Guest Post: How To Communicate with Volunteers

Josh —  December 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

This is why I love the Rookie Pastor community. Aaron Helman runs a top notch blog called Smarter Youth Ministry and agreed to share some content here, which is great because in the middle of pastoring, planting, networking, etc. I got hit with the flu. So go read Aaron’s blog, follow him on Twitter, and comment on this post!


I’ve heard some of the same frustrations a hundred times.

“I just can’t get my volunteers on board with my plan.”

“My volunteers have been around forever and they resist every change I try to make.”

First, the bad news. As the leader, it’s your job to fix these problems.

The good news. It might be easier than you think.

Most volunteers are good volunteers if they know clearly what’s expected of them.

At least some of the time, our volunteers don’t meet our expectations because we’ve failed to make our expectations clearly known.

You probably met that last sentence with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, you’ve talked yourself blue about your desires for your youth ministry.

Now ask yourself these questions:

Does each volunteer understand precisely what you desire for his role, behavior, and attitude?

Do volunteers understand the difference between expectations and suggestions?

If your volunteers aren’t doing what you want, there’s an excellent chance that the answer to both of those questions is “No.”

If your volunteers don’t understand clearly what you want them to do, they won’t be able to do it.

Followers follow with clarity if leaders lead with clarity. Do these things to make sure people really understand your expectations:

Lose the youth ministry lingo

You’ve explained to your volunteers that a radical shift is necessary and that your ministry is focused completely on outreach-minded mission.

Trouble is, they don’t know what that means.

I barely know what that means.

Explain in plain-English what each volunteer will be doing differently now that things have changed.

Don’t make watered-down requests

It’s okay to tell a volunteer that you need them to do something specific right now, please and thank you.

But if you water-down your requests with qualifiers like these, then you can’t blame them for not understanding the gravity of your expectations:

If you can…

I’d like you to…

When you get a chance…

When you use phrases like these, you dress your expectations like suggestions instead of marching orders.

I understand that young youth workers don’t like to seem bossy, but since you’re now a boss, you should probably get used to it.

A case study in making effective requests

I caught some flak two weeks ago, and rightfully so, for something I wrote in a leaders’ email. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice my mistakes right away.

I want to meet with you before students arrive, so I’d love it if you could be here around 6:00 and we’ll talk more then.

There are at least three problems with that request. After you’re finished reading this article, leave a comment and tell me what they are.

After that first email, four of my twenty leaders were here on time.

Here’s the email I sent out this week:

We will meet and pray together before students arrive, so be in the building before 6:00. If a poem helps – 5:58 and don’t be late.

You likely won’t be surprised to learn that my on-time response rate was significantly higher.

How do you share expectations with volunteers? Job descriptions?
A regular review? Leave a comment below and share your story! 


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Josh is a Rookie Pastor who after nearly a decade in student ministry is planting a church in Northern Kentucky. Like everyone else he doesn't know what he's doing Rookie Pastor is just the venue to share the mistakes and what he is learning along the way.

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