ministry health

Why Children’s Ministry Matters

By | ministry health

Without youth ministry the local church will suffer. But, if you do not have a healthy children’s ministry there is no way your youth ministry will survive.

As a youth minster your role in children’s ministry can be pretty significant. When you are a part of a church staff you are part of a team.  Children’s ministry matters to the team because: Read More

Basic Traits For Small Groups

By | ministry health, Uncategorized

I’m often asked by other youth ministers, “What are the traits of your small group program?” Small groups sound simple, yet they’re messy.  And because of their organic nature it can be difficult to shape and grow them.

To build your small group ministry you not only need a plan, but an identity.  That means developing certain traits and embracing them.  When it comes to small groups in our church we make sure they are:

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Know Your Youth Ministry Stats

By | ministry health

As a blogger I’m pretty addicted to my website stats. I want to know who is visiting, what is drawing them in, where they are reading from and why. This allows me to improve the content of my blog and hopefully become a better blogger.

Stats in youth ministry sounds a lot like mixing water and oil; but, it’s quite the opposite. Keep stats and you can track it’s health and impact. Track your health and impact, you’ll grow more disciples. Know your youth ministry stats especially when it comes to:

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Repost: How to Pause

By | ministry health

Here’s a post I wrote two years ago, something to consider this Memorial Day:

For many of us this a transition moment in our years.  Schools are winding down, pools are opening up for the summer and the heat is rising.  As the season physically changes so does our ministry, but instead of rushing from one season to the next we need to make sure we: Read More

Why You Make Avoidable Mistakes

By | accountability, leadership, LEADERSHIP, margin, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, mistakes, promises, Systems and Structures, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES

During the summers in between high school and college I made money painting houses.  My boss was tough.  She made me refold drop clothes that were not folded to her standards.  Any paint drips on your hands or excessive paint on your brush deserved a scolding.  If a room was not prepped properly she would make me do the entire thing over.  Again, she was tough; however, it was due to her high standards.  She emphasized excellence and made sure her employees embraced that same value.  I learned how to approach situations, and projects slowly and carefully.  Mistakes were just not acceptable.

Unfortunately, mistakes are imminent.  Because of your human nature and the messiness of youth ministry, mistakes are likely to occur.  Why do they occur?  Some will happen no matter how hard you work and concentrate.  Then there are the other mistakes that could have been avoided.  The reason you make certain avoidable mistakes is because you:

  • Over Promise To Please: No one likes to disappoint others; therefore, the temptation to lie in order to please is strong. The worst thing you can do is to promise something you have no idea how to fulfill.  You try to fool yourself into thinking, “I’ll figure it out.” or “God will show me a way.“; but that’s like playing with fire. Make the promises you know you can keep and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” If you really don’t know the answer.
  • Never Build In Margin: When you have margin you can slow down the pace of what needs to be done. Many times when you are in a rush you make mistakes. You forget paperwork for a trip, you stumble through a message or you water down what should have been a memorable experience. When you build margin into your events, trips or programs you give yourself the capacity to do the tasks at a higher level.
  • Go Solo In Your Ministry: When you do things on your own you end up putting an unfair amount of pressure on yourself. Even if you are young and quick thinking eventually the work will catch up with you.  It will become too much to handle and somewhere you’ll slip.  Share the burden with others by delegating and asking for assistance.  You will be surprised to discover who will come to your side to help you increase your capacity and lift the level of your ministry.

If you try to avoid mistakes you’ll only find yourself disappointed.  Mess ups happen when you take risks, when the movement of your ministry is overwhelming and when Satan attacks.  When those happen be sure to guard and surround yourself with God’s love and wisdom.  It’s those mistakes that are avoidable that move us in the wrong direction.  If you are embracing discipline and proper preparation than you’ll continue stumble and fall.

What other avoidable mistakes do you see in ministry?

Build Your Bench Strength

By | clarity, consistent, delegate, flexibility, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, purpose, trust
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My honeymoon rocked.  It was an amazing time getting to know my wife and discovering beautiful Italy.  It was a true vacation filled with memories that will last a life time.  Between the wedding and two week honeymoon (Yes, two weeks!) I had been away from the youth ministry for 3 weekends.  I had left three of my most trusted volunteers in charge.  When I got back their response to how everything went in my absence was a general, “It was good.”  No real details and I didn’t need them because I trusted them that it was ALL GOOD.  Then I started to learn the details and I learned that good wasn’t as good as they originally indicated…it was overwhelming.

The problem was not the volunteers, the problem was that I had left too much on the plate for only three volunteers.  While one weekend would have been fine, I had given them more than they were ready to handle.  This wouldn’t have happend if I had more bench strength giving me the ability to lessen the burden on three people.

Every youth ministry needs bench strength.  When you have it you have the ability to replace yourself.  It gives you the ability to take a break and it gives you more reach and capacity as a leader.  But, to build up your bench is easier said than done.  To build bench strength you need:

  • Clear Purpose:  In order for more people to pick up the reigns of your ministry they need to know it’s purpose.  Your ministry is more than a daycare for teens.  In order for your bench to strengthen EVERYONE on your team needs to understand that, not just your point people.
  • Trust In God:  If you want to trust your team to step up and help increase your capacity you need to first trust God.  You tell students every week to put their trust in God, it’s important for you to do the same.  To build trust in your entire team you need to trust the fact that God has placed them in your life.  Work into your schedule time where you can look to God for guidance on who to delegate what.
  • Flexibility In Excellence:  If you are a perfectionist this will be difficult to do.  When you make a transition even through delegation you need to expect a drop in excellence.  That doesn’t mean your ministry will stink, it just means it might not meet your standards right away.  That’s where you as a leader need to offer a learning curve to your team.  Keep clarifying the vision and you’ll find them stepping up their game.
  • Consistency In The Ask:  Delegation is a gift that takes practice.  It’s not as simple as saying, “I want you to do this.”  It’s knowing how, when and whom to ask.  Once you develop the language and courage to ask others to serve you’ll find the strength of your team grow quickly.  Casting a vision clearly and delegating responsibility motivates others and soon it will become a part of the culture.
With a strong bench you have a strong ministry.  A strong foundation means being able to do bigger things.  A strong foundation means more capacity for your professional and personal life.  It means not going through life alone and that’s how you will last for the long haul.

How do you build bench strength?  What’s you biggest obstacle?

How To Talk To Your Teens About Money

By | finances, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, money, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, stewardship
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This past weekend was called Stewardship Weekend for our church.  It’s the one weekend a year when we celebrate our church community and talk to the congregation about why their financial investment is so important.  It sounds like an awkward concept; however, as our pastor puts it, “Even families need to take care of business from time to time, this is the weekend (Stewardship Weekend) we do just that.”  

Since this is a church wide effort, we also discuss financial stewardship, giving and tithing to our kids and students.  To lead up to this weekend we do an entire series on money and God.  It’s no easy task; however, over the years we’ve seen an increase in giving from this next generation.
Not sure what your views are when it comes to money; however, it’s a necessary subject for student ministries.  It not only determines the health of your church; but, the health of your teens as disciples of Christ.  To properly talk about money in your student ministry you need to:

  • Make It Simple: Money is overwhelming and confusing unless you are a natural born accountant.  To many teenagers it might feel like something they don’t have to figure out until they are older.  While there is truth to that, if they don’t learn the basic uses of money (SAVE, GIVE, SPEND), then they’ll struggle with managing it wisely.
  • Connect It To Their Faith: On top of teaching your teens to spend, save and give; you want to make sure you drive home the fact that God wants them to be shrewd, simple and selfless with their money.  Faith and money are tied together and to drive this home point to readings like Malachi 3:10, Matthew 6:24 or Luke 16:1-10.  Show them why God not only cares about what they give, but how they spend and save money as well.
  • Build Them A Budget: Money can be complicated; however, showing them how to build a budget with God in mind is key.  Help them calculate how much money they earn, and what to do with it’s first fruits.  Let them see how they can track their spending, so that they can avoid future pitfalls like debt.  Working with them on a budget is key to preparing them for the next phase of their life journey.
  • Bring Their Parents Into The Mix:  Even if your adult services aren’t speaking about money, you need to include the parents.  Get the conversation rolling at home by equipping your parents with tools, offering a workshop or inviting them to sit in on your student program.  If the conversations are not happening at home, then you’ll find yourself working uphill to build this habit.  The best thing you can do is encourage your pastor to make this a priority church wide.
  • Raise Givers Not Funds: Youth ministries should not be fundraising.  I know that sounds extreme; but, fundraising is a short term solution.  Teens need to be taught the importance and value of giving to the church.  To make this happen give them a plan.  Incorporate it into their budgets and give them examples of how they can give.  By raising givers it’s a step of moving your students from consumers to contributors.  While eliminating fundraisers all together might not be the wisest first step; make sure you develop a plan to ween yourself off of them.
Finances are personal, even for teenagers.  It’s easy to think like an owner because there are so many voices out there saying, “You deserve it.”, “You earned it.” and, “It’s yours.”  It’s important that we teach teens to be God honoring with their finances.  It’s important to teach them how to invest in the local church.  It’s a process that takes time because it’s a paradigm shift.
Before you begin, sit down with your pastor to make it a church wide effort.  Talk about it at least once a year where you are directly encouraging people to fuel the movement of God’s church.  Raise givers not funders and you will see your youth ministry and church grow.
What are your thoughts on fundraisers?  How do you talk with students about money?

Who Is Pouring Into You?

By | accountability, leadership, LEADERSHIP, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, support systems
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Creative Commons Licence

Over a year ago I started co-leading a men’s small group.  I wasn’t sure what my wife would think.  I wondered because the group was to meet at 6:15am in our house.  Fortunately we have a finished basement and because the group rotates host homes she had no issues with it.  In fact we’ve both benefited from this men’s group more than what I’ve put into it.  Each week I have a group of men, representing different generations pouring into me.

This group not only helps me as a son of God, but a husband, father and youth minister.  In a career field that can receive a lot of criticism and adversity, it’s in my small group that I receive solace, encouragement and strength.
If you are in youth ministry you need people pouring into you because you are constantly emptying yourself out for others.  Extroverted or introverted, this is a calling that will suck you dry if you don’t have the correct support system.  The problem with forming this support system is that many of us don’t know what one looks like.  An ideal support system needs to have different level of support.  Your support system should include most if not all of the following:

  • Small Group – While any small group will work, my recommendation is that you find one that is same sex and made up of different generations.  The reason for diverse generations is because you need wisdom that is both spiritual and experiential.  And, the reason for same sex is because there are some issues that can only go so deep with the opposite sex (Unless that person is your spouse).  In the end you need a small group because your faith and confidence will grow as people pray for you and share life with you.
  • Network Of In The Trenches Workers – There are only so many books and blogs that you can read (Hopefully this one is on the list), eventually you will need living and breathing support from the men and women who understand your world.  It’s in a network of youth ministers that you can not only share battle stories, but learn from veterans who have traveled the road you are trudging through.
  • Professional Coach – Just because what you are doing is ministry doesn’t mean it can’t be professional.  There is so much a youth minister needs to know when it comes to conduct and procedures in the workplace.  A professional coach will help you understand interpersonal relationships in an office setting.  They will help you approach contract negotiations, when to leave and how to grow in your career field.  They are the perfect source to go to when you have questions about managing volunteers or asking for a salary increase.
  • Spiritual Coach – Working in a church doesn’t make you spiritual, in fact you need someone holding you accountable.  While you might rely on your pastor to do this, it’s best to have someone with an outside perspective.  You need someone who is going to give you exercises that will challenge the depth of your relationship with God.  They will be essential when the lines between work and personal growth are blurred.
Your most important support systems should come from family and friends.  It’s also important to have support from your pastor.  However, you can’t put all the pressure on them, and you’ll also need the wisdom and advice of people looking in from the outside.  The more support you can gather around yourself the more confidence you will build.  And when you are confident in yourself, in God and the people around you, you will thrive.
What other support systems surround you?

Why Your Ministry Numbers Taper

By | attendance, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, numbers, Systems and Structures, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES, taper
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Kickoff weekend the place was filled, the next couple of weeks numbers leveled out, and now that you are approaching Thanksgiving you begin to wonder, “Where is everyone going?”.  

It’s the taper that happens in every youth ministry.  No matter how many times you have gone through it, there are periods where you feel like no one is coming.  With low numbers you begin to worry that if leaders don’t see members of their small group, then they’ll wonder, “Do I even need to be here?”  It might even feel like failure, and that can lead to apathy.

Why do your numbers taper?  It depends on what is happening in and around your ministry.  For example your ministry could be tapering because:

  • The Newness Wore Off – The reason people stop coming is because the newness of the ministry has worn off.  While a kickoff screams, “YOU MUST BE A PART OF THIS!”, the following weeks don’t have the same affect.  You need to keep things new and fresh in your ministry without losing consistency and sanity.  That’s why it’s important to make strategic tweaks and adjustments throughout the year.  Make sure you are analyzing the why’s and what’s of your ministry.
  • Teens Need A Reminder – Teens have a lot on their mind, from loads of homework to what’s going on in their circle of friends.  It’s easy to forget your ministry when Sunday roles around.  There isn’t any conspiracy to make you feel bad, they just genuinely forgot.  Set up a system where reminders are sent out on Facebook, Twitter or create a sandwich board for right outside their school.  Encourage small group leaders to contact each member of their group.  Get creative and make a campaign.  Just get the word out.
  • Life Is More Than Your Ministry – Add drama to the amounts of business in a teen’s life.  When life is overwhelming it’s hard to mobilize.  Your teens need encouragement on a regular basis.  If a teen doesn’t feel connected and loved to your ministry than why come back?  They want to go where they feel the connection.  Whether it’s you or your volunteer leaders make sure the teens feel connected to the church outside the walls of your ministry.  Send them a note of encouragement, show up at a game or take them out for a bite to eat.  Let them know they belong at your church, they’ll embrace it.
  • The Ministry’s Vision Isn’t Clear – Do teens know why showing up to your ministry on a weekly basis is so important?  When it comes to casting vision it’s not just about letting your leaders know, it’s about letting everyone know.  Vision needs to leak; therefore, it needs to be casted in your messages, activities, announcements and conversations.  If a teen understands why your ministry exists and why they need to attend, it will create value in their lives.
Tapering is going to happen naturally because your ministry is a part of life.  What you want to make sure is that your low seasons don’t dip further along with your high seasons.  It’s about recognizing the journey, consistently reaching out to your teens, and opening the doors for teens seeking a place to connect.  Be persistent, be faithful and let God guide you.
How do you fight the taper in attendance?

Habits To Help Teens In Their Next Steps

By | growing, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, Systems and Structures, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES, teens, transitions
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Ran into a college student the other week.  She was back in town because her school was evacuating for the Superstorm Sandy.  It was good to see her considering the circumstances.  We caught up and she shared with me everything that she was learning in class.  She then told me about a church community she has joined.  It seemed like a place where she was engaged in her faith, and has continued to grow in Christ.  As a youth minister there is nothing better than listening to a former student share how he or she is working out their salvation on their own.

Every youth minister needs a picture of what a teen should look like when they graduate high school.  It’s the vision you cast for your ministry and it’s the reason why you exist.  It’s the type of disciple of Christ you want to mold them into.

Every week you instill in them the habits of prayer, fellowship, Bible study, ministry, mission among a few others.  While there are a few basic habits that every student in your ministry should know, there are a few that will help them with the transition of high school to college.  While prayer and scripture are ones they should embrace throughout all seasons; there are a few that are necessary as they go from adolescence to adulthood.  A few of them are:

  • Honoring God With Their Budgets – When a teenager goes to college they aren’t going to have parents over their shoulders telling them what to do and what not to do with their money.  They’ll have credit card companies bombarding them to sign up.  It’s important for youth ministries to teach basic budgeting skills paired with Biblical teaching so that they can discern between greed and generosity.  This might mean creating a workshop for teens and their parents.  It might mean sitting down with them in small group and writing out a budget.  A great resource that we’ve used is Dave Ramsey’s Generation Change.
  • Connecting With Their Elders For Wisdom – Again, teens won’t have their parents or you with them to give them advice.  Granted they could call you up; however, what you want to be teaching them is how to seek advice from other God honoring adults.  This will help them when they face a situation where they are too embarrassed or ashamed to tell their parents.  To do this you need to facilitate intergenerational ministry into your programs.  That can be small groups lead by adults; however, look to have teens serve with adults in your church.
  • Investing In A Local Church – You don’t want teens graduating their faith when they graduate high school.  That’s why it’s not only important to teach spiritual habits that build their personal relationship with Christ; but their public one as well.  In order for the church to grow we need teens to invest in the local church.  This means showing them what to look for when they graduate.  Have them serve inside the local church so that they can see how to be a part of one.  Take them on trips to visit other churches so that they can discover the uniqueness of the Body of Christ.

There are so many habits to teach this next generation and if you think of them all you could feel overwhelmed.  When it comes to choosing the best ones for your ministry you need to know which ones will have the greatest impact after they are no longer in your ministry.  While there are core habits like prayer, scripture study and serving, there are ones that will help them transition from adolescence into adulthood.

What other specific spiritual habits would you add to the list?