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Teens Take the Lead

Stephanie Martin

Taking Responsibility

Using teenage volunteers comes with built-in challenges (see "Clearing the Hurdles" on page 64). But in some ways, teen challenges aren't much different from adult challenges.

"Teenagers go through cycles, like all of us," Bullion says. "They're super-excited when they come out of the gate, and then they get lackluster as they realize how much work is involved." You can address that by "reminding teenagers daily of their ministry to the children they serve," he says.

"Walk kids through the difficult times," Harris says, but realize that not every teenager is going to like children's ministry. If that happens, help kids find their niche in another part of the church.

Harris also warns children's ministers against speeding things along. "Don't throw kids into a slot just because they're good kids," he warns. "You have to prepare them, develop their social and emotional skills, and give them responsibility gradually."

Remember that "serving is a privilege, and eternity is at stake" in children's ministries, Wendt says. "So if teenagers don't meet the program's expectations or hinder God's work, take the appropriate steps to make things right."

Taking the Next Step

Our experts say that the benefits of using teenagers far outweigh obstacles. With guidance, teenagers can do amazing things in your ministry while being transformed into ministers themselves.

"We really underestimated what young people can do," Johnson says. "They aren't just our future leaders; they're making a huge impact right now."

Churches of all sizes should give teens a chance to serve, Rivas says. "Disciple, encourage, and equip them. Kids derive their passion, inspiration, and motivation for service from people they serve with," she says. "In turn, they'll be the inspiration for the next generation of servants."

Stephanie Martin is the editor of The Parent Link (

Clearing the Hurdles

Like adolescence itself, using teenage volunteers has its share of hurdles. By being aware of potential pitfalls, you can work to prevent or overcome them.

Hurdle: Teenagers can be unreliable.

Clear it: Craig Johnson requires parents and kids to attend orientation together so everyone understands the commitment involved. Marc Bullion says his program "doesn't expect perfect attendance, but we expect perfect communication."

Hurdle: Teenagers can't work together because all they do is talk and flirt.

Clear it: Because most young people enjoy "fellowshipping," Michael Bulkley says you'll have to set clear expectations about on-the-job behavior.

Hurdle: Teenagers need too much supervision.

Clear it: You have to oversee all volunteers, regardless of age. Most young people can handle responsibility, and many even can become leaders themselves.

Hurdle: Teenagers aren't spiritually mature enough to teach children.

Clear it: With proper training, teenagers can be champions of the faith-and may even be able to reach children better than adults can.

Hurdle: Teenagers can't distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Clear it: Again, clear expectations help ensure that young people effectively represent your ministry and Jesus. Regularly remind teenagers that they're role models-for better or worse.

Hurdle: Adults may fail to empower young teammates.

Clear it: Let older volunteers know that teenagers are more than just "juice pourers and scissor handlers," Bulkley says.

Hurdle: Parents are hesitant to leave their little ones with teenagers.

Clear it: It may take awhile for parents to get comfortable with the idea. "But they always return excited when they see their kids wanting to come back to church and talking about what they've learned in class," Bulkley says.

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