If we were having lunch at your favorite restaurant and you asked me about volunteers, I wonder what I would say. Immediately, stories of some of my volunteers come to mind.
There’s a grandfather affectionately known as “Pops.” Being a military veteran, he captured the attention of preteen boys with first-hand stories of war and then skillfully moved them into the challenge of training for spiritual warfare.
Then there’s Michelle, an avid reader who constantly passes on great recommendations for me, especially for ministry to girls, as she has three daughters of her own. She has a knack for taking any illustration I’ve written or picked up from a curriculum and making it better, especially for our preteen girls’ groups.
Or, I could tell you about another Michele who is known for her stash of gum she gives out as a reward for students memorizing Scripture or working on their daily devotions. In addition to bribing … I mean motivating … students, she also does a fantastic job keeping me in the loop with how my whole volunteer team is doing.
There’s Nikki. As a mom, she does not know how I have the energy and patience to work with a whole group of preteens like I do. However, she ministers to her small group of preteen girls in a way that goes far beyond anything I do in our large group settings.
And there’s Rich. By day, he’s a sports reporter for a local television station. On the weekends, he leads a group of preteen boys that includes my own son. People may think he’s famous because they’ve seen him on TV with athletic superstars, but in my book, he’s the superstar for helping boys, like my son, follow Jesus.
I love bragging on our volunteers and the ministry they do. I want other volunteers to hear these stories and realize that each volunteer has a collection of stories that represent so many lives impacted for the kingdom by the work they do in preteen ministry.
But then I also think about problems. I think about all the struggles and questions I have asked and heard others ask. How many volunteers do I need to have, especially in a small church? Which people make the best volunteers? Can I use high school students? What about parents? Do we minister with them or to them? And, what about gender, personality, and other characteristics? I don’t have all the answers to these problems. But I do have a few suggestions that I’ve learned myself, and in the really good moments, from the wisdom of others. Here are a few gems I’ll pass along to you.
No matter what size church or preteen ministry you’re in, you need at least three volunteers. You need two for the opposite gender from you and one for the same gender as you. The bottom line is that this number has the safety and best interests of both you and the preteens at heart. (And it’s just the beginning of your team.) In this mix, I would highly encourage you to have at least one other personality type or interest group represented besides people just like you. You want to connect with a variety of students. To do that, you need a team that models that diversity.
I would say two-thirds should be adults, over 21. Adults in general are good. Parents are great. Grandparents are fantastic! The other third can be younger, as in young adults (18-21) or high schoolers, but pair them with an adult whenever possible.
Keep in mind that preteen ministry is not just to the students directly, but also indirectly as we minister to parents. This comes from Deuteronomy 6, especially verses 4-9 and 20-25. Parents are God’s first and best preteen ministry leaders—in their homes! We need to always be running a parallel ministry that supports, equips and encourages parents.
All this, and I still haven’t answered all your questions. Maybe we should end with one of my favorite memories of school—story problems. When we talk preteen ministry, our philosophy at FourFiveSix revolves around the metaphor of “Letting Go of the Bike” (another great article you need to read, especially for this story problem to make any sense). So, let’s connect with that metaphor as we end our conversation about volunteers in preteen ministry.
There’s a bridge between Childhood and Teenland on the journey leading to Adulthood. This is the Preteen Bridge. Children don’t have to be able to ride their bike when they get on the bridge. But to have any chance of surviving in Teenland, they have to be able to ride their bike when they get off the bridge. The good news is that adults are allowed on the bridge as long as they are letting go and running alongside the children on the bikes. However, there is a limit. Each adult can only help a small number of children cross the bridge at the same time. How can you get the maximum number of children across the bridge successfully?
The answer? Volunteers. The teacher will want you to show your work and explain your answer. That’s where all the stories, solutions to problems, and the specifics of the who’s and how’s get worked out in your own context. Write down your plan. Strive for at least one adult for every five to eight students. Share stories of the great things that are happening. Work your plan and keep sharing your stories. Watch what happens to the number of your volunteers. They’ll multiply!