Training Your Volunteers

rawpixel-com-196464Volunteers are a vital part of having a successful student ministry. Student pastors cannot effectively run their student ministry on their own. They need a team of committed volunteers who love Jesus and love students. Once a student pastor gets a few of these volunteers on their team they then have to decide how they will go about training and coaching them.

I use to get so overwhelmed with thinking through an effective strategy for training my student ministry volunteers. Part of the problem was in how I was assuming that training had to take place. I assumed the only way to train them was to have weekly or monthly meetings where the training took place. I even tried this during one of my first years in student ministry and found out very quickly how difficult it was to get all my leaders there and to actually make it enjoyable for the ones that did show up. After that I went to the other extreme and pretty much did no training. Both were not good and certainly not healthy for our volunteers or the student ministry. I have now found a decent balance in how I train and coach my volunteers. It involves less consistent meetings (who doesn’t love less meetings) and instead a focus on a few major training events throughout the year, ongoing coaching via social media, and the use of helpful resources. Below are more details on those things.

Two major training events. Instead of meeting consistently throughout the year we hold two major training events. One is called Equipped and happens before the school year program kicks off. The second is a mid-year training (we don’t have a catchy name for that one) that happens in January. Equipped is a half-day training event that involves fellowship (we provide food and time for leaders to connect with one another), worship, training sessions (both live and via video), and of course a bunch of free gifts (we try and shower our volunteers with gifts as a way to say “thank you” in advance for the work they are going to put in during the school year). The mid-year training event is shorter and more about touching base and seeing how everyone is doing. We do this one following Sunday worship services and provide lunch for our volunteers. We debrief the year so far and talk about what’s coming up. We also do one training session that is sometimes live and other times done via video. Doing two major training events has been a huge hit with our volunteers. Many of them have very busy schedules and this allows them to actually be at our training events. It also helps us plan these events out and do our best at making them quality events for our volunteers.

Ongoing social media coaching. A few years ago I created a Facebook group just for our volunteers. One of main reasons I created it was to have a quick way to communicate details about upcoming events and such with my leaders. I’ll be honest, the group tends to be used mostly for just that type of thing still. However, one thing I have done and plan to do more of is use it to coach up my volunteers. I can do this through posting articles and videos that may help them minister to students. I can also post quick notes of encouragement to them throughout the year. There are many ways to use a Facebook group like this for our volunteers.

Helpful resources. It’s hard to come up with new training material yourself. There is almost too many resources out there to even try. In addition to great books (that most or not all of your volunteers will probably never read) there are some great online resources that you can use to train your volunteers. You can use these resources at training events (as we did this year) or as an ongoing thing throughout the year with your leaders. Here are some helpful online resources you can use – Download Youth Ministry (grab a DYM silver or gold memersbip and get access to a library of training videos) DYM University (not free but worth the cost), and LeaderTreks. There is more stuff out there but these are three places I go consistently for resources to use when training my volunteers.

Training and coaching volunteers looks different in every student ministry. Student pastors will do well not to just copy what another ministry does but instead find a plan that works for their ministry and volunteers.

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Honduras In Review (Abby)

Recently I went to Honduras with a group of our high school students. I have been using my site as a place for them to write about their experience. If you missed the first post in this series be sure to go back and read it. Below is a few thoughts from another student who went on this trip named Abby Camara.

20045747_1925203837493671_6449662331118335399_o“This summer I took on one of the most challenging adventures of my life, I accomplished a mission trip to Siguatepeque, Honduras. I learned many new things on this trip which God taught me and I would have never been able to learn in the states. God also helped me take many new risks as His follower. When I was on this trip the team quickly became my family and we were as close as could be. During this trip I shared my testimony out loud for the very first time. This was a huge step in my life because some things that are in my testimony I don’t feel comfortable sharing with everyone. Although on this trip I felt like I belonged with everyone on my team in Honduras. I learned many different things throughout the week as I started to tell my story to others, I learned that you cannot be a superhero all by yourself. You cannot change the world, only God can do that. You cannot be your own superhero, God is your superhero. Sometimes you have to totally rely and trust in God, while I found myself only giving some parts of my life to God, I needed to start giving it all to him. I could trust my Savior with anything I needed in my life and he would take my trials and make something good out of them. I also realized on this trip that God will use many situations that he gives you in mysterious ways to help you and others throughout your life. As I shared my testimony with my peers and leaders I ended up helping other people as it proved to others that if you worship the Lord, you can get truly get through anything. All you need is the constant love of the Lord and you can make it happen. God gave me so many blessings on this trip by meeting amazing people such as a women named Elsy, a mother of 6 orphans who lives at La Providencia with her family. Elsy inspired me not only as an incredible mother but in her walk with God, there was a language barrier between me and Elsy but you could see Jesus shining through her wherever she was. She is an inspiration to me as I grow older and want to adopt my own children. Another person who I was completely blessed to meet on my trip to Honduras was JG. JG was my LeaderTreks leader who lived in Honduras and did trips all summer. He changed my way of looking at many situations. As I started to share my testimony and open up more throughout the week he non- stop showed his compassion and love for me. Whenever I needed help he was always there for me, and constantly challenged me to grow spiritually. He saw parts of me that I couldn’t see, such as my ability to be a leader even when I would get stressed very easily and want to give up. Thank you JG for not only changing my perspective on the role of God in my life, but also on myself and how I affect a team. In Honduras I learned a lot, but mostly I learned that I need to sometimes give it to God. Where a problem that I will be keeping for myself to try and figure out, I need to give it to God and have him help me through it. Which made all of the difference of my trip.”

Honduras In Review (Wes)

This summer our high school ministry partnered with LeaderTreks for a short-term mission trip to Honduras. It was an incredible week that allowed our students to serve and grow in big ways! I wanted to give a few of the students a place to share what they learned and how they grew. Wes Gray is a rising senior in our high school ministry. He has been on a few trips with us in the past but this was his first international trip. Read his thoughts below as he shares about his experience in Honduras.

20229857_1929660103714711_5823704956355675678_o“My first missions trip out of the country is definitely one that I will not forget. There is so much that God did through the team during the week. We stayed at La Providencia, which is an organization who cares for widows and orphans. They have taken James 1:27 to heart: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” They don’t give them the leftovers like most cultures do but they put their needs first.

Our team got to be apart of this through manual labor on a worksite and caring for the kids by having a VBS (Vacation Bible School) for them. On the worksite we were hauling dirt to a section to eventually make it the right height to make it into a patio. Also there was a giant trench we had to dig around this area where we would eventually put supports in. On a normal day we would spend 4-5 hours on the worksite. There were so many awesome team bonding moments on the worksite as well. Like when we would try and get everyone excited to go back to work and we would all scream and do something crazy. Also there were great conversations going on as we shared with each other what God was teaching each of us as well. Prayer was a very important part of our days as we very nearly did it before we did anything. This was a key takeaway for me, just how important prayer is and how it is something I should regularly be doing during each day. We saw so much progress throughout the week on the worksite as well which is a big encouragement especially as this was some of the most physically straining work I have ever done. My legs cramped up on a couple different occasions but with encouragement from the team and God given strength I was able to push through.

The VBS was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Everyday as soon as we were done on the worksite we would leave to go to a church about 20 minutes away to hangout with 30 kids. We played soccer with them, jumped rope, colored, made bracelets, and played tag. After a while we would call everyone in and give them a snack and perform a skit for them. Our skits were on the life of Jesus. You would think the language barrier would have been a lot more of a problem than it was; however, we had several team members who could speak spanish quite fluently. The kids were such a joy to be around; even when they didn’t have much they were still overflowing with happiness and that really hit home.

So I have talked about all of the encouraging and positive ways God had connected with me during my trip… Now for the not as fun ways. Three days before we were supposed to leave ⅓ of our team got sick some worse than others. I happened to be one of them. Thankfully I didn’t throw up like some of the other team members but I had other side-effects that we do not need to get into. Lol. Anyway I did not feel my best but when I woke up the next day I was feeling better to some degree and did not have a fever anymore. I was able to work my hardest on the last day on the worksite before we had our day of fun ziplining and going through a waterfall. By the end of the day our team was wiped, but we still finished strong. On our day into the city Lexi (my sister) started feeling awful on our way back and she started throwing up. Then she started hyperventilating. She did it once before when we got rearended together. What happens is her hands clamp up and she loses feeling there and her whole body gets really tingly. The only way to fix it is for her to focus on taking deep breathes but it is hard to do that when you are freaking out. Luckily a US doctor was close by so we were able to load her into a van and take her back to La Providencia. She threw up two more times as well on the way back. Eventually we got her back and she was feeling again and was done thoughing up but she was really tired so she went to bed. Then we both weren’t feeling good on the plane ride back as well. So it seems like I’m just going on a really long rant about why I’m never going to go on a trip like this again, but really it is quite the opposite. God taught me this lesson through it all: He is going to give me strength when I need it and rest when I need it as well, but it is all according to his plan with his mission coming first. So that is the hard lesson I learned, but it was a very important one!”

How To Pull Off An Amazing Student Mission Trip

11539570_790252937762379_9192139287700663945_nEvery summer we take our students on mission trips. For the past few summers we have been taking two trips. One trip is for middle school students and the other one if for high school students. These trips are always the highlight of my summer as I get to see God work in and through our students. I want to share a few tips on how to pull off an amazing mission trip with your students. I hope this will be a help to any student pastors or youth workers out there who may have the opportunity to take students on mission trips.

First, partner with a missions organization, ministry, or a missionary for your trip. Don’t try to pull off a mission trip on your own. It’s not worth it. You will just make it harder on yourself and will keep your students from experiencing the most out of the trip. Instead of going on your own partner with either a missions organization, ministry, or a missionary. For example, for the past few years we have been doing our student mission trips through LeaderTreks. LeaderTreks does a lot of different things but one of the things they do is short-term student mission trips. When you go through LeaderTreks you have the opportunity to partner with an organization that knows the area where you are going, has a few staff people there to help lead your trip, and are trained in the work projects you will do on the trip. By partnering with LeaderTreks we have been able to take our students on mission trips to Dayton, OH, Memphis, TN, Pawley’s Island, SC, Manchester, Kentucky, and Chicago, IL. I’d encourage you to check LeaderTreks out and think about using them for your next student ministry trip. Also, instead of partnering with an organization like LeaderTreks, you can partner with a local ministry or missionary in the area where you are going. Find a ministry or missionary your church supports and have the host and help lead your trip. Serve along side them for the trip and let them lead your group in serving Jesus in that area. They are already doing ministry there and know what is working and what isn’t working. Also, they will be there to continue doing ministry when your team leaves. Whatever you do, don’t do a mission trip on your own. That’s the first step in pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

Second, have pre-trip meetings with your team. Don’t have students sign up, pay, and then a few months later jump in a van or on a plane to head off for your mission trip. Spend time as a team months before the trip to get to know each other better, learn how to work together,  and plan for the trip. We always have four pre-trip meetings with our student teams where we do a Bible study, learn about the area where we will be serving, and planning ministry things we will be doing on the trip. These meetings are key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

Third, take enough leaders. Recruit a few good adult leaders to go on your mission trip. The number of students you have going will determine how many leaders you will need. However, don’t be afraid of taking too many leaders. More leaders will help with things like driving (if you are driving to your location), keeping students safe, building relationships with students, and allowing other leaders to take a few breaks from the craziness of leading teenagers on a mission trip. Make sure you include the trip leaders in your pre-trip meetings and things like that. They are not just chaperones they are a vital part of your team. Taking enough leaders is key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

11200803_1137477229599673_2704302959920021548_nFourth, do a variety of ministry. Plan to do a variety of different ministry things on your trip. You want to expose your students to as many types of ministry as you can. For an example, our Chicago mission trip this summer with our middle school students had a variety of ministry. For the first part of everyday we did construction. It was hard work and very physical. Then in the afternoon we would do different things each day. We did things like a prayer walk in the neighbor where we were staying, VBS in a local park, and a community outreach cookout. This is one of the benefits of going through an organization like LeaderTreks. They plan and allow your students to be a part of different types of ministry throughout the trip. Doing a variety of ministry is always key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

Fifth, have fun! Student mission trips should be fun. Don’t get so focused on “getting work done” that you forget you are leading a mission trip for teenagers. Have them work hard but also play hard. When there is free time let them be crazy! Take some time on the trip to explore the area you are staying and do some sightseeing if you are in a major city or out in the mountains. Spend some time on the beach if you are on the coast. Have some fun with your students. They will appreciate it. Having fun is key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

These are a few things I have seen work for us over the past few years as God has blessed us with some amazing mission trips. I hope they help you lead students on amazing mission trips in the future.

What Our Student Ministry Looks Like During The Summer

31When it comes to the summer our student ministry looks a little different than it does during the school year. We don’t have our weekly gatherings, we don’t have small groups, and we don’t rely on volunteer leaders too much. However, even though it looks different, we still do great ministry in the summer. So here is what our student ministry looks like in the summer.

Community building events. Each summer we plan a few events that could be called “social events” or better yet “community building events.” These are events where students and their friends are invited to come and just hangout. We do things like house parties, pool parties, giant slip n’ slides, cookouts, outdoor movies, and bonfires. These events are great because it allows us to just hangout with students and get to know them and their friends better. These are easy to pull off events that have great impact for our student ministry.

Mission trips. One thing we don’t do in the summer that many student ministries do is camp. We do two retreats (Fall and Spring) during the school year so our students get the “camp” experience during those weekends. When it comes to the summer then we like to focus on taking students on mission trips. Right now we do one trip for middle school and one trip for high school. We have been doing our mission trips through LeaderTreks and we love it! We love the way LeaderTreks combines serving, spiritual growth, and leadership development on their trips. Mission trips are always the highlight of our summer and our students love them!

Give leaders a break. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we do our best to give our volunteer leaders a break. They work hard during the school year and we want to give them a few months to refresh and hopefully gear up to join us again for the new school year. We do take a few leaders on our mission trips and have them help at our summer events but for the most part we try to give them all a break. I have been a part of student ministries that use leaders year around and I have seen how easy it is to burn them out. It’s been beneficial for our leaders to have a few months off for the summer.

Get ready for the new year. We use the summer months to do a few things to get everyone ready for the new school year. We have auditions for our high school worship band, we have a vision meeting for our student leadership team, and we have a training day for our adult volunteers. All these things, and more, help us get everyone from students to leaders on the same page and ready for a new school year of ministry.

That’s a little glimpse into what do during the summer in our student ministry. We are always open to changing things up but for now this has been working for us.