youth ministry, youth worker, trip volunteer

Picking Your Summer Trip Volunteers

By Doug Franklin April 15, 2011

Your summer mission trip will only be as good as the staff you bring with you.  You have two options.  You can find volunteers like some youth pastors do – wait till the last minute, run a cheesy ad in the bulletin and take any warm and willing body, or you can be intentional about it.  Remember how it feels to be especially chosen for something – that’s exactly how you’ll make volunteers feel when you intentionally pick them for your trip.  You could win a support that will outlive the trip.  Don’t just hope to get volunteers who would be a good fit for the trip – get a strategic plan and go find them.

The Positive Quality Check – Don’t Settle for Less

When you are looking for volunteers to come on a trip, you first need to identify qualities that are important to have in those volunteers.  You may want to identify more based on your group’s specific needs, but here are a couple of basic areas to start off with: “Do they love God with a passion?” and “Do they love kids unconditionally?” Let’s identify the most important qualities in these areas:

Loves God Passionately

– Growing as a Christian – actively pursuing a stronger faith

– Spiritual leader (currently training others in their faith – whether it be his or her children, a co-worker, a fellow church member, etc.)

– Values trips and recognizes that they can be more than “mountaintop” experiences

Loves Students Unconditionally

– Feels comfortable walking into a roomful of students – and loves to hang out with them, or is willing to learn how to do this

– Is excited about students’ potential and challenges them to grow

– Views students as leaders in the church and the Kingdom of God

– Balances responsibility and fun well

•    Is more student-focused than self-focused

•    Supports you as a leader and is not afraid to challenge you to be your best

A really great example of an adult volunteer I had on one of our trips was a mom named Sara.  She had a son on the trip who was put in a leadership position.  Each decision he made was full of risk – he could fail his team or he could be their champion.  A mom watching her son face those risks would typically struggle with the desire to protect him from making mistakes, but Sara understood the program and supported the leader’s decision to challenge him.  Not only did she encourage her son to embrace the challenge, but she also chose to challenge the other students.

“Red Flags” to Avoid

There are basically two “red flags” that you should be aware of in picking adult volunteers for a mission trip.  The first is noticing that your potential staff have their own plan in mind for what they’ll be able to do while on the trip.  The second is recognizing that they resist others’ authority.  These are issues that could be potentially destructive for your summer trip.  Here are some signs that can warn you of these issues:

– Listen to what is motivating their comments and questions.  For example, “Are we going to spend lots of time at the beach?” or “Am I going to have plenty of time to read my book?” suggest desires for a vacation rather than a student-focused trip.  Sometimes the adults have no problem letting go of their expectations when the trip agenda is clearly explained and assumptions are addressed.

– Think about their past interaction with your ministry decisions.  If they constantly have suggestions about how to do things their way and struggle with submitting to ideas they don’t like, chances are they have a control issue.  In the close and stressful conditions of a trip, this could cause division and become a frustrating distraction for your group.

– Is the person humble?  Humility, if you think about it, is really the root issue of both “red flags” mentioned.  Trust your judgment – if an adult is struggling with humility, don’t risk having them along.

Another mom (I’ll call her Mary) I had on a wilderness trip clearly had intentions of diverting the leader’s plan to hike a certain direction.  She had been on the trip a couple of times before and remembered that one direction was more physically challenging than the other.  If the group went the direction the leader was planning, Mary knew she would struggle.  She didn’t realize that the difficulty of the hike would better challenge the team to care for and encourage each other.  In facing this challenge, the team would learn lessons they couldn’t learn any other way.  This woman was unfortunately blinded by her self-focus and bitterly trudged her way up the mountain, sapping the strength of her team rather than motivating them.

If you want to be intentionally selective, you need to start now.  Not only are adults more likely to be available at this point, but asking early will also show that you value them.  If you work hard to find the right people for volunteer staff, your students will feel valued as well.  Get a head start and relieve some pressure from the approaching summer heat by picking your staff for the summer trip now.

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