Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The end of NO SHAVE November

It's November 30 and for the first time in 5 years of No Shave November I made it to the end without shaving the beard. Victory is mine. Fear the beard. And yes the beard better fear me in the morning because it is time for a trim. First time I grew a beard was after I read the book Wild at Heart (a must read if you are a dude and you have not read it). I remember all the prim and proper church people giving me grief. There was nothing better than ignoring them and growing the beard. Since my first beard over 7 years ago I have to admit I love the beard and more importantly my wife loves the beard. Today I will celebrate this month long victory. To all the teens and college students at Relevant and Aqua who made it, I salute you. If you quit in the middle of the month then man up and make it next year. If you are a girl and you grew a beard you probably need to see a doctor! Long live the beard!

Monday, November 28, 2011

After you make a mistake...

Everyone makes mistakes but not everyone knows how to deal with them. We all try our best to avoid blunders but they seem to find their way to us every once in a while. Sometimes we make the mistake and other times people on our team mess up. How we handle the mistake is so much more important than the mistake itself. Every mistake gives us the change to be people of integrity. Integrity is not being perfect, it's about owning responsibility when it works and when it doesn't. A few weeks ago we ran a video during a retreat that we had edited to make it work in the setting. There was just one spot in the video that was not "bad" it was just pushed the edge a little and we wanted it out of the video. The mistake we made was loading and showing the unedited copy on accident. Oops, we were bummed and frustrated. This is how we handled the mistake and how we try to handle all our mistakes...
  • Take responsibility. / if you are the leader then forget blaming and own the mistake...even if someone on your team made it. Being the leader means we get the credit for the wins and the losses.
  • Proactively apologize. / I'm sorry...those 2 words have so much power. There is no one way to apologize but make sure you connect with the people you need to after the mistake. They need to hear from you. Many times when people are mad about a mistake simply apologizing can diffuse the negative energy.
  • Learn from it. / Every experience is a learning experience, even in the middle of a mistake. Work hard to make sure the same mistake does not happen again. Also make sure your team learns from the mistake. Mistakes lead to learning and teaching opportunities.
The normal approach when dealing with mistakes is to blame others, make excuses, and hide. Do you see integrity in that approach? Next time you make a mistake own it, apologize, learn from it, and move forward.

Can parents trust your ministry?

What does it look like for student and children's ministry leaders to partner with mom and dad? We are always trying to find ways to make this happen but the best starting place for this discussion is asking what parents need from us? Until our ministries meet our parents where they are at then they will never take steps toward a weekly partnership. Every parent your ministry encounters is unique. With every parent you have to build trust before there is a partnership. In order to build that trust here are a few basic things your parents need...
  • Return calls and emails >> seriously, just email them back and call them back when you miss their call. Make sure parents know they are important by being responsive.
  • Get organized or find people for your team who can make you look organized >> I am not very organized but I have had to surround myself with people who are! Being organized communicates professionalism.
  • Create sticky environments for kids and teens >> When teens and kids want to go back and ask to go back to your environment parents smile.
  • Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more >> use facebook, emails, flyers, or old fashioned smoke signals to communicate. Information is a big deal to parents.
  • Keep an open door with your environments >> when parents want to check out your environment make it possible.
  • Protect kids and teens >> think like a parent. Use background checks, stop pranks and hazing, have safe transportation. Parents want their children to be protected and you can help with that goal and still have an amazing ministry!
  • Deliver on your promises >> be home when you say you will be home from a retreat or event. That is just one issue but you get what I am saying!
  • Listen >> when parents give you feedback listen and say thanks. You may not agree with their feedback but listening is huge factor when building trust.
I think if we start with the basics we can build trust. Trust leads to partnership! What changes do you need to make in order to start building that bridge?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy enjoy some FREE rad Christmas music!

Happy Thanksgiving! This week I want to help you kick off the Christmas season with some free Christmas music. Just click here to check out a project led by my friend Nate Edmondson and the guys who live on his dorm floor at Moody Bible College. Nate decided he wanted to do an electronic Christmas album and he pulled it off with some help from people who believed in the project and happened to live on the 10th floor with him. Enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend, get those Christmas decorations up, and load this project in your iPod to enjoy!

Have an amazing Thanksgiving weekend!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Thanksgiving week is a natural break for my family. All fall we have been going 100 miles an hour and for one week in November we get to slow down and celebrate a time where we stop and give thanks. 2011 has been a defining year for our family. Both our girls are in elementary school now. Chelsea came on staff at Grace Community and she is wrapping up her graduate degree in school counseling. God led me to stay focused on student ministry and stay anchored in our church and our community. Our family is thankful. We have watched God constantly guide us and give us strength for the next challenge. In a few hours we will hop in the car and head out of town to spend some time with family. Before we hit the road I wanted to just process what I am thankful for this year and some people I'm thankful goes...
  • My I am blessed with three amazing women who live at my house! Chelsea and our daughters Kelyn and Kozbi are such a blessing. I am so grateful God allows me to be husband and dad to these women.
  • God's's amazing that God keeps coming after me and shaping my life. I'm thankful to serve a God who does not give up on me or the people around me.
  • Our team at Grace Community...every week I get to work with some of my best friends. I get to hang out with some of the most amazing volunteers in the universe. I get to lead in a church where God is changing lives. 
  • Our teens at Relevant...I'm blown away by the teenagers relevant student ministry gets to invest in each week. I'm so thankful that we get to be an influence in their life pointing them to Christ.
  • Our Relevant alumni living life all across America...yea it's so cool to get to watch formers students make a difference for Christ on their college campus.
  • Leaders who read this blog...I really do enjoy writing and I am blown away that student, kid, and family ministry leaders across the country would even give this time of day. Thanks for reading and thanks for serving the next generation.
  • Leaders who have invested in me...I have been able to meet some many amazing next generation leaders in 2011 and build some great friendships. So blessed to have people out there who are helping me be a better follower of Christ and leader.
  • My Tennessee Vols and Tennessee Titans are still fighting to get better...yea it has been a long football season for me but my teams are still trying to make a bowl and the playoffs. You know I had to talk about football somewhere in this post!
Praying you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving and that you have time to process what you are thankful for this year. Slow down and embrace some time to just be grateful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That parent you can't make happy...

We all know them...the parents you just can't keep happy. You have met them if you serve in a church or school. They are the parents that always have a complaint, are never satisfied, and never say thanks. Many times we allow this small minority to cloud our perceptions of the majority of amazing parents we partner with because they are just so loud. Just last week at an amazing event we had one parent who was frustrated because there were just"too many kids there"...the event was "unsafe"...her middle school kids would not be "safe". Even after one of our amazing volunteers explained why we had the biggest crowd of our history and how we worked to helps kids have a safe experience the parent took her teens and left. What do you do with that? Here is what we have learned over the years...
  • Some parents will never understand what we do and why we do it. // many parents will never understand the passion we have for our calling as a minister or an educator. Go ahead and come to terms with the fact that some people will never get it!
  • Listen and process even when it's that chronic complaining parent. // just listen and learn what you can. Many times complaints some from areas in your ministry that need some tweaking.
  • Always remember we partner with parents and never compete with parents. // yes no matter what you think about a parent remember you are there to support them. You will be a teen's small group leader or student pastor for a few years. They are parents for life.
  • Return calls and emails quickly. // when a parents has a complaint or issue just return the email or make the call as soon as you can. Most parents (even the chronic complainer) just needs their questions answered.
  • Make sure you know why you do what you do and continually cast that vision. // you always need to be able to explain why you do what you do to anyone who asks, especially a parent. If you can't do that why would any parent trust you or believe in you?
  • Give grace and be patient. // being a parent is hard, parenting a teen is sometimes impossible. Slow down, give grace, be patient. You will be amazed what a gentle response in a tense moment will do.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are your teens missed at church?

Are your teens missed at church when you go away for a retreat or camp? The answer to that question reveals how integrated the teens are in your church culture. The honest truth is that for most churches the rest of the church doesn't notices when the teens are gone...some people may even be glad that group of kids that sit together on Sunday is not there because we know many times teens intimidate adults. A few weeks ago we took our small group leaders and teens to a retreat and we missed a Sunday morning. Those teens were missed. Why? Because most of those teens serve somewhere in our church culture. Because those teens actually go to the worship service and worship with their families and friends on Sunday. Because they bring energy to our church week in and week out. We missed them because they are a part of our church family...they belong in the church...they make an impact in the church. For all of us who lead student ministries we need to be honest and ask ourselves how we are helping the teens we lead connect to the church, serve in the church, find a place to belong at church. I know this is a difficult idea but maybe the reasons teens do not see the need for an inter-generational church is that as a teen they never connect with that church. How do we do are just a few ideas that may help bridge the gap.
  • Let teens see you connect with the church. // you need to be worshiping with your church on Sundays (if you are not leading a Sunday morning environment). We can set the tone by supporting the church not just our ministry.
  • Empower teens to serve on Sundays. // when teens find a place to serve at church many times they find a place to belong. If you do Sunday morning environments for teens then challenge them to attend and then serve.
  • Communicate what your student ministry is doing with your church. // keep adults in the loop of what God is doing in the student ministry you lead. Build a culture of sharing the good things God is doing. People love to hear an celebrate good news.
  • Connect efforts of the church and student ministry together. // find ways to connect baptisms, mission projects, church wide strategy together with your student ministry.
  • Welcome your senior pastor and other staff into your student environment. // let your senior pastor speak one week or just hang out for the night, ask staff to visit and help you evaluate your environment, keep staff in the loop of your vision. Connect the world of the church and your ministry!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Free Stuff / a video, a buffalo, a great idea

I am always on the lookout for a great video idea to use as we promote events. I have a great video and a great idea for you to use to promote an upcoming event. We stumbled on a video called Guy on a Buffalo...I inserted it here in the post. It's random but very funny and there are four episodes. We loaded the video into iMovie and did a little editing to make it work to promote our fall retreats. I have included our week one promo version also. Every week this promo was was also random but it worked for our student ministry. There ya free stuff for the week! Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Looking for small group help?

Small group ministry is not easy but it works. Small groups with teens and kids work because it places mentors in their lives. Everyone needs to be around people who will help push them toward Christ, toward wisdom, and toward life change. I believe in small groups and our journey over the past 5 years here at Relevant to figure then out has been a challenge. I know many leaders out there are looking for help when it comes to small group ministry. Jason Carr is a leader who might just be what you need. Jason spent years serving with Campus Crusade and at North Point Community Church in Georgia thinking about and leading small groups. Now Jason is consulting, communicating, and training other leaders about small groups. We had Jason in last week to speak at our fall retreat and he set up our small groups every sessions to help leaders invest in teens. If you have questions about small group ministry and want to connect with a leader who gets it then check out Jason Carr.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

say less so you can say more

I know it sounds odd...say less when you speak so you actually say more but it's true. When we make our talks shorter and clearer people are able to take away more. Every communicator wants to say more. We all believe that if we just had 10 more minutes we could help a listener take that one extra thing home and it could change their life. That extra 10 minutes might just be what keeps the listener from taking your bottom line home! In our student ministry we embarked on a say less so we could say more experiment. We limited our middle school messages to 20 minutes and our high school messages to 25 minutes. During the first semester we have watched how God has used our shorter talks in big ways. We really believe we are making a bigger impact every week and here is why...
  • Limited time forces us to say what is most important // with a time limit we use the best illustrations, best stories, best props, most important verses in Scripture because time is limited.
  • Bottom Lines are stronger and more focused // we make sure now and work harder to say our bottom line in different ways and at different times in our talks because we want them going to small group remembering that one big idea
  • We get to Scripture faster // with limited time we move to the Bible faster than we used to. The Scripture is the most important part of every talk anyway!
  • Attention and retention is much better // teens know we are not going to talk forever so they are more willing to focus. Teens are also getting to group with a better grasp of the topic.
Our students really don't need us to speak longer, they need what we say to be clear and to the point. Yes, you can stretch your students spiritually with shorter talks because they will actually be paying attention. I hope you will give it a try...say less so you make a bigger impact every week!

Monday, November 14, 2011

changing the space & getting their attention

This past weekend we had our yearly fall retreat we call CRAVE. Every year we go off site to a hotel in Gatlinburg and we have to change the space in our large group area so it will help our mission for the weekend. When teens walk into the room we want to grab their attention. That is what a good environment grabs attention. Content, worship planning, and production share our message. The right environment helps keep the attention of our audience so our message is loud and clear. Here are pictures from beginning to end of our large group space for you to check out. Yes, you can thank my iPhone for these shots. When you plan your next retreat or camp please do not forget to plan your environment for maximum impact.

Also, are you thinking about remodeling some of your ministry space? Check out my friends at Worlds of Wow for some ideas...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

designing a retreat for Small Groups!

Every youth ministry in the universe has some kind of retreat during the year. One or two weekends a year geared to get teens away from the normal grind and help them focus on Christ. What if you intentionally designed your retreats to enhance your small groups? Our ministry is a small group based student ministry so our retreats need to do everything possible to enhance the small group experience. You will be amazed when you make group a priority for most of your events. We even believe that if a retreat does not help our small groups we probably don't need to keep it going. Our fall retreat is called CRAVE and here are some ways we try design the weekend so groups have the chance to grow spiritually and relationally.
  • We take as many small group leaders as possible. // yes I know this is costly but we want the teens to be with their small groups leaders for the weekend, not with college students we bring in for the weekend. Our college leaders help fill holes not replace our weekly leaders at retreat! Yes we pay for our leaders cost of going. We just think it is a great investment when you consider the time leaders give all year.
  • We block off time for small group to happen after every large group session. // We give our groups more time to focus than we do during our weekly gatherings. The extra time gives group leaders time to push harder and listen more.
  • We create time for groups to hang out and make memories. // Small groups eat meals together, go ice skating together, do ridiculous games together, and have time to slow down together. Making memories together leads a kind of small group glue that helps small groups stay connected through the rest of the year.
  • We craft our worship and teaching times to set up small group. // When we program we think group. When our speaker prepares he thinks group. The goal is to set up small group to thrive.
A great retreat for our team is a retreat where small groups thrive. When this is the win for the weekend then our retreat is shaped and designed for small group. Will you be willing to allow your next retreat to set up your small groups to thrive?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

FAMILY communion

We celebrate communion at our church several times a year as a church family, and we also make communion available every week for people who want a weekly experience. Our family ministry team wanted to find a way for kids who were Christ followers to be able to share in communion on those Sundays that were church wide and that idea is what led to our family communion area in Cross Street. This Sunday we created an area for parents and kids to share communion together. We left instructions for the parents and empowered mom and dad to have a moment of remembering with their kids. We also had one of our family ministry staff team stand by the area to answer any questions. Not every parent made the effort or felt the need to participate but many did. It was so incredible watching families remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us together. It was powerful to watch kids and parents pray together. As family ministry leaders we have to continue to find ways to help parents and kids share signigicant spiritual experiences together. For our team, family communion is just another experience that connects faith and home.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Becoming a catalyst for change

If you leading anything (a company, your home, a church, or just your 5 year old's soccer team) then you know that leading people to make change is a difficult process. We know our organizations need change. Many times we know what needs to change. We want to see things change. The problem comes when we make a move to begin the change process and really have no understanding of how to make change make it make it stick. This summer I read Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I have never read a book that better explained the change process. This is one of those books that every ministry leaders needs to read and then maybe memorize half of it. As ministry leaders we are called to be change agents not institution builders. Here are some of my favorite thoughts from Chip and Dan Heath. Go get the book and get to reading!
  • And that’s the first surprise about change: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
  • For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.
  • Decision paralysis can be deadly for change—because the most familiar path is always the status quo.
  • Big-picture, hands-off leadership isn’t likely to work in a change situation, because the hardest part of change—the paralyzing part—is precisely in the details.
  • Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you’re not ready to lead a switch. To create movement, you’ve got to be specific and be concrete.
  • Kotter and Cohen observed that, in almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.
  • But to create and sustain change, you’ve got to act more like a coach and less like a scorekeeper. You’ve got to embrace a growth mindset and instill it in your team.
  • Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.
  • Change isn’t an event; it’s a process.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Free Stuff // game idea, CHUG SOME SKITTLES

I know student and kid's pastors are always looking for games so here is one we did last week in our middle school service. It was the week before Halloween so I was looking for a game that would involve candy...of course. Who does not love candy? We called the game Chug Some Skittles. We had three teams (one per grade). On go they had to sort the skittles by color and then eat them. First team done was the winner. Simple, easy, fun. Here is the graphic we used. Enjoy some FREE STUFF!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What can God do in 45 minutes?

What can God do with 45 minutes in a middle school service? More than you can imagine. This year I have learned so much about effective middle school programing since our team got serious about making sure middle school students were engaging every minute of our weekly gathering. If you want to keep the attention of middle school students then you better embrace the idea that less is more. This year we forced our service time to 45 minutes and the time constraint has been an amazing catalyst. With limited time we have had to evaluate every phase of the service and make sure it works. Why...because we have 45 minutes. We have to choose the right songs. We have to promo events with limited time. We have to plan for the right game. We have to make sure the talk sets up our small groups and happens in 20 minutes. I can imagine many youth leaders right now asking for more time. I promise your middle school students do not need more they need better. If you want to engage middle school students begin with evaluating how you use the time you have in your program.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Is your ministry "social"

At our church we have been on the Facebook journey for several years trying to find ways to connect with people. Several years ago our team just realized that's where people were spending their time online so we went there. We have had a group, a page, been allowed to have a normal account people can add as a friend, and now just launched our new organization page where people can "like us" and you can check that new format out here. Of course our family ministry has also been using social medis for years. You can see our student ministry page here. We are pumped because we are about to reformat our FB presence. We love social media because it allows us to do several things...
  • connect with people looking for a church or family ministry for their kids
  • connect with people who have bought into what we are doing
  • communicate vision and mission
  • communicate with our volunteers
  • provide info about events
  • stay on people's mind (out of sight out of mind!)
Sure, we love our websites but they are not as interactive as Facebook and Twitter. If you want to connect with people get our there and get going. If you have not been using social media well and you want to get going check out this post from my friend Matt Mckee and start by using it to communicate with volunteers.