The following post was written by Royland Kirkwood. Roy serves as an elder and the student pastor for Shiloh Church in Jacksonville, FL and has 12 years of student ministry experience.
People want to feel like they matter and what they are doing is appreciated. Volunteers are the unsung heroes of student ministry. We could not do what we do without them. Volunteers are usually there before students arrive and long after they leave. They sacrifice vacation time, family time, and often their own personal free time. They do so much for us, and it’s our job as student pastors to show them genuine love and appreciation. Without proper appreciation, we burn out our best volunteers very quickly.
Tell leaders you appreciate them—privately.
Privately expressing your appreciation gives you the opportunity to express specific ways they have added value to the ministry. These one-on-one meetings build trusting relationships and allow you to invest in your leaders in individual ways while also providing an avenue for them to give feedback.
Tell leaders you appreciate them—publicly.
Public recognition does go a long way to make people feel special. Public recognition during special events, student services, and on social media can help the rest of the church helps build a culture of volunteer appreciation. It can also shine the spotlight on ways others can get involved with volunteering in your ministry or other ministries within the church.
Give a small token of appreciation.
Small gifts can be appreciated in big ways, especially when you take the time to make it personal. A $5 or $10 gift card from a volunteer’s favorite fast food restaurant or coffee shop can be a welcome surprise for a hard-working volunteer. And don’t be afraid to reach out to stores in your community—you never know what someone might offer for free or at a discounted rate, especially if you have been building relationships with them. Even a hand-written note can be a very meaningful (and free) token of appreciation.
Don’t overwork the same volunteers.
There is a lot work to be done in student ministry and it’s tempting to call on the same few volunteers to do the work of many. You can probably picture them now—the volunteers who faithfully sign up and show up when you need people. When we overwork these few, we burn them out hard and fast. Be intentional to not schedule them for every single event and be sure they have some down time. Make recruiting volunteers part of your regular responsibilities so that you have plenty to rotate through and aren’t always calling on the same people.
Listen to them.
Create space for volunteer feedback whether it’s in one-on-one conversation or a “town hall” type setting—make it a priority. Your volunteers are the ones who know the ins and outs of what’s going on. Be graciously open to feedback and actively listen to concerns. Invite volunteers to share areas that need improvement and lift up “wins.” Feeling heard creates strong and trusting relationships. Your volunteers want to have a voice and you can show them appreciation by giving them a platform to share it.
Volunteer appreciation (paired with strategy and great communication) is key for retaining your volunteers. Help them feel part of the ministry and the work God has called all of you to—pointing teenagers to Jesus.