Teens Take the Lead

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Taking Charge

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Teen involvement in children’s ministry clearly benefits everyone,
but what does it look like in action? Common areas where young
volunteers excel include classrooms, children’s worship services,
and other duties throughout the church.

• Classrooms-At Oak Hills, a pair of teenagers,
together with a mentor teacher, plan lessons for one month at a
time. Teens are responsible for Bible lessons and all activities,
arrival and pick-up times, and interacting with parents.

Kingdom Life’s young assistants help with everything from crafts
to cleanup. Once they’re 16, kids can advance to “classroom
facilitators” (lead teachers). In this role, they lead a team of
two to three adults by making reminder calls, distributing
curriculum, leading pre-class prayer, and setting the general
course for the classroom.

“Some of our best classroom facilitators are teenagers who’ve
grown up in our church and are now able to bring their knowledge to
the children following them,” Bulkley says.

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• Worship Services-Children’s services are packed
with fun, meaningful volunteer opportunities. Teenagers can perform
drama and puppet shows, run audio-visuals, and lead songs, games,
and prayers.

At Eagle Brook, teenage apprentices “volunteer in virtually the
same capacity as grown-ups, but with a few limitations,” Wendt
says. For example, kids under 18 don’t do bathroom or
diaper-changing duty, and safety rules limit who can hold or carry
babies.

• Other Duties-Young people make great small
group leaders, security personnel, and greeters. Some churches
encourage kids to venture out and serve as ushers, parking lot
guides, communion assistants, praise-and-worship leaders, nursing
home visitors, and more. Some roles require minimal or no
preparation time, making them ideal for busy kids who want to get
their feet wet as volunteers.

Taking Care

Behind the scenes of successful programs, you’ll find plenty of
adult guidance. Like all volunteers, teenagers need to be trained
and nurtured. In other words, if you want kids to take their
participation seriously, you must do the same.

• Plan-Before launching your program, decide the
areas in which teenagers will serve and what specific
responsibilities they’ll have. Then set clear expectations not only
for young volunteers but also for the adults working with
them.

• Recruit and Screen-Even if you’re desperate for
volunteers, you don’t have to accept everyone who’s interested.
Most churches we spoke to make teenagers go through the same
application and screening processes as adults.

Young volunteers at Christ’s Church of the Valley fill out a
three-page confidential application regarding their spiritual
background and beliefs, lifestyle choices, and ministry
preferences. Kids are asked point-blank if they drink alcohol, have
been accused of sexual crimes, or have any painful childhood
experiences that may affect their ministry with children.
Applicants have the option of discussing these questions privately
with a pastoral staff member.

All applicants must agree to a written list of qualifications
ranging from having a “teachable” heart and faithfully attending
church to dressing appropriately and not chewing gum or talking on
cell phones while volunteering.

• Train-Rigorous training ensures that your
ministry’s children are well-served and that young volunteers will
develop as leaders, too. And it guarantees that teenagers will
stick with your program for the long-haul.

“If you train teenagers in a ministry where their heart is vested
and they feel needed,” says Rivas, “they’ll always want to be part
of it.”

At Oak Hills, teenage apprentices work through a curriculum to
discover how and what to teach, as well as how children
learn.

Lakewood Church designed its own leadership-development curriculum
to build teenagers as people. In J-Life, junior high kids take
leadership classes and are mentored in a specific ministry area.
Senior high kids who are accepted into the Teen-Life program then
work in a children’s ministry department, attend monthly leadership
training, perform service projects, and go on mission trips.

At Timberline, the training process is purposefully tough to weed
out some kids, Bullion says. Teenagers go through a six-month
Foundations for Faith discipleship-training program, followed by
six months of hands-on training.

“It’s intense, and they must be committed,” Bullion says. But
after the yearlong program, kids have incredible knowledge about
their faith, as well as practical knowledge needed for
volunteering.

Bulkley recommends that the children’s and youth ministers work
together to coordinate all training. “As the children’s pastor, I
set the bar,” he says, “and the youth pastor trains teenagers to
reach it.”

• Mentor-Building relationships and building
people are key to any volunteer program, Johnson says. “Leaders
need to build a team because team members will then become
builders,” he notes.

Mentoring ensures that young people keep growing in their faith
and acquire the confidence to pass it on. Abigail Wells says her
10-year-old daughter, Ariana, has become a “bold, mighty warrior”
through Lakewood’s J-Life program. Ariana even shared her faith
with her grandfather, who became a Christian as a result.

Teen-Life participant Jasmine Banks, 13, says, “I love to lead
children so I can let them see God more.”

Valuable relationships form among teenagers and children, among
teenagers and adult teammates, and among teenagers themselves.
Bullion meets weekly with 14 teenage “captains,” or overseers, to
touch base. “We train the captains to pour into team members’
lives, which trickles down to all participants,” he says.

• Evaluate and Follow-Up-Children’s ministers
must be aware of what’s working and what isn’t. Teenagers may need
to be moved to a different area, may need to be disciplined, or may
even need to leave the program.

At Kingdom Life, coordinators regularly check in with kids. In
addition, a pastor visits each service to provide feedback, and
lead teachers provide input about any teenagers who need more
training or repositioning.

“We try to recognize every teenager’s accomplishments and help
them correct any negative patterns on a case-by-case basis,”
Bulkley says.
     

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