One of the goals of working with youth is to surround them with caring Christian adults that they can get to know. I remember being told that each youth should have 5 Christian adults they know by name, who are praying for them and who check in on how they’re doing on a regular basis. These adults may be parents, grandparents, godparents, pastors, youth workers, Sunday School teachers, adult youth volunteers, their friends’ parents, etc. In addition to training parents and grandparents in growing in this role, as well as fulfilling this responsibility as a church worker, one of our key areas to develop is those adult youth volunteers. Whether they are parents, young adults, college students or retired, they can be such a big part of a young person’s life. Oftentimes these people can impact some youth that you as the youth worker maybe have trouble connecting with.
But how do we get them there? Do they sign their year (or life) away to youth group or Sunday morning Bible study? Do they just show up when they can? How do you convince them that they really do make a difference? While getting these questions answered and getting adults involved on a regular basis is vital, it can be overwhelming all at once. Instead of throwing someone in on a weekly basis, I think the best place to start is with a retreat. Why a retreat? One important reason is that you have to have adults there as chaperones anyways. It is easy to see other adults as “optional” at youth group or Bible class, but they are required on a retreat. But I think the biggest reason why a retreat is the best entry-point for getting an adult plugged into youth ministry is that it is an extended time with the youth. Instead of just one or two hours a week, in which it is really hard to get to know anyone well, they get a few days with the same group of kids. Once they get to know some of those kids better, those relationships become a gateway into some of those adults getting more involved with other events and gatherings that the youth are doing.
This whole idea hinges on the fact that these adults are so much more than just baby-sitters or even chaperones. They are adult leaders, informal mentors and caring Christian examples! They have a purpose, and I firmly believe that the reason more adults aren’t involved with young people is that they don’t just want to be a baby-sitter. If they’re going to give of their time, they want to have that be a positive investment in those youth. We can accomplish this by actually delegating important tasks on a retreat (and then later, youth group and other events) to the other adult leaders. This does not come naturally to me, but God set the stage for making me try this on a recent retreat. I had to be at the retreat center early because I was a part of the leadership team, so my adult leaders were in charge of my normal jobs of the youth drop-off, the important forms binder and not throwing any of our kids out the window on the drive there (the way back is a different story). Then at the retreat, I lost my voice on the first day. So for the remainder of the retreat, I oftentimes had to quietly croak out something to one of our adult leaders and have them repeat it to the group as necessary. Because I could barely talk, one of my adult leaders was given the opportunity to counsel and pray with one of our youth who was dealing with conflict. The conversations at the meal tables were driven by our youth and adults and my role was to listen and every once in a while act out something for one of them to translate. Losing my voice forced me to enable my adult leaders to take on different responsibilities, and I will continue to do so even when I can talk normally because I now see the value of that in a different light.
Do you want to get the most out of your adult volunteers? Start off by getting them involved in a retreat. Help them to build relationships with the youth and give them ways to use their gifts in leadership and service. Tell them that they are not just crowd-control or baby-sitters, but vital ministry partners and important Christian role models and mentors. Then see how that transfers over toward involvement in other areas of church ministry. God does amazing work through the other adults in young people’s lives, so we need to do as much as we can to help equip and enable them to be connected with the youth.