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student ministry, youth worker, youth ministry

Adult Volunteers are Scared of Students

By Doug Franklin September 10, 2012

I love watching adult volunteers at youth group. If you get the time, watch how your adults interact with students before and after youth group. You can tell a lot about a ministry by how the volunteers reach out to students. If the adults are all bunched together and only talk to students to tell them when the meeting is starting or where the bathroom is located; you have a ministry in trouble. The truth is most adults are scared of students. They want desperately to help them but they don’t know how to start a relationship with them. The problem is not skilled based but fear based. As youth workers our job is to break the fear and release our volunteers to build deep relationships with students.

When you think about it, fear keeps us from lots of things – deeper relationships, meaningful conversations and implementing risky ideas. It’s also the thing that keeps most adults from volunteering to be a small group leader or a mentor for students. One of the best ways I have found to deal with adult fears is to name them and talk about them.  This is the list I use:

Top Ten fears of Adult Volunteers
10. I’m too old
9. I’m not hip
8. I don’t speak the language
7. I’m too smart for this
6. I don’t know what to say
5. I don’t look the part
4. I don’t know enough about the Bible
3. If students ever knew what I did in the past…
2. I can’t relate
1. Students won’t like me

Here are four ideas for helping adult volunteers overcome their fears of building a relationship with students:

1.  Take them back to their high school days and ask them to think about an adult who had an influence in their lives – I remind them of the power of this relationship and how it shaped and molded them, positively or negatively. I then connect the dots for them and encourage them to be a positive influence in a student’s life.

2.  Describe for them how a student thinks – students see us as larger than life; people who have all the answers and worry free…little do they know. As adults we tend to think that students see us as equals, for the most part they don’t. A positive upbeat adult will always attract students. Students want to know what they think you already know.

3.  Bring in a ringer, someone who has had success building relationships with students, to tell their story. This can be a member of your current team or someone from the congregation. These personal ministry stories can be powerful for people on the front line of ministry. Have your ringer share a fear and how God helped them overcome it.

4.  Focus on the results – I often find that people who are in a fight to reach a mountaintop don’t because they never look up. They see the problems, never the results. Have a student share how a relationship with an adult made a difference, or have a student share how they view the adult leaders. You may just want to share results that you have seen.

The key to a successful youth ministry is how many adult volunteers you have in deep relationship with students. Remember: people don’t talk about their fears. If you think this isn’t a problem for your volunteers because you have never heard them talk about it, think again. Here is my challenge for you, spend twenty minutes of your next staff meeting on this and watch the reaction. Don’t be afraid.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More