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why adults won't volunteer in your youth ministry

why adults won't volunteer in your youth ministry

I have been blessed to have worked in several para-church youth ministry organizations over the last decade or so. But, the main way I have lived out the call God has put on my life is through volunteering in the local church. I've attended three churches in my adult life. At each of them I taught Sunday School, or small groups, or something similar. In two of the three churches, including the one I have currently been serving in for going on 8 years, I approached the youth pastor and asked what I could do to help the youth group. But I have also been "recruited" numerous times for different needs over the years. And I have been a part of recruiting other adult volunteers.

Through being on both sides of this process, I've observed a few things.

I've seen adults jump at the opportunity to get plugged in. And I've seen adults run for the hills at the slightest mention of serving. I've seen effective pitches. And I've seen some pretty ineffective ones. And through it all, I've learned there are some pretty typical reasons adults have for not volunteering. Some of them are valid, and some of them are not. I thought I would list some of the reasons I have observed adults giving for not volunteering, as well as what might be done about it.

Reason 1: Apathy

Many adults say no to volunteering because they simply don't care. They have no desire to volunteer in your youth ministry, plain and simple. Sadly, these people often have no desire to volunteer anywhere.

Reason 2: Insecurity

I have found insecurity may be the biggest reason people don't volunteer. Many adults want to help out, but don't feel equipped. I am seminary trained and have 13 years experience leading youth. And some days, I can still feel pretty insecure about my ability to make a difference. This is a big hurdle for many to overcome.

Reason 3: Too Busy

Some people are legitimately too busy to volunteer, no matter how badly they want to help. HOWEVER, this is rarely the case. We make time for things we value. If something is important to us, we will reorganize our commitments to make room. Often, the "too busy" excuse is a by-product of "Reason 1."

Reason 4: Pain

I don't think this is extremely common, but I have encountered it a couple of times over the years. I know of one adult in particular who responded with an invitation to volunteer with a story about being bullied in youth group at the church she attended as a teenager. This painful experience had turned her away from volunteering, seemingly forever. I wonder how many more adults there are for whom this is true.

Reason 5: Not Called

There are many fine adults who are very active in other parts of your church. These people may say no to your invitation simply because they are not called to serve in youth ministry. Don't take it personally.

Reason 6: Uninspiring Invitation

Maybe you aren't doing a really good job of making your "pitch." If you don't communicate the importance of the task and the excitement you feel, don't expect people to get on board as easily. Here are a few quick thoughts on making a good invitation:

  • First, never EVER email a prospective volunteer to make your pitch. ALWAYS make a personal phone call.
  • As you communicate your "pitch," think more motivation and less information. Cast a vision for the transformational movement you want them to join. If what you communicate is your great need for someone to teach 7th grade guys, every other week from 8:30-10:00 don't be surprised if they don't rush to sign up. But help them see how they can be a part of significantly impacting teenagers' lives in the name of Christ, and, well . . . you might be on to something.
  • Finally, make a very personal and direct invitation to the potential volunteer, encouraging them to take time to pray about it.
  • Explain you will call them back in a week to check in with them. (Then, immediately following your conversation, send them an email thanking them for their time and expressing your excitement over their potential involvement.)

Reason 7: Right Pitch, Wrong Person

What if you extend a really great invitation, but the person still says no? Well, you might have made the right pitch to the wrong person. Maybe the guy you asked to teach Sunday School is really better suited for chaperoning your annual boys camping trip.

So, what can you do about addressing these common objections in potential volunteers? The answer is probably two-fold. On one hand, you can definitely work on how you ask and who you ask. And you may have the chance to walk some people through their objections based on a relationship you might have with them. On the other hand, some of these objections are out of your control. They are flaws or inconsistencies within individuals that you may not be able to do anything about. It's part of the sometimes-frustrating side of being a youth minister.

But you have to keep asking!

Adult participation in your youth ministry is vital, as we looked at in this post. You can't do it alone. (And even if you can, it's probably not a good idea.) Keep praying. Keep asking. And keep trusting in God to provide the right people for the task.

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