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The Choice of a Lifetime: You’re Not “Just A Volunteer”

One of the seemingly never-ending needs of most children’s and youth ministers is that of volunteers to serve in various capacities helping to care for and teach the younger generations. Whether it be rocking babies in a nursery or chaperoning a lock-in, the need for “all hands on deck” is often a consistent concern for those “in charge.” The simple reality is this – if a church desires to have a children’s or youth ministry with multiple age-specific classrooms and opportunities, there has to be volunteers who are willing to be present to staff those positions.

So often, when I work with churches and ask how they invite volunteers into these roles, I hear the following: We list the needs we have, the openings we need to get covered, and we let them know it will only be once a month at most or 12 times a year or so and they only need to commit to a year at a time.

But last week I talked to someone who took a completely different approach. One that, honestly, blew my mind at both its simplicity and its necessity. And one that nearly eliminates the need for volunteer recruitment as an ongoing and ever-present need.

First, in this church, volunteers do not get assigned to a specific age or room. In other words, they don’t volunteer to work in the nursery or to work with middle schoolers. Rather, they get assigned to a group of children, a specific set of little ones who start out in the nursery, and as they grow and move up through different parts of the ministry program so does the volunteer. This idea came from the research that shows that consistency in relationships is integral to faith formation in rising generations.

One of the hardest things for a child or youth at church to experience is to have a children’s pastor or youth pastor that they have developed a strong relationship with to suddenly leave for new church or new job. Very often, that paid staff member is the only consistent person they have in their church experience while volunteers fluctuate from week to week. But this approach changes that – from the time they are young until they graduate, these young people have a consistent relationship with one or two adult church members who have grown alongside of them.

Which brings us to the second key part of this church’s approach to children and youth volunteers – a question on the application that simply reads, “Are you willing to do this for life?” The explanation is simply this: As a volunteer in this church, it is understood that even after the church service is over, even after graduation from high school takes place, even after the child has grown into an adult, this volunteer will forever be to that person a representation of the church (the body of Christ) and of Christ himself. Once we have taken on the role of teacher, mentor, and friend, we can’t just shrug it off and leave it behind once our “responsibility” is completed. Rather, when we accept this role as nurturer, guide, and spiritual mentor, even with the youngest of children, we are signing on to a lifetime of loving well and living like Christ.

With all of that in mind, it’s no surprise that the final characteristic of this church’s volunteer ministry is that strong relationships develop between the volunteers and the whole family, not just the child in a classroom for a Sunday morning once or twice a month. When a volunteer at church has changed diapers, helped potty train, been part of the “learning to read” process, cheered them on through tests and games and performances, watched them learn to drive and shown up at their graduation, that person is no longer a volunteer – that is a mentor, a friend, a brother or sister in Christ.

What this church has done is huge – they have sent a message that they don’t need volunteers to fill a slot or teach a class or chaperone a bunch of rowdy teens. They have said, “We need mentors who will walk with these children and youth throughout their growing up years as a consistent testimony of the love of God, the body of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

And guess what? It works! This children’s pastor shared with me that she never had trouble finding volunteers, even with the lifelong commitment question, because ultimately, she wasn’t finding volunteers – she was mobilizing the church for the work it is called to do – make disciples!

If you have been around ReFocus for any amount of time, you know that I deeply desire for churches to find spaces and places for all ages to gather in worship, learning, and relationship with one another. But I also value the importance of peer relationships and age-sensitive spaces for children and youth to flourish together. The approach described above adds an essential layer of true intergenerational relationship and mentorship to the age-sensitive approach in meaningful and substantive way. If your church is not ready or able to bring all ages together, this is one way to help bridge the gap between generations and provide those essential formational adult relationships in a child spiritual life and community.

It’s VBS…Only Better!

Vacation Bible School is often one of the highlights of the church year. It’s fun! It’s loud! It’s got snacks! But over the years, more and more churches have been wondering, “Has VBS run its course? Is it effective? Are we reaching our community?”

Let’s imagine a different kind of VBS.

Imagine the entire family moving through a faith experience together; playing games, building crafts, maybe even a short parent training on faith formation at home… all happening at one of your cherished church events – VBS!!

Now imagine a tool that helps make it all possible. Welcome to the Family VBS Curriculum Adapter!


It’s Time To Connect

Connect Generations Coaching is a one-time intensive coaching experience that uses a research-based ministry assessment tool designed for churches to complete in less than a week.

This unique coaching experience offers specific insight into the barriers and bridges to connect generations and bring your community together. The Connect Generations Ministry Assessment Tool & Coaching Experience are available now for only $99.

About the Founder of ReFocus Ministry

Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and a doctorate in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry.

In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as Next Gen pastor at Open Door Church in Lexington, Kentucky.

She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.

Interested in having Christina visit your church, speak at your conference, or coach your team?

Christina speaks on a wide range of topics related to children, youth, and family ministry with a unique focus on connecting generations for discipleship within your church. Her personalized approach allows you to pinpoint the needs of your community and gain the insight that you are looking for. Whether this is a volunteer team training and pastoral staff meeting or a ministerial conference, her experience and knowledge will help you determine the next step forward in creating lifelong disciples.

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We're made for connection. What is keeping us apart?

Take the Connect Generations Assessment and identify the bridges and barriers to discipleship in your church