Celebrating Next Gen Volunteers: 4 Ways To Show Appreciation

by Chris Trent, Next Gen Catalyst

At the heart of every thriving church and ministry is a team of Gospel-centered, dedicated, and mission-minded volunteers.

When our volunteers step up to lead small groups, engage in students’ lives, or serve as greeters, they’re not just filling a role — they’re embodying the very essence of what it means to follow Christ. Through their words, actions, and genuine care for our students, they demonstrate the transformative power of faith in action. They create spaces where our students feel seen, heard, and valued, fostering a sense of belonging and community that is essential for spiritual growth.

Every Next Gen pastor and ministry leader understands the integral role volunteers play in a healthy student ministry. 

As important as volunteers are to our ministries, too often ministry leaders miss the opportunity to build a culture of appreciation for those who give their time, talents, and commitment. Yes, serving the kingdom is a necessary component of discipleship for believers growing in their walk with Christ.

Even so, as leaders, we are also called to encourage our volunteers and foster a culture that recognizes how God is bearing fruit through their service. We want them to feel seen, heard, and valued in their walks with Christ, loving them in the same way they love their students.

I’ve been working in student ministry for more than three decades. In my role at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, I have the privilege of working with ministry leaders from across the state who have built thriving ministries shaped by a healthy culture of volunteer appreciation.

As you think about your ministry, here are a few practical tips for appreciating volunteers. 

  1. Prioritize Personalization

People feel most valued when appreciation is personalized. This can take many forms, but the key is to make an intentional effort to show that the volunteer is known. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Handwritten notes: The more specific you can be, the more meaningful the note will be. Consider enlisting the students they lead to write notes of thanks. Simple words of appreciation can be as simple as “I saw the way you calmed that child,” “I notice how faithful you are,” or “I appreciate the way you spend time preparing for your class.”
  • Homemade/customized gifts: Homemade fudge or other homemade items. Customized pillowcases/pillows made for their “Sunday nap.”
  • Texts of encouragement: “I heard about how God is moving in your group.” “How can I pray for you this week?” “Wanted to share this verse with you today.” 
  • Other ways: A pat on the back, a fist bump, or a high five. When a volunteer is going through a major crisis or even a small rough patch, offer to help by bringing a meal, cutting their grass, keeping their kids, or simply calling so they can talk will help them know you care. 
  1. Make it Public

When appreciation is shared publicly, it creates an environment where other volunteers can also show their appreciation. Plus, it provides an opportunity to cast vision for how God is moving through His body in the lives of students! 

  • Incorporate public affirmation and gratitude into volunteer meetings. Recognize a “volunteer of the month” and pray over them at a team meeting. Select a “rookie of the year” and “veteran leader” at the end of a ministry season, take a photo, and add that picture to a “hall of fame.”
  • Celebrate volunteers with specific stories about how God is working in the main service. Share a volunteer testimonial as part of the main service. Where it aligns with your church, let a volunteers baptize a student from their small group.
  • Share stories on social media. Tag the volunteer. Share what God is doing and the role the volunteer played in the life of a student. 
  1. Go Big

Appreciation does not have to be big to make an impact. That being said, when budget allows, bigger events and gifts can create moments, make memories, and provide mile-markers that keep volunteers connected to the greater story God is telling. 

  • Host a yearly volunteer appreciation event. These can be themed or scheduled at strategic times during the year to align with holidays. Consider a church-wide “volunteer celebration” for sharing stories of God on the move through volunteers across the church. Provide a nice dinner on-site, free childcare during dinner, and have some entertainment/games to foster laughter and fun.
  • Give an annual Christmas gift. Church swag, a scripture desk calendar, an ornament, a framed photo of the volunteer team. It could be an experience, such as a Christmas Open House at your home with food and fellowship.
  • Provide training events to invest in their ministry. Provide guest speakers, Q&A, best practices, or workshops to share ideas.
  1. Be Intentional

In Ephesians, we read about the intentionality with which God calls us into His service. “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” As a leader, intention allows you to partner with God in nurturing the call He has on each volunteer’s life.

  1. Aim for one touchpoint every three to four months: The goal is to make sure you are providing regular touchpoints outside of the church walls. Consider small food gifts on “National Donut Day” or “National Chocolate Day.” Schedule a walk or coffee. Depending on budget, take each volunteer and their spouse out for dinner once a year.
  2. Consider the five love languages, which are gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of kindness. Learn how your volunteer receives appreciation and align your efforts as often as possible.
  3. Mobilize students to write and mail notes. Align these notes with something significant, such as the anniversary of when the volunteer started serving, during volunteer appreciation month, or on the volunteer’s birthday. 

The value volunteers bring to the spiritual growth of students and the health of our churches cannot be overstated. It’s not just about what our volunteers do — it’s about who they are and the profound difference they make in the lives of our youth.

As we make intentional efforts to appreciate volunteers, may we also see how God is moving through our ministry to create spaces where our volunteers encounter the transformative love of Christ, grow as disciples, and are mobilized to advance the kingdom.

Published April 15, 2024