Volunteerism teaches compassion, self-sacrifice, and to love our neighbors as ourselves–all lessons that are central to a successful ministry. By incorporating service into youth ministry, you can inspire the next generation of engaged changemakers. We understand that recruiting young volunteers can be tricky; today’s youth tend to lead busy lives outside of church. However, with a little encouragement, your organization can foster an active group of young volunteers who will sustain and grow your ministry’s impact.
Cultivate a culture of service
Make volunteerism a pillar of your ministry’s culture. Support the lessons you teach with meaningful action, through volunteering and service. Integrate an element of volunteerism into your weekly gatherings; or weave service into annual traditions that your community can look forward to (why not celebrate the holidays with a congregation-wide service project?).
Furthermore, family-friendly volunteering is a great way to introduce service to your youngest members. Ensure your program incorporates volunteerism for all ages; parents, families, and members of your congregation who volunteer together will inspire children and young adults to participate, too. Try hosting a family-friendly event day and invite all members of the congregation to join in the collective spirit of lending a helping hand.
Every church wants to create a nurturing environment where its members can develop meaningful relationships. Liven up your youth group by providing service projects that young members can take on together. Youth may be more willing to participate in a volunteer activity if it’s a social occasion, so allow them to invite their friends (and welcome those outside of your church community). You’ll accomplish more, and they’ll get excited about taking on tasks with others their age.
Offer opportunities for growth
Each individual has a gift. Your ministry can help youth discover their gifts and grow spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. Consider the values that are fundamental to your ministry. How can you nurture these values in your young members through volunteerism and service? Communicate your goals with the families of your young volunteers. Parents are more likely to encourage their children if they understand that your volunteer program is about more than obligation.
What’s more, young people who volunteer develop the real-world experience that colleges and employers look for. Don’t be afraid to remind teens that volunteering accomplishments make valuable additions to their resumes. Plus, your youth program can help foster the next generation of active church members.
Involve young volunteers in the process
Allow young members to identify issues that are important to them, develop a plan of action, and carry out the work themselves. Youth are more likely to demonstrate a deeper engagement with your church when they are immersed in the project from start to finish.
Need some inspiration? Partner with local organizations that align with your values to develop hands-on projects that address real needs in your community. Here are some ideas for outreach projects that require a group effort:
- Nourish those in need: work with a local shelter to cook and serve a regular meal for the hungry.
- Love your neighbors: arrange weekly visits for homebound individuals in your community. Company and conversation can bring much-needed joy to those who are most susceptible to loneliness.
- Fill the backpacks of little learners: hold a school supply drive to help give underserved children the tools they need to succeed.
- Give foster parents a morning out: arrange a monthly babysitting program to give loving families an opportunity to recharge.
Let young volunteers feel empowered by witnessing first-hand how their efforts have made a real difference; it’s not enough for most youth to simply volunteer once and move on. Encourage young volunteers to revisit a site or follow up with an individual who received a service. Invite conversation between volunteers, service recipients, and other stakeholders to reflect on the experience and discuss change-making. Following a volunteer project, set aside time during your youth group gathering for reflection: What change did they see throughout the process? How did it feel to lend a helping hand? It might be a good idea to conduct a volunteer engagement survey so that you can continually improve your volunteers’ experience.
It’s no secret that young people today are attached to their phones. If you want to engage young volunteers, you’ll have to communicate like them. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter are great for directing your efforts toward teens. Additionally, young people are less likely to communicate through email, so if you need to get your message across, don’t be afraid to send it via text messaging! Make it easy for youth to find and register for volunteer opportunities by posting them through you volunteer management platform. If your volunteer registration operates through a mobile app, encourage teens to use it! Generally, you’ll want to communicate your volunteer opportunities to youth and their parents or guardians; diversifying your communication efforts will help adults and their children to stay informed.
As you know, giving daily thanks for the gifts in your life is important. Remember to extend this gratitude to your volunteers. While doing good is reward enough, young volunteers like to know their work is appreciated. They’ll feel uplifted by your thanks, and encouraged to continue their selfless efforts. Here are a few more church volunteer appreciation ideas:
- Write a volunteer appreciation poem
- Send a volunteer appreciation letter
- Throw a celebration dinner
- Feature volunteer spotlights
Volunteer engagement should be fun!
While volunteering affirms the values you teach…it can also be fun! Don’t forget to celebrate small victories and invite laughter. Youth have the ability to bring joy to others just by being themselves, and your community will be grateful for all the smiles your young volunteers inspire!
Youth who volunteer are more likely to follow meaningful pathways into their adult lives; and your ministry can help promote healthier, happier futures for the young members of your congregation. By introducing volunteerism into your youth ministry programming, you will reinforce the core messages you already teach in your services—compassion, self-sacrifice, and love.
Also published on Medium.