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By Amy Green.
I’ve often made the somewhat-bold claim that the most important thing for youth leaders to do, besides showing up and loving God, is to learn students’ names.
That may seem like an overstatement at first. But some of the verses about God that are most comforting are the ones that talk about how he knows individual details of our lives, like how many hairs are on our heads, every day that we will live, and, most importantly, our names (Matt. 10:30, Ps. 139:16, John 10:3). God loves the world, sure, but God also loves Amy, and when I realized that in jr. high, that made more of an impact on my life than any generic gospel presentation.
So, if God knows each of our students’ names, we probably should too.
One time, I was watching a leader telling an unruly twelve-year-old to be quiet during lesson time. “Why should I listen to you?” the kid demanded. “You don’t even know who I am, do you?” And the leader couldn’t say anything, because he didn’t.
Once you treat the students as individuals and show that you care about them, you earn the right to correct them, to hear their secrets, to be trusted and respected and greeted with a high five that will make your hand throb for fifteen minutes afterward. It’s a simple but powerful way of letting them know that you care.
Obviously, learning names can be hard, especially in a large group of students (and especially if everyone in the congregation decided to name their kids after major Biblical figures). Here are some tips for learning names:
- If you’ve gotten “out” during dodgeball or are waiting in line for kickball, point out a few people you don’t know and ask another leader or some of the kids what their names are. Then cheer them on when they score or do something impressive in the game. It’ll cement the name in your mind.
- Play name game icebreakers every now and then. Yes, they’re a little corny, and not quite as fun as having a water balloon war or playing human foosball. But they actually do help. And maybe you can find a way to combine water balloons with a game that helps you (and the students) learn names.
- This is one of my favorite lines: “Hey, what’s your name? I need to know in case a large heavy object falls from the sky and I have to yell your name before it crushes you.” This is especially popular with jr. high boys, who otherwise get super uncomfortable when talking to female leaders for the first time.
- Ask for a way to remember the person’s name. It doesn’t even have to make sense. When I asked Caleb, one of my jr. highers, to give me an association with his name, he said, “I like bacon, and there’s a spy in the Bible named Caleb.” Now, what bacon had to do with the Bible is beyond me (it’s not even a kosher food). But I still remember his name, so it must have worked.
- If someone tells you their name, immediately use it in conversation with them several times. “So, Kaitlyn, how many more weeks until spring break?” “Are you going on vacation, Kaitlyn, or just staying at home?” It may seem forced to you, but as long as you drop it in naturally, no one else will notice. This will help other leaders learn the name too.
- When in doubt, just say the name, even if you’re not sure it’s right. The other person will correct you. It’s not a big deal, and it’s better than just awkwardly ignoring them for a full year.
Once you know names, say them all the time. Attach them to every greeting. Use them when you’re calling for volunteers. Chant them obnoxiously during game time. Let them know that you know who they are and that they matter.
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/
Lessons Learned as a Volunteer
By Amy Green
Admit it: we all secretly miss being in youth group. Okay, so maybe we could do without the drama, the awkwardness, or the hormonal-charged confusion of how to interact with the opposite gender. But there’s something special about singing to worship songs with simple chords, sharing testimonies at summer camp, starting to ask questions about faith, and eating insane amounts of pizza without worrying about the calorie count.
Maybe that’s why college students tend to volunteer as leaders in youth groups. As a newly graduated college student, I don’t have deep theological musings to share. But I do know the six most important lessons I learned as a college student volunteer. Here they are.
- Being there long-term matters.
I put this first because it’s the single most important thing I could say to college students considering working with a youth group. If you know you can only help out for one semester, that’s fine. But make sure the students in your group know that.
And, if you can, stay. When you’re invested in a ministry long-term, you develop better relationships. The students know they can trust you and talk to you, because you’ll be there for them.
2. It’s important to learn names.
To be honest, I am terrible with names. It took me two months and lots of mistakes to get everyone’s names, but I was determined to do it, and that made a big difference. When you use students’ names, they know you care about them. They are people, not just anonymous sugar-crazed packages of hormones. Learn those names and use them. It matters.
3. You’re not always going to feel like going to youth group.
No, seriously, you’re not. Some days, you will be stressed and tired and have a million things to get done before tomorrow. Some days, you think you just cannot handle being around people even more immature that the obnoxious sophomore down the hall. Some days you will just feel burnt out.
Because part of becoming an adult is doing things that you don’t really feel like doing. You won’t always feel like going to work or dealing with a discipline problem with your child, or even loving your spouse. But you do it regardless. That’s discipline, and starting to develop it now is going to make the rest of your life a whole lot easier.
4. There is not a “youth leader” stereotype you need to fit.
Listen, if anyone should be labeled, “not cool enough to be a youth group leader,” it would be me. My athletic ability is nonexistent—I can’t even throw a Frisbee. I hate public speaking. I’m not an education or Bible major. I’ve never had a boyfriend and absolutely hate Justin Bieber and One Direction (if you don’t know why those are anti-qualifications for being a youth group leader, you’ve clearly never been around jr. high girls).
But guess what? I love God, and I love teens. There you go.
There is no one way to serve and get to know the students in your group. I’m a writer. I wrote each of them a note of four or five line every week on scrapbook paper. Sometimes it was a favorite verse, sometimes something I appreciated about them, sometimes just what I did that weekend. Most never wrote back, but I heard from several parents who told me that their girls kept every note and put them in a folder or arranged them in a pattern on their wall.
Show love in whatever way you know how. It makes a difference.
5. Watch what you do during the week.
I write a blog, and let me tell you, there’s nothing for accountability like knowing the students in your small group are reading every post (and sometimes their parents). Same thing with Facebook posts and pictures. Every once in a while, I go through my closet and ask, “Would I wear this in front of my jr. high guys?” If the answer is no, I get rid of it. More than one short-ish dresses and skits have found their way to Goodwill through this process.
I’m not saying you should become paranoid about how every action could be perceived. But if you’d be ashamed if one of your students grabbed your Ipod to listen to on the bus, or if you blush when you find out that they saw that dance routine you put on YouTube, then maybe something’s wrong.
6. Set the example.
Trash is full? Go empty it. Someone needs to get snacks ready instead of playing soccer? Volunteer. Really shy kid always sits by himself? Talk to him. Do the stuff that no one else wants to do. Trust me, your students notice. When I was in high school, I still remember when my leader collected everyone’s empty plates after lunch. Now, that’s what I do, because I learned what it meant to be a servant from her.
Sure, as a college student, it’s easy to help with youth group to get that sense of being a teenager again. But what made that a great experience for you? Probably the people who cared about you and took the time to invest in your life. So be that person for someone else.
Amy Green is an amazing “all-in” volunteer and just graduated last month from Taylor University. She 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/
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 :
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?
People are not assets. Assets are used for a purpose. The problem is that once you spend them they are gone. We all have those people on our list we are saving for the really big favor: Middle school boys Sunday school. They will say yes but we know we can’t ask every year and we don’t want to use that commodity until it’s a last resort.
Seeing people as a resource is a very different approach. The idea is that people are capable of development. Instead of using them up doing tasks we should view the tasks as serving the growth and gifts of people. The organization that wastes its greatest resource solely on projects and programs will find it runs out assets. Proper care, development and management of people as resources will see an increase that will continue to bear fruit.