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4 Ways to Engage Your Students and Keep Your Volunteers This Summer

Of all the seasons in student ministry, summer stands out as an incredible opportunity and incredible challenge to engage both students and volunteers. From sports camps to youth summer trips to family vacations and all the varying schedules in between, getting (or maintaining) momentum in the summer can be difficult, to say the least. We want students to engage our students, but we also don’t want to burn out our volunteers (or ourselves!). We want to capitalize on all of this free time our students have, and yet we know that our adult volunteers likely have an even greater cap on their time, especially if they’re parents of students. Sure, the week we spend at camp or on a mission trip might be the highlight of the year for some, but unless we surround those mountain-top experiences with other opportunities for students and volunteers to gather, connect, reflect, and worship we won’t see the fruit of those experiences carry through into the school year. 

While the summer may lack the predictability of the school year, it presents a unique opportunity for us to foster a sense of community and connection. We know that not every moment of every day is entirely booked up for our students, volunteers, and their families in the summer. By planning with a bit of intentionality, we can set consistent and strategic opportunities for both students and volunteers to connect throughout the dog days of summer that will create lasting dividends. By leaning into these opportunities, we can keep both students and volunteers engaged relationally so that when the fall rolls back around, we won’t be trying to cold start our ministry (or in a crunch to find new volunteers) and will instead be building off of the highlights that summer ministry brings. Here are five ways to engage your students and keep your volunteers this summer: 

If you’re a highly programmed ministry, there’s a felt pressure to keep the programs rolling because there’s an unspoken assumption that students are coming because of our programs. So, in addition to the demands of summer trips, we can feel the need to keep up with everything else we do throughout the school year. The obvious problem is that we won’t have the volunteer base we usually do, nor will we likely have the same number of students. So, unless we can spend a good chunk of change hiring summer interns to replace our traveling volunteer base, we’ll burn ourselves out trying to do twice the activity with half the manpower and half of the number of students engaged. If, instead of keeping our programming at full speed, we downshift to a summer schedule that focuses on connection more than programming, we will find ourselves less exhausted trying to keep all these plates spinning and find students more engaged throughout this unpredictable season. 

What can this look like? Think backyards rather than stages. Think living rooms rather than Sunday school rooms. Think small rather than big. For me, this has looked like offering consistent, repeated times of connection either at host homes or on campus, playing yard games, making s’mores, hosting volleyball tournaments, or creating a menu of options and letting students choose their own adventure. Instead of centering everything around a worship service, including a short time for unplugged worship and group-led discussions. These smaller, more intimate settings allow us to capitalize on a change of pace to connect with students more relationally. 

2. Capitalize on Students’ Availability

There will be a sizeable number of your students who have a lot of nothing going on throughout the summer and are just waiting for someone to invite them to do something. While we don’t need to overcomplicate things and offer something every day of every week, we can capitalize on our students’ availability by segmenting our focus on different groups throughout the summer. Let’s say you’ve got several guys who love to play basketball, or a group of girls who are really into painting, or a group of middle schoolers who all play the same video game, coordinate one or two days in the month to set up a time to host smaller gatherings that are focused on their interests and create space for them to get out of the house and do something with others. Another way I’ve done this (and many, many others) is by inviting students to come meet up for lunch at the same time each week. Bonus points if you create a poll for students to vote on or have them choose the place the week before to get some buy-in. 

3. Invite Volunteers, Don’t Require

Volunteering in student ministry is one of the most demanding volunteer roles in our churches today. We ask far more of our volunteers than almost any other ministry. From discipling students to connecting with parents to showing up for a slew of events and trips, student ministry volunteers are asked to do a lot. So, when we shift our pace as a ministry, it can be an excellent opportunity to shift our expectations for our volunteers for a season and give them time to recoup, recover, and recharge for the fall. Rather than requiring our volunteers to be at all of our summer activities, we can invite them to engage as they are able and willing and give them the freedom and flexibility that communicates care and value. This also keeps them (and us!) from feeling like they’re failing because they can’t make everything due to their summer schedules.

4. Create Opportunities for Parents to Get Involved

Because we’re giving permission to our volunteers to take a breather, this creates an excellent opportunity for parents to step into student ministry, which can lead to greater involvement in student ministry overall throughout the rest of the year. For many parents, leading a small group might seem out of reach, but if we create opportunities to get them involved in ways that make the ask attainable enough and detailed enough, we are building an on-ramp into involvement that could one day lead to year-round volunteering. A great place to start is by inviting parents to do things that are needed but are less than full-on volunteering, like hosting a get-together in the summer, driving to and from camp, cooking for an event, or helping oversee summer service projects. Think about your summer programming as an opportunity to invite parents into the shallow end of the volunteering pool to get their feet wet. 

 What's Next?

Engaging our students and keeping our volunteers are vital to maintaining momentum going into the fall and developing healthy seasonal rhythms we can build upon for years to come. By creating these rhythms, we can help our churches and ministries deepen our ability to disciple by retaining our volunteers and avoiding the volunteer crisis. 

We know that the volunteer crisis has become increasingly more widespread. With greater needs arising in local churches, these are just a few ways to help solve the volunteer crisis. At Build Groups, we have consultants who help churches nationwide solve the volunteer crisis by increasing their volunteer base by 30-50% in 6 to 12 months. If you would like to learn more about how we serve churches in this way, please visit 



Sterling Archer

Sterling is a pastor, writer, and consultant who has served the local church for over 15 years. Sterling began in ministry immediately out of high school as a worship pastor but quickly found a passion for small group-driven student ministry during his time on staff at Denton Bible. During his time there, Sterling saw the lasting impact of small group leaders dedicated to discipling the next generation by sharing the gospel and their lives. He has since served as both a campus and connections pastor in both large and small church contexts and currently is an associate pastor on staff at Benchmark Bible in Corinth, TX, where he oversees student ministry, connections ministry, and communications. Sterling holds a church planting and revitalization degree from Criswell College, is married to his high school crush Stacy, and has two energetic boys, Titus and Wesley. His greatest desire is for others to know and be transformed by Jesus. 


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