Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Importance of Empowering Volunteers

One constant struggle in many youth programs is finding people who will REGULARLY commit to attend your meetings and be with the students. Some people are reluctant to do this. Others are doing it because church policy requires more than one adult at the meetings. Then others just jump in with both feet and may cause more problems than if they had never come at all. Recently, despite all the adults we had attending our meetings, things were still getting out of hand with the kids and my workers were sitting there somewhat idle. I was trying to figure out why I was doing most, if not all of the discipline. I approached my volunteers at our youth team planning meeting and realized that they were not sure if I wanted them to do that or not. You see, for me, being in youth ministry, I have a clear idea of what I expect from my kids and my workers and how things should flow on a Sunday or Wednesday night meeting. However, I had not passed that information on to the parents and workers. They did not know what my expectations were of them and did not want to overstep, so they sat on the sidelines at our youth meetings. This was a HUGE error on my part. So in the interest of time, I created a few basic guidelines for behavior at youth meetings to give them then we discussed them at our next meeting.

You see, with different types of parents and volunteers who use different styles of parenting and different ways of relating to the kids, these parents and workers have different ideas of what should and shouldn't be done at meetings. Ultimately, though, they need and to know what we and the church expect of them. So, here are three things we need to do with our workers:

1. Give them clear guidelines on discipline and expectations. Make sure they understand what behavior is inappropriate and acceptable. I'm not a big fan of placing rule posters all over the room...I think that sends the wrong message to the kids. So make sure youth workers know where the lines are and give them the freedom to enforce them. Ideally, these guidelines can be decided by the team of workers who attends youth meetings, but if it will be a while before your next meeting, the guidelines may just need to be given to them from you. This will be easier if the rules are more tangible (i.e. nobody outside the building unless we all go outside as a group or your ride is here to pick you up). The more vague a guideline is, the more reluctant your volunteers will be in enforcing them.

2. Make sure they understand that youth ministry is relational--you WANT them to interact with the kids. They need to know they have the freedom to engage the students, ask them about their day at school, and build those relationships with them. It may sound obvious to us, but many youth volunteers may not realize they need to do this or that we want them to do this. Help them understand that you as a youth minister cannot personally get to know each kid in the program and that your personality will click more with certain kids. Help them understand that you need their help to build relationships with kids in the group.

3. Thank them for their time in volunteering. For some who feel obligated to help, it may be an uncomfortable experience to get involved with the kids. It doesn't hurt to pat them on the back for a job well done. This can be as quick as an email, a note in the snail mail, a "thank you" announcement from the pulpit on Sunday, or maybe take them to lunch with your robust professional expense budget! Whatever you do, make sure your youth workers understand you appreciate what they do for your teens.

1 comment:

Russ Bowlin said...

Glad you started a blog. I look forward to reading your thoughts and claiming them for my own ha.