Student Ministry: Pitfalls and Best Practices

Don’t let your student ministry fail because of your lack of planning. We plan events, we bring in speakers, but what about your student ministry policies or code of conduct for your volunteers – when is the last time you updated the most vital information for your team and volunteers?
In my last blog, I talked about how children’s ministry and student ministry are the two areas that most need standard policies and procedures, because this is where the church is taking on the liability for the safe care of children. Children’s and student ministries are often cited as the greatest reason people choose a church to visit or to join, but the children’s and student areas can be the biggest risk to a church because the church is taking responsibility for the care of the children, and doing so with all or mostly all volunteers. While we all agree that these ministries are very important, without clear policies and procedures, they can be the church’s biggest liability exposure.

What kind of policies do you need in student ministry?  They break down into three main categories:
  1. Communication with parents
  2. Boundaries between students and other students
  3. Contact boundaries between leaders and students
Student ministry brings different challenges that do not exist as much in children’s ministry. For one thing, as a student advances in age, he or she is less and less dependent on parents bringing them to church, and therefore, your student ministry has less interaction with the students’ direct caretaker. This has only been exaggerated with the advance of social media, as now student ministers and students have direct access to each other to communicate without having to go through the filter of the child’s caretaker. Part of a strong student ministry is a solid plan to communicate the activities of the ministry to the student’s caretaker(s). While we assume this can always be done through social media, many parents are not as engaged in their children’s lives as we think, and they still need some direct communication – maybe even an old fashioned letter every quarter. The need for communication continues when circumstances such as getting permission for baptism comes up; these things require a phone call and potential explanation of the process and its meaning. Clear guidelines need to be set on what is communicated with a caretaker when this type of phone call is made, and how you or your student ministry team will handle questions and resolve parents questions regarding important topics.
Additionally, student ministries often struggle in one particular area – not leading students to biblical relationships between themselves and other students. This comes in several forms: cliques, bullies, and opposite sex relationships. Creating an inviting setting for new students to come visit is important, and providing an atmosphere free from as many of the above distractions allows a guest to feel included in the ministry. One of the often overlooked issues is monitoring the time before and after the planned event. These are times when bullies can try to monopolize time and the circumstances because of a lack of oversight by the pastors and the volunteers.
Finally, the biggest area that can be lacking in a student ministry are clear boundaries and activities of the leaders, both staff and volunteers, that interact with the students. If there is one pitfall larger than the rest, it is in this area. Not having both staff policies and procedures and volunteer policies and procedures or a “code of conduct” is a huge hole that needs to be plugged as soon as you can.  For interest of time, I will list several and expand on some of the most important.
  1. Co-ed Leadership. It is important to segregate the sexes, or if co-mingled, make sure there is adequate supervision. Groups meeting off of the church campus is an area of particular concern. Constant follow-up with host homes to make sure the environment meets church approval is a must.
  2. Social Media Contact Between Leaders and Students. This is one of the more often forgotten ares that can get your church in trouble. Social media, texting, and new social media platforms are a scary new world when you can have the possibility of leaders contacting underage students directly. Strict policies are needed to instill boundaries about when texting students is inappropriate, like after 10:00 pm for example, or after even earlier times if they are of the opposite sex.
  3. Carpooling / Rides. We all want to provide access to our events for every student possible, but one policy that should be considered is that leaders should not give rides to those of the opposite sex unless there are more than two people in the car. This area alone has caused issues that could so easily have been avoided. Good policy is for guys to pick up guys and girls to pick up girls.
  4. Counseling / Mentoring. This is something we all want to do, but allowing inappropriate contact between leaders and those they are counseling or mentoring is an issue that should be seriously considered early on. Co-ed group Bible studies is one thing, but deeper discussions should be had in a safe and same sex environment.
Protecting your students is a very important responsibility. By implementing policies, procedures, and stating the desired conduct you are expecting, you will have a much better chance to succeed in sharing the good news of Jesus with all the students.


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