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Key lessons on employing a youth worker

Sam Donoghue, Head of Children's and Youth Ministry Support at London Diocese offers thoughts and advice to anyone considering recruiting a youth worker.

Presented by London Diocese

If you’ve contemplated ‘Growing Younger’ in your own church context, one thought you may have had is ‘I wonder if we should employ someone to help us with this?’ 

It makes sense. There’s a big correlation between paid workers and larger numbers of under-16s. Now, I know what you’re thinking. ‘He’s confusing correlation with causation’, do we know if their recruitment caused growth or they recruited as a response to growth. I can answer that! 

Employing a paid worker won’t cause growth if you have smaller numbers, leadership is key there. However, once you’re growing, a paid worker is the best hire you can make to accelerate that growth. Just remember that this works best when your recruitment is the ‘cherry on the top’ of a church already prioritising children and young people rather than a hero coming in to save the day.

In my role for the Diocese of London supporting youth and children’s work, I’ve worked with lots of churches recruiting and helped them sort out the mess when they’ve got it wrong. If you’re thinking about employing a paid youth worker, I hope these thoughts may help you get it right. 

Work hard on a role description that avoids unrealistic expectations. It is amazing how often a church doesn’t really know why they want a paid worker, apart from quadrupling the youth group and solving serious youth violence. You need some real clarity, so that you get the right person for the job, and they can thrive knowing what is expected of them and if their job is going well. A vacuum here is bad for mental health. 

Start with an aim, then think about activities that support it. Then work out how many activities they can deliver in their hours. Be realistic, especially about how much they can achieve in the first year.

The second thing you need to really work hard at is managing your worker. Remember your aim is that they thrive in their role, not that they work really hard. Someone thriving in their role will do loads of work happy people are productive! 

You should expect your worker to need a line manager, available daily and meeting with them weekly, a mentor that they see perhaps monthly and a spiritual director who they see quarterly. Poor line management is something I see too often. If you’ve never managed someone you shouldn’t presume to be good at it. Go on a course and make sure you become a key asset for the worker.

You’ll need to give your worker more time than you think. Youth workers tend to benefit from lots of little catch ups rather than monthly meetings. You should make an effort to see them delivering youth work, they will need your feedback and encouragement. You need to be aware that you may need to support your youth worker with some basic things. If you’ve held a job like mine for any length of time then you will have helped a youth worker to manage their diary or organise their inbox!

Finally, it’s worth commenting on recruitment. The process of actually finding this person is going to take longer than you think, and you might not manage it at all. We are massively short on youth workers right now and there are no guarantees that you will get any decent applicants. It’s likely you are going to have to develop the person you take on that’s fine, so long as you have a plan in place. Problems occur when churches appoint someone and ‘hope for the best’.

If you are in the Church of England, do make use of the support your diocese offers for youth and children. A diocesan website might make them tricky to find, but there is an expert there waiting to help you!

This article was printed in Multiply 2024: The Manual, a publication that accompanied the programme of Multiply 2024, which explored multiplying a younger church. You can find related content below.