I’m running on a treadmill that moves faster than I can run

Running on a treadmillCan I be honest for a second? (Of course I can, it’s my blog.) My church launches all our fall ministry programs this Sunday morning and I still don’t have everything lined up. It’s not because I’ve been lazy or slacking off, but because everything is moving and growing so fast. I started at this church last February with about 20 adult volunteers, but since I wanted to drop our adult/student ratio to about 1/5 in order to start jr. high small groups and be more intentional about building relationships, the existing volunteers and myself started hand-picking new volunteers that we thought might be a good fit. Well, we now have about 50 adult volunteers on our youth team, but due to growth, I still need to confirm 6 additional volunteers by this Sunday just to operate! Fortunately I’m in touch with a couple people who are thinking about making a commitment, so this may just all come together at the last minute, but still… And our church is completely out of space on both Sundays and Wednesdays. I even have some 9th graders meeting in the gym’s basketball closet. By January we definitely need to start meeting at different times, utilize homes more often or start using the hallways.

I guess it’s a good problem to have, but I’m totally confused about how we got to this point over just one summer. My church traditionally slows down their ministry programs during the summer, so I followed suit by having nothing more than two Bible studies at my house each week and a couple big trips. Most of our expansion is with the jr. high and I know several of them got fired up by hanging out at my house. Without any initiative, the jr. highers invited many friends to my house (some of them said it was the highlight of their summer!), but that doesn’t account for all the growth. Our youth ministry also made some pretty significant scheduling and programming changes based on months of dreaming a new vision, several volunteer trainings and solidifying as a team. We communicated well with each other, with parents, students and church staff, so it all seemed to flow pretty naturally as we progressed to this point. I know there also were several teams of incredible volunteers working diligently to overhaul programs, organize new ones, plan events and a secretary who took over many of my administrative tasks just so I can focus more on students. Having a new youth pastor in place naturally adds excitement and everything we do is based on prayer, asking for God’s wisdom and guidance.

So why all the growth? I don’t know. I’m not complaining, just perplexed, but maybe I shouldn’t be. We didn’t plan for this on purpose, we just wanted to be as effective as possible in all that we do in order to bring glory to God throughout all generations. I guess He’s honoring that and deems us as faithful stewards. What a tremendous responsibility; what an overwhelming privilege.

Posted on September 6, 2007

  • man that’s awesome to hear. 50 volunteers?? That’s stinking amazing.

  • I think you know you are experiencing the right kind of growth when you can’t explain it.

    Sounds like you are doing a good job.

  • Tim

    @ Chris: Yeah, it really is… but I still need at least 6 more just to cover our bases now. Whew!

    @ Matt: Thanks for the encouragement, but it’s really not me. My volunteers probably do about 60% of the work. I just oversee everything. And obviously God must be doing something here, too. Dunno what, but regardless, it’s not me because otherwise everything would be messed up by now.

  • Ann

    Why do you have to meet on Wednesdays for youth group? About 20 years ago we switched to High School on Tuesdays and Jr. High on Thursdays. With as many volunteers as you have, you could easily run two nights. On Sundays, it’s a bit more tricky unless you have multiple worship (identical) services. Then you reuse the facility by “hotbunking” (what the Navy does on submarines -two people share the same space but on completely different schedules). Is this possible for you?

  • Tim

    @ Ann: Yeah, we gonna address the scheduling issue and start meeting at different times to alleviate space pressures. Truth is, we already have youth group meetings on Sunday mornings (jr. and sr. high separate at church), Sunday nights (sr. high large group at church), Monday nights (sr. high small groups in homes), and two different locations on Wednesday nights (jr. high at church, sr. high small groups in homes). All of the volunteers are already stretched between those programs. The downside to meeting at other times is that many of our families come from longer distances and to schedule each of their kids church stuff on different days would be very inconvenient. They don’t mind making the trip once or twice a week, but to come to Awana one night, jr high the next, sr. high another night and then adult classes, that just won’t work.

  • the problem you start running into by putting things on different nights is alienating families. you still have some families where they have a student in both that can’t drive. if you schedule things on different nights you run the risk of losing those kids and possibly families. We actually meet together for worship/ announcements/ crowd breakers and split into discussion groups for the message. It works really well for us. Plus in our community Wednesday night is known as “church night” by the schools and they let practices our a little earlier due to this fact. it’s kind of nice.

    we moved our middle school to a different night. Went from 100 down to 12 in one semester so we moved it back to Wednesday nights and split them from the high school group in the same building and it exploded again.

  • Ann

    Tim & Chris,
    You both bring up good points as why to keep it on one night. We didn’t have the problem with people coming long distances -most live within 2-3 miles of the facility and we live in a car culture here in Southern California. Also, Wednesday night as “church night” has long been dead in our community because of adult small group Bible Studies meeting throughout the week; the megachurches in the area especially practice this. We do keep Wednesday night for our children’s program, Faithweaver Friends and have some small groups meeting on campus for parents. Having the children’s program on a different night than Sr. High or College group allows those students to volunteer within that ministry. This was especially true when we did the more volunteer intensive AWANA.

    Perhaps it might be okay for you to move High School off Wednesdays while keeping JH there. It seems you’ve already moved off campus with your HS, why not by nights? BTW, we also don’t have volunteers covering multiple ministries. HS workers do not work in JH or Children’s Ministry, so as not to be spread too thin. This is curious to me that you would have three nighttime HS gatherings during the week. That would cause the parents in my church to flip out.

    Space issues are really joyous problems to have, but they can be solved with a little creativity and willingness to think outside the box of what “we’ve always done”. It was hard for us to make the transition back then, but even now, when faced with the opposite problem, it’s harder to think about how we could possibly move both groups back to midweek.

    Oh well, since I’m not yet back in YM, not exactly my concern (for now -more on that later).

  • Tim

    @ Chris: We have that same Wednesday night dynamic in our community, too. There are no sports games and kids are released early from extracurricular activities that night to make it easier for church stuff.

    @ Ann: Yeah, high school is already off-site on Wednesday nights. Only jr. high are at church. And the three evening high school meetings are each different. It actually turns out that they’re attended by three somewhat different groups of kids. Sunday night is our large group night and then there are various small groups that meet in homes on Monday and Wednesday nights. There aren’t any students that attend all three every week. Some attend Monday night small groups, others attend Wednesday night small groups, some aren’t in a small group at all and only come to Sunday school or Sunday night youth group.

  • Remember to REST and work out of the rest … not vice-versa

  • Tim

    @ Jeff: Absolutely. Friday is my day off and Saturday I’ll be out of town. I’ll probably make a couple phone calls tomorrow to follow up with some potential volunteers, but other than that I’m just gonna relax and slide into Sunday morning playing it by ear, even if we don’t have enough teachers.

  • Matt

    Do you require your volunteers to come to both SG and LG? Or do you have 2 types of leaders? How about Sun mornings…Do they come to that as well?

  • Tim

    @ Matt: No, I don’t require that they attend both large group and small groups, although several of them do anyway. Most of them, though, can only commit to one thing each week, so that’s what they do. I should note that not all of my volunteers are small group or large group leaders, too. One lady heads up fund raising efforts for mission trips, one guy spends one-on-one time during the week with the “at risk” kids, another lady organizes snacks to make sure there’s food at every meeting, stuff like that. Those aren’t really positions I created, those are people who say, “I really like doing such-and-such kinda stuff. How can you use me?” so we create the positions for them. Check this post from 2005 for more about how I utilize and assign volunteers.

  • Tim we have the same thing going on. We have students who come from up to 45 miles away to attend our student ministry. So for us moving them to different nights just won’t work. Also we have a weird thing going on. Have for 7 years or so. People in our church view our student ministry negatively…actually in the 5 years since I have been here we have been climbing out of that whole.

    We have parents who won’t send their students to our mid-week programs becuase they don’t want their kids, “hanging out with THOSE types” so they send them elsewhere and view as a a non-legitimate ministry. Seriously.

    So it’s hard for us to recruit leaders to help. I have the firm belief though that once we get 20-25 leaders our growth will explode again. So I’m desperately praying for that to happen. We have a GREAT and unique ministry going and are severely understaffed. Some people will volunteer to help then when they find out we don’t do things like they had when they were in high school the up and quit on us. Seriously. the leaders I do have are TREMENDOUS though. They will got he extra mile for our students and often do. Now if the vision would catch on.

    Any thoughts?

  • Tim

    @ Chris: I didn’t respond to this right away because I wanted to think about it for a little bit first, but unfortunately, I still don’t really have any good ideas or deep words of wisdom for ya. The main thing that comes to mind is that we can’t reach everyone and that’s okay. As much as we want to see the Lord glorified through the lives of as many students as possible, I guess I’m okay if some of “my” church kids go to another church’s student ministry if that’s where they’ll best be spiritually encouraged. Obviously, other kids are attending your group that no one else would otherwise reach, so if you view it with a kingdom mindset, then it’s all a work of the Holy Spirit no matter which youth group kids attend.

    As far as recruiting leaders, I have no magic formula there, either. Sounds like you’re doing everything we did: dream a vision TOGETHER, build unity as a team, give them ownership of the group by delegating authority (not just delegating responsibility), communicate well with everyone, and of course, pray ’em in. Show your potential volunteers that you’re on an exciting mission that’s going somewhere and show them all the fruit that’s taking place. Don’t just share empty holes in your ministry then can help fill.

    I’m sure you’re doing all of this already, so like I said, nothing too deep here. Maybe just a little encouragement that you’re already heading in the right direction. :)

  • @ Tim – yeah it is encouraging. Thanks. Seriously. I don’t necessarily mind “my church kids going somewhere else. Most of them like the smaller group feeling than being with 150+ each week. For the first few years I really didn’t understand it at all becuase i was the POLAR opposite when I was in high school. I would have killed to see our student ministry exploding but our youth pastor “valued” keeping it for the church kids. Put a bad taste in my mouth for keeping things small.

    And I am trying to empower our leaders. Some of them are really getting it some aren’t. But that’s alright all in God’s timing. believe me I’m not discouraged at all. I know everything fits into Gods plan and we’re praying to be at a weekly attendance of 200-250 by the end of the school year. We live in a small community (5, 000 people) so we get a lot of buzz around town. Sometimes it’s positive sometimes it’s negative but nonetheless God shines through it all.

  • G-ma B


  • Ann

    Hopefully, the remaining three leaders you need to find will be so excited about what God is already doing that they will joyfully commit to serve this week.

    I know that the "news" of my upcoming return to youth ministry next month had me all giddy as well as some of the parents and students who had heard of it this morning. When we have a passion for God and students, the thought of (again) having the privilege to work in YM both excites and delights.

  • Tim

    Just as an update, I went into this morning still short three leaders, but it worked out okay for this week. I’m teaching the 7th/8th grade class and we had about triple the amount students I had originally anticipated, which was great, but our space issue is definitely compounded because of it. Furthermore, I’m about to give up on trying to keep a decent adult to student ratio (not really). My class’s ratio was about 1/14. The 6th grade class was 1/30-some and 10th-12th grade class was 1/20. Crazy…

  • I’m having a similar problem, from 18 kids to 29 in about 3 months and over the summer. There are some interesting responses, some of the “old kids” are upset because the attention previously devoted to them is now going to other kids. The paradigm is shifting, and I’m unsure of what to do.

  • Tim

    @ John: Dude, that’s awesome! I love hearing about souls being reached for Christ! Keep up the great work!

    If you’re looking for help, you’ve come to the right place. There are many readers here who can give you excellent advice and input.

    My suggestion is to shift into recruitment mode and hand-pick (NOT give a plea for help) other adult leaders who will come beside you and reach the kids. It’s hard for one person to even effectively be involved in 10 kids lives, so as you reach 30, there’s no way you can do this on your own. Recruit leaders and shift your focus to training them to do the work of the ministry. In essence, multiply yourself.

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