Category Archives: Youth Ministry
Last week I attend the FAM conference at Azusa Pacific University that was put on by HoewWord. As I reflected on my ministry to my own family as well as my church roles, this post popped into my mind. It was originally posted on December 8th, 2011.
Last night after our youth meeting our teaching team was discussing how the night went and what we were going to do the next week. One of the le
aders (who had led the Jr. High group) shared that during their discussion one of the students said their family never sits down together for a meal. I asked a student that is on our teaching team how often his family sits down for a meal together, and his response was “we did at Thanksgiving, and we might at Christmas.”
The family dinner was something my family did growing up as regularly as possible. Every other meal was scattered and rushed, but dinner was every night and if someone missed it was strange. I realize now how many of my family memories and significant conversations happened around our dinner table.
Now, that I have my own family, we also eat dinner together as much as possible. Our evenings are crazy, and I think we are just as busy as most other families with 3 kids and all the church commitments and sports and… I look forward to that time with my wife and kids every day, but we have consciously made it a priority.
We also have people join us for dinner on a regular basis. Youth leaders, students, friends, it changes often. And everyone that joins us for dinner seems to really enjoy the time around the table, especially youth students. Perhaps this is why – because it is not something they do on a regular basis.
Having kids over for dinner is a pretty big part of our ministry to teenagers. Some of the most beneficial times at camps or retreats is at meals. How do you use meal times as a part of your ministry? Does your family sit down for a regular family meal? If so how has it helped your family? If not what keeps you from doing it?
I have spent the majority of this week at the FAM conference in southern California. I have had a great time catching up with some old friends, meeting some new friends, and learning from some great leaders.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about this conference is that it was fairly small and the speakers were all very accessible and open to conversation. It is interesting to watch how people interact with others in this type of environment. Most people didn’t openly offer their weekly attendance numbers, yet it was not hard to give an educated guess on what “class” of church they are a part of.
On my way to California from the airport I tweeted this:
The truth is there are different “classes” that we have created all over our world, and the church world is in no way immune to this…I know…shocker! There are a million directions I could go with this post, and lots to say regarding this. However, I bring this up just to say one thing:
You are important in God’s family.
No matter how big or small your church is. No matter where on the church totem pole you land. No matter how insignificant you feel in the big picture, you are exactly what God needs exactly where He has put you.
Some people are called to be professional speakers…and a lot of people aren’t. Some people are called to be mega-church pastors..and a lot of people aren’t. Bigger is not always better, and small is not always insignificant.
2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV) But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Whatever ministry God has given you, no matter what size it is, keep doing it with everything you have. When you compare you lose, God wants you to win!
It is that time of the year again; graduation season. As a youth worker, you get tons of invites during this season, and at least for me, it is one of my busiest times of the year. All the school year programs are winding down, I am deep in summer planning and trip details, and it is when we do our once a year evaluations and youth staff retreat. And on top of all of that are all of the graduation festivities. Over the years I have come up with some ways to lighten the load during graduation season, here are a few tips:
1. Arrive 45 minutes to an hour late. If you have heard one graduation speech, you have heard them all. And no one is going to quiz you on what the speaker said. If you don’t believe me, try and remember anything that the key note speaker said at your own high school graduation. Exactly…the students don’t care about the speeches, and you don’t need to either (unless a student you know is giving a speech). If you get there in time to watch them walk across the stage and greet them afterward, you are covered.
2. The smaller the school, the longer the ceremony. Small school graduations are almost as bad as 7th grade girls basketball! Since there are fewer people, there is a TON more stories, inside jokes, slide shows, and speeches. And, #1 does not apply, because the students do care about the actual ceremony, and they will notice if you are not there the whole time. So you have to just endure it, but block out at least 3 hours.
3. Family parties are way more important than the formal ceremonies. Sooner or later you will come to a place when you can’t make it to all the graduation festivities; so when you have to choose, choose the family party first. If you are invited to the family party, it means there is a real relationship there and they were not just fishing for a graduation present. So do everything in your power to make the BBQ.
4. Divide and conquer. We hit this wall a few years ago, we had so many invites it was physically impossible to attend them all. That year my wife and I both attended 4 graduations each, and never together! So, divide your volunteer staff up among parties and ceremonies, and send your regards with them. Chances are a lot of students know the volunteer leader better than they know me anyway, so strategically divide up and cover them all.
5. Picture slide shows are not worth it. We broke this tradition a few years ago, and caught some grief for sure. Yet, the only two people that truly care about seeing the baby picture morph into the senior picture is Mom and Dad, not your entire congregation. And despite your best effort, you will always leave someone out, or the picture won’t scan right, or they will send it to the wrong email, or… you get the idea. It is a ton of work, the graduates themselves are typically embarrassed, and most people just endure it. Definitely acknowledge them in church, just leave out the slide show.
There are my top 5 tips for the graduation season. What is your tip?
Today I taught Launch Pad. If you are not aware of what it is, please check out this post I wrote explaining this amazing ministry. Today’s class was about how God is a a God of joy and delight. Being happy and having fun truly can be an act of worship!
The last part of the class we all sat in a circle, ate ice cream, and went around the circle sharing a bit about our lives. We all answered two questions:
1. What is one thing you are looking forward to doing this summer, and how will that bring joy into your life?
2. Describe one person that you have observed in your life that truly lives out the joy of the Lord.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because I was a bit surprised by the majority of the answers. There were a few of they typical/predictable answers. But the majority of the students mentioned an activity like a trip or camping or vacation. Why did it bring them joy? “Because I will get to be with my family.” Literally almost every student mentioned that.
And then the second question; literally half of the students said a grandparent. A few others answered one or both of their parents. Not a single one identified their youth pastor or youth leader, and these are all students that are at least loosely connected to a church youth group.
If you are a parent or a grandparent: your influence is HUGE in a teenager’s world
I realize teenagers don’t always say thank you and sometimes it doesn’t seem like they care if you are involved in their life. But they are listening and they are watching, and they care for you A LOT.
If you are a youth worker: you need to be encouraging and helping families
If you truly care about teenagers’ faith growing (and I know you do), your efforts need to include parents and multiple generations. I have heard it said for my entire youth ministry tenure–the #1 influence in a teenager’s life is their family. That was once again proved accurate today.
What are you doing to support and/or encourage parents in your church?
How are the multiple generations within your church interacting with each other?
As I was writing my last post, I remembered this one that I originally published on March 16th, 2012. If our ministry does not include teenagers then it isn’t youth ministry is it? Enjoy.
It has been over a week since I have returned home from the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. Over that that time I have been involved in many different things and been just as busy as ever before. During this busy time I have continued to think about the things I experienced, observed, and talked about while at the conference.
I realize now that God had already been trying to get my attention about a few foundational issues, and this was confirmed while on that trip. One of them is this:
What is youth ministry really about?
At first glance this should not be a hard question to answer; it is about connecting teenagers to God. However, I realized that many of the decisions, changes, and priorities that I deal with day to day don’t really reflect that answer. A very humbling thing to admit, but there are times when youth ministry is more about me and programs than it is about teenagers and God. If it really is about connecting them to God through relationship (and it is) then everything I do as a youth worker should be a means to that end.
While at the conference I was a room host, which means I was in the same breakout room the entire weekend and didn’t have the option of choosing what I heard or learned. Since there are so many options I saw this as an advantage, and God put me in exactly the right room to hear exactly what I needed to hear.
During one of the sessions Walt Mueller (click here to go to the CPYU website) asked this question:
“If the power grid suddenly went down at your church would your students still know how to worship?”
This hit really close to home since we had just bought new stage lights for our youth room. Ultimately this points back to the foundational question; is our youth ministry really helping students fall in love with God or are they falling in love with an experience? If the band didn’t play, if there was no big screen, if the stage lights didn’t produce a perfect hue of red will the teenagers in my church still be able to worship God? Are they connecting relationally to God and to other people through what we do?
I am not saying we need to completely unplug from technology, but I am saying we need to keep it all in the right perspective. Is that technology helping us toward the right end, because if it isn’t then we shouldn’t be using it. Technology and hype can NEVER replace relationship. The band could play the songs perfectly, the sound system can be perfect, the message be entertaining and engaging, and students can still leave that program saying “I need something deeper.”
Deeper does not mean more entertaining or more content, deeper means more personal. In a world full of social networking and screens of all sizes almost everything has become surface level when it comes to relational value. What ministry (youth or otherwise) is really about is relationship. True relationship with God, with other Christians, and sharing those relationships with the world.
I realized that what was missing from our youth ministry had nothing to do with programing, and therefore could not be fixed with programming ideas. It had everything to do with relationship value, and that is what I am trying to work on. What is your ministry really about?
This post will wrap up my theme week of short term missions (I kept my interest for that long…Yay!) This was originally posted on December 29th, 2011.
As I have already been pretty deep into mission trip planning for our 2012 trip, I realized this will be my 11th trip I have planned at this church. After going on nearly 20 short term trips as a participant or the lead I have picked up several tips and tricks along the way. I have put them in order based on when you would do it in the planning process, not in order of importance. Here are my top ten:
10. Know your purpose
This may seem obvious, but not all trips will fulfill the same purpose. If your main goal/purpose for your trip is to serve and accomplish a task (like a building project) then make sure everyone knows that. If your primary goal/purpose is fellowship and team building people who just want to get the job done will get really frustrated. It does vary between organizations, so know what you are looking for before you get started.
9. Research the organization or decide to do it all yourself
I have done it myself and gone with organizations. As you probably already know, there are plusses and minuses to both. Doing it all yourself is a lot more work but it will likely be cheaper. I prefer going with an organization. They have local contacts and knowledge of what’s needed that I can never get, and it allows me to go and serve with our group and let them manage our schedule. Most of the ones I have used have been great experiences.
8. Get your dates out in January
Once you have nailed down enough details to get a date, publish it as soon as possible. My goal is to have the dates out by new years. Some years this is easy to do, others have been a struggle. Families need to know your dates early so they can plan their own vacations or family commitments. Parents have told me they have literally had fights over going on the mission trip instead of the family reunion, help families out by publishing your dates early.
7. Require a non-refundable deposit to sign up
Everyone has good intentions, and a ton of students will show interest in your trip when you first announce it. If you make them write a check it forces them to think through everything before they sign up, not after. The words “non-refundable” are very powerful, use it to your advantage. Make it enough money that it will force a discussion within their family. Some parents will throw out $5 without thinking, but $50 definitely makes them ask questions. Apply this deposit to the total cost of the trip so the only way it will be wasted is if they drop out.
6. Do individual fundraising
I do not like “group fundraising”. I charge every student the actual cost of their trip, and it is their responsibility to raise the money. We do fundraising events as a group, but divide it among those that actually do the work and put it into their individual accounts. If the group has a large goal, 20% of the team will raise most of the money. That fact really bugs me. By making the fundraising optional and tracking individual accounts only the ones that work benefit from it. Ones that don’t want to participate don’t have to, and they pay for their trip however they decide to.
5. The worship/devotions are just as important as the projects
One advantage of going with an organization is they typically do the evening devotion. If they don’t provide one or you are doing it yourself make sure you put some time into planning these. Everyone will experience many things on your trip, and the evening devotions pull it all together and connect their service to their Spirituality. It all works together, so don’t focus too much on the projects and neglect the devotion times.
4. Plan every second possible
Literally schedule as much as possible. You don’t have to be busy the entire time, in fact rest time is a must, but schedule it in on purpose. Type up meal times, devotion times, project time, down time, travel time, lights out times, and anything else you can think of. Print it, pass it out, remind people of the schedule constantly and then actually stick to it as much as you can. If you don’t have a schedule you will be fighting the slow pokes the entire time and likely will not do devotions after the first few days…(re-read #5 if you need to).
3. Do pre-trip meetings
I have had many people comment to me how great our groups are to host, and pre-trip meetings have a lot to do with it. By doing some team building activities, talking through the details, and Spiritually preparing for the trip will jump start the effectiveness of the week. If you take advantage of this pre-trip time, your team will “come together” several days earlier once you are actually on the trip, which makes their effectiveness go up exponentially.
2. Confirm all reservations and details right before you leave
If you have done your work well this step seems a bit redundant, but there is nothing worse than standing in an airport with 35 people and no confirmation numbers. Go over directions with all your drivers so many times they roll their eyes when you mention “drivers meeting.” Make sure the rental company inputted the right code for 12 passenger van, you don’t want to end up with three compact cars. All of these have either happened to me (when I didn’t do this) or were avoided because of this step.
1. Pray through the entire process
This should be number ten and number one. Pray about your purpose and need for a trip before you start this process. Pray through the entire thing, and pray as much as possible during the trip. If God is not a major part of your trip, then you are just a recreational tour guide. The whole point is for God to work through your group wherever you go and whatever you do and to change the heart of every team member. God can’t do any of this if you don’t invite him along.
As I write these ten, I just keep thinking of more that I should have put on here…I might need to add to this list. What would you add to my list?
When leading a short term missions trip, by the time you are actually on the trip most of your work is done. This summer I am leading a trip to Guatemala, and right now – months before we leave, is when I am doing the most work of the entire process.
If you do your job well now, the actual trip will be easy, and it frees you to serve and enjoy along with the rest of the team.
One major ingredient to this whole recipe is team dynamics. If your team is not on the same page you will not be able to accomplish your full potential. If they don’t know one another, the team dynamic you need will happen on the last day of the trip.
Pre-trip meetings are essential for the success of your trip.
We did this team building activity with our Guatemala team last weekend, and it went great!
A kids puzzle (# of piece needed depends on size of group)
Crayons and/or markers
1. Split your team into groups, purposefully split up friends and mix personality types. We had 4 to 5 people per group.
2. Give each group 1 or 2 pieces of the puzzle. We gave each team two pieces, from different parts of the puzzle.
3. Assign each group two tasks:
Task #1: Meet everyone in your group, answer this question: Why are you going to [trip destination]?
Task #2: Re-make your two puzzle pieces out of paper, 10xs their original size.
4. Distribute paper, scissors, and crayons/markers to each group making sure they all have the same “equipment” and send them to a work area. It is best if they cannot see what the other groups are doing.
5. Give them a set amount of time to complete both tasks ( I gave them 15 minutes, plus some bonus time)
6. When time expires call them all into the main room and have them assemble both puzzles on the floor. Then form a circle with the whole team around the puzzles.
7. Discussion Questions:
1. Why do the two puzzles look different? They should be the same, just 10xs larger.
2. How is this a parable for our trip to Guatemala?
3. What does the “big picture” look like for our trip? What are we all trying to accomplish together?
This activity was AWESOME for our group, I hope it works just as good for you.
This next week is going to be a mission trip themed week. We will kick this theme of posts off with the info meeting checklist that I originally posted on January 28th, 2012.
As I prepare for our first mission trip informational meeting this weekend for our summer trip I thought I would pass on to you everything I present at this meeting. If you have done all your work up to this point you should have most of this down already, but now it is going public, so gather it all together and make it as clear as possible. When you do your initial meeting make sure you include these things in your presentation:
1. When and Where
This is number one because it is the first question everyone has. Make it big and bold and right at the top of your handout.
This is number two because, well, it is the second question everyone has. Make sure you include everything in this price; on the ground cost, transportation (include hotel stays if need be), food, activities, project money, team shirt, and some misc. extra dollars. If in doubt about this figure round up, people react a lot better to paying less than being asked for more later. My goal is that everyone could come on the trip without a dime in their pocket and be taken care of the entire trip. I don’t include souvenirs or “blow money” in this amount.
3. Why you chose what you did
Don’t be afraid to play the emotional card or the spiritual card here. Hopefully you prayed a lot about where to go and be honest that this is what you feel God wants for your group this year.
4. Main projects
People want to know that making the sacrifices needed to go are worth it and that they will make a difference. If possible have at least a few different projects, some people are not good at physical labor so having a different option helps get people excited. If you are going with an organization you might not know your specific projects yet, so give their website for further info.
5. Trip Schedule
This is more for the parents than for the students. Parents like details, so give as many as you can and show how your time will be best spent. Everyone involved wants to know what they are committing to, and seeing that this isn’t going to just be a vacation is important for everyone to know.
6. Pre-trip schedule
This should include your non-refundable deposit to sign up, your trip payment dates, late fees, fundraisers, and pre-trip meetings. Again, the more details the better. Make your late fees are enough to motivate people to pay on time. If they pay late it creates a huge headache for you, so make them pay for your Tylenol.
7. Fundraising options
These don’t have to be set in stone, but at least have a few tentative ideas and possible dates down. If you can, try and coincide fundraisers with your payment schedule as much as possible.
8. Fun day
It is ok to be a tourist for part of the time you are gone. This obviously shouldn’t be the point or the reason someone goes, but including an amusement park or a day at the beach is a huge relationship building opportunity. Plus we serve a God that likes us to have fun, so don’t feel bad about including some fun.
9. Q and A time
If you present everything above chance are there won’t be many questions, but this is a good way for you to know if you clearly communicated everything. Don’t be afraid to answer “I am not sure, let me find out and get back to you.”
10. Pictures or Promo Video
Get some pictures if possible, or an organization promo video, or whatever you can show to get people excited. The more excited they are now the better chance they will make their payments and other requirements on time.
If you don’t have all of this information ready to present, then you aren’t ready to have your first meeting. If you don’t have it all together it is not too late…yet, but get to work soon. Have a great meeting!
There is something about teenagers that every youth worker needs to realize. This is going to happen to 100% of the students in every ministry. It is never a major surprise when it happens but often times it is tragic.
They get to old to attend youth programs.
The typical youth ministry does a pretty bad job of preparing teenagers for this, which is one of the major contributing factors to one of the most embarrassing statistics attached to youth ministry; the percentage of graduates that remain in the church. (I believe there are several contributing factors to this, not just this one)
What has been the typical response when this inevitable event occurs? If your church counts weekend attendance using more than 3 zeros you transition them on to the 18-24 year old program. If not, we either send them off to “big church” not expecting to ever see them again or we make them a volunteer leader in the youth ministry. Any of these, especially in smaller churches, have minimal rates of success (typically) and sometimes produce more problems.
Right now after celebrating another graduation season and taking a hard truthful look at our entire youth ministry I am wondering how we can do better. I have been working with teenagers for over a decade and my personal track record does not beat the average of how many of those former youth group members are actively living for and serving God. Here are a few hard questions I have asked myself.
Does relationship end at the same time as their program attendance?
The core message of the Bible is relationship; with God, with other Christians, and with the world. Even guys I have personally discipled for years I hardly ever (or never) talk to after graduation. Yes, there is a list of excuses, not to mention the list of new students that come in as the old ones graduate, but I am embarrassed to admit how bad I am at keeping in touch.
Ultimately it is not MY relationship with them that matters most, but their relationship with God. If all we have done in our four to six years with them is attaching their faith to our programs we are setting them up for failure. They need to know how to grow in their faith on their own, not just at church.
What is my real goal for them?
Is the goal of youth ministry behavior modification? For a lot of parents, church boards, and even youth workers it is. I realize how bad that sounds, but if we feel successful based on how many students are in the church’s graduating class, and how many of those are still virgins and/or don’t have a criminal record then it probably is.
Our goal for them needs to be spiritual transformation. Programs can certainly aid in that goal, but they are just a means to this goal, not the goal itself. A lot of what I see in the youth ministry world is program ideas. I need some more spiritual transformation ideas. I know how to entertain students, I am still trying to figure out more ways I can aid God in transforming them from His creation to His child. How can I help them move God from just savior to actually being their Lord? From trying so hard to blend into the world to sharing God’s heart and wanting to change the world?
Every student that I meet is going to get too old to attend our youth ministry. I don’t want to be a part of setting them up for failure any longer. Are you with me? What are some of your “spiritual transformation” ideas?