If there’s a seasonality to hiring in the church world, it’s now. Churches work hard during the spring and summer months to ensure that they have a full staff in place before the program year begins in the fall.

A common part of the interview process for youth workers is something akin to an audition, when churches invite a candidate to lead or teach a regular youth gathering. Of course, such a situation is nerve-wracking for all-involved. I know, I talked to one pastor friend earlier this week who’s preparing for such an interview.

To help alleviate some of your anxiety, when you’re invited to audition for a youth pastor gig, take time to find out as much as you can ahead of time. Here are nine good questions to ask before you audition for your new youth pastor role:

  1. How long is the gathering? Get the basics out of the way first. In order to adequately prepare for your gathering, you need to know how long it is. If you walk in with 15 minutes of material for a 90-minute gathering, you’re sunk.
  2. What are the students used to doing? The students you encounter during your audition will have expectations of you; The only question is whether or not you’ll be aware of them. With rare exception, you are following SOMEONE who did something during a youth gathering. If you go in prepared to lead 30 minutes of high-energy games for a group used to beginning with worship, teens will be disappointed because no matter how great your games are, it’s not what they’re expecting.
  3. Am I responsible for the entire gathering or just a portion of it? Churches audition youth workers in different ways. Some expect candidates to lead an entire gathering. Others expect you to serve as a guest speaker who shares a short message.
  4. How many students attend? The size of a group affects pretty much everything you do – from what games you play to how you worship to how you teach. You’ll plan very differently for a room of six students than you will for a room of 50.
  5. How old is the group? Churches often use the same terms to describe different ages. In some places, middle school is 5th – 8th grade. In others, it’s 7th and 8th grade. Similarly, when a church refers to their “youth ministry”, some are talking about a combined junior high and high school ministry; Others are talking only about their high school ministry. Don’t assume you know what a church is talking about just because it uses terms you’re familiar with.
  6. Will other adult leaders be there to serve with me and if so, can I utilize them? This is especially important if you’re going into a larger ministry, where engagement might be dependent upon utilizing adult leaders well. If adult leaders will be present, you’ll want to find out how to connect with them ahead of time to let them know what you’ll need them to do.
  7. Where will we be meeting and how’s that space set up? While the phrase “youth room” might conjure up images of comfy sofas to you, to others it might mean a separate building with rows of chairs. Knowing what your space is like will not only help you prepare for your time together, it will also help communicate unspoken expectations . For example, if you know the space you’re teaching in is typically set up in rows, chances are good students are used to hearing someone give a talk. If you have specific needs or ideas for what you’d like a space to entail, make sure you communicate them in advance.
  8. Who’s evaluating me? I once interviewed at a church where the final step in their process was attending a BBQ with students. I spent my time at the BBQ doing what introverts do: I found a small group of students, sat down, and engaged them in deep conversation. I then did the same with several other groups of students and parents. Unfortunately, these were not the people who were evaluating me. The group who was spent their time playing volleyball. As someone who’s not the least bit athletic, that’s not where I gravitated to… As a result, that group of parents and students thought I was “aloof”. Had I known that’s who was evaluating me, I would have made a point of intentionally finding a way to interact with them.
  9. What would a home run be? It can be uncomfortable to ask what someone wants during an “audition” and yet, having the courage to do so can provide you with vital information. Before your audition, ask your contact, “What would it look like for me to hit a home run?” Then simply listen to what they say. If they emphasize interacting with each student, focus on that. If they talk about the importance of a solid message, emphasize that. If they say “creativity” a dozen times in two sentences, pull out all the stops to deliver the most creative teaching you possibly can.

Ultimately, the beauty of an interview process is that you’re interviewing a church as much as they’re interviewing you. Knowing a potential church’s answers to these questions will not only help you to effectively prepare for your audition, it’ll also help you get to know the church and decide whether or not you can see yourself serving there for years to come.