There are times in ministry where you look around and wonder “Does anyone really care? Will these leaders stay, or are they just here only to get up and leave again?”
But to answer the second question, you really have to start with the first. This is a two-part series on getting and keeping youth leaders. It’s important to first dive into the how of recruiting and then unpack how to keep those great leaders.
And lest you be giving me the one eye stink about recruiting being less-than-spiritual, remember this: Jesus essentially recruited His disciples.
Call it what you will, but that’s what you’ll need to be doing for a impactful youth ministry that stands both the test of time and the weight of adversity.
While the Lord of the Harvest can most certainly bring us His followers into the youth room (and He does, if we pray!), there is nothing wrong with pursuing people with love in hopes of them helping out. Next to a student’s moral failure, there was nearly nothing as heartbreaking for me in youth ministry than realizing a leader was less than what we were hoping for or having a really great leader step down from serving. We are not an island, and ministry cannot be done alone. Especially in youth ministry where you’re dealing with not only the lives of all the students, but all their relationships — parents, teachers, coaches, friends, etc. — it is of utmost importance that we have quality people of high moral fiber walk alongside us as we disciple, teach and train the next generation.
There are 4 main steps for recruiting great youth leaders for your ministry.
1. Know the Type of People You Want
I’m not talking about college student versus the retired senior here. Too often, we as ministry leaders can get caught up in thinking a younger, more vibrant personality will be just the ticket for our ministry (and let me tell you, we bought into that and held exclusively onto it, and fell flat on its face). Or maybe you’re from a more conservative tradition that would lean more with the older generation to help shepherd your young people. Either way, the important thing isn’t in the demographics (age, martial status, etc.), but in the character and heart of the people who will potentially serve with you.
You need to ask yourself: what are some of the qualities I’m looking for in a leader(s)? Foundationally, we want leaders who are believers and have a growing, thriving relationship with Christ. This is a non-negotiable, and please trust me when I say, “baby Christians” can most certainly be mentored by a wiser, more seasoned believer, but putting them in a place to say, lead a small group, is not wisdom.
Do you need small group leaders or someone to run the Cafe? I’m guessing you want people who are passionate about teens and have a heart for them. Maybe even people who can actually engage with young people and are stellar champions at the whole I-can-ask-you-a-million-questions-because-you-only-talk-about-yourself-game. #TeensAreBoutThemselvesHolmes
Even an awkward adult shouldn’t be disqualified from leading.
Some of the best youth leaders we’ve seen weren’t people that were…how shall I say….socially inept. But you know what they have going for them? A hunger for Jesus and a desire to reach teens with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Social skills can be learned and honed.
2. Know the Commitment You’re Looking For
This is key, y’all. You can find someone who meets the criteria of step 1 to the tee, but I promise you, if they’re a wishy washy I’m-really-busy-and-I’ll- help-out-when-I-can-type? These are not the people you want on the roster for weekly prayer leader.
Take an honest look at where the holes are in your youth ministry, both currently and upcoming. Are there leaders who are moving, getting married, going to school or having a baby? Plan to recruit a leader to take their place and transition them while the current leader is still there. That way, you have your current leader show them the ropes and you don’t have to do all the work yourself. (Did you see what I just did there? I gave you a bonus step. #You’reWelcome)
Could you use someone for a monthly commitment? Maybe to help clean up the youth room or help out with book keeping? If not, feel free to let people know that that type of spaced out commitment isn’t needed at this time. After all, it is your ministry and your behind on the line. No sense in letting someone serve to only add to your frustrations — serving is a privilege for them, and you need to look at it that way, too.
3. Wine and Dine
Settle down, grape juice drinkers. Feel free to water and dine, too. (Nothin’ but love for everyone — your girl just likes to tease)
But for realsies? Take those perspective leaders out, yo!
Carve out a spot in that teeny youth budget or yours and make it happen. Make them an offer they can’t refuse with lunch at your town’s greatest Mexican place or breakfast where all the foodies go. (I hope it goes without saying, if meeting with someone of the opposite sex, please make sure your spouse, their spouse, or someone else from church can come as well. Integrity before fatality, friends.)
Can’t quite seem to make the going out to eat work? Invite yourself over to their house.
I know, the Christian/hospitable thing to do would appear to be to invite them to your house for dinner. But you have to remember your purpose here. You’re asking them to have a conversation about doing something they aren’t sold on. You’re gonna want to make sure they don’t find a reason to cancel on you. Be bold, be shameless for Christ (okay, and yourself) and invite yourself over! If you can see the sweat start to form on their brow because clearly cooking isn’t their jam, feel free to mention that you’re totally fine with pizza…and watch the countenances soften.
4. Be Clear
When you do get yourself invited over for fishsticks or chicken pot pie, make sure you have a plan in place. Like everyone, this potential leader is busy. They may or may have a family of their own, but they do have obligations and Netflix shows to get to.
Come with a planned statement of what your vision is for the youth ministry (psst…unclear on this? Dare 2 Share has a fabulous resource on this that you can check out HERE and HERE. You’ll want to cast your ministry’s vision for this potential leader. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, right?
Well, cowboy, it’s up to you to sell them on it.
Why is youth ministry where it’s at? (Sidenote: maybe save ministry woes for a later date.) Tell them! Get excited about it and share your heart.
Next, you’ll need to be clear about what you are and aren’t looking for. You’re going to have two primary responses: one, that they just aren’t sure if they have enough time or it’s the right thing for them. The more you spell out, the clearer you make the expectations, the easier it’s going to be for them to process and pray over it. And, two, that they can’t wait to preach and have the students over for sleepovers! Gotta be ready to do this conversation Paul-style and be all the things to all the people: encourage, tame down, cast vision and set a realistic tone.
If they don’t quite believe in themselves, but you can see they’d make a great leader (literally the description of nearly every youth leader we ever had), get gushy for a moment and honestly tell them the specific reasons why you believe in them; why they would make a rock-star leader.
Recruiting leaders can be slightly intimidating, but I promise you, it becomes a lot of fun once you do it a couple of times. If you’re connected to Christ, excited about what could be in your ministry and are humble enough to know you can’t carry the weight of it all on your shoulders, then this is right where you need to be.
Raise those grape juice glasses high 😉 because this is the start of where it gets good.