As we approach Thanksgiving this year, I couldn’t help but reflect on how thankful I am for my team of volunteers. Truth be told, this has been a hard year for a multitude of reasons, and I have seen my volunteer team persevere and love on our students all the more. Even when tragedy hit our ministry and our leaders were grieving, they stepped in the gap and cared well for our students.
Our leaders are the boots-on-the-ground people, who love and care for our students. They sacrifice so much throughout the year to point students to Jesus, and we must make sure to honor and appreciate them. A verbal thank you or affirmation is always a plus–especially in front of your students, parents, and the church–but there are other ways to encourage and bless your leaders as well.
Today I want to share with you five ways you can bless your leaders throughout the year. Some require finances but others are simple ways to say “thank you” and love your leaders. My hope is that anyone could look at these ways to appreciate volunteers and find one that works within their context.
1. Write thank you notes.
This may sound easy or a bit old school, but getting a handwritten note in the mail that recognizes you for what you did is a huge blessing. Consider saying thank you when a leader goes above and beyond, or when a leader does exactly what you have asked of them, or when they have had a hard week or night at youth group. Snail mail is a great way to empower, bless, and care for your leaders. Let me encourage you to go beyond just a generic thank you and put heart and passion into your note and let that be an encouragement to your people.
2. Honor special days.
Whenever a leader has an anniversary, has served for long periods, has a birthday, graduates from school, gets married, or whatever else is a celebration, make sure to honor that. Whether it is a text, call, taking them out to coffee, sending a gift or flowers, or recognizing them at youth group, you are taking an interest in their life and showing you care. Knowing special moments and making them even more special shows love on your end, and helps your leaders know you are for them.
As a quick aside, I would also say to make sure you honor your leaders during days that are significant for a different reason. When a leader experiences loss, gets fired, or is going through a tough season, reach out and love on them. Let them know you are there for them, listen as they process and grieve, and seek to bless them in whatever way is meaningful to them (bring them a meal, take them for coffee, bring them coffee, send flowers, write a card, etc.). How you honor these days will speak even louder than how you honor the really good ones.
3. Allow for time off for your leaders.
In the workforce, at school, and even in the home, we observe holidays and are offered time off, but often in ministry circumstances we for some reason forgo that. I cannot tell you how many ministries I have been a part of that don’t give time off for their leaders. They run programming during the holidays, they require commitment through the entire summer, and leaders have been made to feel guilty about not going on retreats and trips.
We must allow our leaders time off to refresh and recharge in whatever manner they need. Their family time and time to rest is huge, and we must honor that. Let me encourage you to consider taking a week or two off from programming around holidays, and consider scaling back your ministry during the summer to allow for your leaders to breathe easier and come back ready for fall programming.
4. Host leader-only gatherings.
One of my favorite times of the year is when we host our leader Christmas party. The past two years the parents in our ministry have taken ownership of the party and now provide a full meal, decorate, and pray over our leaders. Our ministry staff then has the ability to put our finances toward gifts and prizes for our leaders and we get to spend time blessing and encouraging them. Leader-only gatherings aren’t just for holidays, but also random outings for food, concerts, amusement parks, or even time spent watching football games at your home. These moments are super special. They show your leaders you value more than just a warm body at youth group and that you truly care about the relational component and their well-being.
5. Never make your leaders pay for trips/retreats.
This is one that based upon your budget may not be something you can do, but I would highly encourage you to consider this option if you can. One of the biggest pieces of my budget is a line solely for paying for leaders to go on trips free of charge. They already give so much, so we look to take care of the monetary costs whenever possible. We also try to pick up travel meals if possible, and put together leader gift bags for all of our retreats.
Even if you are not able to cover the cost of the trip, consider putting together gift bags for your leaders. Ours contain things like a handwritten thank you note, a regular size candy bar, granola bar, Chapstick, earplugs, a sleep mask, a coffee drink, Airborne, Advil, a salty snack, and whatever other gifts we can fit in there.
The reality is you don’t need to spend much or anything at all to bless your leaders and let them know you are thankful for them. Sure finances help, but you can always do or say something to let them know you love them and are so thankful for them. May we be shepherds who love our flock and love to bless them throughout the year.