The Main Factor In Creating Culture: Volunteer Leaders


Regardless of setting, having a Mission Community of thriving volunteers is the way to grow deep and wide in reaching adolescents and helping them grow in their faith. This was modeled for me when I became a volunteer leader in college in 1972. I could not wait to be with those leaders. I had met Christ in Young Life and served on work crew and summer staff, so this was a natural outcome because my Young Life leaders always talked about me becoming a Young Life leader. I would not have called it this at the time, but they were “casting a vision for my life and growth.”

As a young area director, because it had been modeled for me, I knew the job was

  • Recruiting (Always),

  • Training (Always),

  • Deploying , Empowering and Encouraging VOLUNTEERS.

Sure, I was doing contact work and running a good club and Campaigners, but my JOB was developing a culture where the volunteer leader was the KEY to effective, growing ministry. In the recruitment of new leaders, I invited every Jesus follower to join us because I knew they would experience Jesus in Young Life, in training and in being on a team reaching kids. Creating a culture where leaders would experience Jesus in doing Young Life was my job. There are thousands of ways to do this, so steal them all and create new ones every day. (Focus your time and talent here.)

“You can’t start or create a culture because you already have one. All you can do is develop it, adjust it, tweak it and change it over time.” — Anonymous

When I stepped into Young Life International in 2006, there were less than 1,000 volunteers outside of the U.S. I spoke with many mission agency leaders who told me that finding volunteers in undeveloped economies would not be possible because unemployment was often well over 50 percent. Stubbornly I responded, “Well, volunteers are the key to any healthy Young Life, so that is what we will aim for.” Most missionaries patted me on the head and said, “Good luck.”

All of the International leadership (tremendous, courageous staff) were in alignment on this, but we had to overcome one key dynamic: We were working with populations that had never heard of Jim Rayburn, had never seen a Young Life camp, didn’t know the term “contact work,” and more. Many of them had English as a second or third language. NONE had heard of Young Life.

In 2018, there are over 18,000 volunteer leaders outside of the U.S.!  What did we do?

1. We PRAYED. We used everything we could to prompt us to pray for laborers for the harvest: Matthew 9:38 lists, whiteboards, spreadsheets, leadership trees, maps ... we really prayed … a lot! And then repeated it. Pray for laborers of the harvest and call people to pray.

2. We DECIDED that the leaders were there in the neighborhood and we had to find them. If you do not believe they are there, you will not look for them and you likely will not pray.

3. We BELIEVED that Young Life would bless every leader who joined us with significant growth in Jesus, significant experience of mission and community (family), and they would model the hopes of the Kingdom for broken and lost communities.

4. We were CONVINCED that volunteers were the only way forward.

5. We made it FUN, ENCOURAGING, VALUABLE, JOYFUL and DEEP to be a leader.

We always say, “Being a Young Life leader will give you more joy and more sorrow that you can imagine, but it will also pull you into the abundant life Jesus has for you. It is worth it!” Bottom line: If you celebrate victories and lament great loss as a mission community, you will not only have an abundance of invested and committed volunteers, you will all experience greater intimacy with Jesus. Who doesn’t want that?

Written by Marty Caldwell (

Ever wonder about the state of the your Young Life Area's culture?  Take this simple, self-assessment quiz!