Dear Church congregations,
Heres some handy tips to prepare yourselves if you have the resources and vision and passion for young people and lucky enough to appoint a youthworker.
Given that theres not many to go around nowadays, that a few Christian youthwork training courses have closed recently, a quick scan of youthwork magazine, Facebook and twitter might reveal an increased number of roles required, but less youthworkers availible to fill them. So, if your church is looking to employ a youth worker, whether for young adults you already know as a church, or the young adults and their families whom you don’t know yet, then i would suggest that at some point in the process of seeking this appointment that you consider the following (in no particular order);
- Get the administration right! – nothing worse than being a youthworker in a new role and having to ask about the admin – such as payroll, insurance, tax or expenses – or at least have to create the processes for these things in an organisation that might be new. Have the roles for DBS, & pay designated.
- Have some knowledge about the role of the youthworker, their training, motivations and influences, so that you might be able to encourage them in the way in which they might be shaping the practice of youthwork once they start
- Think carefully about the management structure, who they report to, how they report, and how the congregation feed into this and receive from the youthworker in terms of communication & progress. Give them a line manager who has time and keen to learn about managing a youthworker, not just the most obvious person, the vicar.
- Give the youthworker a honeymoon period in which their new ideas are encouraged, and that phrases like “the previous youthworker/in the 1970/80/90’s we did it this way” are reduced, actually any sentence that includes the terms ‘did it this way’ or ‘we used to..’ should be banned full stop. This is known as England football manager syndrome.
- Consider that if the youthwork is so difficult that you have chosen to appoint a professional, giving them too much advice on the way they are doing things would seem to be at odds with how difficult you think it actually is.
- Dont think that you cant be a volunteer and help them because of your age. If you want to be a volunteer just ask.
- If you’re appointing a youthworker and the work is not already occurring doing the work, and have no idea who the volunteers might be, id advise you not to employ someone in the first place.
- Enable them to have someone to help them continue to think professionally and reflectively about their practice – whether another youthworker locally. They will really appreciate this, especially if they are the only youthworker in the church or with the closure of youth centres the only youthworker for 15-20 miles.
- Allow them to ask questions and be critical, they might only be asking questions that the young people might be asking too. Trust them with new ways, after all thats why you’ve employed a thinking professional youthworker.
- Avoid using numerical terms to measure the success of anything the youthworker does. Even if it seems the easiest thing to do. Most youthworkers hate numbers as success. If your youthworker plays the numbers game, they’re less of a youthworker than they think they are or they might just be trying to play the church numbers game. Its probably a youth pastor dressed up in youth work clothing.
- Feed them regularly, and get to know them.
- Give them contacts and networks of people locally, especially important people in the community such as schools, police, other agencies.
- Join in with their work, join in the ride and the life of the young adults, show empathy.
- Allocate funding for their role so that they dont have to worry about more than a year in advance. Pay them well, appraise them, and give them positive feedback, based on what has gone well, the details, not just attendance figures.
- Give them chances & opportunities to grow, have responsibility, be part of ministry teams.
- Make sure they’re not over worked, or have their hours full in the first 6 months. Where is the growth room?
- Give them time off at Christmas, especially if theyre 100’s of miles from their family.
- Of course theyll want a laptop and phone. And an office/desk.
- Theyd really love a budget for networking and coffees out. This is important for them.
- Think ahead, and how to get things right when things might not be going well – do you have policies in place for grievance, code of conduct & accountability?
If they are properly supervised, managed & administered, and that the whole church is behind the appointment (and its not just the leaders, or a visionary) and that their role is made clear from the outset, and so when they take up the post they know what to expect- these would be the main structural aspects to get right and ensure some smooth introductions and inductions (oh yes give them a good induction). The rest is left to how they integrate into your faith community, and integrate with young adults in your faith community, and how other young people might become as integrated too.
Treasure your new youthworker, if you do that, theyll hopefully stay for a long time, and if they do that itll be far more beneficial to the young people you value enough to invest in a youthworker in the first place.