Do you have your student volunteers in the right positions?
Do you have your student volunteers in the right positions? (Lightstock)

Recently I posted about student volunteers and the consistencies I see in those that are highly engaged in serving. Sarah Dunn from Southpointe Church in Oklahoma City asked a few great questions: 

Do you have guidelines for where middle-schoolers versus high schoolers can serve? Do you allow middle school students to lead small groups on their own?

There are a ton of extraordinary kids’ ministry leaders with great guidance on this topic. Here’s what I think.

Authority Gap
When choosing where a student can serve, I think it’s important to consider the gap of authority between the student and they kids they lead. I go by a standard of five years. If there is a five-year age difference between the student and the child, then that’s a good fit. I have a few exceptions to that rule, but the exceptions are exactly that … exceptions.

For example, most middle school students serve in our preschool environments (2 years old to pre-K). This means that an 11-year-old sixth grader would serve in a room with a child as old as 5-6 years old (older pre-K).

There has to be enough of an age difference for the student to be an authority in the room. Five years is a good age differential.

No Student Gaggles
We try to limit the number of students that serve in a room. Things seem to run smoother when there are no more than two students serving in a room together. However, we have to work hard to ensure that our students understand the expectations and live up to them.

Student Volunteers Are the Icing, Not the Cake
We have defined volunteer-to-kid ratios for every age category in fpKIDS. We follow these guidelines to ensure that we have enough supervision in the rooms for the number of kids we see each week.

However, we do not count our students in these ratios until they are 16 years old. That means that when we are staffing our rooms for the average number of kids we expect to see, the number of students we have in that room does not reduce the number of volunteers our ratio requires.

We still place students on our volunteer schedule and expect to see them when they are scheduled. I think students need (and like) that accountability. We just don’t count them in the same way that we count adults.

I have a variety of exceptions. Here are a few:

1. The “not yet a student.” I have a few fourth- and fifth-graders that serve in kids’ ministry. That’s a pretty young age. But (as with any volunteer) we require they attend their age-appropriate worship environment in addition to serving, not in replacement worship. And they must serve with their parent (or a designated mentor).

We require the parent or mentor because a student this young requires more guidance than the adult volunteers in the room can provide without detracting from the overall experience for our kids. The parent (or mentor) is there to provide that guidance. I enter into situations like this very carefully and with a lot of communication with the parent. For anyone that decides to allow students younger than sixth grade to serve in their kids ministry, I highly recommend a trial basis where you revisit the topic with the child and parent to discuss how it’s going.

2. Middle-schooler leading a small group. I do have a few middle school students leading elementary small groups. Some have been highly successful and some have not. And much of the success comes down to their ability to communicate expectations and hold kids accountable. The middle school students I currently have in elementary are successful for the following reasons:

  • Youngest age category. We allow them to lead the younger age groups like kindergarten or first grade.
  • Half the standard. We give these students smaller groups to lead (4-5 versus 8-10 kids).
  • Adult assistance nearby. There is an adult leading the same age group nearby to provide assistance when needed.

All right, ministry leaders, it’s your turn to weigh in.

What do you do? What guidelines do you have for middle school and high school students to serve? Do you let them lead their own small group?

Gina McClain is a speaker, writer and children’s ministry director at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tenn.

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