Mr. Willard loves youth nights. He regularly participates in ping-pong tournaments, shares conversations with teens, and devours pepperoni pizza. Students find it easy to share thoughts with the older man and look forward to seeing him each week. However, Mr. Willard is not a DCE, a pastor, or a hired youth worker. He is a retired teacher who has been invited to assist with the youth program and has brought to it a warm atmosphere that many describe as a “family feel.” His participation is just one example of the blessings that come from incorporating a variety of adults to serve in youth ministry.
It is a less-celebrated but highly essential skill of youth ministry: leaders should be prepared to recruit and employ helpful adults who are not already actively involved in leadership roles. Youth ministry benefits when it has adults who are engaging and championing young people in a variety of ways. Selecting and utilizing these supporters requires discernment and delegation, but they will greatly enhance youth ministry, and benefit both young people and regular leaders.
The Importance of Adult Incorporation in Youth Ministry
As much as some might love to try, one youth leader simply cannot do everything. There are just not enough human appendages or hours in a day to plan and execute events, care for each individual, prepare and lead Bible studies, and still breathe. Bringing in extra assistance provides help for students as well as leaders. This can prevent potential burn-out and boost sanity for youth workers!
Additionally, students need multiple levels of support, and they greatly benefit from having a variety of adult influences. Teens should have abundant opportunities to interact with older congregation members. This allows them to engage with “parental figures” who are not related to them and shows that people care about them without specific obligation.
Integrating age groups with youth and adults demonstrates that a congregation values the youth program. When young students observe older people taking interest in them and investing in them, it lets them feel significant. Building relationships with others in the church has tremendous impact on the trust that teens have in the church. It also helps reflect and point to the trust they can have in God. Providing lay leaders with methods of supporting youth gives them a way to be part of growing and maintaining the church.
How to Select and Invite Supportive Adults
Finding volunteers can at times be one of the most challenging aspects of any ministry. Perhaps there is a church out there with a wait list for chaperoning the next lock-in night…if so, please share the secret. It may feel like a struggle to acquire help, but there are always adults who are willing to step up if asked, even if they don’t eagerly volunteer. Approaching potential volunteers one on one is often the best strategy. It is also important to appeal to strengths of an individual when requesting help, and to emphasize the impact they will have on youth.
Look for those who exhibit genuine love and care. While finding volunteers might sometimes feel desperate, it’s important to avoid the temptation to accept anyone with a pulse. Identify adults who are kind and patient, empathetic and positive. It can also be beneficial to use people who have vested interest in the youth program. These may include former teachers or youth workers, as well as parents of teens (or parents of those who have aged out) that have hours and energy to provide.
Make sure to consider adults who are capable of donating time and talents to youth. Parents with full-time jobs might be less likely to say yes than a retired couple looking to fill their time. You can also adapt how you ask adults to engage in order to allow for less intense, but still long-term commitments. After identifying a prospective helper, be sure to highlight the ways God can use them powerfully in youth ministry and to cast the request in an affirming and esteeming light for each adult.
How to Make the Most of Adult Volunteers
Before considering the best methods of employing outside adults, a word of caution is necessary. In order to safeguard God’s precious children, it is critical to have in place a system of background checks for adults working with youth. Each church should have specific guidelines to implement for such a process, as well as policies of propriety to follow while adults are actively engaged with youth. Volunteers who wish to work with youth should understand what these policies and procedures and be willing to comply prior to spending time with students.
Once supportive adults have been identified and brought in to assist with ministry, there are several great ways to implement them to enhance the youth program. Most activities should have at least one adult chaperone in addition to the main youth director, so there are likely many opportunities to use volunteers as chaperones with students. Service opportunities are particularly great ways to introduce youth to new adults from the congregation.
Adults can also serve as “special guests.” Use adults in specific career capacities or with interesting backgrounds to share their stories and experiences with teens. Have youth group members devise interview questions for these speakers, and incorporate the conversation into Bible studies or Sunday School classes. It’s a great way to introduce topics on vocation and how God is at work through difficult times.
Use adults to encourage inter-generational relationships in large or small group settings. Consider providing service projects that allow youth and older members to partner together to complete tasks that give back to the congregation or community. Adults can also be utilized as mentors for younger students. This is a practice that is especially useful for students going through Confirmation. Pair each student with a willing and supportive adult, who can pray for and converse with the student as they go through the Confirmation process. Ideally, the bonds forged through such circumstances will continue to develop and grow as the student does.
Teens rely on relationships as they explore who they are and discover the role that faith plays in their lives. The interactions they have with peers are influential, but they need adults to speak into their lives, as well. Supportive adults can point young people to Jesus, walk with them through times of joy and crisis, and bring Law and Gospel of God’s Word at critical times.
Supportive adults are a blessing to youth and to those who actively lead youth ministry. Adults throughout the congregation can provide additional support and encouragement for leaders as well as students. Incorporating supportive adults, in capacities large or small, brings in fresh faces for youth, as well as an extra layer of care and guidance.