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/ 15 September 2015

Top tips for building a youth team

Volunteers' hands

As a youth leader at a few different churches and various missional contexts over the last ten years, I’ve seen various good and bad ways to raise teams. I’ve also picked up many great tips from other inspirational leaders. I’ve asked some of my present youth team to bang heads and think of our top tips (inherited and created) for raising your dream team in many different contexts.

1. All ages, all stages

There is no model youth leader in terms of looks, age, dress sense, sense of humour, personality etc. Just as all young people come in all shapes and sizes, so will your youth team. Just as you have extraverts and introverts in your youth group, you need extraverts and introverts in your youth team. The only rule needs to be to turn up and be able to chat to the youth. (These clearly aren’t the only rules, but we’ll start there…)

2. The personal approach

I’ve heard this said in various seminars and within a youth-work magazine recently but it really is true. Desperate pleas from the front of church on a Sunday rarely get anyone signed up, and if they do, they often get the wrong people signed up. It is almost without fail the personal approach that pays off in the long term. As a youth worker you should always have your youth hat on and be thinking whether someone you’re engaging with is right for one of your teams. I would then suggest you invite them for a coffee to chat about the different youth ministries, followed by you and them checking out one of the ministries they may be interested in, and then an agreement on both sides to pray, without pressure either way, and in the knowledge if it’s yes on both sides and yes from God, then you might proceed.We would suggest a minimum of a year’s commitment and a review after three months from both sides.

3. Set the expectations high

By having the conversation ahead of time, you’re able to set a realistic expectation of what is required of the prospective youth worker commitment-wise. If it’s not for them then that’s fine, there are plenty of ministries that involve less commitment, and that’s fine too, but young people need consistent youth leaders. From experience, the youth leader and young people will get the most out of it if they both show up week in week out.

4. Team hangout

Build a team with people you enjoy hanging out with and prioritise spending time with your team. If you invest time and effort into your team, good youth leaders tend to follow. I was once told a story from a friend (who now runs a big youth ministry) that when they started they’d get pizza and hang out every Thursday whether young people showed up or not, and either way they’d have a good time. If there’s good chemistry in your team, that’s a great start. However, as soon as the doors open for your youth ministry, make sure the youth leaders actually chat to the youth! It is far too easy for youth leaders to stand in a huddle and chat to each other. It’s all about the young people once they’re there in the room. And yes, you can go out two by two as leaders if speaking to a teenager is too daunting!

5. Share the knowledge

If you’re leading a youth ministry you’ll have previous knowledge in your head. Don’t presume your volunteers know what you know. Note things that youth leaders do or don’t do as you see them and feedback outside the session, never in front of the young people. Have regular meetings to chat and pray about your youth, and to support each other as a team. Try not to have these meetings in a church building. Homes and pubs are always good options! As are food and refreshments!

Different rules apply in different settings. These are our top five – we’d love to hear some of yours in return!

Ali Marshall and Beth Ellison are youth pastors at St Stephen’s Twickenham.

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