Mentoring young people is a great way to disciple in the 21st Century. It doesn’t matter whether you have lots of young people within your church or just one; mentoring invests in the individual. It takes place at a time that is mutually convenient and can be transformative for the young person.
Over the years as I have run the youth growing leaders programme, I have always been encouraged by the difference the mentoring has made to the whole experience. Time after time, it is the mentoring that participants cite at the end of the course as having been the most useful. It takes a while over the duration of the course for the mentoring to get into a rhythm but, once it does, it takes off and people excel.
The uniqueness is in its simplicity: one adult meets with one young person for one hour at a mutually convenient time and location. The adult doesn’t have to be a youth leader, they just have to love Jesus and want to help one young person to grow more like Jesus.
There are books about mentoring and how to start a mentoring scheme. Indeed, Thrive ran a training evening on the subject recently. But here are a few things to consider if you want to start a mentoring scheme in your church:
1. Nominate a co-ordinator
It takes planning and oversight to manage a successful mentoring scheme. There needs to be someone who knows who is mentoring who, who is a point of contact for the mentors, and the parents if they have questions. There needs to be a record of all the mentor meetings that take place. This role does not need to be carried out by the youth minister or the key youth leader, nor the church leader, but could be carried out by someone who is good at administration, loves to see the youth work grow, but doesn’t feel capable of being involved personally with the young people.
2. Get the church leader on board
Without the leader of the church understanding the importance of the scheme, it is much harder for it to take off. They carry such influence within the church. Spend time explaining what a mentoring scheme is, how it works and why it will make a difference. Then encourage them to share the vision.
3. Teach about mentoring
Teach the adults, teach the young people. Everyone needs to have a good, clear understanding of why mentoring, what’s involved and the part they can each play. If you miss this out, it is harder to start well as there will be many different misunderstandings of what mentoring should look like and how it should happen. So teach and get them all excited!
4. Work within your church’s safeguarding policy
It goes without saying but this is often a reason people are hesitant to start mentoring. Talk to your safeguarding officer and make sure that the guidelines you are going to give to mentors fit within the church’s policy. Every mentor will need to be DBS checked and, ideally, have given a couple of references to show that they will connect with a young person. Mentors will need to be included in child protection training along with anyone else working with young people. Mentoring should take place in a public space, and a record kept of where & when they meet.
5. Keep parents informed
Make sure parents know exactly what is planned and how it will impact their children. Mentors should meet the parents so they know who will be mentoring their child. It gives an opportunity for any questions to be asked as well as providing them with a contact number for the mentor. It is important, too, to write a letter to the parents explaining clearly what the mentoring is, how it will take place and asking for their written consent for their child to be part of the mentoring scheme.
6. Provide training
Mentoring is a skill that can be learned. Provide opportunities for mentors to grow in their knowledge and understanding. At the start, run an introductory session for all new mentors and then offer continued training two or three times each year. It’s important that mentors don’t feel out of their depth or on their own.
7. Run a pilot first
Don’t feel like you have to go from nothing to a complete working scheme. Trial it with just a few young people and mentors. See how it works for a year and then look to grow it. Work on developing a pool of mentors and then start to offer them to the young people in the church. Make time for good feedback from both mentors and mentees and learn from the experience.
Mentoring takes a while to adjust to as the young people are not used to being open, honest and vulnerable with an adult not in authority over them. Give it time. Be patient. Be prayerful. God will do amazing things through these meetings. Go for it!