Recruiting, training and nurturing volunteers is vital to your health and the health of your youth ministry program. Youth ministry is relational in nature and relationships take a great deal of energy to build, maintain, and grow. No man (or woman) is an island. You have probably heard this saying before. In theory, it makes perfect sense that you cannot do everything on your own. In the real world, though, it is tempting to think that you are the only person who can work to your level of satisfaction. However, God has blessed you with adults who may or may not know that their gifts can be used in youth ministry. It’s your job to draw them in and put them to work.
The Fear Factor
Many adults cringe at the thought of working with junior and senior high students. Fear is the most common culprit for their apprehension. Professional youth workers, have the opportunity to help adults experience the joy of walking alongside students for part of their journey of faith.
Qualifications for Volunteers
To serve successfully in a youth ministry program, volunteers should possess two attributes: a love for junior and senior high school students and a genuine desire and willingness to serve. It is equally important that volunteers regularly take part in worship and Bible study. The adults who serve in youth ministry have an impact on students, be it positive or negative. Thus it is important that your volunteers have a healthy relationship with their Lord so that they might better have a healthy relationship with the youth.
Once you have adults with the desired qualities, the next step is to determine how their gifts best fit within your congregation’s youth ministry program. Have your prospective volunteers complete a spiritual gifts inventory, such as the one following, and discuss the results with them in an interview.
Levels of Involvement
Bill Ameiss, in RAGS (Resources, Articles, and other Good Stuff) ’96, lists questions prospective volunteers can ask of themselves to help determine their level of involvement:
1. Do I care deeply about Christian faith and its impact on people?
2. Do I like young people of junior high and/or high school age?
3. Do I enjoy being around them, spending time with them, and listening to them?
4. Can I be caring with different kinds of young people from different backgrounds or with differing values?
5. Can I enjoy young people, yet be willing to be the adult in all situations, maintaining the leadership responsibility that I need as a youth leader?
If your potential volunteers answer, “Yes” or “Pretty sure” to these questions, they could enjoy working with young people in one of the following roles: Chaperon, Driver, Parish Parent, or Youth Prayer Partner. Chaperons are adults who go along on youth outings, events, trips, etc. Drivers carry the responsibility for safe transportation. Parish Parents are adults who are assigned to young people at confirmation to serve as encouragers and as a reminder that the whole congregation cares about each young person. Youth Prayer Partners are assigned to each other to hold each other up in prayer.
6. Do I feel comfortable being open and honest with young people in discussions on sensitive and controversial issues?
7. Do I enjoy seeing young people grow, develop insights into life and faith, and learn to apply that faith to real life?
8. Am I able to share my faith and myself with young people in the midst of their learning and growing?
9. Would I be willing to develop some skills in working with groups of young people?
10. Would I be interested in developing an understanding of adolescent growth and development?
If potential volunteers answer, “Yes” to most of these questions, they would probably enjoy working as a Youth Counselor or Advisor. Youth Counselors work directly with students, assisting them in planning for youth ministry in the congregation. They are concerned with the personal growth and development of young people. They have an opportunity to be an example to students.
11. Would you like to be an advocate for youth needs and concerns in the congregation?
12. Would you enjoy working on a planning team with both youth and adults?
13. Can you commit to two or three years of work on such a youth planning team or board?
If potential volunteers answer, “yes” to these questions, you might consider them as candidates for your congregation’s Youth Board or Planning Team. A Youth Board or Planning Team shares the final responsibility of the congregation’s youth ministry effort, selects counselors (or advisors), and administers the youth portion of the congregational budget.
The roles and responsibilities in youth ministry differ between congregations. However, these are excellent questions to ask someone interested in serving in your youth ministry program. Many volunteers prefer smaller time commitments. In my congregation, we have many different roles with various time commitments, from a one-time event to three years of service.
Background Checks and Other Proceedures
Regardless of your church insurance company’s requirements, you should strive to establish and maintain a comprehensive plan for risk management for your volunteers. The main component of this plan should include clearly defined procedures allowing volunteers to become involved in church ministries that involve children and/or youth. These procedures should include an application, interview, background check, and a period of time (usually six months) during which you or another trained volunteer directly supervise the prospective volunteer. Developing procedures such as these help protect both the volunteer and the youth, and many insurance companies have begun requiring them before offering coverage. Find out what your church insurance company requires.
One of the most important ways to keep good volunteers is to care for them. Relationships are integral to effective youth ministry, so model that for your volunteers by forming relationships with them. Ask them: Where were they born? What do they love most about their family? What are their dreams? Their hurts? Tell them you are praying for them and then be sure to do so. Send birthday and anniversary cards. In the congregation I serve, our Care Team has the task of giving token gifts to volunteers throughout the year. Volunteers don’t usually expect anything tangible in return for their time and efforts, but a small gift communicates volumes about your appreciation for their service.
Our purpose, which is based upon Matthew 22:37-40 and Matthew 28:18-20, states that youth ministry at Mount Olive exists to praise God, share Christ, serve others, grow in God’s Word and belong. Everything we do, including our ministry structure, is an outcrop of this statement. Our youth board is made up of teams that are charged with certain ministry areas. These teams are Senior Youth, Junior Youth, Confirmation and Care. Each team member signs a Ministry Covenant, which outlines the specific roles and tasks of their respective team, as well as the time frame of commitment. We have found that the recruiting process is much smoother and much less time consuming. We are able to outline exactly what would be expected from each volunteer and people respond more favorably to clear expectations.
There are many ways to give volunteers the tools they need to effectively minister to students. Local workshops through Youth Specialties offer pertinent topics for volunteer and professional youth workers. The Missouri Synod Youth Ministry office offers periodic national training conferences, along with Youth Specialties and Willow Creek. Of course, you will need your “Lutheran lens” when attending workshops and conferences to discern appropriate doctrine. Another way to provide training is to pair a new volunteer with a seasoned volunteer who could give guidance, counsel and support. Regular volunteer meetings where training sessions can be held offer a time for volunteers to be in Bible study, to voice concerns, to ask questions and commiserate with other volunteers. Topics for training could include relating with students, active listening skills, how to lead a Bible study or devotion, how to lead a game, small group leadership, students in crisis situations, etc.
There comes a point in the course of ministry when it is time for a volunteer to step away from your youth ministry program. This can occur for various reasons: Volunteers may desire to serve in other ministry areas. Perhaps they’ve experienced a major life change such as marriage, divorce, relocation, death in the family, and graduation, among others. Their philosophy of youth ministry and your congregation’s purpose may be incongruent. You may realize they don’t have a passion for students. They may realize they don’t have a passion for students. A volunteer may break the law or violate a church policy. (These situations can be rather delicate and need to be handled with care.) Regardless of the reason, it is best to let your volunteers leave your program gracefully and without guilt.