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Keeping Up with the Revolving Door of Youth Leaders

John Gilman June 14, 2016

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Let’s face the facts. Youth programs are revolving doors. Most young people stay involved for 3-5 years before aging out and moving away to college or on to other ministry areas. Youth ministers/pastors don’t last forever. They average just 3.9 years in their position. Youth leaders come and go as the demands of life free up or monopolize their time. (For the sake of clarity, I’m using youth minister to refer to the paid or unpaid head of the youth ministry, and youth leader to describe key volunteers within the ministry.) To keep up with the constant change, churches must build strong programs that allow easy access to people who want to serve and systems that develop great youth leaders.

There are four types of people who make great youth leaders.

  1. Parents of rising students. They have kids, they understand kids, and have a reason to get involved.
  2. Former youth group members. Just make sure they are spiritually and emotionally mature.
  3. Young couples. What’s better than two leaders in one? They can relate to the students and have the energy to keep up with them.
  4. Other older adults. If they love Jesus and enjoy young people, they bring something the other groups don’t. Finding them takes effort, and recruiting them takes finesse.

You have to find these people and make it easy for them to get involved. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Keep your eyes and ears open. Look for people who fit the ministry. When you notice someone make notes in your church management software. Notes will help you remember who you’re targeting and why they might make good candidates. Search your ChMS for people with the interests and skill sets you need.
  • Share the Vision. Once you’ve found a good candidate invite them to lunch or coffee. Get to know them and listen to their heart. If it lines up with yours, share your vision for youth ministry and tell them why you think they might be a a great fit. Your notes will come in handy during this conversation.
  • Don’t forget the background check. Keep your students safe. Use a reputable screening service. Your parents will appreciate your thoroughness.
  • Give them clear expectations. Assume they have no idea what you’re asking them to do. Create explicit job descriptions with defined responsibilities. Give it to them in writing.
  • Let them “date” the ministry. Invite them to serve for a short period of time. Don’t ask for a life time commitment. Don’t make them feel trapped; give them an out. Maybe they can serve at a big event or two separate youth meetings. Ask them to serve and then schedule another meeting to reflect with them on their experience. Discover the things they liked, what they might be able to add to the ministry, and if they can see themselves serving in a more permanent capacity.
  • Create a buffet. Have a variety of service opportunities with varying time demands. Some people can serve every week, others can serve once a month, and some can help out once a year. Some people can share God’s word, a few can lead a youth worship service, others love being security, and some love designing and playing crazy youth games.  Some people can jump right into a lot of responsibility and some can only handle small amounts.
  • (EMT) Equip, mentor, and train. Youth leaders must know how to respond in different situations. Share your church’s policies, ministry philosophy, and train them to minister to young people. Mentor them (or assign them a mentor) to be a resource and guide.
  • Teach them to identify and recruit. Current youth leaders are your best recruiters. Their passion is contagious. They love the students, love the ministry, and know what it takes to make good youth leader. Teach them what you’re looking for and have them share potential leaders with you. (Just make sure you take notes when they do.) You can have them join you when you invite the new candidate out to lunch or coffee.

What’s the best way you’ve found to recruit new youth group leaders and pastors?

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