Policies & Training for Teenage VBS Helpers

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Teen girl holding BibleThe success of a church’s VBS often hinges on the help of teens from the church’s student ministry.  Middle-school and high-school-aged youth can bring enthusiasm and valued assistance to an over-packed class of energetic children.  But without screening or training, teens can unintentionally add to the chaos.
Setting expectations and outlining seemingly common sense pointers for youth helpers may be the best investment a church makes for the experience of participating children at Vacation Bible School. This article will get you started.

Set up an application process

Consider asking students to complete a brief application.  An ideal form would include the following:

  1. Basic contact information.
  2. Two questions asking the applicant: 1) why the student wants to serve in VBS and 2) how the teen envisions contributing to the experience of participating children.
  3. The contact information for 2 or 3 adult references
  4. One or two pages of service guidelines for the student to read and then sign that they agree to abide by the aforementioned guidelines. (This could be omitted from the application and done as a part of a teen training event.)

By completing the application, students are more likely to treat their service like a real job.  Providing upfront rules may prevent painful and personal conversations during the course of the busy VBS week.  And because most states prevent disclosing names of under-age sex offenders, checking references for teens may be a part of a church’s abuse prevention practices.

Create Teen Service Guidelines

Policies and practices for student helpers should be straight forward and designed with teens in mind.  Hosting an equipping event while peppering in humor and comical role-plays is a great way to establish a serious yet fun VBS culture (yes, you can do both!).
Communicate a mission for teens’ service so that helpers can weigh their actions and decisions against the mission.  For example, teens can ask themselves, “How does my choice (action/attitude) impact the participating children?”
Reasons to serve/Reasons not to serve may be offered to remove ambiguity and prevent ministry environments from becoming a venue for dating connections and girlfriend gossips.
Job descriptions are sometimes needed to give purpose to otherwise wandering bodies.  Many student helpers will offer a more meaningful contribution after receiving concrete instruction such as:

  • Providing one-on-one help to kids during crafts
  • Helping  the teacher by setting up for the next activity
  • Keeping the room clean
  • Stocking the children’s take-home bags
  • Giving extra attention to children with special needs

Cell phone use, texting, and picture taking are commonplace for this generation of camera using, social networking young people.  Proactively create and communicate policies for use (or non-use) of cell phones while serving at VBS.   Without such guidance you can expect to see pictures of participating children on Facebook. (Yikes!)
Physically handling children is rarely a good idea.  Teen helpers need explicit guidance advising against horseplay and piggy back rides.  In addition, teens (and adults!) may need a reminder to never grab or jerk a child in an effort to remove them from a situation.
Behavior management policies and pointers are always wise for teens.  Arming student helpers with a step-by-step process for handling conduct challenges protects the teen as much as it benefits the children. (Remove an obstacle, Redirect a child, and thenRefer the challenge to an adult leader)
VBS Training TipsPrivacy issues should be spelled out so that student-helpers understand that some information about participating children (e.g. medical or special needs diagnosis, family issues) are to be shared only on a need-to-know basis.  Similarly, mention of mandatory reporting procedures may be needed in relation to the church’s sexual abuse policy.
Establishing the Adult leaders’ authority in ministry environments will relieve students of solving any peer conflict and remind teens that the lead teacher functions as the classroom “manager”.
Toileting and bathroom policies should be created with student helpers in mind and communicated to teens.
Safety procedures may not all fall under a teen worker’s responsibility, but informing and explaining the protocol for check-in, check-out, classroom visitors, and allergy issues provides an added layer of protection for the participating children.
Have fun! These guidelines were created to benefit both the children and the teens.  Rules aren’t meant to take the fun out of working alongside friends and helping kids laugh.  So be silly, love the children, and enjoy serving!
Amy Fenton Lee is a passionate kidmin volunteer and children’s ministry writer.  Amy also writes to equip churches for special needs inclusion at www.theinclusivechurch.com.

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