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Equipping Leaders: Three Resources

Let’s face it: college students are not the most dependable volunteer pool on the face of the planet.

The problem goes both ways. Sometimes, college students only show up at youth group for a semester before moving on. And as a result, sometimes youth leaders come to expect that, so they don’t bother investing much time in equipping or training their college students. And, as a result, college students often don’t feel very connected to the ministry. And, as a result….

You get the idea. Vicious cycle. I understand that there’s really no simple way to solve this. College students are in a time where they’re figuring out what God wants them to do with their lives. They’re often busy, distracted, and, well, a little immature (I completely put myself in all of those categories, by the way). They might have overcommitted and genuinely need to cut back, or maybe practical concerns like study abroad get in the way.

So, what’s a youth pastor to do? Well, you could rely on guilt-inducing speeches, or force volunteers to sign a four-year contract. If that’s not your style, here are three simple resources you can provide to encourage college student leaders to get more involved in their students’ lives on a regular basis.

School Calendar

It meant a lot when I showed up at various theater, music, or sports events that my girls participated in. But I know a lot of leaders who only found out about an event a week after it was over when it came up in the “praise” time of prayer requests and felt bad that they hadn’t been there. (“Oh, you won the district soccer tournament? That…cool. Wow. I didn’t even know you played soccer.”) Sometimes, it just doesn’t come up.

That’s why it’s a great idea have school calendars for the leaders and tell them to ask the students in their group at the beginning of every month if there’s a concert or game coming up for them. This is also helpful so leaders know, for example, when the students have a day off school so they can plan a party or hang-out time.

Some school websites have a link to their calendar, but for others, you might need to contact the school to get one, then make photocopies. Make sure you get calendars from all the schools that are represented, even the one that two kids go to, so no one feels left out. (And mention to leaders to check with the homeschoolers and write down anything they might be involved in. Poor homeschoolers sometimes get left out.)

If you have college student leaders, they probably have a ton of things going on. I get that. I was involved in at least three other activities, had a full course load and a campus job, and didn’t own a car. That meant that I only went to a few events per year. But I did what I could. Make sure you emphasize to your leaders that this is not meant to put pressure on them to do everything. It just gives them options for connecting with their students outside of youth group.

List of Names

No matter how often people told me how important it was to pray for the students in my group every day, I would forget. Let’s face it: I am a disorganized, scatterbrained person who does not work well with consistent routine, until I actually wrote down the girls’ names and put the list somewhere where I saw it frequently. That triggered my brain to say, “Oh! You’re supposed to be praying for these girls. Do it now, before you forget.”

For visual people like me, it can help if you print out a list of student names for your leaders and ask them to use it as a prayer reminder. They can highlight the names of students in their groups and just pray for them, if they want. Or, chances are, you’ll have at least a few super-motivated prayer warriors whose spiritual gift is lifting people before the Lord, and they’ll tackle the whole list. Whatever the case, sometimes it’s nice to have a simple reminder.

On a totally non-spiritual note, it helps to have a list of first and last names so you can find students on Facebook. Just sayin’.

Parallel Teaching Schedule

I really had no idea what to call this, but let me explain what I mean. Something that’s really good for college leaders (probably any leaders) to know is what the students are learning in Sunday School, in Wednesday night Bible study, in any programming where they aren’t present.

That might just mean sending an email to leaders with a sentence or two saying, “Hey, just FYI, Sunday mornings the high schoolers are working their way through the miracles of Jesus and talking about whether it makes sense to believe in miracles when we have modern science. If you get a chance, ask them what they think about this.”

If you want honest feedback from your students, this is a good way to get it (they’ll tell their college student leader things that they wouldn’t tell you). It also just helps youth group workers make connections to other things the students are learning.

Because I knew the Bible quizzing team (half my group participated) was studying the epistles, I knew they loved it when I used examples from those books, because they were really familiar with the context. Because I knew that several of my group members were in the weekday morning evangelism training, I could ask how they were feeling about talking to their unsaved friends. It’s great to have that cross-over knowledge.

Chances are, not all of your leaders will make full use out of all three of these resources. But they’re easy to provide, and I think they challenge college students to take their role in the ministry seriously. If you let them know that you expect them to do more than just show up and play dodgeball, maybe they’ll actually exceed your expectations.

Amy Green is an amazing “all-in” volunteer, just graduated from Taylor University and has worked with one group of Junior-high students her whole career in college. You can check out Amy’s blog here: http://justthefiction.blogspot.com/


Motivating Volunteers without Despotism


To give someone responsibility without authority is despotism. To give authority without support is negligence. I have been a negligent despot in my dealings with volunteers. And then I wondered why my volunteers looked bored or were hard to recruit.

Because people work for free they work for a cause. “This also creates a tremendous responsibility for the institution to keep the flame alive, not to allow work to become just a “job.”” Peter Drucker is right. Our volunteers do not need another job, especially one without pay. So how do we motivate volunteers and use them in significant ways. If we discover the answer to this question we will never be short on volunteers.

Michael Csikszentmihalyi (yes, he is Russian) discovered the concept of flow, in which skill and challenge are both high, and a person becomes fully engaged in a significant endeavor. Flow is when the activity brings immense satisfaction and “carries” the person through the experience.

Volunteers Need Challenge

Flow teaches us that volunteers need significant challenge in order to feel strong motivation and pursue a task or relationship. I know what you are thinking: “Youth ministry is inherently hard, no lack of challenge here. Why can’t I find more volunteers?” Certainly, middle school boys Sunday school is often one of the most challenging tasks in the perception of people.

Why would a parent, professional, business owner and board member (all in one person) want to come to a ministry to stand against the wall and make sure teens don’t misbehave? It is not meaningful, not challenging and not using or developing their skills.

He is s a list of a few important ways to provide challenge:


          Hand off the football and follow up

          Give regular feedback. Most all ministries have no formal or non-formal mode for feedback. See this great article for a quick evaluation tool.

Volunteers Need Skill

Challenge is essential yet a true challenge can kill motivation if the volunteer cannot meet the challenge. The requisite skill set must be available in order to inspire and drive the person through challenge toward making a significant contribution. When people have skills and challenges to apply those challenges toward, they perceive their work to be meaningful and will work free. A task without competence only leads to anxiety and fear.  The apostle Paul clearly outlines the requirements of those who are pastor/teachers in Eph 4:11-13. It is common to think that the teacher simply teaches, yet it is clear that our true role in the church is to equip the saints for the work. One of the most dangerous pitfalls we face then is to use people to develop programs. Ministry is the equipping and developing of people to do the works of service. How do you develop a skill in an adult?

            Break it into pieces. The sub-component parts are learned then put together into a whole.

            Modeling is vital. They must be able to see a picture of the desired end.

            Provide specific training for various skills (in house and outside conferences). Train people on how to visit a sick teen, lead a small group, organize a message, etc.


Volunteers Need Support

Ever done a trust fall? For some they are terrifying. Imagine taking the leap without assurance that someone will catch you. To ask a student or an adult to form creative outreaches for hurting teens requires the ability to fail and the permission to do so. Yet people will only act, if failure is possible, when they know that there is a reasonable safety net to catch them. A final area (not addressed by flow theory) is support. We cannot challenge without offering support. Support is offered in order to challenge. Telling people to lead small groups without training or discussion questions signals no support. They will be unwilling to risk and thus the group and the leader will not grow.

Challenge skill and support work wonderfully together. They not only motivate but they reinforce growth and in turn increase motivation—which I believe makes disciples.  

Videos on Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi :

 A three minute 2010 interview on flow theory

 TED talk (18 minutes)

Recruiting Volunteers is about Developing People


Recruiting is not about filling positions for an unpaid job. The way you recruit will be the way they quit. If you grab a volunteer in a hall or on a sidewalk, they may agree to help because of that offhand conversation. It is also likely that they will quit in the same way. “Oh hey, I won’t be coming anymore, gotta run.” Recruiting people to something important doesn’t happen in email blasts, bulleting announcements, or 30 second accidental conversations. Recruiting is fundamentally about developing the people in your organization.

Here are ten vital recruiting principles that live out this philosophy:

Don’t get married on the first date.

Think process or “courtship.” The following method of dating does not usually work: “Let’s cut to the chase…I like you…you like me…let’s get married tomorrow. I know a pastor I’ll give him a call.” Why would it work in recruiting?


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