There are few places of service in the church that can be as demanding as working with students. At the same time, I believe there are few places to serve that are as rewarding. Seeing God work in the lives of teenagers is awesome, and being used by God to impact the next generation is a privilege. But we all know there can be seasons in ministry that burn us out. Volunteer leader turnover is a real issue and there are many factors that contribute to leaders stepping out of student ministry. While there will always be some turnover, I believe there are some critical steps you can take to help sustain leaders for the long haul. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
- Focus on Leader Health. Recruiting new leaders is no easy task. When you get those leaders you want to toss them right into ministry and connect them with students right away. You know, that middle school group has been sapping you of all your energy and now they have a leader! But the reality is new leaders need to be handled with care. And then they need to be nurtured, trained, and developed with care. The focus can often be on getting leaders plugged in and on board as quickly as possible, when the focus should be on leader health. Move as quickly as their spiritual, mental, and even physical health will allow. But watch for signs of leader fatigue that can develop quickly. Move at a healthy pace, which will be different for every leader.
- Give Leaders Time Off. We often need our leaders every week, many times twice a week, to be plugged into the ministry programming and events. Additionally, we ask them to connect with students and families outside of the church walls at games or events from school, etc. This is taxing work and even the most rational individual can burn out quickly. Look over your calendar and schedule weeks where you specifically tell leaders to take time off. You want them to spend that Sunday with their own family, or in an adult ministry environment. This will recharge your leaders and let them know that you have their best interest in mind. Also, when leaders tell you they will be out of town or need to take care of an issue away from ministry, let them go with encouragement. The reality is you don’t have a say in that anyways. But when we make it a guilt trip or show them that they only matter when they make our events, it sends the message that we don’t really value their service.
- Celebrate the Wins. Leaders get recharged when we celebrate the wins in ministry. A tough week away at camp with little sleep can drain anyone. But when you see the impact in the lives of students and celebrate it, that price always feels worth the effort. Your leaders need this just as much, if not more, than you do. Ensure you take every opportunity to shine a light on the wins in ministry and the impact made in the lives of students as your leaders serve. Celebrate both the big group wins and the little, individual wins as much as possible. This one element will extend the life of your leaders in ministry and you will serve them well in doing so.
- Build Relationships Beyond Their Service. Be more than just the guy or gal who talks to a leader when you need something. The only way to cultivate this is to build relationships with them outside the window of their service. Invite them to dinner, meet them for coffee, attend something that is about them and their family, such as their child’s graduation or sporting event. You can do everything but pick some strategic moments and invest in a strong relationship with your leaders beyond what they do for you and in service of the ministry you lead. Service opportunities pass, but relationships last. Some of your greatest friends have probably been built through serving together for the sake for the gospel. Be intentional and develop relationships with those who serve with you.
Retaining leaders isn’t easy, but it is required if you are going to sustain a healthy ministry for the long haul. With focus on some key areas, prayer, and of course God’s hand in all of it, you can see a long-term, healthy team of leaders walk with you as you seek to expand God’s Kingdom and impact students for His glory.
This post was written by Chris Swain, Director of LifeWay Student Ministry Publishing