Written by:
Kelly Peterson-Cruse


Not It!: Tips for Working with Volunteers in Youth Ministry

By Kelly Peterson-Cruse

So you’re a small church, a rural church, and you can’t afford a youth worker or pastor, and your senior pastor cannot take on youth ministry on top of all the other hats he/she wears. I hear this often. Please, please don’t think you cannot have an effective, vibrant youth ministry unless you pay someone.

I always shake my head when I get a call from a church that wants to hire a quarter time youth worker. They do one event and they’re tapped out for hours for the month? In fact, with the new laws around non-exempt employees, I have a few churches that are struggling to make it work with even a half time youth worker without overtime kicking in. So what is the solution? Many small churches and/or rural churches have found the use of volunteers to be a very positive experience. However, they are most effective when the ministry is created intentionally with volunteers rather than selecting someone who happens to be absent or leaves the room during a meeting. Here are some tips that have been found to help your volunteer youth ministry be successful.

Write Job Descriptions

Identify the different jobs your ministry will have and exactly what the roles, responsibilities and hours will be. Some of these jobs can include: Activity Leader, Trip Leader, Bible Study Leader, Transportation, Administration/Communication and Hospitality (Feeding the Youth). Dividing the jobs keeps from one volunteer from feeling overwhelmed and taken advantage of; it appeals to people’s strengths, and they’re more likely to volunteer if they know exactly what it is involved (i.e., my job is to send out the youth group reminders, collect paperwork, and communicate with parents).

Recruit Outside of Parents

Young people need strong Christian role models outside their family unit. Youth group is always “cooler” when it is someone other than a parent. Parents are great for some of the support jobs, but if possible, recruit volunteers for your primary leaders outside the parent circle. You could have a young adult who is considering a career in education, or needs volunteer hours for college that would be a perfect fit. Young marrieds are often willing to be involved in youth ministry as well. Personal invitations are key! Don’t depend only on announcements in your bulletin; the invitation shows your confidence in them being the right fit for the ministry.

Don’t Go Backward

People who did youth ministry “back in the day” could still have a volunteer role in the ministry program, but are not usually the best to be the primary leader. Times have changed, youth have changed, and it is important that your primary leader has kept up with the times.

Consider Incremental Involvement

Don’t expect them to be “large and in charge” from the get go - give them small opportunities where they can realize success.

Have Them Sign a Contract

Be clear as to what they are committing to and your expectations for them. Also, state what you as the pastor, organizer etc. will be expected to do to avoid surprises or unclear expectations. Also, if it turns out you need to let them go, you have specific points in the contract that can be addressed.


Just because someone is “good with kids” and volunteers, doesn’t mean they have the tools for the ministry you have in mind. First and foremost, make sure ALL your volunteers have Safe Sanctuaries (Child Abuse Prevention) training AND a background check. This is something THE CHURCH should be expected to pay for. Don’t try to save money or expect volunteers to pay for it; this is essential in reducing risk and the liability of the church overall. Additionally, the key leaders will need training and support. Send them or provide training opportunities/materials before they start working with the youth. Connect them with other UM youth leaders in your area. Ecumenical connections can also be a good resource for equipping your leaders. They should never feel like they’re in this alone.

Budget for Supplies and Materials

Do not expect to run a youth ministry program without any budget. Overworked and underpaid youth workers (or in this case VOLUNTEERS) should NOT be expected to pay out of pocket for needed supplies and materials.

Know Your Connectional Resources

The Young People’s Ministries unit of Discipleship Ministries has many resources for ministry with young people.


Check in often, participate, and support your volunteers. Just because you have someone who has agreed to volunteer doesn’t mean you send them off to handle everything on their own. Make sure the terms of the agreement are still working for your volunteers. What are their needs? What’s working? What is not? It’s crucial that your agreement continues to work for all.


Acknowledging all your volunteers do is so important. The church should know how vital their ministry is, and their time and efforts should be publicly affirmed. Kudos in the bulletin, gift certificates, and notes of appreciation are all crucial. Also, being flexible in their schedule and allowing time off for their own needs is important in retaining volunteers.

In the end, successful ministry with volunteers IS possible; you just need to be intentional in your approach, implementation and follow-through.

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