3 Tips for Working with Volunteers

As a youth pastor, I depend on the adult volunteers who commit to years of working alongside me with our Jr. and Sr. High youth. Accordingly, it’s important that they feel blessed and know they are appreciated. There is good information available on the internet on how to get, train, and keep volunteers (one resource I recommend is www.cadremissionaries.com), but for this column, I have three simple suggestions.

  1. Give volunteers a job description. It’s important when you ask someone to volunteer that you can simultaneously give them a concise description of what will be expected of them. When I ask someone to serve as a youth leader, I give them a printed job description that tells them who else they will be working with, what the ministry priorities are, how much time per week and per month will likely be spent, and the major events in a year (winter retreat, summer trip) that they’ll be expected to participate in. You want volunteers that say yes knowing what they are getting into, and not surprising them a few months down the road with expectations.
  2. Try to create a team atmosphere. This suggestion applies best to situations when a small group of volunteers are working long term together. In my case, youth leaders commit to 3 or 4 year terms of youth ministry, and we meet frequently to pray, plan, and care for the youth. What are ways you can enhance the team camaraderie of the group? Finding ways to enrich their relationships and enjoy group fellowship (a fun outing together like mini golf, a Christmas dessert party, or making them a meal or taking them to a restaurant for no purpose other than fun and fellowship around the table) can help the group feel like a team of friends, which will augment your ability to do good ministry together.
  3. Thank them. Choose some regular, tangible ways of saying thank you to your volunteers. Inexpensive expressions of thanks include a written thank you note, a framed annual photo of the youth group, a sincere expression of appreciation for their work in the church bulletin or during church announcements. If your budget allows (and I strongly suggest that it should), several times a year, especially after a high energy, time consuming event, send volunteers a gift card to a favorite local coffee shop or ice cream place (give the card enough value that they can take a friend or their family), just to let them know they are appreciated.

May the Lord give you creativity to bless and show your support for your volunteers!





Mike Ford is the youth pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. The Ford family mission is to love God and people and to pursue life’s adventures. Mike, Val, and their 4 kids spend most of their time in Souderton, PA, where Mike is a youth pastor and Val a high school teacher. Their current adventure is overcoming Val’s lymphoma cancer, and though hard, the journey goes well.

Un-complicating Youth Ministry

I recently had a life changing conversation with a parent whose teenager is in my church’s youth group. Her son, Silas, had been gone for almost a month over the summer to attend a scholarship program. On his first Sunday back to church in a while, I was so happy to see him and hear stories about his summer adventures.

Later that day, I was relating my excitement about his return to his mom when suddenly she began tearing up. Confused and afraid I had said something wrong, I asked her what was going on. She looked up, smiling through tears, and said, “I’m just so thankful that my church notices when my son is gone, and notices when he comes home. Thank you for noticing.”

This moment with this sweet parent, unknowingly to her, changed my entire paradigm. In the weeks leading up to that conversation, I had been struggling in my role as Youth and Young Adult minister. And I mean, struggling. I felt defeated and overwhelmed, questioning my ability to make any significant impact. I had been making youth ministry so complicated.

The church where I work is a very diverse one, with people all over the map not only racially, but also theologically, politically, and economically. This diversity is beautiful and should certainly be celebrated, but if I’m being honest, it also creates an extremely difficult setting for youth ministry. When you are responsible for teaching teens and pre-teens whose parents all feel very differently about what should be taught, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. Add that to the fact that teenagers love to ask questions, especially about what they’re seeing on the news, and you have, as I call it, the perfect storm. It began to feel impossible to answer the questions they were asking with responses that wouldn’t offend someone. I was afraid to teach anything with depth for fear of starting a firestorm. And I certainly didn’t know how to empower my adult volunteers. I was bogged down.

Enter Silas’s mom. During that conversation, something clicked into place. All that parent really wanted was for me to notice where her kid was, physically and spiritually and emotionally. And suddenly it all became quite simple. My role is to be an example and role model, to love each of the youth to the best of my ability, and to walk with them through whatever life brings them. I began talking with our volunteers about how we might not be able to answer every question about theology to the satisfaction of each parent, but we can love and support and notice each of their kids. We can show up for them, listen to them, and guide them in their own journey towards God. Instead of focusing on what we couldn’t do, I began to focus on what we could do, and it has made all the difference.

My encouragement to my adult volunteers and sponsors is this: show up for your youth and let the rest take care of itself. I encourage them to be the example that the youth need to see of someone walking daily with God. They don’t necessarily need another voice telling them how they should believe, act, and feel. They need someone who will listen, someone who will know them, and someone who will show them unconditional love. Moments for teaching will spring out of those relationships, and they will be so much more meaningful than what you teach in a class setting anyway. I know this isn’t easy, but thankfully, it really is simple.






Lindsay Diener is the Minister of Youth and Young Adults at Jubilee Mennonite Church and part time reading tutor in Meridian, Mississippi. She enjoys hiding away in coffee shops, people watching, reading, and spending time with her husband Joel.

Webinar–Equipping and Empowering Volunteers with Dalene White

In this energetic webinar, Dalene White, coordinator of the Volunteer Program at Bethel College shares how to recruit, train, encourage, and thank volunteers.  As healthy ministers and ministering people, we realize that we cannot do it alone–but need to equip the saints to do the work of the Church!  Dalene offers The Gathering Place her wisdom about how she created a flourishing network of volunteers that feel equipped, inspired, and appreciated–and invites us to reflect on how we can do the same in our own contexts.

Volunteer 101

It’s an amazing gift to oversee a youth ministry. I think back to when I was hired as a youth pastor. I had always been second in command. Now I was being entrusted to steer the ship. Then it hit me. I need other people to do this with me! I can’t do it alone.

How do we recruit, train and encourage volunteers? Here is a quick glance at what has worked time and time again for me in the variety of volunteer settings I have been in.

    1. Recruitment – Create a pray request and blast it out to the ends of the earth. If you are looking for people to come under you and journey with you in ministry, it needs to be something on their heart. So many times I put announcements about recruitment. When I moved to it being prayer requests, something changed. First people are praying for you, your future volunteers and the ones you are with. It’s a chance for others to be in the process with you. Sure, it sounds easy and cliché, but hey prayer works. Don’t forget about parents. Many times we just ignore the fact that parents are a great asset and getting them involved will diversify and expand your ministry potential
    2. Training – Now you have a few volunteers and you need to train them. Two books that have been great resources for small group style training has been Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields and Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. Both books have great wisdom that can be gleaned. I would never expect you to follow them all to the minute detail, but there are some practices that can be extended to your group. If you personally need help to extend your training skills you could always empower a coach to come alongside you. Coaches can be a valuable resource to you as a leader. This could be just some phone/vid calls to face to face interactions or retreats.
    3. Encourage – Find out what your staff likes and keep them motivated. Two of my youth workers LOVE a specific coffee place. I frequently will drop them a gift card or treat them. Another set of my workers gather for dinner with me before our Wednesday gathering. All of these touch points create a bond and keeps us working together.

Remember, if you are building up your volunteers to Love God and Love People they will be making disciples as they go along. It is a group effort and do everything in your power to bring them along. If you position yourself as the coach and your youth workers are the team on the field, it works out so much better than just you doing it all! Jesus had his 12. He ate with them, worked with them, and relaxed with them. Do all this with your youth workers. Many time we prioritize our kids over our staff. I dare you to do it differently. Make them a priority so they can be empowered for your youth.

If you have any thoughts or want to engage this stuff more. Please drop me a line at scottthepof@gmail.com. See you in Orlando!




Scott Roth wants to see everyone engaging God and their local community. He has lived in urban and rural settings and seen the suburban sprawl. Living in Red Hill, PA he and his wife, son, daughter, and two basset hounds have been walking this faith journey by actively engaging their suburban communities. Scott is currently fulfilling many different roles as project manager for Urban Expression North America, developing a non-profit bicycle shop, community gardens, counseling center, robotics clubs, various civic/community events, thrift shops for Red Hill. He also engages in one-on-one ministry coaching in his spare time. He also is an associate pastor at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, Executive Conference Minister of Eastern District Conference, and was part of the hatching for this site, The Gathering Place. He has a passion for writing, speaking, video games, fishing, and bicycles.

tGP Podcast: An interview with Mark DeVries

In this interview, Rachel talks with Mark DeVries, president/founder of Ministry Architects, about how to recruit, train, and lead a healthy volunteer team. Mark spells out his 100% guarantee on how to form a volunteer team without guilting, shaming, or pulling your hair out!

Mark DeVries is the founder of MINISTRY ARCHITECTS (2002), a consulting team that moves churches “beyond stuck” and strategically forward. Having worked with over 650 churches, Ministry Architects has helped build sustainable ministries for youth, children, families and young adults, as well as providing strategic coaching for entire churches and their senior leadership.

Mark served as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee for 28 years. Though Mark resigned his position as youth pastor in 2014, he now serves at First Presbyterian as a volunteer associate pastor.

Mark is a graduate of Baylor University and Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of several books, including Family-Based Youth Ministry, Sustainable Youth Ministry, and The Most Important Year of a Man’s/Woman’s Life and the Indispensable Youth Pastor, which he co-authored with Jeff Dunn-Rankin.

Mark and his wife, Susan, live in Nashville and have three grown children (Adam, Debbie, and Leigh) and three grandchildren.

February–Empowering and Equipping Volunteers

As ministering people, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that we can’t do it all ourselves.  Volunteers are absolutely vital to our work and ministry!  Apostle Paul knew this, too.  In his letter to Ephesians, he writes that the work of, “…pastors and teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

We are not in the do-it-all-yourself business, but as leaders, we are called to empower and build up the Church, naming gifts and encouraging others to use these gifts for the sake of Christ. This sounds amazing, assuming we can actually find people willing to volunteer and use their gifts!

One of the most common questions I receive is, “I am having a hard time finding people to fill in our Christian education positions! HELP!”

What does it look like, as a leader, to motivate and empower others in our congregation to serve?  How can we help others ‘catch the vision’ for investing their time, energy, and talent? What does it mean to equip volunteers, how do you nurture a healthy team, and what are best practices for saying “thanks”?

This month, we will explore a variety of ways to empower and equip volunteers in the Church.

  • Webinar: Dalene White, volunteer coordinator and motivator extraordinaire from Bethel College will offer best practices and tips on how to call, train, and lead volunteer teams.
  • Podcast: Mark DeVries, author of “Sustainable Youth Ministry” talks with Rachel in tGP podcast about how to get 100% of the volunteers you need, without guilting, shaming, or going nuts.
  • Study Circle: Randy Keeler, Professor of Religion at Bluffton University will lead a discussion on Chapter 10 of Mark DeVries book, Sustainable Youth Ministry.

This month is a very practical theme with lots of hands-on takeaways.  Can’t wait to gather together!




~Rachel S. Gerber, editor of The Gathering Place and Denominational Minister for Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA

Study Circle–February

Sustainable Youth Ministry (ch. 10)

By: Mark DeVries

Tuesday, February 21st from 3:00-4:00 EST


Is the role of a youth worker/pastor to be a confidante to all the youth?

Is that really possible?

This study circle session will focus on the value of building social capital for each youth in one’s sphere of influence, or as DeVries calls it:  “a constellation of relationships.”  Participants will glean from DeVries’ work and the experience and expertise of the study circle participants to discover strategies to ensure that each youth in one’s sphere of influence has a number of adults in whom they can confide and share freely.

Sign up today!


This month’s study circle will be hosted by Randy Keeler, Professor of Religion at Bluffton University (OH) and long-time youth ministry worker.