The Largest Volunteer Organization in the World

The Teen Decade is upon us. It is that period of time in every century when we walk through the 'teen years'. It lasts 7 years from 2013 to 2019. And it is at this time that we need to focus upon the youth culture in America. If we are going to build a great youth movement in the church, it will take many people to do that. Aside from pastors and leaders in the church, we need para-church leaders, NGO leaders (non-governmental organizations), and other community or business youth leadership to effectively work with this generation. Because the church is the largest volunteer organization on the planet, it will require youth leaders to train leaders in these settings to build the young people of America.

While reading an article this past week by Dan Reiland, the leadership guru, I was struck by his comments that if we are going to enlist volunteers at any level of leadership we have to listen to them. Reiland speaks of the wealth of knowledge that our volunteers can give us if we would simply listen to them. So, I want to deal with several statements that I have heard from youth volunteers over the years. Read through these real life statements and see if you can avoid some of the mistakes that I have made along the way:

"I never knew exactly what they wanted me to do" - Clarity breeds production. As leaders we must understand that asking someone to 'set up the chairs' is really setting them up for failure. Because we have not given them directions on where to set the chairs, how many chairs to set up, or what time to have them set up. Identify a chain of command so that people know who to talk with in case they need questions answered. Create your own Job Description for tasks and make sure that everyone understands the task to be assigned.

"There was no training" - One of the qualities of a great youth leader is equipping the people around them. This might include leadership modeling by the leader, personal mentoring of key people, small group training of teams, or even corporate teaching several times a year to the whole youth ministry on the vision. Take every opportunity to mentor and train leaders in life and small group settings. Along with this, don't forget the evaluation process along the way. Feedback can be a great mid-course correction on any team project.

"No one ever said thanks" - Gratitude and relationship will build team more than assignments and meetings and manuals. A finely placed 'thank you' could energize a tired worker. My wife used to place a pack of 20 Thank You cards on my desk each month. It was my responsibility to catch people on our youth leadership team doing something positive. And then to write them a note. This brought our team together like few things I had done over the years. Try it this week with someone you work with or a volunteer in your organization.

"They seem like they are continually disorganized" - Simplify. Learn the value of simplicity and stay away from complexity in programming, files, and schedules. Too often youth leaders have been characterized as unorganized. Arguably, the greatest miracle that Jesus ever did was the feeding of the 5,000. We have heard about the provision of God through the small lunch of the little boy near the crowd. But, there is one statement in the story that I believe was as important to that miracle as the lunch. Jesus asked the disciples to "sit the people in companies of 50". What was He doing? I believe He was simplifying and using the gift of administration so that He could do what He wanted to do.

"There was a serious breakdown of communication" - There will always be a lack of communication in every organization.  But two things will help our communication. First, we must ENCOURAGE communication on a regular basis. Weekly meetings with key youth leaders can bring constancy to the vision. And these leaders can become the promotion and marketing of your philosophy to the rest of the tribe that you cannot get to on a regular basis. Secondly, we must ENHANCE communication through any means possible. This can be done through regular meetings, personal contacts, banners and posters, and even social media. Remember, in order for our vision to stick, we have to say it, say it again, and say it one more time.

"It seemed like it was all about achieving the youth leader's personal goals" - Creating ownership with everyone is a must. Make sure that people feel they are more important than the programs. That systems are not celebrated above the managers of them. If we want each person on our youth leadership team contributing at a greater level, we must value their input and use their ideas. Creating a 'Super-friends' mentality and not a 'Superman' mentality will remove weakness in any youth organization. This is best done through servant-leadership that gets the focus off the leader and onto the organization’s mission.

"It wasn't any fun" - The atmosphere of the youth ministry is key to young people. They are drawn to setting. Here are my top 5 culture-builders for a youth organization:

MAKE IT FUN with variety. For instance, in a youth service or at a youth event, don't do the same thing every time. Create excitement and return with change.

MAKE IT FUN with laughter. Encourage humor and a casual demeanor. Make fun of yourself and not others.

MAKE IT FUN with mystery. Bring pizza in for a youth leadership meeting or a special guest to speak at your next leadership meeting. Have students come to your next leadership meeting and address the leaders.

MAKE IT FUN with love. I have told my youth leaders how much I love them and how much I value their work. Love will cause everyone to fall over each other to serve. Make sure that on a regular basis you are modeling time with the students and not just the leaders. The leaders may grow more in love with the students as they watch you spending time at schools or just talking with them before and after the youth service.

MAKE IT FUN with free stuff. Buy leadership t-shirts, hats, or key chains for your leaders. When your leaders see that you are willing to use resources for them in a creative way, that kind of giving can be contagious.

Use these practical ways to encourage the leaders around you. If your organization is going to be a success, you must solve the unspoken concerns that are floating around in the minds of our volunteers.