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Everyone likes being thanked, right? Even if the motivation for doing something isn’t so that you hear the words “thank you,” it’s still great to hear them and to feel gratitude from whoever’s saying it. When I empty the dishwasher in my house, I don’t expect my wife to come running up and say, “wow, thanks for emptying the dishwasher! You’re amazing!” But when it happens (just like that, I promise), I won’t lie – it feels great!
Any volunteer serving in Youth Ministry is likely not serving just to hear those words. They give hours of their time each week to care for young people, shepherd them in a walk with Jesus, navigate life alongside them, and help them traverse the often complicated situations they encounter. Why? Not to hear praise or get recognition, but simply because they know the impact and the value of their work, and serving that way brings them joy.
Just because a “thank you” isn’t what motivates our volunteers, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say it. Taking the time to say thank you to our team is a simple way to affirm them, inspire them, and create a culture they want to be a part of for the long haul.
Here are 3 things to consider when it comes to thanking your volunteers:
I’ve not always been good at simple or small gestures. I wouldn’t say thoughtfulness is high on the list of words people would use to describe my personality, but over the last decade or so, I’ve grown at this. That’s, in no small part, thanks to my wife’s example and the opportunities I have to teach my own kids the importance of thoughtfulness.
Small gestures like a signed birthday card, a cup of coffee when they come to the church for a meeting, a note of recognition when you see something in them you want to affirm, or taking them out to lunch just to hang out are all simple ways to say “thanks” to your volunteer. Sometimes, the budget (or lack thereof) can stand between us and thanking our teams, but a thank you doesn’t have to be expensive. A small, thoughtful thank you can go a long way when celebrating your team.
Consider sending out a Google form when a new volunteer joins your team and ask them a few questions, like their birthday, favorite coffee, snack, or treat. Then you have all that info handy and can randomly use it to say thank you throughout the year.
In Patrick Lencioni’s 6 Types of Working Genius, my top genius is galvanizing. I love gathering a team, casting a vision, and unifying people around that vision – but that’s not what this is about. Too often, we plan great big volunteer gatherings, and we use them as an excuse to train, vision cast, or rah-rah everyone till they’re ready to run through a wall (or they’re totally overwhelmed). While training and vision casting should have their place in our volunteer rhythms, investing significant time into “thank you’s” should also be a focus.
Like the little “thank you’s,” these don’t have to break the bank. Depending on the size of your team, you can invite them to your house for dinner, plan a day at a park, or build them a sundae bar one day after youth group. If you’ve got the budget, you could take the team out to dinner, cater something at the church, or invest in a gift around the holiday season and deliver it to their house. These sorts of things usually take a volunteer by surprise because they aren’t serving with the expectation of some big thank you, but something like this always fills them up.
Consider scheduling a big thank you around the Christmas season, especially if you break from weekly ministry. Give them a break and then gather the team for a mid-year celebration. It’s a great way to put wind in their sails and kick off a new semester with some excitement.
In our ministry context, we ask our volunteers for roughly 2.5 hours each Wednesday night for ministry programming and another 30-60 minutes a week of contact work and relational investment. It’s not a small commitment, and if they have a family, it means that their spouse and their children are making a sacrifice so they can give that time to the kids in the ministry. Going out of your way to thank the spouse and kids for their willingness to let that volunteer serve can go a long way when it comes to celebrating your volunteer team. Whenever either my boss or senior pastor has gone up and thanked my wife for holding down the fort at home when I was teaching at summer camp, I know it meant a lot to me. The same is true for our volunteers and their families. While their families’ sacrifice might not be as obvious, it matters and it’s worth celebrating.
Consider a family barbeque or outing to wrap up the year as a way to celebrate all that God accomplished through your team. It also gives their families a first-hand view of the impact that their parents or spouse is making. It can be a really cool moment for their family.
Thanking our teams is one simple way to build a great volunteer culture and to remind them that we value them and that what they do matters. If your volunteer celebration could use some attention, give yourself grace, make a plan, and start doing the little things to say “thanks!” to your team.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What is one little thank you that you can add to your volunteer celebration rhythm this year?
- Do you need to explore an idea of a big thank you for your team to help encourage them this year? What might that be?