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When Your Youth Staff Doesn’t Attend Your Church

Imagine this scenario: You’re taking your family on a trip to Disney World. None of you have ever done a big park before, so you decide to spend the money to hire a professional guide, someone who is experienced at how theme parks work. The only problem? The guide you hired works at Universal and doesn’t know Disney World. So they get most of it…they just don’t get ALL of it. They know the mechanics of how to usher you around; they just don’t know the people, traditions, habits, tips, best places, and so on.

Recently, I’ve coached a few youth ministries through an assessment process where an interesting dynamic arose. The youth ministry had paid program staff people on its team that didn’t belong to or attend the church where they worked. In one case, the youth director attended somewhere else on Sunday mornings.

(BTW: I’m not talking about hourly administrative staff. Attending somewhere else can work in their case. They’re often weekday only and have no program or face-to-face responsibilities. It’s great if they do attend the church, though!)

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve run across this. Something just crystalized for me today. If program staff doesn’t attend the church they work for, doesn’t move among the people as family, it’s not going to work. At least not optimally or even adequately. It’s a precedent that doesn’t work in the best interest of the youth and youth ministry.

Here’s why: Even Scripture tells us of the importance of the whole Body gathering together in one place where people celebrate the things they have in common and tolerate the things they don’t. So Sunday morning is prime relationship building time, the time to see others and be seen by others. If parents don’t interact with key youth leaders on Sunday mornings, why would those parents want to send, sometimes force, their kids to be a part of the program where the leaders are unknown?

Students don’t need the youth program just so they have fun stuff to do. That’s an old-school purpose not needed anymore. Sure, kids (and adults) want to have fun. But parents send their kids to youth group so there can be yet one more place where faith friendships are built, where conversations happen in a safe climate. Kids come to youth group for the relationships, and they’re not going to do that if they don’t know the people there.

In most of our churches, there’s a buy-in, otherwise known as membership, that we eventually ask our students to make into the life of their church. It’s hard to ask that commitment of youth (and their families) if the people who are paid by the church to serve the student ministry haven’t bought into the membership principle themselves.

So as I write this, I’m convinced yet again. I just don’t think it works. It’s like a Universal Orlando worker trying to guide people around Disney. Close, but not close enough.


9 thoughts on “When Your Youth Staff Doesn’t Attend Your Church

  1. What are your thoughts about church secretaries/admin assistants/office managers? Is it better for someone in that role to not be a member to help prevent gossip?

    • Stephanie Caro

      There are pros and cons with church admin people. I don’t think membership/non-membership precludes gossip happening. If your staff gossip, they shouldn’t and that needs to be stopped immediately. Great question, btw.

    • I have heard from those secretaries etc that it is often easier for them if they attend elsewhere. They tend to end up working in a day they aren’t paid to work if they attend church where they work. For ministry staff this isn’t really an issue because usually you are paid to work Sundays. Secretaries, accountants etc generally are not.

    • Also, if you are a paid staff member of the church you should not be discussing anything with anyone. You are often privey to private information regardless of your position as a staff member and just have to k own to keep those things to yourself. If you can’t, well, you might be looking for a new job. Just my thoughts.

      • I’m an “Administrative Assistant” (church secretary) for an LCMS Lutheran church, and I go to an ELCA Lutheran church. I love both churches, and I’m active in both. I like my situation. My friend works at the church where I go, and she’s always in the office, and she always looks stressed. Both of my churches were looking for a new pastor when I started working here, using different procedures, so I felt like I could understand what was going on without being quite so emotionally involved. But I was a little. Both churches hired a new pastor in the same month, so while everybody was quite excited, it was twice as exciting for me. The only down side is that I can’t have communion at the church where I work, so I avoid attending on communion Sundays.

  2. Seems like the issue is not weather not it works, but why this is happening. To me that is a huge sign that there is some significant distinction. When I have seen this it is because of 1 of 2 situations. 1 serious conflict that is not being resolved or 2 a suck adult Ministy. A gifted leader can stand the poor leadership and culture of the seenu or pastor. Either way it’s a bad bad sign.

  3. Oh Stephanie, so spot on. But reflecting back,how about when you are not allowed to make changes or require attendance by “powers that be”. I know, get the resume ready…

  4. I think ultimately you have to ask why that staff person would rather not attend your church in the first place. The answer to that question likely will reveal even deeper issues that need to be addressed in the church.

  5. Stephanie Caro

    All great comments, folks. Keep it coming!

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