Before the days of Family Ministry and NextGen teams, the process of finding and leading volunteers was all over the map. Wait, who am I kidding? For most in ministry, a comprehensive strategy for volunteers is lacking. The good news is that a NextGen ministry structure creates a foundation for healthy volunteer systems. Let’s take a look at what often is and what could be.

Volunteer Recruitment

The one thing every children’s ministry and youth ministry can agree on is this: we need more volunteers. Outside of this one point of agreement, everything else is different. Youth ministry usually needs several great leaders where children’s ministry needs dozens of leaders (how great they are is often negotiable). Methods and tactics to fill these needed spots vary. Depending on the personalities involved, recruitment can be overly aggressive or somewhat passive.

What Often Is

  • Depending on the ministry area, some new recruits are plugged in immediately where other recruits get stuck for weeks or months.
  • Depending on the ministry area, some potential volunteers go through a well-defined process of applications, interviews, reference checks, background checks and training. Other volunteers are placed hurriedly without much in the way of training or screening.
  • Depending on the ministry area, several potential volunteers sit on a waiting list because there isn’t currently a need for their selected role, while another ministry has several open positions with no prospects.
  • Often times the desires, skills, and abilities of a potential volunteer aren’t really considered because of a pressing needs that must be filled.

What Could Be

What if the entire process could be centralized? Team members who excel in creating/maintaining systems can own the process. Team members who are highly relational and energetic can point people toward the process or lead orientation/training components. Team members who live in the details can ensure that every prospect is screened and trained before being placed in a new role. Team leaders can discuss prospects and distribute them in ministry areas that seem like the best fit for everyone.

When everyone owns a piece of the volunteer process, no one has to own all of it. People are able to contribute in ways that connect with their gifts and abilities. Lastly, volunteers are processed quickly and placed where the ministry needs them most and placed where they want to be. A NextGen Volunteer Strategy makes recruitment far more efficient and effective.

Volunteer Roles

Several years ago, I remember trying to organize a volunteer fair at my church. We had these cards that listed all the potential positions a person could select. Between the children’s and youth ministry, there were 21 different options. Half of the positions were the same, just for different age groups. I’m pretty sure the 21 individual boxes alone overwhelmed some prospects. In reality, 90% of our actual need was represented by less than 4 boxes.

What Often Is

  • Many roles between ministry areas are essentially identical, but because they’re called different things (usually because of personal preference), they have to be explained to every potential volunteer.
  • Many roles could be eliminated (or combined) after having strategic conversations about volunteer roles (does the nursery really need a caregiver, lead teacher and assistant lead teacher. Couldn’t a Small Group Leader cover all of this?).
  • Ministry area leaders tend to focus on how their roles are different from other ministry areas instead of focusing on how their roles are more alike.

What Could Be

What if all volunteer roles in your NextGen ministry could be consolidated down to 4-6 essential roles that represent 95% of the volunteer team? What if what a role in high school essentially does the same thing as the same role in elementary? What would it look like to recruit someone to a position first and then an age group? You can if you strategically align most of your volunteer roles.

Aligning roles may seem overly simplistic, but it’s more helpful than you think. Sometimes a prospect might say they want to be a small group leader in high school, but when you talk to them, you realize that they’re pretty flexible. They actually love the idea of starting off as a small group of 8th graders and moving up into high school with the group the following year (this works for you, because you don’t have any availability in high school, but you do for an 8th-grade leader). I’ve placed many volunteers in preschool with the promise of them moving up with their group into kindergarten. This only works when your roles between ministry areas are aligned.

Volunteer Care/Leadership

This may come across as stereotypical, but volunteer care and leadership often look very different between ministry areas. Children’s Ministry tends to see a volunteer culture of training and preparation. Youth Ministry tends to see a volunteer culture of relationships. When children’s ministry services end, volunteers hurry home and back to the rest of their lives. When youth ministry services end, volunteer linger to catch up or grab coffee/lunch before going home.

What Often Is

  • Typically, a few staff people end up leading dozens (if not hundreds) of volunteers. Ministries that rely on fewer volunteers tend to have healthier volunteer teams only because the span of care is smaller. The larger volunteer teams typically have a larger span of care and these teams are far less healthy.
  • Larger teams see a higher rate of turnover because they have a wider span of care. Large teams with a high number of roles often find themselves constantly filling spots because turnover is a constant problem.
  • Leaders of smaller teams spend less time recruiting (because they need fewer volunteers) and more time caring and developing their volunteers, which is exactly what would help the larger teams that are less healthy, but the leaders are often too busy recruiting to adequately caring for and developing their volunteers.

What Could Be

What if everyone on the NextGen team worked together. Staff leaders who have time to develop and care for volunteers could expand what they’re doing for their volunteers and provide it for all volunteers. Staff leaders who are primarily focused on recruiting and training efforts for their area could expand what they’re doing for their volunteers and provide it for all volunteers. This way, every ministry area has equal access to great recruiting and great care/development.

Every few months, someone on my staff will share with me what they’re about to do with their leaders. Often times it’s a book to read together, an outing to organize or something to communicate. Almost always, my response is the same. Do you think that’s something we could do for everyone? Should we tell the whole team about this and see if it’s something we could work on together? Almost always, the answer is “yes.” It’s better when we work together.