Why Your Ministers Leave

By | delegate, encouragement, expectations, feedback, leadership, LEADERSHIP, ministers
Courtesy of randychiu/Creative Commons License

I get a little sad when I think back to my early years of youth ministry, and realize that only a few of the ministers who joined me that first year are still around.  If it hadn’t been for some of the volunteers that I had my first, second and third year of ministry I’m sure I would have burned out long ago.  They were there to pick me up, challenge me and remind me that God was the reason behind all of this.

Sadly, some had to move on because life happened.  Some had to move on because they felt called to a different ministry.  It’s hard saying goodbye to a volunteer, especially if there was nothing you could do about the situation.  You just have to embrace God’s plan for them, and your ministry.

Then there are the volunteers who walk away for reasons that could have been prevented.  And, because of something avoidable they left upset and disappointed.  While it hurts to say goodbye to any minister, the ones who’s departure you could have prevented are the worst.  All you had to do was change, and maybe they would have stuck around.  So why did they leave?  Probably because you didn’t:

  • Release Control: It’s easy to feel like you are delegating when in reality you are only undermining a volunteers effort.  You might say, “Do this.”; however, once you see them in action, doubt creeps in and you take away the reigns.  If you want ministers to stick around then you need to allow them to own pieces of your ministry.
  • Set Clear Expectations: People can’t read your mind; therefore, you need to clarify (Repeatedly) what’s going through it.  If you give an instruction once, do not be afraid to give it again.  Make sure you explain the reasoning, give vision behind it and follow up to make sure they understood what it is you want them to do.
  • Provide Feedback: It can be very frustrating to have a job where you are not given feedback.  Negative or positive it’s always important to know how you are doing and where you need to improve.  Even though you do not pay your ministers, you need to treat them like employees.  Give them the feedback to improve.
  • Encourage And Support: You know ministry is hard.  The long hours, the crazy teens and the angry parents.  Guess what?  You aren’t the only one in the trenches, your volunteers are there too.  Maybe not as much; however, they are facing some of the same battles; therefore, need just as much affirmation and cheerleading as you do.  Make sure you take the time to thank them and love them.
If I knew of a quick and easy way of recruiting ministers I would share it with you.  Because growing your team takes time, it’s important that you focus your attention on nurturing the ones you do have.  In the end they will be advocates for the ministry.  They will help bring in new people because of their stories.  Just let them know how much you value them by giving them goals, and challenging them to go deeper in their faith.

How do you keep ministers around for the long haul?  How do you live out the four points mentioned above?

Plan The Best Orientation For New Leaders

By | leaders, leadership, LEADERSHIP, meetings, ministers, orientation, Systems and Structures, volunteers
Courtesy of michaelcardus/Creative Commons License

It’s that time of year when you are busily recruiting new leaders, plugging them in and getting them ready for their first year of ministry.  You make the announcements at church, send out emails to parents and encourage your current volunteers to invite their friends.
You find that your recruiting effort is working, people are calling and inquiring about getting involved.  Now that you have their interest you need to not only keep it; but, make sure they are comfortable getting started.  Your solution?  Is to plan an informational meeting or an orientation.  So, where does one start?  How do you create an informational meeting where new leaders feel equipped and ready to serve?  You get them ready by making sure your orientation:

  • Simulates The Program – If they are new they probably have little to no clue what your ministry looks and feels like.  If you are holding a meeting for small group leaders, make the meeting space look like your small group room.  If you are hosting a parents meeting, take them through a format similar to the one you use with the teens.  By simulating the program you allow them to get a taste before they jump in.
  • Builds Community – Chances are that most of them are nervous about plugging into ministry.  Just as you would host an icebreaker for new students in your ministry, try doing that for new leaders.  Make sure the meeting has time for community building and sharing.  Don’t just hold a lecture, include some interaction.
  • Starts And Finishes On Time – It’s not only rude to go over, but it’s also a sign of disorganization and lack of preparation.  When you give people a start time and an end time you are making a promise.  In order to keep within the time you’ll need to practice and make sure you have your materials readily available. 
  • Gives Them Clear Action Steps – In an orientation you are building up emotions, and setting expectations.  If you don’t have an action step for your participants that fire will go out quickly.  Make them simple and communicate them clearly, the idea is to keep the participants moving forward.

If this is an overwhelming idea, share the burden with a coworker or trustworthy volunteer.  You want orientation for new leaders to be a fun and memorable experience.  If you are only focused on recruiting and not orienting you’ll find yourself having plenty of turnover before your season of ministry even begins.  Build leaders who will last by giving them a memorable beginning to their journey.

What do you do to make orientation for new leaders engaging and memorable?

Plan A Trip Without Chaperones

By | chaperones, events, ministers, ministry health, trips
Courtesy of o5com/Creative Commons License

When I started out in ministry I stressed out greatly when it came to planning trips. While there were many aspects of trip planning that stressed me out, the one that got to me the most was recruiting chaperones.  The problem wasn’t finding people to ask, it was not feeling guilty about it.  I felt like I was asking them to be a part of an event where they needed to babysit a group of teenagers.

This past Friday our ministry planned a trip to Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah Valley.  It’s a trip we done several times before, but what was amazing about this trip was the fact that the majority of our chaperones were current small group leaders in our student ministry.  And because this trip was mostly driven by small groups it was an event filled with:
  • HIGH ATTENDANCE – It’s a pain to collect dozens of permission forms on your own and to make sure that everyone got the reminder text, email, or smoke signal.  You can put the responsibility on your small group leaders to recruit their 6-8 teens and collect the necessary paperwork.  In the end it makes planning a whole lot easier. 
  • TRUST – Parents should know their teens small group leader, so they trust the adults overseeing their teens.  You trust them because you know that they will step-up and fill in the holes you miss.  Teens will enjoy the fact that they know someone (even if it’s an adult) so the awkwardness of going alone won’t be there.  When the trust is there it makes it a whole lot easier to rally and organize the group.
  • CONSTANT ATTENTION – The teens become numbers when you just recruit chaperones.  While bonding may occur on the trip, you can only go so deep.  Because the relationships have already been established you allow the experience to go deeper.  Even if a teen is new or this event is an evangelization tool, your small group leaders know how to plug in the new guy.
  • FOLLOW-UP – When you just have chaperones you might form a connection between an adult and a teen; however, when the experience is over, so could the relationship.  When you have small group leaders work with you on a trip, you can guarantee that every student has the opportunity for follow up.  Even if the teen is new, they could connect with a leader and later join that person’s small group.
To use small group leaders as your chaperones is a long term plan and that’s why you can also use trips as a way of recruiting future small group leaders.  It’s about being intentional with who you ask and clear that what they are doing is more than just babysitting; it’s about building relationships.  So, start recruiting by asking God for His guidance and words so that you can get rid of chaperones and plan your trips with leaders.
How do you recruit leaders for trips and events?

How To Recruit Quality Volunteers

By | ministers, recruiting, volunteers
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In my second year of student ministry our church embarked on a huge event that required many different volunteers to step up and help us around the office.  One day I was showing one of the volunteers how to assemble some booklets for the event.  As I showed her how to put it together I sensed frustration, grumbling and sarcasm.  After a few minutes I stopped and said, “You know you don’t have to volunteer if you don’t want to.”  She apologized to me and lets just say that was the last time I asked her to help me with anything.
As a youth minister you desperately need volunteers because doing ministry on your own is impossible.  Without volunteers you won’t have anyone to lead small groups, set-up the food or chaperone the work camp you have planned in three weeks.  You need volunteers but you can’t just go out and recruit anybody.  You want a team player who will step-up when you need them to and grow with the team.  So how do you recruit quality volunteers?

  • Make Your Values Known – High quality ministry attracts high quality people.  A high quality ministry is one where people are showing up on time, prepared and enthusiastic.  Could you imagine interviewing at a place where people are complaining and disorganized? No, of course not, you want to work at a place where people are motivated and moving.  Make your values known and you will attract valuable ministers.
  • Give Them A Taste – You explain to them the whole program; however, they still aren’t sure.  Your next step is to have them give it a try.  Let them get a feel for your ministry, meet the other volunteers and teens.  On top of giving them a feel, you get the opportunity to see them in action.  If you catch any red flags it won’t be as awkward not to invite them back.  
  • Interview Them – This might take some time; however, if you want to make sure you have the right people on your team, sit down and find out.  If you are desperate it’s easy to say, “Yes.” to an adult who wants to get involved; however, you need to know if they will fit.  If you connect, then no problem, if you don’t, then move along.
  • Trust God – God wants your ministry to grow; therefore, He’ll provide you with the right people.  Trust that God will create the opportunities for you to interact with potential candidates.  Trust that He will give you the words for the best invitation.  But, don’t just expect them to appear out of thin air.  You need to pray specifically and then act on it, God will provide.

Not all your volunteers will work out.  You might feel that someone is great for the job only to find out a few months later that it’s a total flop.  You might meet someone who is perfect for your ministry; however, personal and family circumstances indicate that this isn’t the right time.  In the end trust that God wants your ministry to grow, trust that He will give you the opportunities where all you need to do is ask.

How do you recruit quality volunteers?

Your Most Important Relationships: Part 5 The Ministers

By | ministers, Most Important Relationship Blog Series, team
 Courtesy of Duncan~/Creative Commons License

The relationships we have in ministry will inspire, challenge, shape and even hurt us.  Some of those relationships we think will last forever while others will just be a moment in time.  Without ministers you really can only do so much.  If you want to grow your capacity you need to grow the number of ministers that you have serving in your ministry.  While there are many ways to recruit ministers there really isn’t huge secret, you just need to ask people.  Whether the announcement comes from the pulpit, through a well crafted email or an airplane flying a banner over the town the real question isn’t, “How do I recruit them?” it’s “How do I retain them?” 
Naturally adults will leave your ministry because of life change; however, you want to make sure that’s the only reason.  When a minister leaves because they are disengaged, or overwhelmed you need to look at how it is you are interacting, growing and relating to them.  Again, they are the hands and feet to your ministry, in order to strengthen the relationship you have with your team you need to:

  • Invest In Their Lives – You might not know every single one on your team personally; however, you want to create an atmosphere where people feel like they are important.  A great step to retaining ministers is by just spending time with them.  It might be doing something they love or inviting them to do something you love.  Introduce them to your family, make sure your spouse and kids are familiar with them, if anything don’t treat them like a once a week acquaintance.  If you want them for the long haul, you need to build relationships to last for the long haul.  
  • Understand Their Commitment – It’s easy to treat our ministers like full time employees because of how badly we need them.  Understand that they need to be able to say, “No” and have limits surrounding their commitment.  There are going to be seasons when showing up once a week will be easy and then others when they need a season off.  Do not hold it against them or set expectations that are unreasonable.  Check in with them, ask them how life is going, how their families are doing and show them that you are their to work with them.
  • Be Crystal Clear – One of the most frustrating things in any relationship is a lack of communication.  If you want ministers to step up to the plate and own a part of your ministry you need to make sure clear and consistent communication is a priority on your plate.  Make sure you provide for them multiple mediums of communication, don’t just leave it to email or a post on a group page.  When you communicate clearly and consistently they’ll feel a part of the loop, which will help them feel a part of the team.

By investing in your ministers and working to keep them around you will create natural advocates to recruit the next crop of volunteers.  If you are constantly turning over minister after minister it will create an instable environment and it doesn’t matter how hard you work to recruit people, no one will want to stay.  Build the teams, love on your people and show them how much you care and see how they will pour back into you.

How do you pour into your ministry team?

Your Most Important Relationships: Introduction

By | children's ministry, ministers, Most Important Relationship Blog Series, parents, pastor, relationships, spouse, teens, youth ministers
Courtesy of iMorpheus/Creative Commons License

The relationships we have in ministry will inspire, challenge, shape and even hurt us.  Some of those relationships we think will last forever while others will just be a moment in time.  Recently I’ve been thinking about the people who have come in and out of my life.  The ones who I’ve known since I’ve started this journey and the ones I’ve met along the way.  People have either pushed me to be better or dragged me down; however, it’s all been a part of God’s plan to make me the disciple I am today.
As youth ministers our job is all about relationships.  Even if you are in a small town, in a small church you are surrounded by people who your serve, work alongside of you, challenge and help you to grow.  And as many as there are I want to look at 8 of them over the next 8 posts (I post Mon-Thurs).  My hope is that you can grab a deeper appreciation as to why God has put them in your life and how they can help you be the best youth minister possible.  This is who came to mind:

  • Pastor: Your pastor is your boss, your leader and possibly your mentor.  This relationship is the most important one you have inside the church building because if it isn’t healthy then you will be facing a nearly impossible journey.
  • Spouse: Not all of us are called to marriage; however, for those of us who are, we know this is our most important relationship outside the church.  Without the loving support, understanding and challenges of a spouse we’ll struggle to maintain balance.
  • Teenagers: This is who you feel God has called you to serve.  A relationship with them means a look at your past, and a search for their future.  A healthy relationship with them will always show you what the church can and will be.
  • Parents: This is one of the more difficult relationships because like you they are emotionally invested in their teens.  Even more than mentoring teens we are called to partner with parents, it’s just not always clear what that means.
  • Ministers: They are your ministry’s hands and feet.  They look to take your goals and plans and run with them.  They serve not only for their love of God but because they see you as a leader.  The struggle is to figure out what a professional volunteer team looks like.
  • Children’s Director:  One of the biggest investments you need to make in your job is in the children’s ministry.  If it isn’t healthy then you will always face an uphill battle.  Working side by side with this person will help you plan for your future.
  • The Youth Worker Down The Road: Networking is a key to your longevity.  I guarantee any problem you will ever face one of them has seen before.  By partnering with the guy/girl down the road you gain accountability and support in what you do.
  • God: This is the most important relationship overall.  Just because you do ministry doesn’t mean you are always connected to Jesus Christ.  Although He is last on this list He needs to be the relationship you put first because without Him you have nothing.  How do you separate worship and work to really go deeper in your relationship with God?  That’s something we all struggle with.

I could go on with the list, after all the relationship we have with the Maintenance Person/Building Superintendent, Financier, elders/parish council, etc. are right up there, but then there would be no end to this discussion.  So over the next two weeks, I hope to share with you how these relationships have impacted my ministry and how they can impact yours for the better.  Be sure to check back in.

What other relationships would you add to the list?

How To Analyze The Year

By | ministers, ministry health, review, Systems and Structures
Courtesy of mjtmail (tiggy)/Creative Commons License

After my first year in ministry I handed out surveys to all the middle school students.  What I got back was a huge surprise. I thought I would get back helpful feedback, all I got were comments about my glasses and things that wouldn’t be appropriate to say here.  Let’s just say it was a huge disappointment considering the work I put into it.
It’s not exactly the best part of our job; however, if we can’t review what we do, then how can we ever expect to grow at our craft?  In order to get better we need feedback.  And, even if we have a method, it takes humility, patience and the ability to listen to hard truths.  For some of us it’s easy to be self critical, where for others we always see the glass as half full.  We need truthful, and helpful insight.  To get it we need to know the best methods of retrieving it.  Here are three examples of how we can obtain good feedback to analyze the year:

  • SWOT S.W.O.T. created by Albert Humphrey, stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  Essentially you want to look at what you did well and where you could be better.  The best way to do this test is with your ministry leaders, have them give you insight on where they see big opportunities for growth.  Allow them to share with you their concerns from the past year.  By using this test you can get a well rounded look at the past year. (more thoughts on this here)
  • Interview The Rookies – Sometimes the best perspective is from those who are new to your ministry.  When you are in the trenches for too long it’s hard to see what’s really happening.  Allow them to ask questions like, “Why does this happen?” or “Why do you do this?”  The answers they’ll give you might seem brutal; however, in the end it’ll help you see how others see you. (5 questions to ask them right here)
  • Write A Letter To Your Replacement – Imagine you were about to leave your job knowing that there was a replacement ready to go.  Your responsibility is to tell him or her everything you know about youth ministry, especially your own.  What would you tell them?  What advice would you leave?  What should they tackle first?  Writing this out and then looking back will help you see what’s really on your heart and mind.

I still think surveying the teens and parents is important because you do need their feedback.  However, to avoid the immature answers make sure questions are specific and get it out to as many people as possible.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing a large group survey try talking to your student leaders.  In the end the best way to know how you are doing is by looking at the fruit your ministry bares.  Are you achieving the vision or the mission?  Does it look like teens are connecting with Christ through the adults?  Know your goals and you’ll know your growth.

How else do you analyze and review the year?

3 Steps To Keep Your Ministers

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, expectations, ministers, ministry health, thank you
Courtesy of Easa Shamih (eEko) | P.h.o.t.o.g.r.a.p.h.y/
Creative Commons LIcense

Along with the warm weather comes a transition to what you do.  Even if you don’t break for the summer the schedule becomes a little more relaxed because you need time to reflect and review so that next fall can be better than ever.  A part of the transitioning process is asking the question, “Will you be back.” to your team.  It’s a nerve racking question, even if you are confident that your ministry is filled with youth ministry lifers.  It’s nerve racking because life happens and you can never be sure.
While there are many things we can do to turn away our ministers, it’s more important to focus on what we can do to ensure that they’ll stick it out, grow with the program and walk with you for the long run.  Now, there is no full proof way of keeping them because again life happens; however, here are three steps every leader should take when it comes to keeping ministers:

  1. Persistent Communication – Under communicating is worst than over communicating.  Too many times we expect our volunteers to read our minds and make assumptions about the way we do things.  The end result is always disappointment.  Be persistent to be sure that everyone is on the same page.  People might get annoyed but they’ll appreciate the fact that you care that they know what you want them to know.
  2. Open Gratitude – No one knows you are gracious for what they do if you never tell them.  If you don’t thank your team chances are they’ll think you don’t care about them.  One of the hardest; yet, most important things we need to do is love on our ministers.  Let them know that they are worth it.
  3. Raised Expectations – We love them; therefore, we don’t want them to fail.  But, in reality if we truly loved our ministers we would push them to go to great lengths to bring teens to Christ.  If you have their trust and love you should set the bar high.  If you set it too low, it will seem as if you don’t trust them to do the hard stuff.

Granted you can go too far with each of these steps and become a little overbearing.  However, build and grow these steps and watch your ministry team build and grow.

What other practices do you use to keep your team for the long haul?

Why Everyone Has To See “Bully”

By | bullys, injustice, ministers, movie review, parents, teens
Courtesy of the movie “Bully” and Weinstein Films

I got teased and picked on in high school.  Sometimes it was for my weight, sometimes it was because I did something stupid and then I was also picked on for just being me.  As bad as those memories are, they aren’t nearly as bad as the times I picked on others.  I’m ashamed to admit that there were times I egged  people’s cars or houses for no specific reason.  There were times I ignored, put down or even slandered people I considered “friends”.  Was I really a bully?
If you asked me a week ago, I would have said, “No, I just liked to goof around and at times I went a little too far.” However, after watching Lee Hirch’s new documentary Bully (For the movie website click here), I realized that I wasn’t just the victim; but, the cause of bullying in my school.
Not sure how much you face or deal with bullying in your community; but, I believe this movie is going to help all of us face and fight this overlooked problem.  In fact I strongly recommend that all of the parents, teenagers and ministers you know should go and see this movie.  Why?  Because:

  1. Over 13 Million Kids Have Been Bullied – My guess is that many of your teens have been bullied, the question might be who, where and when.  It’s an easy problem to overlook because bullying isn’t always physical.  In fact the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” is one big lie. (The source for 13 million can be found here on pg 5).  In fact bullying doesn’t just happen in the schools or online, chances are it could be in your ministry.
  2. It’s A Quiet Epidemic – Most times we don’t learn about bullying until it’s too late.  Alex, one of the movies subjects, has a hard time telling his parents what’s really going on.  His parents are somewhat aware that he is being picked on; however, because of his embarrassment and fear of getting in trouble he holds back the truth.  The movie shows that victims aren’t always believed or willing to share the pain that they are suffering.  It’s a problem that can cause isolation, which can be deadly.
  3. It’s Consequences Are Great – It’s almost easy to believe that the consequence of bullying is a bruised arm or a busted ego; unfortunately, it goes deeper.  According to the CDC 4,400 teenagers commit suicide each year, which makes it the third leading cause of death.  Bully victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to commit suicide than non victims.  But, the pain doesn’t stop there, as the movie Bully shows, the consequences reach into the lives of the victims family, friends and community. (All stats are from this source)
  4. It’s A Wake Up Call – As I mentioned before this film helped me realize my wrong doings as a teen.  As much as I would like to call up the people I terrorized during my teenager years, I’ve lost track of many who are out there.  Maybe you weren’t a bully, but were a victim, this is your chance to help those who are affected.  No matter how you look at it, bullying is something that many of us have ignored for years.
  5. It’s An Issue We All Need To Work On Together It’s a problem that affects us all; therefore, we all need to be on board.  Parents need to know whether their child is being victimized or causing others pain.  Educators (that includes us) need to know the line between bullying and just being a teen.  And, teenagers need to know how to speak up and how to stop.  Together it’s a problem that can be solved.

I could go on about why you, your parents, teens and ministers need to see Bully; but, really do you need more than one.  As youth workers we are supposed to encourage teens to fight injustice and this is one that effects them all.  Chances are that the majority of your teens are either victims, bullies, or know someone who is affected.  It’s something I think we all have to acknowledge, something we all need to face, because whether or not you are willing to admit it, bullying is happening in the community in which you serve.

If you’ve seen Bully, please share your thoughts and comments about the movie.

Are you taking a proactive approach to bullying, if so what are you doing?

Resend An Inviation To Former Ministers

By | invitation, ministers, Systems and Structures
Courtesy of matt hutchinson/Creative Commons Licenses

Even though I mostly use Facebook for networking with peers in youth ministry, there are those times I find myself checking up on old high school and college classmate.  I know I’m not alone on this, there will be times when you are surfing the social media scene when you ask yourself, “I wonder what _____  from high school/college is up to?”  It’s an honest question because the person you are thinking of has had an impact on your life; therefore, you do care (even if it’s a little bit) of their well-being.
If you’ve been in ministry long enough you know that not all of your ministry volunteers will be with you forever.  Some you are glad to see go (even if it’s just a little bit); however, the majority of the ones who are no longer with you miss.  You may even begin to wonder, “What is _____ up to and how are they doing?”  You might remember why some of them left, and then with others you haven’t got a clue.  All you know is that you sort of miss them and sort of want them back.  So, how do you re reach out to former ministers?

  • Reevaluate Why They Are No Longer Serving: Before you contact them, remind yourself why it is they are no longer serving in the ministry.  If they left because of clashing with leadership, with other ministers or because of something immoral, chances are you don’t want them back.  But, if someone left because of a busy season, a transition in serving or life, then there shouldn’t be a problem with asking.
  • Send A Personal Invite:  It’s hard enough to get involved the first time; however, to get involved a second can be a little humbling.  Whether they left on good terms or not, they might feel a little embarrassed or tentative to ask you; therefore, a personal invite from you will break the ice.  Also, when someone asks you personally to get involved they know that your intentions are thoughtful and authentic.
  • Sit Down One On One:  When you invite them back into ministry make the first step a one on one meeting.  The reason you need to meet before plugging them back into ministry is because you want to make sure that everyone is on the same page.  You don’t want someone getting back involved because they felt guilty letting you down the first time.  You also need to cover changes that have occurred or address why they left in the first place.  Either way, make it personal and show them that you care.
  • Start Them Slow And Steady:  Even if they are rearing to go and want to jump in with both feet, start them out slowly.  You want them to adjust to any changes that have taken place, whether it’s in the structure of the program or who you now have as a point person.  They are going to feel close to you because it was you that invited them; however, you need to make sure that they are acclimated to the team and oriented for success.

There is nothing better than having a former minister rejoin the team.  It’s like getting together with a long lost friend and picking up where you left off.  When it comes to your team it’s important to stay in touch with anyone who has left, so that you know how to invite them back in, if the opportunity arises. But, above all else, make sure you take your time because you’ll want them around for the long haul.

How do you invite former ministers back into ministry?  Should we even consider it?