Checking The Apples Before You Eat A Worm: Screening Volunteers

August 30, 2016

Getting a new volunteer is exciting! Most youth workers out there are looking for new volunteers, and many youth workers are in desperate need of some. But sometimes our eagerness for volunteers gets in the way of making the right selection.
At my first full-time youth pastor position I had a prospective volunteer who was a theology student at a local Christian university. He was a nice guy with a great personality and he came highly recommended. In fact, he was the senior pastor’s nephew who just moved into town for school and I figured he would make a great volunteer. After agreeing to volunteer, he came to youth group one night just to check it out. That night, I already knew I was going to bring him on as a volunteer. I thought to myself, “I really don’t need to put him through the application and interview process, I’ve heard good things about him and he seems like a nice guy.” Intending to get him involved right away. I asked him to co-lead the game up front with me and he was totally down. I was so excited to get such an enthusiastic volunteer, willing to get up front on his first day! While on stage, I figured I would do some “get to know you” questions so the students could meet this great new volunteer. I began by asking him his favorite superhero, what food he would choose if he could only have one for the rest of his life, and a few of the other really important questions. Then I asked, “Tell us how you became a Christian.” He responded by saying “I have just always been a Christian.” I laughed a little, and thought man this guy is funny, then I asked again “okay, but for real tell us when you accepted Christ” he again responded with “well, I have just always been a Christian. I didn’t really ask anything, I was just born a Christian.” I knew at that moment I had made a huge mistake in not taking him through a screening process before allowing him to volunteer, and even worse, hop on stage with a microphone. I quickly ushered him off stage and did an impromptu Gospel presentation to clear up any confusion on how one becomes a Christian.
As a young youth pastor I made a big mistake by skipping the screening process. Had I screened him properly, I could have prevented the awkwardness and confusion that took place.
I cannot stress enough the importance of background checks, applications, and interviews. There are bad apples for youth ministry in every church. Sometimes we can be so desperate for any volunteer that we end up taking one that will, in the long run, cause more trouble than help. Find out who you are bringing on to help within your ministry. Develop a process for screening and make sure they are a good fit. A pulse should not be the main requirement for being a youth leader.
Here are some of the steps I would suggest…
-Have an application process
Even if you are the one who recruited the volunteer, make everyone fill out a volunteer application. This not only helps you gather important information about the person, but it also gives you credibility with parents and other church staff knowing that you have a process and information on file. (you can download a free volunteer application at stokedonyouthministry.com/forms-applications)
-Meet with them in person
You don’t have to officially call this a “interview” but it is an interview. Ask them questions and find out if they are the right fit. Have their application on hand and ask any questions you might have after going through their application. Again, even if you already know this person well, it is more about the process and protecting your students, yourself, and your church.
-Background check them
This is ESSENTIAL! Your church should have a policy on this, but if they don’t do it anyway. The safety of your students is not something to take lightly. You can search the internet for companies that do background checks, they can be done very reasonably and sometimes free.


Sometimes it may seem silly but screening your volunteers is extremely important. Volunteers are so important and you want to make sure you are getting someone who will be there for a while. Poor screening is not a good enough excuse for a volunteer not working out and having to bail on students. There are bad apples for youth ministry out there but they can be found. Protect your ministry from eating a worm!


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