannot do this without. Your team of volunteers.
Volunteers are the true heroes of the church and of youth and children’s ministry in particular. The church pours hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours into children and young people every year. Perhaps you are a volunteer yourself. At my local church, our entire youth team, including myself, are volunteers, and we could not do any youth ministry without them.
That being the case, can I ask you to consider…
Do you give as much thought to leading your team as you do to leading your young people?
Do you consider their journey; their spiritual development; their wellbeing; their growth, in the way you do for your young people?
Or is there a danger that they have become pawns you utilise to help you get the job done?
The truth is, you probably didn’t get into kids or youth work because you wanted to lead a team, but I want to make the case that you are equally responsible for leading the volunteers that God has entrusted to you, as you are the children and young people.
With that in mind, here are five of the best gifts you can give to your volunteer team…
1. Give Direction
Your first responsibility as a team leader is to make sure everyone is aiming at the same target. Consider it this way: If you were to ask everyone on your volunteer team to individually write down the purpose of your youth ministry, would they all write the same thing? If not, gather your team and have that discussion ASAP!
At Limitless Malvern, we are clear that we exist to ‘help those who are far from God discover full life through Jesus.’
That means everyone on our team knows we don’t exist only to disciple the Christian young people who already go to the church, we’re not here to provide a hang out space, or only to help young people navigate difficult challenges, we exist to help people who don’t know Jesus find new life in him!
Your purpose may be very clear to you, but do your team know it and own it in the way you do?
2. Give Clarity
The next stage is to ensure that every volunteer knows exactly what is expected of them personally. One of my favourite passages from Scripture is Joel 2:7–11 in The Message paraphrase: ‘
The invaders charge. They climb barricades. Nothing stops them. Each soldier does what he's told, so disciplined, so determined. They don't get in each other's way. Each one knows his job and does it. Undaunted and fearless, unswerving, unstoppable.’
In unstoppable teams, everyone knows exactly what is required of them. That’s why everyone on our team is given a specific role. Whether it’s running registration, ice breakers, music, testimonies, the cafe, or whatever, each one knows their job and does it.
We also have a clearly outlined expectation that ‘everyone brings their best every time.’ We don’t want passengers on our team.
We don’t want one of the team members to have to do double the work because someone else can’t be bothered. Maybe that sounds harsh, but the quickest way to demotivate a volunteer is to waste their time. Don’t have people kicking their heels waiting for something to do - they won't last on the team for long.
3. Give Responsibility
If you delegate tasks you create followers, but delegate responsibility and you create leaders. At Limitless Malvern we have two weekly sessions - a Tuesday night outreach and a Sunday morning discipleship group - I don’t lead either of them…
I have two great volunteers who do that. I rarely lead any of our team meetings… I’ve got a fantastic volunteer who does that. I don’t host the testimony slot… You guessed it! Another brilliant volunteer. I could go on.
The real power of effective leadership is releasing others into their God-given potential, and that will not happen if you are always holding the microphone. Be a springboard for your team to launch off, not a ceiling they can’t break through.
4. Give Encouragement
Never let anyone do something good without picking up on it! Remember, what’s rewarded is replicated, so when someone on your team does something great, shout about it, and preferably in front of the rest of the team! Do not underestimate the power of encouragement.
One of the things I love about our team is that they’ve created a culture of encouragement. So it’s not just me encouraging the team, they are quick to encourage one another. But it starts with you, the leader. Be lavish in your encouragement of team, and watch how that culture spreads.
5. Give feedback
Don’t neglect the de-brief. Help your volunteers see the things they’re doing brilliantly as well as the things they need to improve on. This type of constructive feedback is absolutely vital for growth.
In the context of encouragement, the appropriate challenge is absolutely vital. Don’t shy away from conflict. Address issues quickly before they spiral out of control and demotivate the rest of your team.
You and I have a great gift: We get to invite our volunteers to be used by God in ways they never imagined! We are enabling them to experience the purpose and fulfilment that comes from participating in the cause of Christ.
So as much as you and I love our children and young people, let’s take seriously our responsibility to lead the most dynamic, passionate, God-centred, life-giving teams possible!
Question: What would you add to this list of ways to lead a volunteer team? Leave a comment below.