What Motivates Volunteers

POSTED: March 13, 2014
By Bill Nance, a 15 year youth ministry veteran, having served in various churches in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. He currently lives in Grove City, OH and works at Mid-Ohio Food Bank helping churches and other agencies feed hungry people. He also speaks and writes.

The lifeblood of youth ministry is in the volunteers. No ministry can long survive or hope to be successful without help from adults who give their time and energy on a regular basis. Yet I believe very few of us truly understand the motivations behind why people volunteer. Without understanding what motivates people, we can’t successfully recruit, train or grow our team.

These motivators are the driving force behind what each volunteer does. We would hope that everyone would minister because they love Jesus and want to serve His Kingdom by loving on teens. However, people are complicated and confusing. They may say all the right things you want to hear, but their true motivations may not be obvious.

Have you ever worked with a volunteer and dealt with the following –
• Trouble getting them to commit to their role?
• Unexpected and unexplainable conflict between you and a volunteer or between a group of volunteers?
• Volunteers not buying in to the vision?
• A lack of team unity?

When we don’t understand the motivation, these behaviors seem foreign and unexpected. We think the volunteer is a bad apple, or that we’re bad at recruiting and training volunteers (or both!). Neither one is necessarily true. But when we don’t understand WHY a person has volunteered, we can’t figure out how to move them from that motivator to a better one.

When you only work with a handful of volunteers, it can be difficult to get a handle on the different motivators. I spent my first 12 years in ministry struggling mightily at times to recruit and develop volunteers. Some were great. Many more were ok. Some were disasters. They weren’t bad people, and I did most things right in how I was developing them, but I missed the key piece of motivators.
It didn’t click until I started working a new position in a secular non-profit. In my “non-ministry” job, I worked with over 13,000 volunteers a year, oftentimes more than 100 a day.I’ve had a bigger sample size to witness and evaluate. I have found 7 motivators that push people to volunteer. Here is what I’ve found…

1. Guilt
This one is most obvious. They are volunteering because they would feel bad not to do so. This internal motivator springs from their own beliefs about God, the church, and their role in it.
Example – The lady that has taught Sunday School for the past 25 years, even though for the last 10 she has no energy or desire to do it anymore.

2. Force
While guilt is an internal motivator, force is an external motivator applied by someone else. This doesn’t mean they are forced by gun-point, but it does mean that others are pushing or manipulation them to serve.
Example –The college student serving in your ministry because they need community service hours to graduate.

3. Fun
Not all motivators are bad. Volunteering can be a fun experience. Youth ministry can be a very fun time, and people want to recapture the youth ministry experience of their teen years.
Example – The 20-something girl who offers to volunteer for every fun event and loves to have a great time with the teens.

4. Expectations
Sometimes it’s just expected that a person volunteers. This one is not as strong as guilt, and while there may be some external pressure it’s not overwhelming. Instead, this is just something they’re supposed to do. They probably have little passion or desire to serve in this particular area, but they do it out of duty.
Example – A person serves in the nursery because they figure that is what a good Christian will do.

5. Do Good

People often serve out of altruistic motives, and a desire to do good things is a great one. It’s just a general desire to do something nice, and what it is doesn’t usually matter. They might not have much of a desire to do what you want them to do, but they always want to help.
Example – The person who says, “I’ll do anything, just let me know what you need!”

6. Relationship
They serve because they like the other person/people they volunteer with. They just love spending time with their friends, and the “what” they do isn’t so important as the who they are with.
Example – The husband/wife team who volunteers to teach youth group.

7. Vision
Some people buy into your vision, and are motivated by it and how they fit into that vision. They get excited by it. They get pushed by it. Vision becomes its own continuing motivator.

Obviously, we want all of our volunteers to be inspired by #7. We want our volunteers to catch the vision and run with it. Volunteers who are motivated by vision generally last longer and work harder than those motivated by #’s 1-6.

That does not always happen, though. It is important to realize that these motivators are also the reason people STOP volunteering. The person who is motivated by guilt can also stop feeling guilty or guilt from something else becomes stronger. The person motivated by fun will often stop when it stops being fun. Those motivated by relationship will be less eager to serve when the relationship bonds are severed.

What starts people motivating can vary, but you can get them motivated by vision. Continually keep your vision and passion front and center. On an individual level, identify why your volunteers are serving, and then link that reason to your vision. For example, a person serves because it’s fun. You might say, “Man, there is nothing more fun than seeing a teen give their life to Christ!” Or, if a person is motivated by force, say, “I appreciate you giving your time. Here is how what you do fits into our vision.” If you continually bring it back to the vision, they will either embrace it or bow out.

Competing With Church

POSTED: February 14, 2014
By Tony Miles, a youth ministry veteran, author, speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio.

It happens.

Around this time of year, various families in your church will simply leave and won’t return.

This type of exodus has no bias. They may have been irregular or regular attendees, some of your newest visitors or some of your longest leaders.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll get a phone call or be invited out to lunch so the break-up seems more empathetic and personal. Regrettably, it’s more common to receive a one-sided email or Facebook note explaining, “It’s not you, it’s me. So give me some space and don’t reply.”

There are other households who will be more aloof about it all. They’ll stop attending and count how many days, weeks or months it takes for you to notice they pulled back. If you don’t follow up quickly, it will only further validate the reason they began to leave in the first place.
I see this happen at the end of every December. While some use the “new year” to dig in and grow, others use it to fade off and go. You may see a few hints in what they post online or share socially, but it will still hit you hard as it happens.

I’m speaking from experience. Even though I know it’s coming, it always deflates me as it unfolds.
Can you relate?
• They’ll begin to attend a different church, and you’ll wonder why. You won’t literally say, but you literally wonder, “Is that church sexier than ours?”
• They’ll explain that another youth group is offering a unique program or class, and so they won’t be around for a season. “I hate that,” you’ll think, but instead you’ll force yourself to say, “Well, churches aren’t in competition with each other, so it’s no big deal.”
• They’ll tell you that they’ve prayed about it and God led them to make this move in this timing. “Funny how ‘God’ always seems to tell people to do this in January,” you’ll further note to amuse yourself.

Make no mistake about it…this will hurt. You will take it personally. It will feel as if you’ve been betrayed. Cynicism will dominate your future.

Unless . . .

Jesus Christ really is the center of your life and the ministry you serve.

I’ve already confessed that I struggle with this. Perhaps you do, too.

We tend to think that the biggest competition to serving God is sin (or our own carnal nature). Truth be told, church itself can become your biggest competition for a Jesus-centered life and ministry.

The question is if that’s how you’ll roll.
• It’s easy to think of all the time you’ve put into “your ministry” and “your church.” It’s harder to realize that the ministry and church doesn’t belong to you (or even the students) but to God Himself.
• It’s easy to spot the (alleged) immaturity of other people who pull out of your particular congregation for the wrong reasons. It’s much harder to admit there may be valid reasons for why they’re leaving…reasons that may or may not have anything to do with you.
• It’s easy to be offended by how effortlessly someone can choose to not show up anymore. It’s harder to admit you’re simply jealous that you have to project more commitment and maturity than that.

I have no solutions for you other than Jesus Christ.
• He hears our whining like he did when Peter complained, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)
• He enlarges our perspective like he did when James and John demanded, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
• He remains faithful to us and carries his cross like he did even when the Bible says, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56)

God isn’t bound by time. I personally think it’s short-sighted when people use the calendar to make spiritual decisions. Maybe there’s some obscure Bible verse that you can use to correct me on this, but the fact that we use a certain time of the year to retreat from him, relationships or church seems lame. As Jesus said, “Deny yourself. Carry your cross. Follow me.”

On the other hand, my attitude serving Jesus isn’t to be bound by what’s going on in the church. Whether people are leaving or staying shouldn’t affect how faithful I am to Christ. Maybe it bears repeating that Jesus said, “Deny yourself. Carry your cross. Follow me.”

Can you relate?

Thank you for loving students!

Discover other helpful youth ministry content at this year’s Youth Ministry Summit.

The Difference Between a Show Pony and a Workhorse

POSTED: February 11, 2014
By Jared Herd, Creative Director for XP3, the student division of the Rethink Group.

A stroll through Barnes and Noble reveals that leadership is a hot topic, as it should be. Great companies, churches, governments and families are impossible without good leadership. All of our lives are affected by our leaders- for better or worse. So for that, I applaud the recent surge in leadership conferences, books, blogs, and so on.

When I took a job two years ago that allowed me the opportunity to lead a team, I did what any young leader would do, I started reading and listening to the most respected voices on the subject. But the most profound lesson I carry with me every day as a leader came from countless hours I used to spend with my dad as a kid selling jewelry at horse shows. (It’s still the family business to this day. I can’t make this stuff up.) Divine inspiration comes from strange places.

At horse shows, you quickly learn that while there are countless breeds, there are really only two kinds of horses in this world. There are show ponies . . . and there are workhorses.

Show ponies are a prized possession, coveted by large companies and wealthy ranch owners. A talented horse can be a real cash cow. I still remember a special childhood moment where I got to see a 1.3 million dollar horse, and in my family, this was like an opportunity to see the Mona Lisa.

Then there are workhorses. They pull the weight and do the gritty work. They are like the offensive line and the show pony is like the quarterback. No one stops to marvel at a workhorse. They do not get endorsement deals for commercials. They just keep working.

I think a good leader doesn’t have to be committed to reading 1000’s of books on leadership— I think they just have to be committed to being a workhorse. I’m not talking about how much time a person works, rather what they are truly committed to.

I think the fundamental difference between a workhorse leader and a show pony leader is that the workhorse leader is more committed to doing something of importance-rather than just being seen as someone who is important. I love being in the presence of a leader who is genuinely concerned with doing important work, not spending their time jockeying for a position so that they can be seen as important. In the presence of a workhorse leader, my guard is down and I trust that they are committed to making whatever they are apart of better. In the presence of a show pony leader, my guard is up because I am never quite sure if their priority is God’s Kingdom or their own agenda.

I think all of us want to be show ponies deep down. God’s kingdom needs more workhorses, committed to doing important work, not committed to just being seen as a person of importance. All of us have been entrusted with something to lead. Are you striving today to do something that is really important?
Jared will be speaking at this year’s Youth Ministry Summit

Discover other helpful youth ministry content at this year’s Youth Ministry Summit.

Why My Students’ Behavior Doesn’t Interest Me

POSTED: January 30, 2014
By Andrew Beal, Student Ministry Staff Member, Southbrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, Ohio

If there is one conversation that results in the greatest breakthroughs in the lives of the young men I mentor, it is the conversation where I will say something like this: “I used to think behavior was a really big deal, but what you do really doesn’t interest me so much as why you do what you do.” Then they look at me weird, as if I made a mistake and meant to say the exact opposite. Then I say I meant what I said. And then they want to know why I think the way I do when most every other authority in their life rewards and punishes them based on what they do. They want to know what could possibly be more important in following Jesus than our behavior.

Granted, what we do is absolutely important and counts for a lot. I believe both faith and works have a role in salvation. If faith is the cause of salvation, then I think works is the effect. If you don’t do what Jesus asks, then I have to wonder if you were saved to begin with. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll keep the discussion of behavior in the realm of sin and rebellion on the part of the adolescent Jesus follower.

Leaders of student ministries have long been clinging to the stats on graduating seniors giving up their faith once they get to college. That never sat right with me. What makes more sense to me is that those same graduating seniors simply weren’t Jesus followers when they left our ministries at the age of 18. I think many student ministries are very effective at mistakenly teaching students that following Jesus is about doing right things and avoiding doing wrong things. I think many ministries are churning out students who think following Jesus is simply following rules. And when following Jesus turns into following rules, it always leads to either rebellion or a life marked by constant despair.

The concept of behavior vs. motivation gives my guys a lot to think about. I get to witness the beginnings of a paradigm shift whenever I set in to explaining that reasons are always more important than actions, that the ‘why’ is always more important that the ‘what.’ The nature of this conversation leads us to talking through why they stay at a party they thought they would leave, why they go to their girlfriend’s house when no one else is there, why they get frustrated in prayer and Bible study, why they can’t connect to God when others seem to so easily, etc. Strictly talking about what they do or don’t do is only to address symptoms and ignore the underlying issue. Only in the ‘why’ can we have a genuine conversation with our students that can grow them and bring reality to their relationship with Jesus.

The chief need and want of any high school adolescent is to be known and loved for who they truly are. Nine times out of ten, the reason any adolescent makes any mistake or stupid decision is in the pursuit of intimacy. Unfortunately, students typically stumble upon false intimacy before they find the real thing. And you know what? Most of the time, they can’t verbalize that intimacy is what they’re after, so we have to help them name it. Once we arrive at this truth—and it is the truth—we can begin an authentic journey into how they let God invade their lives and meet their needs of real intimacy through a relationship marked by love, restoration, forgiveness, and redemption.

Discover other helpful youth ministry content at this year’s Youth Ministry Summit.

The Unnecessary Youth Pastor

POSTED: January 8, 2014
By Mark DeVries, founder of Youth Ministry Architects.

Not long ago, I found myself sitting on a stool before a group of youth pastors.  I was seated next to a youth ministry expert whom I respect incredibly.  And he said something that made me wonder if there was something wrong with my hearing.

“I long for the day,” he said, “when churches are loving and discipling kids so well that youth ministers will no longer be necessary.” 

 You may have heard something similar: “If parents were doing their job at home, we wouldn’t need youth ministers or youth ministry.”

I wonder though.  Aren’t those statements a little like saying,

“I long for the day when coaches are no longer needed on team.”  OR  “I long for the day when air traffic controllers are no longer needed at the airport.”  OR  “I long for the day when kids will raise themselves”? 

An Exercise in Missing the Point

Could it be that this perspective points to a foundational misunderstanding of the essential role of the youth pastor?

Sadly, most churches (and many youth ministry experts!) see the first role of the youth pastor as being the person who owns the relational responsibility for the students in his or her ministry, an approach that works beautifully until a group grows to 15 or 20 students.  But churches don’t need “friends for hire” as youth pastors.   What we do need, though, and need desperately, are youth pastors who do the heavy lifting of connecting kids with lots of normal, everyday, garden-variety godly adults.  Then (and only then?) will discipleship happen “organically” and “naturally.”

The Organic Fallacy

In the chaotic, fragmented, generationally isolated culture our kids live in, expecting them to grow into godly adulthood “naturally,” or for churches to break through the protective bubble of teenage culture “organically,” is like expecting the garden in my back yard to produce a bumper crop of vegetables “organically” with no “interference” from me.

Because we live in a world where “all things tend toward a state of disorder” (see the Second Law of Thermodynamics, your church, and my office), churches will need youth pastors to continue to invite, prod, and hold their church’s accountable to every believer’s call to invest in the next generation.

I too long for the day when churches will be filled with adults who embrace the calling, chaos, and joy of investing in the next generation.  And our best hope of seeing that dream to reality may just be youth pastors who understand and do their jobs.


Mark DeVries is the founder of Youth Ministry Architects (www.ymarchitects.com), a hands-on youth ministry consulting team. He is author of Sustainable Youth Ministry and co-author with Jeff Dunn-Rankin of the, The Indispensable Youth Pastor and Before You Hire a Youth Pastor. Mark is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Youth Ministry Summit.


Get Caught In the Parent Trap

POSTED: January 8, 2014
By Nick Tomeo, CCU Youth Ministry Professor.

We’ve heard it before: family ministry is where it’s at; you should team up with parents and develop a family friendly youth ministry.

This is easier said than done. Making student ministry more family friendly is many times difficult. Still, one element of “family friendly” youth ministry is obtainable: parental involvement.

So how can you get parents more involved in your ministry? Perhaps the secular world can offer some guidance.

In a 2005 study conducted by Deslandes and Bertrand, researchers attempted to determine what motivated parents to get involved with their children’s school activities. After studying almost 800 parents of adolescents, they discovered that parents became more involved in their teenagers’ school work if a) their child invited them to get involved, b) if the parents felt they could be helpful in the process, and c) if the teacher invited them to get involved.

Applying these results to youth ministry would compel the wise youth minister to:

1. Try to involve the parents
See if the parents of your students would allow a youth group activity at their house. Ask parents to help out with the food at your events. Another simple idea for encouraging parental involvement: send a thoughtful question home with students for next week’s lesson. For example, if the next session is a lesson on dating, have the students interview their parents to discover how they met. Students could then bring the answers back to youth group the following week.

2. Develop Parent-Student Events
Create events where students and parents can interact together. The key is to aggressively invite the parents and to encourage the students to do likewise.

3. Communicate Freely

Tell them everything: youth ministry events, their child’s successes, facts about adolescent development, and cultural trends.

While there are many other things one can do to promote a family enriched youth ministry, parent involvement is a critical key to a “family friendly” youth ministry.For more information on “Family Friendly Youth Ministry,” attend the Youth Ministry Summit and hear Mark Devries speak on the issue.

Deslandes, Rollande & Bertrand, Richard. (2005). Motivation of Parent Involvement in Secondary-Level Schooling. The Journal of Educational Research 98(3), 164-175.

Five Things that Every Youth Worker Might Not Be Doing But Should


by Chris Cox, 1twentyone Ministries, 2001/2013 graduate of CCU.

Over the past 12 years of being in student ministry, I have realized that there are a lot of ways to get students to show up, but most of them don’t build the kingdom that Jesus taught about. Here are 5 things I’ve learned that should be the core of our influence in the lives of the next generation.

1. Make prayer more experiential than music.

Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples after the last supper….then he spent the night praying. If the “10,000 hour theory” made popular in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is anywhere close to accurate, that 10,000 hours of practice makes one an “expert”, the next generation Christian is going to be an expert in singing songs about Jesus years before they are an expert at praying with Jesus. Our conferences, youth group gatherings and church services are saturated with great music. The level and emphasis on music as an avenue of worship may not need toned down in our student ministries, but instead we could challenge ourselves to make prayer more engaging than our music.

2. Make it student-led, no matter how much it slows you down.
This generation will only reach their full potential when the generations ahead of them make them earn their voice in leadership. Most students have been told since they were born that their voice matters and that they are more resourced than any generation before them. They get that. What they don’t get is HOW to lead. This happens over time through apprenticeship. Jesus took some sub-par fishermen and mentored them even when they didn’t get it. In Luke 10 he sends the 72 out right after the 12 were fighting about who was the greatest in the Kingdom, why others should have the power they have, and why they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a city that wouldn’t give them a place to stay! They didn’t get it, but He put the Kingdom in their hands anyway. He let them practice, try, fail, and eventually they succeeded. Next-generation student ministries will have student leadership at their core.

3. Be Missional.
Missional is about “alerting the world that the Kingdom of God has drawn near” (Luke 10:9). Inviting students to be a part of something that is bigger than the context of their stories engages them in their purpose. Without missional invitations, student ministries become programs with “fans,” and critics being entertained by youth pastors and worship bands. Missional student ministries grow the Kingdom through the story that God writes in the redemption of the people they serve. Missional is not a service project, it is a way of life.

4.Spend time with parents.
Communicating with parents has made a dramatic improvement in student ministry over the past several years. Digital resources and movements in curriculum have helped make this possible. But this still isn’t enough. Invite families out to dinner. Teach students how to respect their parents by respecting their parents. Build relationships with them. Hear their hearts. Pray with them. Remind them that you are there for them. Tell them they are doing a good job. Get a voice with them.

5. Lead Followers, Not Fans.
Kyle Idleman recently wrote a book affirming this truth. Many youth leaders are dying on the vine trying to entertain the fans of Jesus. When we preach and teach the Word of God, the fans will go home and the followers will go deeper. Deepen the roots of your student ministry with the truth of God’s Word and He will draw a harvest to Himself.

Involving Parents in Youth Ministry

By Nick Tomeo, CCU Youth Ministry Professor.

We have all heard this before: family ministry is where it is at. Team up with parents and develop a family friendly youth ministry.

While these thoughts should shape the mindset and focus of youth ministers, the truthful youth /student minister will admit that making student ministry more family friendly is not always the easiest thing to do. One element of “family friendly” youth ministry is parental involvement.
How does one get parents to become more involved with youth ministry?

In a study conducted by Deslandes and Bertrand in 2005, the researchers tried to determine what most encouraged parents to get involved with their children’s school and schoolwork. After studying 770 parents of adolescents they found that parents would become more involved in what their teenagers were doing in school if their child invited them to get involved, if the parents felt they could be a help to the process, and if the teacher invited them to get involved.

Applying these results to youth ministry would compel the wise youth minister to try to involve the parents. See if the parents of your students would allow some youth group activity to be done at their house. Ask parents to help with the food for various events. Another simple idea to encourage parental involvement: send a thoughtful question home with kids for next week’s lesson (i.e. if the next session is a lesson on Dating. Have the students ask their parents how they met, then bring the answers back to youth group next week.).

Also, develop parent-student events; invite & remind kids to invite the parents to the event And constantly communicate, whether it’s Youth Ministry events, the good their child does, or adolescent development and culture facts.

There are many other things one can do to promote a family enriched youth ministry. Parent involvement is just one method. But it is a piece required to becoming more family friendly youth ministry.

For more information on “Family Friendly Youth Ministry” come to the Youth Ministry Summit and hear Mark Devries speak on the issue.

Deslandes, Rollande & Bertrand, Richard. (2005). Motivation of Parent Involvement in Secondary-Level Schooling. The Journal of Educational Research 98(3), 164-175.

Welcome to the YMS Blog

We’ll be posting here over the next few months in preparation for CCU’s 2014 Youth Ministry Summit on March 27th. Make plans to join us and enjoy the content until then.