Encouraging healthy mentoring relationships between students and adults is crucial in youth ministry. If a ton of students show up at your youth group, but they only interact with their peers and not with any adults, they might as well have gone to the mall instead. Mentoring relationships between teenagers and mature adults are one of the things that make youth ministry work. If those kinds of relationships aren’t happening in our youth ministries, then we really are just segregating teenagers from the older generations of the church.
The problem is that mentoring relationships don’t just happen. They need to be encouraged, cultivated and sometimes arranged.
Even if you have a fantastic team of adult volunteers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that mentoring relationships are automatically happening. Here are some ways to help those kinds of relationships happen in your youth ministry and how to maximize their impact:
Design events to foster interactions between students and adults.
It’s entirely possible to have an incredibly fun and meaningful event with almost zero interaction between adults and teenagers. You may have recently been at one of those events, like that lock-in where the adults huddled around the coffeemaker the whole night while the students played in the gym. Make it clear to leaders and parents at the event that their job is to interact with students. If necessary, give them a numerical goal, such as learning the names and schools of at least seven students. And while you’re at it, plan your events so that it’s almost impossible for a teenagers to spend the bulk of it without an adult around. Some of the best conversations can happen during a service project or a day at the amusement park.
Give job descriptions to your leaders.
It might be clear to you—the youth pastor—that adult leaders should make an effort to get to know students in the youth group. But your new volunteer, who’s a great guy but somewhat scared of his new role, may not know that. Make sure that there are plenty of adult leaders available at your weekly gatherings who know their job is to simply talk to the teenagers who are coming.
Build small groups.
I’m a big fan of small groups because of the opportunities for mentoring that exist there. Small groups aren’t just a convenient way to get teenagers to study the Bible together; they are a petri dish for mentoring relationships. When I ask someone to be a small group leader, I make it clear that their job is to shepherd and mentor the teenagers in their group. To me, there’s no better recipe for mentoring in youth ministry than a few great leaders teaming up to shepherd eight to 10 teenagers.
Find great adults for teenagers to meet with one-on-one.
Every so often, a teenager really needs to have a mentor that he or she meets with one-on-one. When that happens, I do my best to find a safe, mature adult for that teenager to meet with (because if I’m the one doing all the mentoring, I’m going to burn out pretty quickly). This requires a bit of leg work, like finding the right mentor and making sure the student’s parents are on board, but when it works, it’s well worth it. Oh, and here’s a little secret: The mentor doesn’t have to be a full-fledged youth leader. You’d be surprised how many great people in your church may not be up for being with lots of teenagers week in and week out, but they are happy to meet with one of them every month for breakfast.
How do you encourage mentoring relationships in your youth ministry?