I am currently in my sixth year of full-time student ministry. It’s been a great first six years and I’m grateful for all the ministry God has allowed me to be a part of thus far. For the last two and a half years I’ve had the privilege of having some interns on my team. It’s been a blast working with them and they have brought a lot of needed energy and support to our student ministry. I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned so far in my short time of working with interns. I hope these things help you as you work with them as well.
Listen to them. Interns join your team because they want to learn and gain experience. It’s appropriate then for them listen to us as we lead and direct them. Interns should have a teachable spirit and always be open to our guidance, instruction, and even correction. However, how many times do we actually stop talking and do the listening? I’ve learned in my short time of working with interns that they often bring a lot of great ideas to the table. These are usually ideas that I should listen to and even consider. There has been numerous times where my interns have put an idea before me and my knee jerk reaction was to push back. However, I’m learning that’s an unwise thing to do. Instead, I should listen and consider.
Don’t be afraid to implement their ideas. As I said before, we should listen and consider when our interns bring us an idea. If their idea is a good one and we have decided it’s something we should do then we got to take the step and actually do it. It’s ok that’s it not “your idea.” In fact, have the integrity and humility to admit that and even make it known this was their idea. Leadership isn’t always about having “the idea.” Many times we as leaders need to get the right people on our team and empower them and their ideas.
Give them ownership. I stated earlier that interns join your team to learn and gain experience. The best way for them to do that is not to read books or just sit back watch you lead. Those things can be helpful but the best way for an intern to learn and gain experience is through them actually doing something. This is why we must give them ownership over things in our ministry. This should be a mix of random things but also something that can be all theirs. Let me explain how this looks in our ministry. First, my interns do a bunch of random stuff. It may be teaching one week and then the next week they could be creating graphics. The beauty of student ministry (or church ministry in general) is it’s the type of environment where interns can get experience doing a lot of different things. However, we also give our interns something that is all theirs to run with. For our ministry that is a Sunday morning worship option for middle school students called Tank Time. Our interns run it week in and week out. They come up with the ideas for games, teaching, and other elements. I obviously give oversight to it but I try and stay hands off so they can run with it. Whatever you do just give your interns ownership. This will help them gain the experience they are looking for.
Let them make mistakes. Another way they can learn and gain experience is through making mistakes. There has been times I could have stopped an intern from making a mistake but I let them move forward and make the mistake so they can have the experience of failing and learning from it. This isn’t an easy thing to do. As leaders we want things to be done right and smooth but sometimes we need to be ok with something going wrong for the sake of learning and growing. I’m not suggesting we do this without discernment. There are times and some situations we need to stop our interns from making a mistakes. There are some things we have to not let happen. This is where knowing your own context and knowing what things must go smooth and what things can go wrong and it still be ok. Use discernment but at the end of the day give your interns space to fail. They may not like it but it will help them.
Push them. Interns are usually worked harder then they would wish. However, that’s part of them gaining experience. They need to be pushed. However, this doesn’t mean just being pushed to work long days and hours. This also means being pushed to do new things and things they may not be comfortable with. This also includes them doing things outside their passion and gifting. Interns need to be pushed. That is part of them growing and learning.
Working with interns is fun. If you’re in student ministry I hope you have a team of either paid staff or volunteer surrounding you. In addition to those people I hope you have the chance to work with some interns. They will bring an element to your team that is not only fun but very beneficial.
Recently I had the privilege of being featured on Word of Life Local Church Ministries new student ministry podcast called Multiply. This is a great new resource I’d encourage anyone in student ministry to check out. For one of the episodes of this podcast I had the chance to talk about running an effective weekly gathering for students. In it I talk about setting the right atmosphere, how to run games, using adult and student leaders, where does teaching and worship fit, and more. Click the link below to check out this particular episode. When you’re done I’d encourage you to listen to the other episodes as well.
Multiple (Episode 2: How to Run a Weekly Youth Meeting)
Volunteers 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.
Some of my best student ministry volunteers are former students. For many years I overlooked former students and never recruited them to come back and be volunteers in our ministry. However, in the past few years I’ve leaned into this group and seen more and more of my former students come back to serve as volunteers.
We do have a policy that former students must be a year removed from high school before they can serve in our high school ministry. Because of this many of my former students start out serving in our middle school ministry.
I’m convinced that former students have the potential to be your best volunteers. Here are three simple reasons why I believe that.
1. You know them. One of the great things about using former students as volunteers is the simple fact that you know them. You have probably spent a few years getting to know them, pouring into them, and seeing them grow. You have a decent grip on their strengths and weaknesses. You know their personality and how they operate. Usually when you recruit a new volunteer you know next to nothing about them. All you know is what they shared in their application or when you met with them a few times. However, former students you know and this will help you put them in the right spot within your ministry.
2. They know you and your ministry. Not only do you know them but they know you. In addition to knowing you they also know your ministry. They probably have a good understanding of what you want your ministry to look like and be about. They know the culture and vibe of your ministry. This will save them much time and energy as they set out to be volunteers in your ministry. Sure there will be some things they don’t know. It will be new for them to be on the “leader side” of the ministry. However, they will know more than the normal new volunteer so that’s a plus.
3. They want to give back. The reason most former students come back to be volunteers is so they can give back to the ministry. Usually these are students who God impacted in huge ways through your ministry. Because of this they want to come back and be a part of God doing that for other students. This is the main reason they make great volunteers – they have experienced God through your ministry and they now want to help other students experience the same thing. That’s awesome!
Don’t overlook your former students when you think about volunteers for your ministry. Reach out to them and get them plugged in. They will make great volunteers in your ministry.
For a church to have a healthy student ministry it needs more than just a student pastor or director. A good student ministry should certainly be led by a gifted, passionate pastor or director but that person will need a solid team of volunteers working alongside them. It’s important student pastors understand this and make recruiting volunteers a priority in their ministry.
Recruiting volunteers seems like a never ending task in student ministry. One of the big things I do every summer is recruit new volunteers. It’s part of the job of being in charge of a student ministry. I want to suggest a few tips that have helped me in regards to recruiting volunteers.
Don’t make a desperate call, instead, personally recruit volunteers. The easiest way to recruit volunteers for your ministry is to put something in the bulletin or say something from upfront during announcements. This isn’t the worst thing you can do but it certainly makes it difficult as you will have many people “sign up” and you may have to turn some of them down because they are not a good fit. However, if you’re willing to just let anyone serve in your student ministry you can go this route. I’d caution anyone on this and encourage them instead to personally recruit volunteers rather than just make a massive call. This will allow you to find the right people for your ministry. This takes much more time and energy but I believe it’s the best way to recruit volunteers for your ministry. Before moving on, let me just add this – if you are going to make a call for volunteers (whether that’s online, in the bulletin, or from upfront) be sure to have a application process so you can find the right volunteers. More on this process next.
Have a process. Don’t just let people sign up and become a volunteer without you having them go through a short process. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Our process for bringing new volunteers on board is pretty simple. First, I meet with them one on one to share with them what our ministry looks like and explain to them the areas they can serve. During this meeting I usually try and find out where they best fit within our ministry based on their passions and gifts. Second, they fill out a short application. This allows me to get to know them a bit more and gives them the opportunity to share their faith story. Sometimes people will fill the application out before I meet with them. Third, we background check the potential volunteer. Everyone that serves in our ministry must have a background check. Whatever your process is, please don’t skip this! This is important for your church and for the safety of your students. Once these three steps have happened I bring the volunteer on board and they start to serve.
Look for young and old. Strive to not have a volunteer team that is made up of people of the same age. It’s easy for student pastors to fall into the trap of thinking the best volunteers are college students and young adults. There are many valuable things this age group brings to the table so by all means recruit them! However, realize some of the best student ministry volunteers in your church may be older individuals. Strive to build your volunteer team with people from all age groups and seasons of life. This will bring excitement, balance, and maturity to your team.
This is just a few tips to help you recruit volunteers for your student ministry. Here are a few resources that may help you in this area: Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry by Darren Sutton, The New Breed by Jonathan McKee and Thomas McKee, and Youth Pastor (chapter 9) by Houston Heflin.