People often underestimate youth, especially in the context of a Servant Event. Adults want youth to pull weeds and assume that task will take an entire afternoon. Kids ask, “Do these weeds really need to be pulled? Is there something that I could be doing that people need? How can I make a difference?” Those of us who work with youth on a regular basis know that they are capable of hard work and meeting real needs.
Oddly enough, people who work with volunteers often make the same mistakes. Too often in youth ministry, we approach parents and volunteers with “weed pulling” jobs. Volunteers want to be involved with tasks that matter.
The first key in successfully empowering youth ministry volunteers is to bring them in on the ground floor. Allow them to have a voice in the initial planning and brainstorming. These activities give them a sense of ownership and excitement. Next time you are planning an event try this method:
Brainstorm: Pull together a group of six or seven people and let them brainstorm ideas for an event. Discuss theme, goals, schedule, activities, etc.
Divide & Conquer: Once the group has determined theme, goal and schedule, develop a “to do” list for the event that is organized by category. For example, a day trip list could include food, transportation, publicity, games and Bible study.
Who Wants What: Ask the group members which roles they want to play (i.e. “Who wants to take the lead on food?”). Listen carefully for areas of real interest or ability. DO NOT jump in to take on a position unless nobody else does.
Your Job: As leader, your job is to provide vision, support and structure. First, help volunteers keep their eyes on the big picture. Second, offer support to the volunteers on their tasks. Third, plan follow-up meetings or some other means to have volunteers report their progress.
The second key to successfully empowering volunteers in youth ministry is to recognize the commitment levels and abilities of each volunteer. In his book “From Daze to Knights”, Craig Jutila identifies four basic types of church volunteers:
  • The industrious volunteer is a hard-working and diligent person who volunteers every once in a while.
  • The independent volunteer is self-reliant. This person is willing to be a consistent participant, but he does not wish to extend that involvement beyond the task that he has agreed to do.
  • The initiative volunteer takes the initiative and improves upon her tasks, but she is not anxious to “run” things. This volunteer needs to be placed into the proper slot or groove and asked to focus on a well-defined goal.
  • The influential volunteer takes charge. This volunteer needs to be given the authority to do the job.

Recognizing the varying abilities and commitment levels of each volunteer will help prevent you from relying too much or too little on a given volunteer.  As you work through the “divide and conquer” portion of the planning process, your understanding of the volunteers will help everyone experience success.

The final key to successfully empowering youth ministry volunteers is to give them some “kid time.” Allow the volunteers to see the fruits of their efforts by meeting the young people whom they serve. Some volunteers will enjoy time talking with kids. Others prefer to watch from behind the snack table. It is important for all youth volunteers to see that real needs are being met. Youth ministry is not a weed-pulling job.