How young volunteers can take
your ministry to the next level.
When kids finally graduate to a church's junior or senior high
program, the last thing they want to do is associate with
children's ministry, right?
Teenagers and young adults are playing key roles in children's
ministries-and not just as assistants. Many programs use teenagers
in leadership roles, even putting them in charge of adult
To explore the innovative service and growth opportunities
available for young people, Children's Ministry Magazine spoke to
leaders at six dynamic churches across the United States: Kristine
Wendt at Eagle Brook Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota; Craig
Johnson at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas; Michael Bulkley and
Marco Palumbo at Kingdom Life Christian Church in Milford,
Connecticut; Marc Bullion at Timberline Church in Fort Collins,
Colorado; Selma Rivas at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas;
and Scott Harris at Christ's Church of the Valley in Peoria,
Arizona. Read on to discover how these churches are successfully
incorporating teenagers into their ministries.
Supply and Demand
Some churches began or ramped up their teen-volunteer programs
quickly out of sheer necessity. Eagle Brook Church, which has three
locations near Minneapolis, began growing faster than its support
systems could keep up. That led to "a significant volunteer
deficit," according to early childhood pastor Kristine Wendt.
Teenagers' availability, combined with their energy, offered a
When Houston's Lakewood Church recently moved into larger
facilities, its children's ministry grew by 1,400 -- in one
"One of our greatest resources was all our excited teenagers,"
says Craig Johnson, senior director of family ministries. "We knew
we could help our program and develop our young people at the same
time." These volunteers have "revolutionized" Lakewood's children's
ministry, which would struggle without them, he says.
Kingdom Life Christian Church in Milford, Connecticut, has always
used young volunteers. But eight years ago, Michael Bulkley and
Marco Palumbo started entrusting them with more responsibilities
and tracking their performance.
"We wanted teenagers to have a place to put into practice what
they were learning in youth group, to be able to enter into our
church's volunteer culture now and not wait until adulthood," says
Bulkley, an associate pastor.
Taking Stock of the Benefits
No matter how teen-volunteer programs start, experts agree they
have tremendous advantages for everyone involved.
• Good for young people-"Teenagers have unlimited
potential," says Marc Bullion, children's pastor at Timberline
Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. "They're just trying to figure
out who they are and what they're good at." Kids who've finished
sixth grade are at an awkward age, Bullion adds. "They've outgrown
the children's ministry, but they're not quite ready for the junior
high program." That's a perfect time to start training them for
Volunteering has been a springboard into ministry careers for many
teenagers. Randy Short, 21, says serving in his church's junior
high program "challenged me to push my faith to a new level." In
the process, he felt God calling him to full-time ministry, which
he's now studying at a Christian college.
Nicole Wight began volunteering in children's ministry at 13 and
was leading her own class by 16. In addition to learning
responsibility, patience, and unconditional love, the experience
taught her to make Scripture lessons practical for young minds. "To
this day, a few children from my first class still run to me
whenever they see me," Wight says. "I can't tell you what that does
to my heart."
• Good for children-Children definitely respond
to teenage volunteers, says Selma Rivas, children's minister at Oak
Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. "They look up to teenagers as
heroes, develop close friendships with them, and look for them by
name when they come to class."
The role modeling that occurs between teen volunteers and children
is invaluable. "Teenagers are like movie stars to children," says
Wendt, "so it's fabulous to have kids who are positively
influencing and living out the faith lifestyle for children."
• Good for families-Oak Hills has always
encouraged families to serve together, Rivas says, and a
teen-volunteer program is a great way for parents and their kids to
work side by side.
Scott Harris, family ministries pastor at Christ's Church of the
Valley in Peoria, Arizona, says parents notice positive changes in
teenagers who volunteer. Parents also are grateful that church
leaders are willing to mentor and invest time in their kids.
• Good for churches-"If people are expected to
serve as adults, then you need to get them serving as youth," says
Harris, who adds that adolescence is the ideal time to "put serving
into kids' DNA."
At Timberline, all teenage volunteers wear lime-green shirts,
which lets the congregation see that kids are willing to give of
themselves. "That spurs adults into helping out more at church,"