Utilizing Youth Ministry’s Number One Treasure

Youth Specialties
December 2nd, 2014

Original photo by Barbara L. Slavin.

One of the most common ailments that I encounter in youth ministries across the country is the problem of attracting volunteers. No matter the denomination, region, size of church, or city, youth ministers have the common problem of meeting their volunteer quotas. While the problem is common, the surface reasons vary from church to church:

– Parents don’t want to work with their youth

     – There aren’t enough young adults/college students

     – The few volunteers who do help are burned out—and no one is replacing them

     – Youth workers don’t want to pressure adults too much—they’re really busy

     – Or the adults will mess up what we’re doing, even if they want to help

     – Youth workers think they can do it themselves

More times than not, it’s a combination of many things, not usually the least of which is the general reluctance of the youth minister. Jesus talked directly about this. Do you remember when he talked about not casting pearls in front of swine? See, the problem in the parable is that pigs do not care about the intrinsic value of pearls. They disregard them and continue doing what they’re doing.

For so many years in youth ministry, I was a pig. There were parents who would volunteer, stick around late on a Wednesday, and even give very helpful suggestions.  So many times I would just take them for granted, think I knew more, and disregard them. I was a fool. I kicked aside one of the greatest treasures in youth ministry: parents and adults who care.

The lesson? Don’t be a pig.

Three “Attractions” of Youth Ministry for Adults

Some of you might want to call me on this already. You’re thinking to yourself, “The only things I hear from parents are petty complaints and a lot of ‘never good enough.’”

You might be right and I do understand that—I used to hear my fair share of it too.  But, when I look back, I realize that some of that was my fault. I wasn’t making the ministry attractive. When I first started in youth ministry, I thought I was a purest. I believed that ministry should not have to be attractional and that people should just want to work with our students.

The reality is that everyone, including you and me, have a million things that are constantly pulling at us, askig for one more glance, one more dollar, one more second of attention. Each of us wants to invest ourselves in things that matter and things that are truly worth our time. Babysitting a bunch of unruly teenagers is not on the top of your or my bucket list, and I can guarantee that it’s also not on the top of the list of any adult in your church.

What’s that you say? It’s more than baby-sitting? It’s an opportunity to pour into their lives? It’s as rewarding to you as it is to them?

Great. Now you’re on the right track—and that’s attractional.


There are no adults who will get excited about just being a warm body in a room. If you want good quality adults, then you to have good quality jobs with real expectations. Adults are just as, if not more, nervous than the kids. It’s hard to step into a room with 30 junior highers and not know a single one of them. It makes it a lot easier to step into that room if you have a defined job that you can go and do, and then create and work on relationships within that structure.

We have to help adults understand themselves as co-ministers in the student ministries that we run. They have to realize that they have even more ownership and buy in than we as youth ministers do. It’s their church, their kids, and their ministry—we’re simply partners who get to come alongside the church to curate the ministry that God has called us to do.

So, help parents and adults understand the youth ministry and their place within it. Help empower them to own the ministries in which they are involved. Help them be exactly what God is calling them to be; mentors, leaders, disciples, and ministers.

Enlisting in a Movement

As you’re engaging these adults, make sure they know what they’re getting involved with. We should never be asking our adults to be drivers, dinner server,s or small group leaders. Those are tasks. No one needs more tasks. We have to understand and make sure our adults understand that they’re not volunteering to do a task—they’re enlisting in a movement.

If you’re having a hard time getting others to come and co-minister with you, you might want to take a step back and figure out if you’re running a youth program or if you’re leading a movement. Movements exist to change, to push forward, and to create systemic footprints. Programs take up space.

Now please hear me: Even a movement requires organization and good communication to grow. So don’t use the idea of a movement to be sloppy.  A movement calls others to its purpose and encourages and empowers others to do their part and to lead in their own ways. Movements are exciting , fresh, and innovative. Jesus led a movement.

And your adults and students want to be a part of a movement, something that is bigger than themselves. So, enlist them and give them that opportunity.

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of “Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time.” organicstudentministry.com

Youth Specialties

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.