In my last post, I highlighted 4 aspects of healthy youth ministry. These were relational, proclaiming the gospel, discipleship building, and missional. I mentioned how programs such as lifeteen can incorporate all 4 aspects, most fail to do so. I think the ultimate reason is that most youth ministers become so because they want to interact with youth. While youth ministers do work with youth, the job is multi-faceted in that you are also an administrator, event planner, graphic designer, web designer, social media manager, volunteer coordinator, and whatever else your ministry needs. Because there are so many jobs to do, a youth ministry’s success is determined by the number of volunteers. Having worked with youth ministers in the past, I feel more effort needs to be spent on volunteer recruitment.
Christopher Wesley, the founder of Marathon Youth Ministry Inc, echos this sentiment in his blog post, Let’s Play The Numbers Game: What You Should Be Measuring And What It All Means. He says, “there is nothing wrong with wanting to reach a large number of teens, but to sustain those large numbers, you need volunteers. Once again, Lifeteen’s advice is very insightful regardless of what program you are running. They recommend having at least 2-3 volunteers per event. A semester of youth ministry typically has 8 events. Hence if volunteers serve on rotating bases then you are looking at 24 person team. Not to mention that there are other teams that need volunteers such as
- environmental team- a group of people responsible for decorating the room to fit the theme of the night and setting up equipment.
- hospitality team- a group of people, who check kids into youth night, greet them and provide snacks
Most of the teams I’ve served on consisted of only 4 people and our role was to facilitate small group discussion. The environmental aspects were neglected and the youth minister planned the activity and messages. I do believe that even a small team of 4 people could work; however, I think coordination and communication are needed. I think having weekly team meeting is important in that it gives volunteers an insight into the planning process and helps them contribute. I find it hard to lead a small group discussion when the questions are given to me the night off and sometimes right before the discussion is to take place. More importantly, I think regular volunteer meetings help with volunteer retention in that it helps volunteers to feel a part of something. I did have a youth minister, who did have regular meetings, these were not disclosed upfront and I had made other commitments. An active young adult ministry helps procure volunteers. Christ the King parish in Atlanta, Georgia is an example of a well-run youth ministry, where most of the volunteers come from the active young adult ministry. Sadly though, most youth ministers neglect young adults because they are busy with serving high school and sometimes middle school youth.
However, even if a youth minister is the best volunteer recruiter ever, there may be financial setbacks due to lack of support. Youth ministers are underpaid. I once assisted a youth minister, who was only paid part-time. The lack of a living wage means that there is a heavy turnaround. Even If the job does pay full time, there may be a distinct lack of resources. These can be seen in the Teen hangout space. Ideally, the youth room offers a place, where youth can hang out and want to hang out. The room should include minimalistic furniture and tables, speakers, microphones, and projector. However, these things are expensive. At my current parish, there have been budget cuts and the youth meet anywhere and everywhere that’s open. In addition, programs for youth catechist are not cheap. To run lifeteen for High schoolers and middle schoolers, it cost $1,395. While not enormous for what you get, it still may be too pricey for smaller parishes
There are excellent programs to help develop teenagers into disciples especially Journey to Emmaus and lifeteen. However, programs will only be as deep as the effort that you put into them. If you are forced to cut corners financially or you are short staffed due to lack of volunteers; the effort will be missing and you will not have the manpower or stamina to tackle all 4 aspects of youth ministry. Parishes can help by providing financial incentives or moderate budgets. Parishioners can help by volunteering their time and talent. Youth ministry is not an easy job and it encompasses much more than hanging out with youth.