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for the curious about life and leading others

YS Workshop: Intentionally Developing Volunteers

Jared Kirkwood

The healthiest version of your youth ministry is one that can thrive beyond you.

I spent my high school years in Las Vegas. One of the unique things about that city is that it does not have a professional sports team. So being the avid baseball fans that my friends and I were, we were forced to root for the Las Vegas Stars (now the 51s). While the level of play was not nearly that of MLB, I learned a lot about the intentional development of people because they were a feeder team to the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. At every game we felt like we were on the front edge of someone’s career!

When we consider the great vision and mission of the Church, why would we consider our opportunity to develop volunteers any different? 

Volunteer leader development does not happen by accident. We must intentionally develop the key leaders that God has placed in our midst to give ourselves the best chance at making an impact in our cities, local schools or neighborhoods in the name of Jesus. We must coach, mentor, and develop our teammates in a  strategic way.

The 4 steps to intentionally developing volunteer leaders are: identify, discover, equip and empower.


The battle is won or lost in the selection process. Meaning, if you identify the right people, the rest of the journey is an absolute joy to watch volunteers step into the calling God has placed on their lives. If you don’t, there is a good chance that you will be exhausted and the rest of your team will be dragged down with them.

The right volunteers are called by God, fit your church and team, and will live out your church’s values.


There is nothing greater than serving God out of our gifts and passion. When we find the right volunteers for our ministry, take time in the interview to ask them, “when you wake up in the morning, what gets you excited? When you lie awake at night, what are you dissatisfied with? And what life experiences have made you who you are today?”

Great leaders call others to serve from their identity in Christ that is formed from their gifts, passion and life experience. When we do this, we not only gain lifelong volunteers, we create a ministry where exponential life change is taking place.


In order for your volunteers to do what you need them to do, what do they need to know and who do you need them to be? Clearly there is a skill and task conversation that needs to take place, but I am more interested in equipping our volunteers to be core contributors to the culture we are creating in Student Ministries. Leadership is “doing” and “being,” so we must teach our teams to live out our cultural values on a daily basis.

Simply put: the culture you create with your volunteer team will overflow into your student’s lives.


The difficult task of releasing ministry to key volunteers brings out our greatest fears: if I let go, I won’t be needed anymore. This scarcity mindset will drastically limit the amount of life change your ministry will see. If you have adequately walked the long, relational road of volunteer leader development, releasing the ministry to our team is the greatest gift we could ever give them.



Here are some practical steps to help you in each component:

Identify: memorize your vision, mission and values so that you know a key volunteer when you see them. Create a recruitment strategy to reach new people beyond your network.

Discover: sit down with each of your current volunteer team members and ask the questions listed above. Watch how they light up at the interest you are taking in them. Now, how can you tap into that passion for the ministry?

Equip: list out the skills necessary for a leader to be on your team and then the culture you hope to create in your ministry. What culture are you creating and allowing?

Empower: who are the 1 or 2 people on your team that you could hand over significant pieces of the ministry to right now? What’s stopping you?

This is about us recognizing our ministry is not built on us, but on the team Jesus has called for such a time as this. Leadership is people development. When we choose to intentionally develop our volunteers, we will see significant impact in the people we serve.

What are you doing to ensure life-changing ministry is taking place through your volunteers long after you are gone?