5 Traits of Great Volunteer Leaders

By Jeff Pratt

Healthy churches, no matter their size, understand the importance of developing and empowering volunteer leaders. Great volunteer leaders can have an extraordinary impact on the church and community.

I’ve had the privilege of serving in several small churches, both as a full-time pastor and as a bivocational pastor. You’ll never read about these churches, nor will you hear their staff speaking at conferences. But the ministry they provide and their place in the community is priceless.

In each of those churches, I relied on volunteer leaders to help multiply our ministry. These leaders loved their churches and loved their communities. I learned quickly that church members who are willing to lead are a valuable resource.

Duane Dunagan served as the part-time student minister at Perryville Baptist Church in Perryville, Kentucky, during my time as pastor. Duane faithfully served students for many years in that small church.

I often point to Duane as an example of great leadership when I speak at conferences or train student ministers. Here are five traits Duane modeled that churches should look for in their volunteers.

1. He wasn’t looking for a job.

When Duane became youth leader at Perryville Church, he wasn’t looking for another job. His position rose out of a need for someone to disciple and lead students.

I’m sure as the minds of the church considered who best to lead the students, Duane came to mind—not because he was trained in ministry or had the credentials, but because he was a local school counselor who understood students.

2. He was part of the community.

Duane worked full time as a counselor at the local high school. His wife, Karen, was a preschool teacher at the local elementary school. The Dunagans were staple members of our community before Duane ever became a student minister.

3. He focused on what was important.

As a bivocational student minister in a small church, Duane quickly realized he didn’t have a lot of time. Our student ministry was driven by relationships rather than big events.

What time Duane had was spent on small group Bible study and serving the community. In ministry, relationships are central. Duane understood that and made it his focus.

4. He loved students.

One thing I never questioned with Duane was his love for students. He loved those kids and wanted the best for all of them. I watched Duane lament over those who struggled in their spiritual lives, as well as at home and in school. He wanted students to have every opportunity to succeed in life.

5. He understood the importance of training leaders.

Duane knew the importance of training his replacement. Most small churches can’t afford full-time staff, and it’s hard to get someone to move to a small town to do part-time student ministry.

Duane always knew one of his students would take the reins and become the next student minister at the church. He was intentional about training the next generation.

I have the opportunity from time to time to visit that small town in central Kentucky. The two stoplights still work. People still congregate at the gas station/restaurant for breakfast.

And Perryville Baptist Church is still on the corner, meeting every Sunday and serving the community. Duane no longer serves as student minister, but one of his former students does—a student who was led and discipled by Duane.

My prayer is there will be many more Duane Dunagans who will serve our small churches as faithfully as he did.


JEFF PRATT is director of Student Ministry Camps and Events at LifeWay.

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