Mama Caro

Stephanie "Mama" Caro's humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects and author of "Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches" and "99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker." Her next book, “Ten Solutions (to Ten Common Mistakes Small Churches Make)” comes out in 2015. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX.

I’m preparing for my track at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in two weeks. Each day this week, I’d like to gather data from you so I provide what we need the most. Answer as much or as little as u want.? Just answer in the comments;? doesn’t matter how big or small ur ministry is.

1) What’s your current ym cvolunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.)

2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better?

3) How do u utilize ur volunteers?

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Stephanie Caro

Thriving Youth Ministries in Smaller Churches at SYMC, 2/26-3/1

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  • Claire says:

    We have anywhere from 10 to 20 youth for Sunday night youth group and usually we have four adults there. On Sunday nights, one of our volunteers is in charge of any games we might play. He plans them, picks them and leads them. Afterall, he is so much cooler than the rest of us! The other three of us share teaching and leading small group discussions.
    During the week we have small group Bible Studies with one adult per about 4-6 kids. In fact, I have one super-duper volunteer who is willing to lead a Bible Study even when only ONE kid signs up! At least she knows who her target audience is!

  • Cheryl says:

    1. We normally have 20-30 youth and 2 volunteers attend our Youth Group on a given Sunday night.
    2. As a volunteer, we need prayer and support from the members of the congregations and church council… and time…. we also need someone who is willing to listen to our ideas/suggestions (we may be volunteers, but we have some great ideas sometimes)
    3. Our youth group is only run by volunteers (myself and one other). We currently do not have anyone in a paid position to run/organize youth group.

  • Gina says:

    We have 2-3 adult volunteers per group: 2 middle school and 1 high school. Each voluteer makes a 2 year commitment to their group. 3 of my volunteers are also musicians and help lead our worship sessions on Sunday. An additional volunteer assists with driving the church van and helping lead youth retreats and other activities.
    To assist them I ffirst ask them who inspired their spiritual growth when they were a teenager and why, this helps me to understand them and gets them thinking about who they want to be to the youth.

  • John says:

    1. We have 4 volunteers (and 1 paid family pastor). We have 15 students in the youth ministry.
    2. I think being in small groups at the conference will help (bounce ideas off each other….this will help us see what we are lacking…..such as maybe seeing how we can get the whole church involved in youth ministry). One idea I have is getting the various members of the church to give testimonies to the students “testimony night”.
    3. We meet at least once a week to pray, discuss, and fellowship (both our spiritual lives and youth ministry). We believe that relationships is one of the keys to success. We love being with each other and because most of my volunteers are either in college or semi-retired (we live in Florida!)….we can meet anytime and hang-out.

    I use them for small group leaders, large group discussions, testimoinies, food help, transportation help (we use other members of the church for our “meet the parents night” and other activities).

  • Rachel says:

    1. For our Sunday night program, we break into 4 groups with 2 leaders per group. Those 8 leaders are committed to the school year. 2-3 of those leaders also lead worship after small group time. We average 30 youth right now on Sunday nights.
    For Sunday school, I have 2 classes, Middle school and high school. 2 teachers for ms, 1 for hs. Average: 15-20 youth combined.
    2. how much time they can truly dedicate, what their struggles and passions are.
    3. Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, steering committee members, fundraising committee members, fundraising volunteers, drivers, food preparers…..they are my life line.

  • Chris Bartley says:

    1. We have 20-30 students and i have about 5 or 6 “volunteers” Now 2 of them do whatever it takes to make things go smoothly and the rest show up and sit and just kina take in our programs, services and lessons.
    2. i need to be better at deligating jobs. the truth is the reason they just sit is because thats what i expect them to do. so they live up to that. i need to expect more and they will do more.
    3. like i said earlier, i have 2 that do whatever it takes and about 5 that justt show up.

  • Beth says:

    Our polity requires at least 2 adults with any group of youth, so 1 volunteer and I do the junior high group while 3 volunteers work with the senior high. We also have a large corps of volunteer prayer partners, as well as 3 or 4 adults I can call on to staff overnights (not a responsibility of the Sunday night leaders). And a couple of our service activities are led by different volunteers.

    The junior high leader and I meet twice a month to plan and evaluate and that works well. I’d like to meet with the high school leaders more often but really it’s only about 3-4 times a year. The prayer partners pretty much get a one page job description at the beginning of the year and then reminder emails every month or two.
    My high school volunteers often feel unprepared to manage the group and plan lessons, but aren’t usually interested in meeting with me for help. What can I do to help assist them without meeting? I’ve occasionally copied pages out of Group’s Training on the Go book, but I don’t get the sense they’re wildly helpful. Of course, I also always need more good volunteers who can take initiative, build relationships, etc. I sometimes have trouble identifying who the right people would be to ask and how to do it, even with help from my senior pastor.

  • Brandon Best says:

    1) What’s your current ym cvolunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.)
    Middle School Pastor of 100 Students, 15 to 18 Adult Small Group Leaders, 3 to 4 adult helpers on a Wednesday.
    Our Wednesday Program Format is Annc/Worship/Talk Time/Small Group time (30min) Usually an hour and a half for total program.
    2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better?
    Questions I ask myself frequently every year… Where do I find quality leaders that actually want to help me? How do I continue to cast vision to them? Are they encouraged by what they do? What is the best way to train a volunteer… Big Weekend training session? Before Weekly Program? By email? Individual meeting times? How can I keep a volunteer accountable if they are not paid? Do parents really want to help me out?
    3) How do u utilize ur volunteers?
    I have three small group leaders per gender per grade that make up the base of our adult volunteers. Other adult leaders take on tasks such as selling pizza and drinks, cleaning our off campus facility, driving a shuttle bus, and acting as “security.”

  • brandi says:

    1) What’s your current ym volunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.)
    We have 35-40 kids on a Sunday morning. Usually five adults, from a rotating pool of eight to ten. Our youth group meets at the same time as main service right now, so we rotate teams so no one is never in church.

    2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better?
    I have a lot of the same questions as Brandon… especially about vision and encouragement. And training. Also, what are the best ways to incorporate parents? I have had varied degrees of success… sometimes they are great, and sometimes they are just looking for a way to tell me what they want me to do from the inside. 🙂

    3) How do u utilize ur volunteers?
    I have two volunteer music teams that rotate every couple of weeks to lead music. I have three small groups – junior high girls, jh boys and high school, and I have a couple of leaders for each group.

  • Drew says:

    1. We have about 30 kids on a Wednesday night and we try to have five adults every Wedensday (1 adult/5 kids). We have two other leaders who are small group leaders, so I have a total of seven adults volunteers for an enrollment of about 45 kids.
    2. Spiritual gifts and communication. It’s all about finding the right place that is going to make someone shine. You find out their gifts and you start dreaming about their place in ministry instead of just throwing them in the youth room and saying good luck. Once they find their place, find them any resource you can find to give them. They may never talk to that person or read that book, but they know you are there to help and support them.
    3. Everyone has a role and they are responsible for that role. Everyone knows the direction and vision of our youth group and what is expected of them. While we nurture and support each other each week with prayer meetings, we also become a family. We have a feeling that we share anything in our group and while we may not agree with each other we support each other fully.
    P.S. – I tell parents that they can be involved in our ministry in that they can chaperone on retreats and come and be a helper on Wednesday nights, but that’s it. Parents get too emotionally involved in decisions and burn out quickly. If you’re desperate for volunteers then go for it (do what you got to do) but I just have not had real positive experiences with parents.

  • Matt says:

    1) What’s your current ym cvolunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.)
    We currently serve about 40 kids on a Sunday night with 8 adult leaders

    2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better?
    Their SHAPE. This helps me know where NOT to put them. Also their family (married, kids…) I have the honor of having 3 young married couples involved in the ministry. We are a close group and when there is a need (physical, $, spiritual….), we meet it and surround them with love and prayer.

    3) How do u utilize ur volunteers?
    They are used according to their SHAPE and the fit is hand in glove. They love serving where their passion is. I also ask them to serve a small group leaders making the groups smaller and the conversation better.
    We tag-team teach.

  • Brooke says:

    1. We have 3 meetings a week – a Bible study (3-5 kids, 1 volunteer), a Family Bible Study – 10 kids, 3 adults, and an open gym time (20 kids, 3 volunteers)
    2. I have found it helpful to have coffee/lunch/sharing times with each volunteer separately. This gives me a chance to find out what drives them to volunteer in our youth ministry, as well as give them a better picture of why I choose to organize our youth ministry structure as I do. (In one case in particular, having lunch with a volunteer kept her from leaving our ministry. I was able to find out some of her background info that would never have been shared in a larger setting or meeting, and was better able to work through miscommunications.)
    I also agree about the spiritual gifts, and think that, along with spiritual discernment there should be a moment where the individual gets to “choose” their own path. For example, we have an IT guy who spends his days working with computer equipment. While I was excited to have him help out with our tech, he preferred to take part in other areas of ministry. (And was better able to relate to students in that capacity). Just because I want people to fill certain slots doesn’t mean that is where they should be
    3. I’m still working on the best way to do this, but the one thing that is vital is communication with the entire group. I make sure to utilize e-mail, newsletters, anything I can to help volunteers know what is coming up and how I can use their help. I have a couple college students who are my “interns” and meet with them throughout the week to organize themes and events (these work well for their resumes and they are usually the most creative volunteers I have). I have one adult who is my “phone tree” person (I hate making phone calls). And I have an online calendar where all of my volunteers can go to see what is coming up in the next week, month, year so that I can know ahead of time who will be out of town, etc.
    What has worked the best, though, is to have more Family-oriented events. Nearly everything we do is organized around the fact that parents or guardians can/will be participating WITH the kids. This cuts down on my need for volunteers, and at the same time increases my volunteer base, as parents will rarely leave an event without picking up at least a little, and always want to help out with future events if they enjoyed the ones in the past.

  • Stefanie says:

    1) We have between three and eight teens on a given Wednesday night. Most of our teens come without their parents, so we have little parental support and involvement. I am a full time college student with a two paying jobs and am volunteer youth pastor. My co-youth pastor is also a student and is our church’s music minister as well. He and I rotate leading lessons on Wednesday night and bounce ideas off of each other. Because I want to be a full-time youth pastor and am passionate about youth ministry, I generally take the lead on organization and events and keeping in touch with the teens during the week. One of our parents gives me and some of our teens rides to and from church and helped plan, coordinate, and lead a teen girls weekend we put on in September. Our pastor and a couple other people in the church have helped on a Wed night when we’ve asked.
    2) I recently found out that one of our parents who lead a discussion for us on relationships one day has been in an inappropriate relationship with her boyfriend for about two years. I want to know how to train volunteers and determine if they are spiritually mature enough to lead teens. One woman in our church has expressed an interest in helping out with the teens, but has only come once and doesn’t seem to be all that interested. How do we/I help potential volunteers find their skills and niche w/i the youth group? How can I encourage them to get involved in teens’ lives and get interested in the ministry?
    3) Still figuring this one out. I’ve only been in charge since August. As a full-time student with two jobs, I don’t have a lot of time to work out events, train volunteers, etc. Until graduation in May, I’m just trying to balance it all. I’d like to do some more recruiting this summer and get the adults in the church more involved in the teens lives- preferably through a mentorship-type program, where the adults can adopt our teens, especially those without involved parents.

  • tom says:

    1) What’s your current ym cvolunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.). we usually avg about 1:8…sometimes even 1:6. usually about half of the volunteers happen to be parents of students in the group. the students seem to be pretty cool with that. i’ve been blessed thus far with an amazing group of good hearted adult leaders.

    2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better?
    Mostly how to continue to push the vision out. we’ve worked hard as a church to get our programming simpler so there’s margin. but our volunteers are still busy because of the roles they play in other minsitries of the church…elders, guards, worship team, tech, etc.

    3) How do u utilize ur volunteers?
    greeters, checkin/registration, small group leaders, technology, teaching, game hosting…where their skill set allows.

  • Susanne says:

    1) I generally am alone on Sunday nights with my 18-20 kids. When we go on outings, I usually run 1:5, but those are mostly parents who are driving more then other members of the church.
    2) I want to know how to recruit volunteers from other members of the church besides parents. I would really like to know how to train them to be comfortable with running small groups with the youth or even mentoring them.
    3) My volunteers are drivers for events or they will make the meal. I did get a good turn out of volunteers to go on our mission trip last year.

  • Rev. Tami Wenger says:

    ) What’s your current ym cvolunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.) Currently we have three youth, so I am the only volumteer. However, we do have great support among the congregation.

    2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better? When we grow, I plan on offering training for the workers.

    3) How do u utilize ur volunteers?

    However help is needed, the Church family is there.

  • jim perry says:

    25 to 30 students 4 or 5 adults

    I have great volunteers. How can i better serve them.

    Great mentors and they are great on just caring and loving our students

  • Jonathan Hale says:

    1. I have approximately 35-40 students on Sundays regularly and I have 6 adults other than myself that help on Sundays. I have three other adults who help on Wednesdays. I have 2 separate Sunday School teachers for a total of 11 adults split among the three meeting times we have.

    2. My volunteers need to learn how to be more than a warm body in a room. They need tangible, real-live examples of how they should behave, what they should say, what questions are “okay” to ask, etc. They are good at being faithful in attendance, but I believe most are afraid of the relationship part because they just don’t know where to get started. They may feel, “Is it really okay if I call that student up and take him/her to the grocery store, then to Starbucks when I go with my spouse?” They may also feel, “I want to start small, but don’t know what to ask besides, ‘How’s school?'” I feel like (overall, generally) I am pretty good at this, but I’m not sure how to get that across CLEARLY to my adult leaders. Because I’m being laid off in June (church financial problems), the relationships these adults have with the youth here are even MORE important, so I definitely want them to be prepared for my absence.

    3. I utilize my volunteers on different nights so that there is consistency in the fact that they’re there either every Sunday or every Wednesday, but the OTHER “church night” of the week they are available to grow spiritually with other adults in “big church” study time. I also utilize volunteers (other than the 11 I mentioned earlier) to coordinate food donations, to help with bulletin boards, and to set up for events.

  • Scott C says:

    1. I have about 20-30 students on any given week. I have 3-4 adults with my high school group and 2-3 adults with my middle school students on Sunday nights.
    2.I think appropriate delegation is a key skill I am still trying to grasp. To take certain things fro my plate to allow me to focus on the students. I prefer a teaching style to preaching, in that context i need leaders who are qualified teachers.
    3. My leaders are often used simply as connectors with students. They are great at being there and interacting with the students, but few of them want to be the bad guy when they need to be, and not many of them are qualified/comfortable with teaching.

  • Jerry Webb says:

    1. 15-20 students. 4 Volunteers + myself. About a a 4 to 1 ratio.
    2. Need to know the volunteers. Who they are, how they’re gifted, and how they feel led to serve in order to set them up to succeed. Need to know the students in order to better connect the volunteers with them.
    3. Our volunteers each lead in different areas. One is responsible for the worship team, one for the media/tech team, one for our planning team, and another new leader who is plugged in to connect with students and help lead worship.

  • Emily Heckman says:

    1) 35-40 students. 7 leaders . Ratio of about 6-1…
    2) I hold two meetings a year where I ask for people who are interested in serving in the area of youth ministry to attend. I find out their gifts, favorites, etc, so that I can better place them with the kids and help them to serve better.
    3) I have two volunteers who are die hard junior high oriented people (praise the Lord for them!) I have one who is very involved in the worship aspect, one who organizes the games, one who plans guys events, and one who works in the local school system as a substitute so he sees the kids outside of the church setting… which is really cool! I also have someone who is responsible for collecting money and permission slips, and a couple who open their home once a week for a Sr High Bible study!

  • Darren Sutton says:

    1) We have about 75 students on a regular basis. Our volunteer ratio is about 1 – 5.
    2) If there was a magic pill to help my volunteers GET how important their influence and ministry is, I would pay a billion dollars. I would love it if they could understand they are not too old, not too young, not too disconnected, not too busy, not too….whatever – God can use them just as they are, just where they are. I would love that.
    3) Our volunteers DO the ministry. They teach, lead small groups, organize execute events, do office stuff – they do it all. We have kids who are also involved in all those same leadership arenas, but that another Bible study for another day. 🙂

  • Jana says:

    1. We have about 6 volunteers for Jr High and we have about 5 leaders for Sr. High. We have about 30-40 students in each ministry.
    2. How to get them to go from observing to engaging! Not just sit in the back of the room, but instead engage in meaningful conversation with the students both in and out of youth group.
    3. We try to take turns doing the lesson, game, etc. We are encouraging them to lead small groups although that has not taken a grip yet. We really want them to identify students that they can mentor!

  • Don Steward says:

    1) What’s your current ym volunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.) We have about 30 weekly volunteers to assist with roughly 300 teens each week’s service.

    2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better? They say you don’t know, what you don’t know. Our biggest challenge right now is getting a subgroup of the teens to be consistent attenders. We are seeing growth in the ministry each week!

    3) How do u utilize ur volunteers? The volunteers used to help run the weekly service but that pretty much down by the teens now. The adults are small group leaders for Jr. High and Adult Encouragers for the Sr. High groups. A few of the key adults coach other adults and oversee the services and events.

  • Nate Taylor says:

    1) What’s your current ym cvolunteer situation? (how many, adults per youth, etc.)
    Currently we have 12 adult volunteers as a part of our team. We have around 90 kids in our program so we have a ratio of 7.something to 1.

    2) What do you need to know to help your volunteers be/do better?
    I need to know how to delegate. Period. I feel like everyone is just as busy as I am so whenever I think about asking someone to help out with a project or something, I second guess myself because I worry that I am dumping on them. I have made a pledge that this year I am going to delegate and I am going to realize that these amazing people: 1. can’t be amazing if I don’t give them opportunities to be amazing and 2. these people wouldn’t have volunteered to be a part of our team if they didn’t have time to help out and be involved.

    I need help developing us more as a team. I am responsible for our Jr. High (5th – 8th), Confirmation (8th) and Sr. High (9th-12th) and I have volunteers working in all three different areas. There is no real crossover. My hope is to work on developing a big picture vision to get us all on the same page and working together to achieve our short term and long term goals for these young people.

    I need help getting them off the sidelines and really interacting with the kids. THey love to help with youth group and everything, but some of them are terrified to get out there and really make connections.

    I need help finding good volunteer training resources, teambuilding retreat opportunities and creative ways to show appreciation and thanks to our volunteers.

    I need help with learning how to let go of things so I don’t burn out and turning over responsibilities to the volunteers. That whole delegating thing.

    3) How do u utilize ur volunteers?
    We haven’t quite figured that out yet. They are at all of our weekly meetings and help with all aspects of our meetings, but haven’t found the most effective way to utilize them enough.

    What is the secret to getting volunteers who are so committed? Is it because I sometimes allow them to bail on me at the last minute, that it makes it ok and the norm? I want this ministry to grow and to develop, but I worry about pushing my volunteers too much to the point where they just walk away, but on the other hand I don’t think I push them nearly enough. In the same way that I try to develop highly committed teens, I want to develop highly committed volunteers. Any help that you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

    SEe you in a few weeks!

    All the best,

  • Ana Hernandez says:

    1. We have 5 volunteers that help in different aspects of the ministry.
    2. How best to work around conflicts with their work schedules and help them to feel more comfortable around the kids. It seems like they’re almost scared of them.
    3. Some of the volunteers teach classes, work with our praise & worship team, lead Bible studies, and act as sponsors for the youth trips.

  • Ana Hernandez says:

    Oh sorry, on #1, I forgot to mention that we have 20-25 kids.

  • Joshua Lewis says:

    Our current situation is somewhat frustrating. We are averaging 40-45 students on Sunday nights between MS and HS and they’re split. MS I’ve got “enough” for now volunteers because we have an okay ratio but I just need more female leaders…I’ve got a couple of recent HS graduates helping out. For High School, I’ve got 3 females and 2 males including myself. I started off the school year with 4 including myself but recently one took a job on Sunday nights and the other is taking some personal time off, Another one of my MS leaders wants to only help out 2 weeks a month which is okay but I’m just looking for more commitment.

    I need to help my volunteers be better leaders…take charge and ownership in the ministry and realize that they are also the youth pastors. They just need a taste of success and be able to see the fruit of their labor. Also, communication is huge. I’m flexible with my leaders and ask a few days notice of not being there but I still get the text or call Sunday afternoon letting me know they won’t be there when its not an emergency.

    I probably don’t utilize my volunteers the best. I use them for discussion groups at youth group, one couple does HS small group, and then I’m using one to help with planning. Another one runs my sound and video at youth and the others are crowd control and discussion leaders.

  • Teri says:

    We see about 150 students on any given week. Our voluteers (small group leaders, SS teachers, and special ministry teams) numbers about 60. Just small group leaders is about 40. And each leader is assigned a grade and gender (2-5 leaders) per grade and gender. It’s a pretty good ratio.
    What would help to make volunteers better – We have monthly meetings with our team, since it’s so large and hard to all stay on the same page without it. We try to have feedback and interactive portions during our meetings, as well as a “teaching/training” time. What would be helpful is to have some solid tools that make that teaching/training time valuable and better. WE don’t always get all of our leaders to come out for the meetings and are always looking for ways to make them more exciting (?) so our volunteers won’t want to miss.
    How we utilize adults – Our small group leaders are seen as pastors of their particular group. They are on the frontlines, and we do our best to encourage and pour into them so they can pour into students. We give them small group material for Sunday nights and program the best we can so when they join us on a Wed (our big program night) or Sun (small groups), they can basically just show up and be present with kids without needing a lot of prep time or other duties. Some of these small group leaders have other gifts, though, and may help lead worship occasionally (though we have an all-student band), help run tech stuff (though we have students do that as well), lead our drama team, dance team, etc. We have a couple of volunteers that run our snack shack where kids can buy food and drinks on Wed nights. We have a hallway ministry team that “polices” our hallways and makes sure kids are where they need to be and safe. We have a dodgeball team that runs dodgeball for our MS program on a weekly basis. Our SS teachers teach classes (with a man and woman in each class to sort of co-teach). And that probably covers the bulk of what our volunteers do.

  • Timothy Emmons says:

    #1- we currently run about 12-15 youth during our mid-week meeting; we do not meet on Sunday’s at this time as I have been having other church responsibilities for Sunday. I have been able to have anywhere from 1-3 adult volunteers.

    #2- First of all, how do you attract volunteers? Do you get them from current members or do you use interns; we are very close to Cal Baptist University and want to look into utilizing some college students; kind of a win-win situation.

    #3- During the mid-week time, I have been able to use the adult volunteers to assist in leading break-out groups. However, I want to try and put together some sort of worship team at the same time using some of the youth talent we may have. I also am trying to get a few of the other young adults interested in helping out in minor roles since they don’t have a great desire to lead.

  • Katy Driesenga says:

    1. we currently have 4 volunteers (2 couples) for High school (around 15 students), and 2 college student volunteers for middle school (Also around 15 students).
    2. How is the best way to retain volunteers, and recruit new ones? Specifically, how do you encourage people who are almost afraid of volunteering with the middle school age group to step into that role? What are some resources for a leadership retreat-type weekend/day for equipping youth volunteers for the year?
    3. Right now the couples help with high school group for planning events and fundraisers, and also leading discussions and helping with Sunday night youth meetings. The middle school leaders both work and go to school full-time, so they have only really been able to help on Sunday nights and sometimes for a monthly event or something like that. I would like to change this, though, and recruit volunteers that would be able to mentor and disciple the middle school students more, as the college students are not going to be in the area starting in the fall.

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