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As we continue working our way through chapter two of, Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about volunteers in our youth ministries. Listed as number three of Mark's five NORMALS (read my comments on numbers one and two by clicking here) we read that the recommended ratio of volunteers is 5;1. That's one adult for every five students.
This isn't, nor should it, be a surprise. I think that most organization hold to a similar ratio of 5:1. Most youth ministries I am acquainted with stick to a 5 to 1 standard. When I worked as a summer camp director, our cabins slept 12; 10 students and 2 counselors. That's five students to every one counselor. Just recently, our Presbytery held it's annual winter retreat, we required participating groups hold to a 5:1 ratio and they did.
But I guess what strikes me with this NORM, is that there are still youth workers shouldering the weight and responsibility of their ministry by themselves, serving as lone rangers. Even more disappointing is that there are church's who still think that one paid staff position is sufficient for growing a healthy and dynamic youth ministry. This is both unhealthy and dangerous.
I know we will talk later with more detail about the need and benefits of volunteers serving in your ministry, so we'll safe that aspect of this discuss to then. However, i want to begin the conversation with the question, " Why do you think it's okay to carry the ministry on your own back?"
I don't remember when it first occurred to me to have volunteers working with students. I guess that always having volunteers helping in various ways implanted on me that volunteers were just a part of leading a student ministry. That being said, there have been seasons when having volunteers have been 1. absent, or 2. few and far between.
In 1999, as I started my very first full-time position, and quickly discovered that it was up to me to figure out our staffing solution. I had a great pool of parents who were willing to help, and help they did, in many wonderful ways. But when looking for help on a weekly basis, I often heard comments like, "That's my kid's space, I don't want to cramp his style." So, much of that first year the ministry leadership fell on me and my wife. Fortunately for me, my wife was an amazing volunteer and support, and an awesome youth worker!
That first year proved to be a challenge as we had to over come a number of issues that I count as "on-the-job-training." But one of the bigger things I learned was that if I had any hope for growth, I would need help. Thankfully, that first year our numbers were low enough that my wife and I were able to manage and care for the students who were participating on a weekly basis. But year two brought a different situation.
One of the bigger things I learned was that if
I had any hope for growth, I would need help.
At one of my first youth worker conventions, it was impressed upon me that having volunteers was more than simply filling empty chairs with warm bodies. If I was going to have a team of volunteer leaders serving and caring for our students, they needed to be volunteers that understood the purpose, strategy, and significance of the youth ministry. It had to be a calling.
At that moment, my search for volunteer leaders began. But it was a search to fill empty slots. My search began on my knees, asking God to send me the leaders he wanted to serve and care for his students. And God be praised, he did. Those leaders changed everything. Like I said, we'll talk more about volunteers later.
For now, let's at least consider the need for volunteers. A 5:1 ratio provides reasonable care expectations, healthier manageability, and safer conditions for the group as a whole. Leaders can be a tremendous help with planning and executing of events and activities. Volunteers become cheerleaders for your ministry. Volunteers grow in their own faith and discipleship as they come alongside students. And volunteers make ministry fun.
If you are a youth worker, currently leading your group, or a church leader who is watch your youth director struggle along, please take some time to talk about how volunteers and how they might play and important part in growing your sustainable youth ministry.
To learn more about my year-long experiment, visit my The Sustainable Experiment page!
Disclaimer: This is an independent study. I am in no way affiliated with the author or
the organization the author represents.
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 28 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently serving as the director of family ministry at a church, located in West Virginia. Jay has been married to Amy for over 23 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.