Why we don’t want helpers

We don’t want helpers in our youth ministry

It might sound counterintuitive, but we don’t want helpers in our youth ministry.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we (desperately!) need help in the youth ministry that we’re running. We NEED people to meet and greet our kids. We NEED people to register them. We NEED people to challenge the young people at table tennis. We NEED people to kick the kids’ butts on the Xbox. We NEED people to listen and chat to them. We NEED people to share their story with them. We NEED people to speak life into their situations. We NEED people to take an interest in their lives. We NEED people to love them.

What we DON’T need in youth ministry is just helpers or ‘bodies’ to do the above.

Plugging gaps

Church is increasingly busy with almost an uncountable number of different ministries (sorry, ‘opportunities’) and it seems harder than ever to get people to see the value of youth ministry and have the passion to get involved. We have come to the conclusion that it’s not hard to get people in to cover tasks temporarily. There are countless numbers of people who would help with short notice to fill a role, plug a gap, firefight for an evening. There are many willing people, who, if we were struggling for bodies to run a youth session, would be more than willing (joyful even!), to lend a temporary hand. We are so, so grateful for these people.

Plugging gaps fails long-term

Plugging gaps is necessary in any youth ministry. There will always be times where a volunteer has to drop out last-minute or times where more kids than you imagined turn up to a random event (more than you can cater for). The trouble is, if plugging gaps (or rotas!) becomes ‘the norm’, the youth ministry might be in danger of being a ticking time-bomb. The longer plugging gaps goes on, the longer people dip in and out to help, the less connected the youth group will feel and the trusted and stable relationships with adults that young people need and crave will be severely lacking. We need people not just to ‘pitch in’ and help. We NEED people to see the vision, join on the crazy train journey and LEAD our young people.

Helper terminology

Part of the problem with helpers is to do with the terminology. The word ‘helper’ suggests assistance. It gives the impression that what you are doing is useful, and helpful, but not essential or at least not essential every week (we love rotas! Not…). The word ‘helper’ indicates that you have some part to play, but you’re not needed on the frontline and you’re certainly not part of driving the vision.

We stopped asking for helpers

We have seen it so many times. Leaders of various ministries taking to the stage and asking (begging!) for helpers to get involved in their ministry area. The focus is often on outlining the task and the amount of time the task is likely to take. It says to the congregation, “Come and get involved in the ministry that I lead. All I need is for you to do this little bit and then leave, thank you very much. Come on, it’s all for God, even your little bit”.

There is a lot of truth to that. It is for God. Your little bit. It’s all for God.

However, with youth ministry in particular, we don’t want people coming to give their little bit and then leave. We’ll take it when we are down a leader or two and we’re grateful for it. But there’s no future in a youth ministry which is operating out of ‘little bits’ and plugging gaps.

Leaders of young people

What we NEED is leaders of young people. These are people who love young people. These are people who catch the vision when it is cast. These are people who want in for the long-haul. These are people who don’t just want to do their term and move on to other ministries. These are people who are interested in investing into learning and developing to become EVEN BETTER leaders of young people. These are people who will remember what a young person told them as they broke down last week and makes sure to check up on how things are going a week later. We need consistency and continuity. Tragically, they might not get that anywhere else.

Let that sink in.

Lead small

A lot of people would agree that youth ministry isn’t just about turning up on a Friday night. To have any chance of keeping youth beyond their early teens and discipling them long-term, people involved in youth ministry need to be willing and excited about the prospect of ‘doing life’ with a bunch of teenagers. The book ‘Lead Small’ by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas outlines an excellent, and from our perspective, workable model for youth leaders to lead small groups of young people. The book is available on Amazon.

Why small groups

Traditionally, the main youth leader / pastor might be the main point of contact for young people and their parents, but this is ultimately flawed in the long-term. This is because a single youth leader can only reach a certain number of young people with any meaningful level of depth. This number might be less than the number of fingers and thumbs on two hands. To reach beyond this, we need to encourage and help empower other leaders to do the same. The theory goes that the more youth leaders you have, the more kids you can disciple.

Keep on recruiting

You might currently have enough youth leaders to staff the number of young people attending your youth group. That’s great, but if you want to grow you’ll need to recruit more leaders to disciple your small groups (not helpers). The position we want to be in, is having more youth leaders than we need because then when new kids come through our doors, there is a greater chance of them getting KNOWN on a meaningful level if there is a youth leader currently caring for no more than 4-5 other young people and out on the hunt for more! In our eyes, recruiting is never done.

For one idea on how to further engage youth leaders, read about our experience of using panel questions to increase each youth leaders’ purpose in, ‘You asked for it: tackling the BIG questions’.

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