5 Ideas for Volunteer Appreciation

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.

Our Picks: Gender and Identity Resources

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching on the topic of gender and identity. In thinking through this conversation, it became apparent how needed resources are in order to approach it with grace, love, and truth. I wanted to share with you some of the resources that I used in preparing for this sermon and hope that they will be helpful to you.

> Gender: A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors by Brian Seagraves & Hunter Leavine

> Living in A Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality by Preston Sprinkle; prestonsprinkle.com; podcast: Theology in the Raw

> Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry; jackiehillperry.com

> The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield; rosariabutterfield.com

> Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality: A Biblical Approach to Prepare Them for Life by Jim Burns

If you’re interested in listening to my sermon on gender and identity, you can find it here.

Tips for Generating New Ideas

There are times in ministry when we can become stuck in a rut. Whether it’s the way we’ve always done things, or we just become complacent, it can be hard to make a change. Or we may want to change things up, but we struggle with where to start.

Today Nick and I will share some tips with you on coming up with new ideas, particularly for your student ministry. Brainstorming is a critical step in coming up with new concepts, which you can then evaluate for their viability and application to your specific ministry context.

Idea dump in an environment that encourages your creativity.

Set aside a block of time, go to a location that stimulates your creativity, and list every idea you can come up with. Don’t leave anything out, even the ideas that may seem “dumb” or impossible. Sometimes those ideas will lead to something even better. Don’t worry about evaluating your ideas, just get everything written down.

Consider your culture.

It is important to brainstorm within in the context of your ministry, community, and demographic. In doing this, you will be able to identify areas for success, eliminate concepts that are counter-productive, and find key ways to engage your ministry and the people you serve.

Don’t just replicate what everyone else is doing.

As you’re working on brainstorming, you may be tempted to look at what other ministries are doing and replicate their concepts. While some ideas may translate to your context, merely replicating someone else’s ministry formula will ultimately disregard  your unique gifting and ability to assess and direct your specific ministry. It doesn’t hurt to look at another ministry’s formula for ideas, but it is essential to evaluate them within your unique context.

Categorize your ideas.

After you’ve listed your ideas, categorize them based on your context. Compare your ideas to your missional philosophy and see where they might fit within your ministry. Use this step to consider where you would apply each of your ideas, and whether or not they would work for your specific context. Don’t be afraid to reconsider or eliminate ideas that won’t be applicable to your ministry.

Listen to your leaders and students.

It is beneficial to ask for ideas from others who have a vested interest and are actively engaged with your ministry. Bringing them into the process not only validates and encourages them, but helps to give them ownership of the ministry. We would suggest meeting with leaders and students for separate brainstorming sessions.

After you’ve collected each group’s ideas, compare them to one another as well as to your ideas, assessing which are viable and could be implemented within your context. It is also beneficial to keep both groups informed on what you are doing moving forward. This will help to further their buy-in and validate their involvement within the ministry.

List your resources and needs.

We can often be blinded by lack of resources which keeps us from seeing what we actually have. It is important to inventory your resources (i.e., your budget, supplies, personnel, venue, etc.). Be willing to think outside the box when it comes to your resources and look for additional options you may not have considered.

It is helpful to identify your needs so that you can ask for assistance in those specific areas and look to allocate portions of your budget when appropriate. Identify the skill sets present within your congregation and don’t be afraid to ask for people’s assistance.

Don’t be afraid to try.

Some ideas might seem great on paper, but after implementation, they may not work the way you hoped. And that is okay. If you don’t take a viable idea for a test run, you will never know if it will truly work within your context. Don’t be afraid of failure. You can always reevaluate, tweak, or scrap an idea and try something new.

7 Tips for Running Games Well

Game time during youth group…you either love it or you hate it. Gone are the days where churches could play dodgeball and Chubby Bunny, or duck-tape kids to a wall, and now we have to be intentional in what we do and why we do it.

Games are an integral, but not the most important, part of what we do. We have all seen or experienced games that run well, but for some of us…well, games are hard to run, plan, and get people involved with. So what do we do?

1. Make sure games/game time fit your focus of ministry.

I think so often we can let our time of fun and activity cut into our message or small group time. I have been guilty of this myself. You get super invested in a 9 Square game, and all of sudden you are 20 minutes past your message time, so you call everyone over, go through your message and now small groups have only 10 minutes. That isn’t going to work, it will lead to frustration with your leaders and lack of comprehension in your students’ spiritual formation.

Instead, shape your game time around the priorities of your ministry. If you value the message and small groups they should have the bulk of your time, and games now become something that you put into your extra time. Don’t let the fun dictate the heart. Let the heart dictate the fun.

2. Invest in reusable materials.

One of the best things we can have in our repertoires is something that our students love to use, but that is also reusable. For some ministries this may be a ping pong table, foosball, or carpetball. For others it may be a basketball hoop. Or for others it may be 9 Square (email them to ask for the church discount) or Gagaball. Depending on your ministry and its space, what you have may look different than others, but that is okay.

Our ministry space is shared with other groups, so we don’t get to keep items set up throughout the week. What we done is invest in items that are easily stored, and can be set up in a shorter amount of time. We have cornhole sets, 9 Square, ping pong, foosball, and various board games, puzzles, and arts and crafts items. All of these serve a function of building community and can be run quickly and with little set up, and provide countless weeks of fun programming.

3. Put your (or someone else’s) heart into it. 

Our students know if we love or hate something. For those of us who may not love running games, our students know that and their desire to be involved will reflect our heart. If we love it, our students will love it. The energy and passion you bring will help encourage students to participate. It doesn’t need to be obnoxious, pushy, or over the top, but authentic and passionate energy will help students want to be involved.

Sometimes though, games just aren’t your thing, and that is okay. Find someone who does have that passion, help to equip and empower them, and then unleash them and let them run with it. Now you are not only helping to empower and develop leaders, you are letting them use their gifts and have buy-in. And students will have someone running games who is all-in for them.

4. Become an emcee. 

Now I don’t mean become someone who hosts an award ceremony or game show, but be someone who can not only articulate rules but also engage with the crowd. Make sure to be clear and concise as you explain what is happening. But also remember that you know your people, so have fun with them.

Games are so much more than rules, they are an opportunity to invest in people’s lives. Use them that way. Be able to laugh about the rules and game play. When that one kid who always tries to bend the rules asks a question, have fun with them instead of shutting them down. Walk around and encourage students as they play. Jump in yourself. Enjoy the time and engage with your students as they engage with your game.

5. Utilize your space.

So often we look at our space in the way that it limits us. But what if we took a step back and said, “Here is our space, how can I best utilize it?” With this mentality we enter with a whole new frame of reference and understanding that the space we have is a resource, and it allows for us to get creative. Don’t see it as limiting, see it as an opportunity to be or do something different. Yes, this may mean longer set up or tear down times, but imagine if we let the space shape our approach instead of limit it.

One of my favorite things to do is utilize games that already exist but perhaps my students haven’t seen or played before. Here are three quick ways to get awesome games for your services:

  1. Ask your leaders, students, and other youth workers. You never know what you are going to get and chances are you will get games that are youth ministry gold!
  2. Use Download Youth Ministry. Their ready-to-go games are a must-have for any ministry. Shape it to fit your group, and run with it. Note: this is a pay to use product.
  3. Use The Source for Youth Ministry’s game page. This is something that has been a huge asset to me in student ministry. Hundreds of ready-to-go games, plus a game search option that is completely customizable. Check it out, you won’t regret it.

6. Don’t force the issue.

Some students hate games and physical activity. That is completely fine. Don’t force your students to play. Doing so may actually drive them away from your ministry. Instead, look to understand why they don’t want to participate, find out what interests them, and look to curate a game time (and overall program) that intentionally invests in the lives of every student who comes.

We know that all of our students won’t participate in a game. So instead we have a cafe area (or just a chill space) where they can talk, play board or card games, eat snacks, do homework, or just talk with one another. At first we may take it personally if we orchestrated an amazing game that they don’t want to play, but step back and watch the relational equity develop and students become more invested. Honestly, I have pulled the reigns on formalized games and instead allow for more organic development of activities during that time.

7. Have fun.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if we don’t enjoy what we are doing, our students will see that. Have fun with your games, yourself, and your crew. Laugh, play along, be willing to chuckle when your rules don’t work, and be willing to call audibles if needed. Your love and passion for whatever you do will be contagious, so bring it to your games no matter how big or small they are and see what God can do through those moments.