Before Fall Ministry Begins
It happens predominantly to schoolteachers and youth ministry leaders. I don’t even know if there’s a word for it, but it’s that little lump they feel in the back of their throat triggered at the instant when they flip the calendar to August and suddenly feel the looming pressure as if a deadline is rapidly approaching like a college term paper.
Summer was fun, but the season is coming to a close and a new school year is on the horizon. The new school year brings obligatory tasks and responsibilities. Teachers start prepping their classrooms, and youth ministry leaders begin… uh…
What should youth ministry leaders begin doing?
That’s the interesting distinction about youth ministry—it’s very broad and undefined. Some churches might have a pretty specific job description (you must run a program on Wednesday nights), but many ministries have the freedom to choose their own path striving toward the purpose of reaching young people for Jesus and helping them grow closer to Him. Either road has a starting point.
What is that starting point as the new school year starts taking shape?
In other words, regardless of your job description, are there some basic measures and preparations that today’s youth ministry leaders should commonly be devoted to in preparation for fall ministry?
Here’s where many articles or training workshops might provide you with a checklist of tasks to complete before kicking off fall ministry, but that’s where I’m going to part from the crowd and simply recommend one imperative objective: build a team of caring adults that will love and connect with young people.
That pretty well wraps it up.
I’m not saying that youth ministry leaders don’t have other tasks to check off. You probably should still book the camp for your winter retreat and prepare that talk for next Wednesday. But the one task that is probably the most vital and eventually impactful is mobilizing volunteers that will love and connect with teenagers.
This is just good common sense. Do the math. What would you rather have: one really gregarious, fun, relational youth pastor hanging out with a handful of kids… or a team of about 20 volunteers who are each hanging out with a handful of kids? (Even Jesus, who was extremely relational… and was God, recruited 12 people to help build his ministry.)
Sadly, we’ll often see those ‘Lone Rangers’ who try to do it alone. They claim that recruiting isn’t their forte. “I just love kids. That’s my gift.” That’s great, but what we really need is 10 or 20 people who “just love kids” …not just one. That’s why the person leading a youth ministry needs to strive towards building a team of caring adults who will love and connect with teenagers.
I probably don’t have to convince you of the above. The question is, what does this actually look like? How can a youth worker build a team of caring adults, especially as the kickoff to our fall ministry is rapidly approaching? I see three pillars to building this team: recruiting, training, and equipping. I’ll quickly touch on each:
I haven’t met many youth workers that enjoy recruiting. Maybe that’s because no one likes to be rejected, and we’re scared of hearing “no.” Many of us just avoid recruiting, other than the once a year that we make an announcement in church: “Anyone want to help with jr. high? Anyone? Bueller?”
The fact is, making an announcement is not recruiting. It’s marketing. Recruiting requires asking.
Believe it or not, people want to be asked. What would you prefer, hearing an announcement, or the youth pastor coming up to you and asking you, “Chris, I love your heart for Christ, and you’ve got a gift for making people feel warm and accepted. I’d love your help.”
Flatter someone. Ask them for their help. Start by asking them to be involved in a small way, giving them a taste of how God can use them. You’ll never know if you don’t ask! (More on how recruiting is like dating.)
At the beginning of each school year, I gather my adult volunteers for a time of training. There are numerous ways to train your own volunteers and prepare them for ministry with teenagers. The training I’ve always found the most effective is the “sticky note exercise.”
The sticky note exercise is a training tool I’ve taught to youth workers across the continent providing them a framework to reach kids and help them grow in their faith. (One youth worker just used this training for Spanish-speaking youth workers down in Fusa, Columbia, sending me pictures of their training.)
The exercise is simple: I hand each of my adults a stack of sticky notes, asking them to write down the names of the students they’ve met, one name per sticky note. Then I teach them about the six types of students that we’ll encounter in ministry, ranging from the “No Way Kid” who wants nothing to do with Jesus or the church, to the “Looking for Ministry Kid” who is our next student leader. (I often show them this fun little video giving them a glimpse at all six kids.) Once they understand who the six types of kids are, I place a chart of the six types of kids on the wall, and ask the leaders to come up and place their sticky notes in the appropriate column.
This exercise helps leaders understand three eye-opening truths:
They don’t know their kids as well as they thought they did. They might know their names and their schools, but often they have know idea where they are spiritually.
It helps adults think about each young person’s needs. This gives adults some purpose to their time they spend with each young person.
It provides some accountability to our time with young people. If we meet again in three months and our “Stagnant Kids” are still stagnant… it better not be because of a lack of effort by us.
I’m not claiming that this is the only tool we need to train youth workers. I’ve just found this very helpful in my own ministry, and hundreds of ministries across the world. You might find it helpful as well. Besides, we offer a free ppt of the entire exercise on my website. The exercise and more detailed information about the six types of kids are in my book, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation.
Sometimes the words training and equipping are used synonymously. Personally, I use the word training when I am teaching people, and I use equipping when I am giving them tools to make their job easier. Both go hand in hand.
Once I’ve trained my volunteers, as described above, I like to put lots of resources and continued learning in their hands. Here’re some of the regular resources I like to provide for my adult volunteers:
The YS Update– This weekly update is always filled with great featured articles, as well as links to other youth ministry articles and resources.
My blog– My personal insight into the culture, attitudes, and trends of teenagers in today's media-saturated world. (3-5 times a week)
Youth Culture Window articles– Our ministry provides research into the ever-changing world of youth culture and media (every two weeks)
DougFields.com– Doug’s blog is a great resource and encouragement for any parent and/or youth worker
WaltMueller.com– Walt’s e-Update is a great youth culture resource for anyone working with young people
There are so many more… too many to list. But as you discover them, pass these on to your volunteers. Print them out and discuss them. Keep your adults informed.
Again, too many books to name. But YS just put together a nice little page full of books that help youth workers connect with young people HERE.
Put tools like these in the hands of your volunteers. Give them as gifts. Your leaders will appreciate the help (especially when they are free). Sometimes it’s fun to even read a book together and discuss a chapter together for a few minutes each week.
The sun is setting a little earlier, Wal Mart is beginning to stock school supplies… the school janitor is cleaning the cobwebs out of the school bell. The best practice you can devote yourself to is gathering a group of adults who will love and connect with kids.
What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone and ask that potential volunteer to come scoop ice cream for you this Wednesday.
It all starts with a simple ask.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.