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Five Ways You Can Lead Student Volunteers Better

When you work in kids ministry, you know volunteers are a big part of your success. Your volunteer teams on any given weekend can singlehandedly make or break the ministry experience for families. And it never fails: At the most inopportune times, it seems like everyone calls in sick and you’re in a tough spot. It’s time to start further building your team! Time to get some students on board.

Now a lot of you are probably internally groaning at this suggestion. I get it. Teenagers have the reputation of being flaky and unreliable. And when you’re already scraping the bottom of the volunteer barrel some weekends, adding more stress to that process sounds like a nightmare. Again, I get it. But hear me out: Students are your best source of untapped volunteer energy. They just need you to lead them well. Here are a few quick tips to help you do just that.

Set appropriate age restrictions.

If your kids ministry doesn’t already have a policy about volunteer ages, you need to put one in place. Students are not allowed to serve on my team until they are out of kids programming (entering 6th grade). They can serve in other areas of our kids ministry, but must be accompanied by a parent until they get to 6th grade. Your rules may look different, but establishing these restrictions is crucial to maintaining a volunteer base that is age-appropriate. Make sure whatever you decide is enforced consistently, across the board.

Set clear expectations for them.

When you don’t give students a clear objective, most will fail every time. Not because they’re bad people, but because they’re teenagers. Their brains aren’t fully developed yet. They need you to spell it out for them, and they need you to be clear and straightforward when doing so. Will this seem silly to you at times? Yes. But take the time to get it right the first time—and be willing to say it a second and third time if you have to. The bottom line is this: Give them ridiculously clear expectations, and don’t be afraid to set the bar high.

Utilize alternative forms of communication.

I use Planning Center to schedule and communicate with all of my volunteer teams. But a lot of students aren’t great with email. Does that mean I bypass Planning Center for my student volunteers? No way. Sometimes it means I need to follow that email up with a text or a snap. So go to where they are. Communicate on their level. Embrace the way they talk to one another. Contrary to popular belief, students are fantastic communicators. But don’t make the mistake of relying on email alone to get the job done.

Be relentless in your follow-up.

As I said previously, you should follow-up with expectations, follow-up with communication. Follow-up constantly with your student volunteers. Does this add more work to your weekly to-do list? Of course it does. But is the pay off worth the extra work? Every single time. Students may need a few extra reminders, but you’ll be glad you did.

Publicly recognize them when they do well.

Everyone likes being encouraged, but I think teenagers crave it more than most. I like to leverage social media to recognize volunteers who are doing a particularly good job. I try not to make it an every week thing (serving isn’t about being recognized, after all), but I do think it’s important for us to celebrate them when they’re making a difference, even if it’s as a group and not an individual. A little encouragement goes a long way with students.

Investing in the process of leading student volunteers isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it may be very difficult at times. But when it’s done well, your volunteer teams will be better for it. The kids in your ministry will be better for it. And I guarantee you that those students will be so much better for it. Serving in a meaningful capacity can take a teenager’s faith to an entirely new level. Involving them in your volunteer teams could make all the difference in how they see Jesus. That’s everything.

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