When I graduated college and moved to a new city, I was a young adult in need of a guide. While my friends and church community offered support, it wasn't until I connected with a couple of adult mentors that I found what I was looking for. As they invested in my personal and spiritual growth, I benefited greatly from their years of experience of living as Christian professionals. And I'm not alone. As mentoring ministries spring up in churches across the country, more and more people are benefiting from this important ministry option.
In order to minister more effectively to the various demographics and needs in your own community, you might already have a mentoring program in place or are considering developing one. As you move forward with your own program or explore the possibilities of starting one, you'll need to consider not only how to protect the integrity of your program but also the safety of participants. Here are some general guidelines and safeguards that should help—drawn from existing programs and interviews I conducted for this article*:
1. Meet only with the same gender. Pair women with women and men with men. This rule helps greatly reduce the risk to vulnerable participants and to your ministry. The last thing you want is for a mentoring relationship to become anything other than platonic.
2. Ensure quality mentors. Churches will differ on how many requirements they put in place for their mentors. Regardless, your mentors should be people who are spiritually and relationally mature. At the very least, your church should have a vetting process that involves a letter of recommendation and a proven history of faithful ministry in the church. For more structured programs, churches may wish to develop a formal agreement or training program to prepare mentors to be paired with mentees.
3. Monitor progress. Offering a mentoring program necessitates that your church check in from time to time on the relationships you've helped foster. It would be wise for churches to require participants to keep a record of their meetings. Be sure to contact mentors and mentees independently for periodic feedback. Develop your own protocol for collecting this information and have your staff follow it faithfully. It's better to hear about a developing issue during a regular check-in rather than an ongoing issue through a formal complaint made to a pastor or a board of elders.
4. Evaluate your program. Before your program is in place, develop a system for evaluating the effectiveness of your adult mentoring ministry. This could be done using participant feedback or even measurable results, such as "job placement" if your program focuses on ending unemployment. Determine the best way to evaluate your own program based on its particular aims. Formalize your evaluation process and inform the appropriate staff.
5. Clearly communicate the focus and limits of your program. Your ministry and your participants should know what your program is and what it is not. It is absolutely vital to make clear that adult mentoring is distinct from other relationships such as peer friendship, spiritual direction, or lay counseling.
*For their help with this article, the author would like to thank Richard Hammar, attorney, CPA; Sr. Susan Pieper, Superior General of the Apostles of the Interior Life religious community, Catholic Spiritual Mentorship Program; Mike Scherschligt, founder and director of the Holy Family School of Faith; Troy Hinkle, Ph.D., program director, Holy Family School of Faith; and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas. Other sources for this article include and the download How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice at mentoring.org, City Hope San Francisco's adult mentoring program, and Woodward Park Church of Christ's adult mentoring ministry.