How Young is Too Young to Serve in Guest Services?
Recently I received an email from a long-time friend in our congregation. She was reaching out on behalf of her ten year old daughter, who wanted to be a part of the Set Up Team at one of our mobile campuses.
The good news is, this particular ten year old is an easy win. Though I don’t know her all that well, I know her mom and dad well enough to know she comes from good stock and will give everything she has to a team where she’s working alongside people four times her age.
But what about other ten year olds? Or eight or sixteen or twelve or four year olds? What happens when that precocious youngster in your church raises their hand and says “Put me in, coach”?
(By the way, for this post, we’re considering serving in the context of Guest Services, but you can squint your eyes and make this work in your own ministry context.)
6 things to consider when considering age limits:
1. Keep your priorities in check.
Yes, we want all people in our churches to figure out how they use their spiritual gifts to meaningfully serve others. But we have to make sure that we’re not championing elementary school volunteers at the cost of other quite necessary things. Whenever I’m considering a kid for a particular role, I filter that consideration through these things, in this order:
- Safety. There are some roles that are simply inappropriate for the kid who’s serving or the clientele they serve (using a kids’ ministry example on the latter part of that sentence, eight year olds can’t be in charge of six year olds).
- Guest experience. Call me crazy, but I think our guest services teams should be more about honoring our guests and less about spotlighting a darling kid who is supposed to be serving, but instead wanders off to play with friends. (More on this in #5 below.)
- The work of the Spirit in the life of the kid. If all believers are called to be servants, I dare not stand in the way of their desire to serve. However, following the priorities above, I want to funnel that desire appropriately. (More on this in #6 below.)
2. Consider the motivation.
Does the kid simply want to get out of Sunday School early? Does the parent just want an extended break from the kid? Motivations matter for our adult volunteers, but it’s important to acknowledge them for our younger vols, as well.
3. Don’t water down the expectations.
If a child wants to be a part of the team, then make sure that the child is a full part of the team. Take them through training. Include them on emails (maybe through mom or dad’s account). Invite them to team gatherings. Don’t say you’re investing in volunteers if you’re leaving out some volunteers.
And on the flip side, don’t give them a free pass when they don’t meet team requirements. If they blow it, talk about how they can make it better. Do this in an age-appropriate way and saturate the conversation with grace, of course. But coach them to be the best volunteer they can be, just as you would their adult counterparts.
4. Require parental involvement. (Maybe.)
Depending on the age of the child or the role they’re filling, it may be necessary to require a parent, grandparent, or guardian to serve alongside them. For example, we have waist-high young guys that serve on our parking teams, but they’re always side-by-side with their dads. (That also helps with the “safety” priority in #1.)
5. Assess situational maturity.
Back to #1 above, there are Guest Services roles that don’t require direct interaction with guests. If you have a preteen who’s awkward or a middle schooler who’s moody (and who among us doesn’t have those), then maybe a guest-facing role isn’t the best … right now.
So maybe they can do set up or tear down or serve in VHQ or help with first-time guest bag prep. (And to my youngest son, now an adult: if you ever read this, know that I didn’t have you doing first-time guest bag prep because you were a moody middle schooler. I mean, you were, but I needed that spot filled, too.)
6. When all else fails, consider all things a step.
If a kid is not ready for the role they want…if you put them into a position and they spectacularly blow it…if they flake out and don’t show up for weeks at a time…it’s not an end-all failure. It’s a step of maturity on the way to maturity. So don’t shame them, coach them. Don’t patronize them, disciple them. Don’t dismiss them, figure out a way to get them back in the game.
One final thing, before I sign off as a crotchety old church person who thinks kids should be seen and not heard: I get really excited about seeing elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers step up to the plate and serve. I think it should be encouraged, not discouraged. I think it’s a shot in the arm – and maybe a kick in the shins – to adults who aren’t serving themselves. But let’s set our kids up for a huge win, not a mediocre one.
Those are my six. How do you help the younger set in your church learn to serve?