Here’s a reality check: If you are a volunteer in your church’s youth group you are not alone. In fact, the majority of youth leaders are volunteers who have had no professional training in youth ministry. For the past few days I’ve been scanning my shelves, filled with 20 years worth of youth resources, trying to decide which five I would label essential for the volunteer leader.

Here are my picks:

Youth Ministry Basics (Concordia Publishing House, 2002). Okay so it may seem self-serving that I start with a book that I edited. But, I really think that Youth Ministry Basics is an essential for the volunteer. Youth Ministry Basics contains fifteen lessons, each one focusing on a different aspect of youth ministry. The various authors have a friendly tone that reassures the reader that it’s okay not to have all the answers. Each lesson is accompanied by reproducible pages that direct the user through the learning activities in the chapter. Lessons contain practical advice on planning activities, leading Bible study, developing a youth leadership team, and much more.

Real Teens written by George Barna (Regal Books, 2001). I’m hardly big on numbers (just ask my college Statistics profs). In fact the idea of reading a book that essentially reported the results of a nationwide survey of teens almost scared me away from this book. But what I found inside Real Teens was a wealth of information that helped me understand the millennial (Barna calls them the mosaic) generation, the youth in your youth groups right now. The author goes beyond just presenting the numbers and applies the so what factor to the statistics. Barna additionally helps the reader understand how the statistical facts about teens apply in the local church. For even more updated information on the millennial generation, check out the new study on teen spirituality available from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through their website.

Junior High Ministry: A Guide to Early Adolescence for Youth Workers written by Wayne Rice (Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 1997). This is one of the first books I read in my youth ministry career. The original version, which I own, dates back to the 1980’s. It doesn’t matter if you are doing Jr. High ministry or not, Junior High Ministry helps set the stage for understanding and working with young people. Wayne Rice has updated this book through the years to reflect the changing world of the young adolescent. You’ll grow in your understanding of teens though the information on adolescent development, as well benefit from the practical ideas for setting up a youth ministry program.

The Gigantic Book of Games for Youth Ministry: Volumes 1 & 2 (Group Publishing, 1999). Part of youth ministry is having fun together. Activity is especially important if you are working with younger students. In reality, any good youth ministry game book will do, but these are two of the better ones. Each book provides a nice variety of indoor and outdoor games as well as a mix of more active and quieter games.

Real Deal Bible Study Series (Concordia Publishing House, 2003-2004). My personal bias is showing again! Bible study remains core to effective youth ministry. As a volunteer you need to feel confident that the materials you implement for Bible study are easy to use, interesting for your youth, and of sound Scriptural background. The six titles in the Real Deal series each deal with a specific set of issues, anything from personal issues, to family issues, temptations, school issues, world issues, or faith issues. The 12 studies in each book keep young people engaged and talking as they work through God’s Word with your guidance.

Mark Sengele serves as Editor of Youth Materials for Concordia Publishing House. Before coming to Concordia in 1999 Mark served congregations in Michigan and Illinois as a teacher, Minister to Youth, and Family Life Director. Mark lives with his wife, Lynn, and son, Luke, in St. Louis, MO.