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Teenagers May Just Be Some of Your Best Children’s Ministry Volunteers

Short on volunteers? Wondering where you’ll find people that younger kids really connect with? You may just have an entire group of these wonderful folks right in front of you: teenagers!

Teenagers have a lot to offer your kids, your ministry, and even your church. Here’s how veteran children’s workers have included teenagers successfully in their ministries.

Teens Contribute to Ministry

For 13 years, Sue Lennartson provided an intensive all-summer-long daily children’s program with the help of 50 or 60 teenagers at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota.

“We couldn’t have done the program without them,” says Lennartson, who is now the director of adult ministry. “We hired many as part-time staff while they were still in high school, and they returned later as college interns.” According to Lennartson, training is a key component for a successful ministry with teenagers. Over the years, she developed a training program dubbed “20/20 Vision.” The program, designed to help teenagers see clearly into ministry, helps teenagers develop a repertoire of 20 activities they can pull out at a moment’s notice. In the 20/20 Vision program, each teenager is prepared to lead five songs, games, crafts, and devotions.

Bob Shaw, a church school director in Greeley, Colorado, trains the 25 teenagers who volunteer in his children’s ministry.

“If the teens are doing any teaching, they participate in ongoing teacher training alongside adult teachers,” explains Shaw. Shaw conducts a couple of two-hour training sessions each August. In addition, teenagers attend monthly teacher-enrichment meetings that focus on theme-related topics. One year’s topic was “Recognizing and Helping Hurting Children.”

Teens Exceed Expectations

Requiring accountability is another key factor for success. Carolyn Reed, a children’s pastor in Oxnard, California, requires her teen workers to provide references and to complete an application with standard volunteer screening questions. They also provide a statement describing their Christian faith, including important faith lessons they’ve learned recently. Reed consults with her church’s youth ministry staff before accepting applications.

If accepted, these teenagers commit to a one-year rotation of one month on, two months off. During their months off, they’re expected to participate in church services or youth activities.

“We have a regular list of what’s expected,” says Reed. “Teens are required to call if they’ll be gone. They have to help clean up and check with the teacher before leaving for the day.”

Some adult teachers enlist teenagers to help with weekly lesson preparation. Reed says these teachers become mentors who positively impact teens’ faith development.

Mary Ann Bethea, a children’s ministries coordinator in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has seen her teenagers rise beyond her expectations. “It’s given me a new perspective on teenagers,” says Bethea. “Before, teenagers really weren’t my thing.”

Bethea used her church’s youth group to staff a vacation Bible school outreach to inner city kids one summer. It went so well that she plans to invite teenagers from their urban community to join her church’s teenagers for training.

Teens Connect With Younger Kids

Beyond their ability to be playful with younger kids, a familiar teenage face can ease separation anxiety for young children. Teenagers can also aid in classroom management by providing important one-on-one attention for easily distracted children. And since teenagers can still remember what it was like to be little, they may be able to relate better to what kids are going through.

Teenagers can do a lot, but don’t expect them to take over and run all your programs. Remember, teenagers are young adults, but they’re also grown-up kids. From time to time, they may need to be reminded why they’re there. “Help teenagers learn how to participate appropriately,” says Lennartson. “Make regular evaluation a part of your program, but remember to evaluate kindly; these aren’t just teenagers, they’re your partners in ministry.”

How to Get Started

If your church isn’t already welcoming teenagers into your ministry, start by identifying ministry tasks teenagers can do. Tasks can range from walking preschoolers to the drinking fountain to assisting adult leaders with lesson activities—or even teaching entire lessons. Lennartson suggests three levels of teen ministry involvement. When you’re ready to plug teenagers in, discuss your plans with your church’s youth director. Then announce ministry opportunities to the youth group.

Teenagers who are actively involved in church youth activities are likely candidates for ministry. “We typically use our confirmation class for this ministry,” says Shaw. “But we don’t leave out teens who may be uninvolved in the formal youth ministry program. Ministering to kids is a great way to involve teens who might otherwise find themselves on the periphery of the life of the church.” Once you’ve got kids involved, remember: Training, trust, and accountability will help ensure a faith-growing experience for you, your teen partners in ministry, and the kids in your care. “Young children respond very well to teenagers,” Shaw says. “I don’t know all the reasons why, but I’m just glad for the blessing.”

Are My Teenagers Level 3 Leaders?

Plug teenagers into one of the following levels of involvement.

Level 1: Helper

Helpers work behind the scenes doing tasks such as registration or snack preparation. They may pass out supplies, help kids complete craft projects, or participate in activities alongside the kids.

Level 2: Teaching Assistant

These kids are beginning to get involved in actual teaching. They may lead one or more simple activities, such as games. Or they may act out a Bible story. Teaching assistants always have an adult teacher present, but when they lead an activity, they do it on their own.

Level 3: Teacher

Teenagers who serve as teachers often have their own classes. They’re responsible for planning lessons and directing kids in activities. They may have an adult or other teen helpers, and they’re often paired with adult teachers or staff members for mentoring and accountability. Fill teen teacher positions with senior high youth.

Jennifer Root Wilger is executive director and co-founder at Temple Grandin School in Boulder, Colorado. 

Want more volunteer management ideas? Check out these articles!

2 thoughts on “Teenagers May Just Be Some of Your Best Children’s Ministry Volunteers

  1. Was blessed by your site. I am Missionary working with children and teens in Missions in Africa. Looking how to trains to be my workers in children evangelism.


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