"It's just like Christmas, isn't it?"

That's what our clergy secretary said to me when she came down today to find me sorting through sign-up forms from the September kick-off this Sunday.

The kickoff is something Mark DeVries and his merry band at Youth Ministry Architects set us up with, three years ago now. The idea is to get our youth and their parents in the same room, reveal the calendar for the whole year's events, and have people sign up and put down deposits on the things they're interested in, all at once.

We took our first look at the forms today, and so many people signed up to take on volunteer tasks and even leadership roles within our youth ministry family. It truly is just like Christmas. Each folder of event forms is a new gift.

But before I go any farther, a few tips for holding onto those people who so graciously signed up to help.

1. Call them now. Follow up within a few days so they remember what they're on your list for. And so, if some vengeful family member signed them up without asking, they can say so now, and not when you call in a panic looking for one more chaperone for the lock-in.

2. Give them a task right away. Goes along with #1. For example, I had several adult leaders sign up to "follow up with new families." The first thing they're going to be asked is to come to our gatherings on Sunday morning (icebreaker time before Church Schoool classes) and introduce themselves to youth and make sure the students are wearing nametags. It's small, but it goes along with what they signed up for and gives them a connection to the students.

3. Ask "What does this look like to you?" and share your expectations. Lots of good volunteers get lost because of bad communication. You need a clear picture of what the volunteers think they're signed up for, and they need a good, firm idea of what you're asking from them. If they're willing to do more than you're actually giving them, you may be able to offer them more responsibility in the program, for example.

4. Thank them. Thank them now. Thank them when they've taken on a task. Volunteers are treasures in God's hands and worth their weight in gold to your ministry. It's not that we don't want them to be humble, but they need to know they're valuable.

5. Connect them to the other volunteers and ministry staff. This goes for the same reason you have more than one adult working with students; not every adult can connect with every student on the level he/she needs. You, the youth minister, can't always connect just exactly right with every leader. That's okay. It's normal. So you need to be making connections between your leaders so they know they're supported. Also, they'll be more comfortable working in a program that isn't full of strangers. Just this past year we've seen a lot of new people come onto task teams, and our first challenge, before we expect any work to get done, is to introduce them to each other.

6. Walk with them. Encourage new leaders and students to worship, to share prayer requests, to be part of the life of the church. Remember, you're not building a new tribe out of your youth program; you're not separate from the larger Church. You need to be fully into the worship, prayer and service your congregation offers, and your leaders need to be too. Youth ministry by itself is not enough. It needs the context that students grow into it from (children's ministry, nursery, children's chapel) and grow to afterward (college/young adult ministry, vestry/church council, and other ministry leadership that adults take on.)

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