Most of us would agree that volunteers, particularly small group leaders are absolutely crucial to a strong student ministry. A healthy, mentoring relationship with a caring adult is the one thing we can offer a student that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s is imperative that our small group leaders are amazing! Why is it, then, that we often invest so little in our small group leaders? They ought to be our number one priority.
Years ago, our student ministry team stumbled upon a practice that has transformed our student ministry. I honestly believe that our volunteer team is stronger than any I’ve seen anywhere else and our strength is built upon one simple practice that any student ministry can implement. It’s so simple, easy and cheap that I can’t figure out why more student ministries don’t embrace it. What is it? Cloning. You take your best volunteers and you simply clone them. It’s genius! OK, not really. I mean that would be cool, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Read on.
The super secret amazing practice that we stumbled upon is an hour long, weekly leader meeting, at the beginning of our programming. Seriously, that’s it. Every week, whether we are at one of our church campuses or in homes, the night begins with an hour long leader meeting that includes 4 components: food, community, instructions and training.
Including our leader meeting, our typical night of high school programming lasts for 3 hours. You can’t ask volunteers for 3 hours without feeding them! Besides, food is always a great way to say thank-you and it is foundational for building community, which is what we’re all about.
We believe that small group leaders are at their best when they serve as a community. Weekly leader meetings have helped us build quality community. Here’s how it works: each volunteer is placed in a team of volunteers–usually 8-10 people. This team always sits together at every leader meeting. Our goal is that this team would function like a small group. Eating a meal together every week greatly contributes to the family culture that we’re attempting to build. We firmly believe that in order to build real community you need consistency and time. A weekly leader meeting that includes a meal ensures that both components happen on a weekly basis..
In order for a great night of student ministry to happen, all the key players need to be on the same page. The third component of our weekly leader meetings is instructions. This part is easy and most student ministries already do this. We usually take about 5 minutes to walk through the night and make sure everyone knows what to expect, the goals, and the roles they need to fill. One important point is that all of our volunteers and staff already know what will happen before our leader meeting because they (hopefully!) read our leader blog.
In my experience, most student ministries are somewhere between poor and terrible at training their volunteers. It’s difficult to find time and training events are often poorly attended. What if, instead of 2 or 3 training events throughout the year, you did 30 minutes of training every week? If your student ministry only meets during the school year, like ours, you still get 16 hours of training (32 weeks x 30 minutes of training). And how much do you really think volunteers retain from a 1 or 2 hour training event? Weekly 30 minute trainings are the way to go! We love this model.
So, what do we train them on? All kinds of stuff! We talk about small group leading practices, our philosophy of ministry, how to handle crisis situations, how to talk about sexuality with a students, we invite our best small group leaders to share their best practices, we talk about how to partner with parents, how to do a one-on-one meeting with out being weird…basically, we train them on everything! We find this training time to be incredibly valuable because we know that our student ministry is only as strong as our volunteers. Let’s put it this way: discipleship in your student ministry will only be as effective as your disciplers.
So there you have it–one practice that could transform your student ministry. It’s all about elevating your volunteers through an intentional weekly volunteer meeting. What do you think?
pizza image credited to rdpeyton via Flickr
Lego image credited to Nick Royer via Flickr
Chalkboard image credited to Jeff Warren via Flickr