Supervising Church Youth Activities

The third and fourth graders at Bakersfield Christian School couldn't wait for the annual hayride and campfire. The event had always gone smoothly, and students and staff had no reason to expect anything less this year.

After roasting hotdogs and playing a few organized games, the children took turns riding a hay wagon around the farm. The 25 children waiting their turn entertained themselves with an impromptu game of hide-and-seek. Unable to keep close tabs on all the children, the single staff member in charge didn't see the two children who dashed across the country road—until the sound of screeching tires brought the activity to a sobering end.

Although the children in this case survived, their injuries were serious. While there's no guarantee that even a well-planned and well-supervised event will go off without a hitch, you can establish guidelines that emphasize safety and common sense.

Provide an adequate number of supervisors for the type of activity and the age and number of participants. Events involving more risk or younger children require more supervision.

Choosing Supervisors

  • Involvement. Implement your organization's screening process before appointing anyone to a supervisory position. Remember to follow the six-month rule: don't consider anyone for a volunteer role until they have been attending your church for at least six months.
  • Maturity. Look for supervisors who've demonstrated maturity and good judgment. Although teenagers in your church can be a good resource, they often lack the experience needed to deal with crisis situations. Always have at least two adults as your primary supervisors.
  • Training. Enlist supervisors who have special training. For example, first-aid and CPR training are recommended for supervisors of any activity. Additionally, if the supervisor has special skills related to the activity, all the better. An experienced outdoorsman, for example, would be a great asset on a weekend camping trip.
  • Authority. Appoint supervisors who can maintain control of the group. The ability to exert the appropriate amount of authority is essential to maintaining a safe and fun atmosphere for everyone. Someone who gives in easily to pressure or lacks confrontational skills might be challenged by teens, who often test the limits of authority.

Provide an adequate number of supervisors for the type of activity and the age and number of participants. Events involving more risk or younger children require more supervision. Some states also require that state-licensed day care facilities meet a particular supervisor-to-child ratio. Check with a local attorney if you're not sure about the requirements in your state.

Before the Activity

  • Release Form. Ask parents to complete an Activity Participation Agreement form and note any known medical conditions or allergies before allowing youth to participate in the activity. Ask your Brotherhood Mutual agent for a sample Activity Participation Agreement. Remember, before you use any type of liability release form, be sure to have your attorney carefully review it.
  • Preparation. Meet with your supervisors before the activity to evaluate possible risks. Establish procedures for handling discipline problems or for dealing with emergency situations.
  • Discipline. Make sure supervisors know the procedures for dealing with unruly participants. Instruct them not to grab or shake the child but to begin disciplinary procedures with a verbal reproach only. If the problem continues or is serious, summon the parents.

During the Activity

  • Rules. Require supervisors to explain the rules to all participants before the activity begins. Making sure participants understand the rules before the event will help ensure fair treatment of the participants and will take the surprise out of any discipline that may need to take place.
  • Supervision. Whenever the church sponsors an activity involving children on or off premises, always have at least two adults supervising each room, vehicle, or other enclosed space. More supervisors will be necessary if the group is large.
  • Discipline. Handle all disciplinary problems professionally. Treat the offending youth with respect, and administer discipline in a fair and consistent manner.
  • Contact Information. Make sure that emergency and parental contact information is readily available to supervisors. In the event of an accident or sudden illness, you may need to contact the child's parents or family physician.
  • Report. Require supervisors to report all injuries and disciplinary actions to the event leader. Notify parents as soon as possible.
  • Medical Care. Seek immediate medical attention if a child becomes seriously ill or injured during an activity. Contact parents as soon as possible.

Proper supervision of church-sponsored activities is essential to protect your organization and its members. Following these guidelines can help your church or ministry continue to offer rewarding activities while meeting your obligation to protect the people participating in those activities.