Investing in a Youth Minister

Let’s begin by recognizing that having someone who can devote time to coordinating, developing and growing a youth ministry within a parish is a good thing! Having someone who can handle youth ministry is likely one of the hardest, most challenging roles anyone can play in a parish.

Rarely is there a definitive start and end time of their involvement in the ministry each day. They have to handle a spectrum of behavior that most all other ministries do not encounter regularly outside of a counselling environment. Finding a person who can prepare a program, promote it, gather volunteers to implement it and handle youth who may or may not attend and exhibit interest that ranges from fleeting and disengaged to those who are super eager and “pumped” to be fed the Catholic faith is not an easy thing. Throw into the mix your need to be able to engage the disinterested who are on the verge of never darkening the door of the church again while settling down the young people who are loud and bouncing off the walls at the very same instant. They need to talk to the youth who don’t seem to want to talk to anyone, while finding polite ways to disengage themselves from young people who want a youth minister’s full, prompt and undivided attention – for a fifteen minute timespan.

Perhaps that sounds familiar, but it hardly scratches the surface of what someone who wears the “youth ministry” hat is called to do in that capacity.

So listed below is a general assessment of things to consider when looking at the prospects of a full-time, part-time or volunteer-based youth minister or youth ministry coordinator:

  1. A plague of many youth ministries is the coming and going of a leader! If a person can commit themselves to 35 + hours a week (every full time youth minister exceeds the 35 hours) your ministry stands to grow and stabilize over the short and long term. Consistently having to “re-start” the ministry when a leader leaves is tiring and taxing, not just for the pastor, but for the youth that you are trying to minister too.
  2. Hiring a full time youth ministry requires a financial cost in the short term. When you look at the fruits of that work over the long term and you see youth and families recommitting themselves to the life of the parish, it does not take long to see the return on the ‘investment’ you made. From families more fired up to be a part of parish life to just having the reputation in your area of being a ‘youth-friendly’ church, you will see the dividends.
  3. Having a person adept at handling youth culture issues and concerns gives pastors support when approached by parents or even youth who have a crisis or are seeking some sort of counsel with regards to “youth” issues. Someone who is able AND is generally available to invest time and walk with these young people reflects well and demonstrates that the parish is invested in caring for the issues and concerns of its younger members.
  4. One of the most important roles of the youth minister/coordinator is to assemble a team of people to be involved in the ministry. A full time person can invest more time in connecting with potential volunteers within the parish, able to provide various resources and training opportunities for their involvement spanning demographics, interests and skill sets.
  5. As the ministry(ies) grow, a person with the time can better manage how to work with the increased demands of activities, relationships, expectations, events and formation that is required of a developing parish youth ministry. Ultimately this is to be expected as part of a full time position as where part-time and volunteer leaders are particularly limited in this way.
  6. A full time person is also in a better position to stay on top of new resources and have the opportunity to utilize them. With the time built into their position, they can research, sample and get a hold of resources (web-based, retreat information, Scripture studies, catechetical formation) that is pertinent to the youth of your parish. Part-time and volunteers typically work with the same resources repeatedly as they do not have the time to find new or better resources. In youth ministry, having current and relevant resources are very important!
  7. Having a full-time youth minister on staff may require some rethinking or re-organizing of office space. A full-time person will require some sort of designated space to work from within the parish (or compensation if needed to work from home for supplies used) and items that come with that. Desk, computer with internet access, supplies access, photocopier access, telephone, and a ministry budget to work within. Be prepared for a shift in parish office culture! Wherever the youth minister is situated, you can begin to expect parish youth to be stopping by or their parents. You may find an increased number of parishioner visits by that parish office – which probably should be viewed as a good thing!
  8. A full-time person is more able to access the opportunities presented to network with other youth ministers and those coordinating parish youth ministry! This may seem somewhat inconsequential, but for those committed in this ministry, having partnerships, collaborations and opportunities to give/get feedback to others working in the same vineyard is very important. Many people who leave youth ministry note their sense of isolation and lack of support as critical factors in their decision to leave the ministry. Youth ministers walk that fragile bridge between pastor and volunteers, teens/tweens and volunteers, volunteers and other volunteers, teens and their families. Generally like priests it is important for them to gain support and encouragement from outside the parish community that they minister too.
  9. It is an encouraging practice to have the youth minister OUT of the office, because that is not where the youth are! A full-time youth minister can invest the time in meeting the teens where they are at – inside the local Catholic schools, meeting youth at lunches outside or near the public schools, attending sporting events or just being present at places where parish youth may typically gather ie. Movie theatre, malls, etc. Part-time YMs and volunteers are not able to achieve this outreach because of their other priorities. Outreach is critically important as it is often in these moments that relational ministry can be most fruitful.
  10. With a full-time youth minister, a parish mindset can typically develop whereby the youth minister becomes a “gate-keeper” of the teens. He/she is approached for all sorts of jobs people have in mind to use the parish youth for. While having a heart of service is important for all Catholics, it is an important priority that the youth minister is empowered with the responsibility of forming your parish’s young catholics in knowing and understanding their Catholic faith as well as having hearts of service.
  1. For parishes not accustomed to having “full time” workers at the parish, it can be less of a shock for the community, and it can also be an easier transition for the parish who may be new to even employing people generally. It provides more flexibility financially for the parish. Depending on the person in mind, a part-time position could be more conducive to what they can offer for time on top of existing commitments.
  2. Traditionally, part-time positions to bring about a greater turnover rate than full time workers. Generally, people end up looking for more full-time opportunities or feel that they may not be able to keep up with the increased demands of a growing ministry.
  3. A Part-time (PT) youth minister will help grow a parish youth ministry, however the expectations of “result” need to be stretch over a longer period of time. Having someone consistent is truly beneficial, but inevitably it will require more time to get connected to families, teens, tweens and others who would be impacted or involved through the youth ministry. Patience and keeping a long-term vision would be key in this regard.
  4. For important meetings and gatherings whereby the Youth Minister may need to be in attendance, a lot of advance notice will be needed. Recognizing their more limited availabilit in consideration of balancing time commitments, any “urgent” input or communications may not be responded to as timely as some people would prefer. Things always “pop up” unexpectedly that cannot be helped, so be aware of your PT Youth Minister’s schedule (is it fixed, semi-fixed, shifts completely week to week) and try to work out planned meetings accordingly.
  5. With a part-time person on staff, it is assumed that they will have some sort of designated space to work from within the parish along with resources to assist them in getting their work done. Presumably, this could be proportionately less than a full time person, but having resources at their disposal is still important in empowering your youth minister to get things done for the parish.
  6. Having a PT Youth Minister means having – and perhaps changing/adapting over time – well-established priorities that are being expected of them. There is always a host of new issues, ideas or problems that arise that potentially demand time of the youth minister. Knowing that their time is more limited and less flexible in some ways, it is important that the PT youth minister has a clear direction as to how to keep primary responsibilities in front of them and not be detracted when incidental experiences arise demanding attention.
  7. A PT Youth Minister is in a much stronger position than a volunteer youth minister to go out and reach new youth. Generally volunteers are able to promote and try to reach youth strictly within the parish already or attract through social media. A PT youth minister should have time to allocate to visiting schools and reaching youth who are not a part of parish life at present.
  1. Having a fully engaged and committed volunteer Youth Ministry is very possible! Often parishes feel they need to have a volunteer and there are some exceptional ones in the Toronto Archdiocese! However, rarely is that work easily repeated by another person should that person have to step away from the role. Times are great for a parish when they have that committed person, but when they leave, there is a typical scramble to find a replacement. More often than not, one of two things happen: A) No one steps up and the ministry foundation begins to unravel rapidly, sometimes completely B) Someone is found, but rarely have the charisma, time or ability to commit to the same level as their predecessor which leads then, back to the collapse or retraction of the ministry.
  2. Perhaps even more urgently than paid youth ministers, a volunteer youth minister should invest extra time in ensuring that they have a strong team of people to lead the ministry to reduce the shock and scramble that ensues when “The” volunteer youth minister back down. Delegating responsibilities and roles is critical for a successful Volunteer Youth Minister
  3. It’s a universal rule that with volunteers, they always have the option to step back if they don’t feel “on board” with the direction of a ministry head, or even a pastor’s directive on the direction of a ministry. Ensuring the pastor and volunteer Youth Minister are on the same page and that they Youth Minister feels accountable to that vision and its implementation is very important. Employed Youth Ministers have a stronger obligation to be accountable because of the employee/employer relationship. Ensuring that with volunteers can be tricky.
  4. Volunteer youth ministers typically do great work within their means. However pastors should be mindful of youth ministers that take too strong of a personal hold on the youth ministry. The events, activities, and experiences should all be leading the parish youth closer to Christ and His Church – not the youth minister. If the youth minister left the ministry, would the youth leave also? Some volunteers regrettably can feel overly-empowered, because they believe a pastor has no option but to work with them because there is no one else who is willing or able to handle the ministry. No matter how available or willing a volunteer youth minister may be, ensuring that they understand the mission of the ministry through the heart and mind of the pastor is key.
  5. Often a volunteer youth ministry is severely restricted in what time they can offer to the ministry! This can often lead to a “maintenance” mindset of the ministry – try to just keep things going as things are is enough work to do. Encouraging the volunteer youth minister to make time to ‘think outside of the box’ and find ways to reach new youth, or even reflect on the existing activities and question if these are truly the best options for your parish youth should be on a pastor’s agenda from time to time.
  6. If having a volunteer youth minister is a pastor’s only viable option at the present time, please contact the OCY and ask for the “How to Set Up the Volunteer Youth Minister for Success” document that lists in better detail items that a pastor may want to pray and consider before implementing the ministry.

If you have any questions, considerations or would like to discuss any or all of these options further, please contact the OCY and we will be most happy to meet or talk with you about your particular parish! Be assured of our prayers and commitment to helping you do the best ministry to your young people however possible.

About the Author, John MacMullen is the Associate Director of Youth Ministry at the OCY and can be reached at 416-599-7676