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/ 14 November 2018

Everyone, every week: a youth volunteer team with no rota

Volunteer team on horizon

Well-run volunteer teams are hard to come by. Regardless of a church’s budget for youth ministry, a key aspect of whatever happens for young people will involve a volunteer team. There are many ways to build and maintain a volunteer team, but one church recently caught our eye.

St Stephen’s Twickenham has a fairly large staff team, with two people currently dedicated to youth work – Beth Resch and Josh Felstead. Since they started working at the church, they have been looking for ways to create a team of committed volunteers who are completely invested in serving young people.

Rather than build a team who are carefully rotated and may be involved in several other areas of church ministry, they decided to look for those who wanted to be available solely for young people every week as their main area of service. So far, it’s paid off.

“We’ve managed to build a team who have committed to at least one year to being on the youth team. We don’t have a rota at all as they all know that it’s the main area we want them to be involved in.”

The idea of entirely scrapping a volunteer team rota may sound unsustainable, but they’ve maintained this way of working for a few years now with a fairly small turnover of volunteers.

Spotting potential volunteers

Beth says they look out primarily for congregation members who might be prepared to dedicate time to just being with the young people. Over time they have learned how to spot potential volunteers who would be great, even if they don’t realise it yet.

Being a person who keeps up with the latest trends is a minuscule factor in comparison to the individual personality and gifts that each person can bring to the team. Volunteers who have signed up to the year-long commitment currently include one of the church wardens, as well as a 60-year-old woman who has been on team for over five years.

“We’ve learned the best volunteers for youth ministry aren’t the first to pop into your mind when you think ‘youth worker’…for example, introverted people can be the best listeners and that’s exactly what young people need: someone who will listen to them and help them process life.”

Spotting and connecting with these people is all about being intentional with the time that Beth and Josh spend with the Sunday congregation — any moment of socialisation is a chance to get to know parents, connect with new members and talk about their work with the young people.

When someone joins the volunteer team, they are invested in, connected with the other volunteers and made to feel comfortable. If they realise it’s not working for them, that’s okay, but they’re encouraged to give it a good trial first. Beth makes sure they try and support them as much as they can, with gestures like buying them a meal, meeting for coffee and running a day of training for the team each term.

One the important factors in getting people settled into a commitment to the young people is making them comfortable with the idea that they as a person, with their current gifts and talents, are enough.

“We look out for people who seem true to themselves, so they always bring a new mix of personality and gifts to the team, which outworks itself in great ways. We try to destroy the common idea of what a youth worker looks like, so they know that just being themself is enough.”

Young people and leadership

As well as an adult volunteer team, they’re aiming to create as much space as possible for young people to lead, which reduces strain on the volunteers and gives young people space to own their activity. Opportunities come in various forms, from leading worship and speaking, to bringing snacks or sorting out the technology side. This has led to some amazing moments for the youth group, with some revealing a gift for preaching and others learning the sacrifice of being generous. “The expectation is that everyone serves, but it wasn’t always that way,” Beth says. “We decided to make it a theme for the month once to try and kick-start a culture change, and now it’s just normal.”

The Unity Project

Having two employed youth workers means they can also look beyond the walls of their church, to other churches in the local community. They desire to see greater collaboration in their area for young people, so they started a new project as way to bring churches together and provide something new that helps young people feel part of a much bigger picture.

“We didn’t know any other youth leaders in our area and realised we needed to collaborate across churches to really make an impact in our area. The Unity Project has been a really exciting thing. We always wanted a devolved sense of ownership and the other churches are doing a great job — we’re just facilitating the administration of it and making sure it keeps moving forward. Young people are loving the events so far.”

Each half-term, churches who are part of the project take turns to host an event that the other youth groups can come to. The number of churches involved is growing and it’s now in it’s second year of running. You can find out more about the Unity Project through their Instagram account.

Tips from St Stephen’s for building a volunteer team:

Break down expectations — bring clarity around what you’re looking for them to do:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for commitment up front
  • Offer responsibilities for them to take on (talks, planning, ideas, etc.)
  • Give them permission to take other things on if they want to
  • Clarify your vision for the team

Invest in your team:

  • Eat together (your treat) once a term
  • Organise a day of training regularly

Be intentional with your contact time on Sundays:

  • Connect with parents and your volunteers
  • Connect with new members

Set the bar low and destroy preconceived ideas of what a youth worker looks like:

  • You don’t need to be trendy
  • Introverts are just as great at youth work
  • Be authentic: we need a mix of personalities

Make space for young people to have responsibility:

  • Bringing snacks
  • Working the tech
  • Leading worship
  • Speaking or hosting a meeting
  • Create an expectation that everyone serves

About Levi Phillips

Levi is the Creative Lead for Growing Younger, a priority of the 2030 Vision for churches in the Diocese of London. Levi is part of the Children & Youth Support team, volunteers in youth ministry and leads worship at his local church. Levi completed a degree in Applied Theology before working in marketing and design in the corporate space, bringing both worlds together in his current role.

Read more from Levi Phillips

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