Wednesday, February 29, 2012

no more "youth sections" at church

When I was growing up and when I did youth ministry in my 20's every church had a youth section. Most of you leading in churches have the same thing. It's that section of the church where all the teens sit during the Sunday morning services. Youth sections exist because teens are looking for something to connect with at church that makes sense. In most churches the only thing that keeps them there and makes sense are other friendships. That is why the huddle and seem to disconnect from the rest of the church. One of my friends on twitter mentioned that he has began to sit in the teen section just to engage those teens and build relationships. That idea got me thinking. Our church at Grace Community doesn't have a youth section. It's the first place I have ever served where teens sit with small group leaders, their parents, or serve as a volunteer all over the church. When I process why this is our reality I think it comes from the fact that we have given the church to them. It's their church as much as it's their parents church. We program with them in mind. We ask them to be a part of the church. We empower them to make a difference right now by serving and giving them real responsibility. Maybe we could end "youth sections" at church if we just gave the church away to them now. They are not the future of the church, they are the church. If you want them to stay connected to your church and other churches for years to come give them the keys to the castle right now. Engage them, empower them, believe in them, and live life with them. The churches that will be around in 20 years are the ones who are giving the church away to teens right now. Don't give them a section give them the entire sanctuary.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RETREATS // redefining success

How do you know if an event has been successful? We have been trying to answer that question over the past few years and we are beginning to understand what our measuring stick is in order to determine if a retreat or event is a success. Yes, we measure and track attendance. We evaluate what happens on stage. We listen to feedback from teens, volunteers, and parents. All those things are great but we now determine success from the perspective of small group. 
  • Did our event help small groups grow spiritually? 
  • Did our retreat help small group leaders connect with teens? 
  • Did our event help small group leaders lead teens toward a relationship with Christ?
  • Did our event help small groups have real conversations about the Bible, Christ, about life?
  • Did our retreat set up small group leaders for stronger community in our weekly environment?
Retreats help teens get out of the normal flow of their life so they can see Christ more clearly. Small group leaders are right there to help teens process what they are experiencing. When a event or retreat helps build community then it's a success! We really believe that strong teaching an worship linked with small group leads to lasting, genuine life change. When we help our small groups connect during a retreat then everyone wins.

Monday, February 27, 2012

my 1,000th post

Here it is...#1,000 for the blog. This one snuck up on me and I didn't realize that I was going to hit it because last week our student ministry team at Grace Community Church was in the middle of getting ready for a weekend retreat we call Merge. Pumped that it did land after Merge because after six years of writing I feel like God has brought me back to what started this web journal, youth ministry. Six years ago I decided to start sharing what God was doing in my life on a blog and that led to moving this blog to focus on leadership and ministry lessons that our team was experiencing. I just want to share what I am learning because over the years I have had so many leaders invest in me. After fourteen years of investing in the lives of teens I am still investing in the lives of the next generation and I know that is what God has called me to do. It's been a long journey to find peace in that calling but I am thankful to land there and excited about the next 14 years of ministry. I am thankful! Today on post 1,000 I'm going to list some things I'm thankful for. Here we go...
  • I am thankful that after 14 years of serving together in the church my wife and I have a healthy marriage and we still love serving at Grace Community Church.
  • I am thankful my 2 girls (Kozbi and Kelyn) know that Dad is a pastor, love the ministry we lead, and already find ways to serve at church. They growing followers of Jesus and I am so thankful for all the small group leaders at church that partner with my family!
  • I am thankful that God has surrounded me with amazing adult leaders who invest in teens every week through small group at Relevant Student Ministry.
  • I am thankful to be able to do events and bring former students back in to speak, lead worship, and help with small groups. It is such an honor to see teens leave our ministry and follow Christ as adults.
  • I am thankful to be able to partner with families in our city as their children grow into young adults.
  • I am thankful to serve with a church that empowers and supports our family ministry team to rethink how all of this stuff is done. We are in a constant state of innovation and I love that my church encourages us to keep pushing the limits.
  • I am thankful for a network of leaders across the country that are dreaming of new ways to do student and family ministry who I get to call friends. I am inspired by people who refuse to give up on the next generation.
  • I am thankful to have friends in my life that are outside my ministry setting. Friends really matter.
I think you get it. I am overwhelming thankful for the adventure God has allowed my family to be a part of. I'm so excited to see what God does in the next 1,000 posts. I love being able to write and help other leaders make a difference for Jesus Christ. Thanks for reading and following this blog and if you want a good laugh go back and read some of my early posts in 2006!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

our event environment / beginning to end

This weekend we have a big event and we worked hard on the environment. Every year we try to mix it up. Here is our room, where we started and where we ended today. We still have a few things to do but this will give you an idea of some things we made to change things up. So thankful to work with some amazing people who can take ideas and make them a reality! Check out the room...

environment is never neutral

Environment is never neutral. Environment either enhances the experience of an event or hurts it. I know many of you think you should be able to play a guitar or open the Bible and teens be engaged but that is just not the way it works. Really it doesn't work well for adults either. Environment helps to set the tone of your event. This weekend we are designing an environment for a weekend retreat and we are putting a ton of thought into every element so that we set the direction of the weekend through the space the teens are entering. When I talk about crafting the environment I am talking about what videos you use, lighting, video backs during songs, stage design, stage layout, pre-service music, and seating. All of these elements work together to send a message when people enter the space. Later this week I will post some pictures of how we set up our space for the weekend. Remember, with any budget you can create an environment that will enhance your message and mission for an event. Take time, make a plan, get creative, and enhance your environment for your next event.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Free Stuff / new game idea

Everyone is always looking for a quick game for your middle school or high school environment. This is one we did last week in our middle school service called Just Say It. We used valentines day candy hearts that had messages on them and had teams put together a sentence using only the words on the hearts. We then had them read them to the crowd and the best, most romantic voice won. It was funny and we involved a team of leaders and 2 teams of middle school students. Here is the graphic we used...enjoy some FREE STUFF!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Raising Expectations

Getting better is hard! We all want to see improvement in the ministries we lead but it's strenuous work. Raising the bar is difficult in any organization but it begins with raising the expectations of the people on your team. It starts with your key staff and volunteers choosing to do the needed work to improve. When you look around and decide that normal is not enough you have to raise expectations for everyone around you and you can't give up. Most of the time we raise expectations, someone complains, and then we lower them again. Improvement only comes when we push through complacency. The truth is most of us forget that leading people toward Jesus is the most important thing we can do with our lives. In 100 years what we do with Jesus will be the only thing that matters. We view ministry as a nice option, a thing we do on the side when in reality it's what matters most in life. We raise expectations because seeing the lives of kids, teens, and college students transformed by Jesus Christ matters. We raise expectations because partnering with parents matters. We raise expectations because mentoring the next generation is the heart of life change. We raise expectations because next week may be the week for someone to discover the unfailing love of God for the first time. Never apologize for raising expectations, it really is the only way to improve.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Leading Young Leaders

I used to be a young leader but now at 35 (one month away from 36) I look around and find myself surrounded by leaders who are younger than me. It's an odd feeling but it's also encouraging to see how God is raising up the next generation and using them in huge ways. Next week one of my former students will be our speaker at an event we do every year in our student ministry. This was a kid I was investing in when he was a middle school student. There's no greater joy than watching God use young leaders. At our church we have made an intentional effort to empower young leaders and along the way we have learned a few things about how to and how not to lead them. Here are a few reminders when leading young leaders who are in high school, college, or are young professionals...
  • Young leaders are in process // We have to remember that young leaders are on the journey and are still figuring out who they are. Who a young leader is today is not who they will be a year for now. We have to be patient and keep investing because they are in process.
  • Young leaders will make mistakes // Empowering young leaders can get messy. They will make bad choices. Sometimes they say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes they really make some bad mistakes. It's our job to walk them through the consequences and push them forward as they heal. A young leaders current mistake has the potential to teach a lesson for a lifetime.
  • Young leaders need the freedom to question and dream // We have to give young leaders room to question and tear apart our organizations (respectfully of course). Jesus is the only thing that is unchanging! Sometimes young leaders need a break to get away and think. Sometimes they will not agree with the direction we choose to go with the ministry and that is fine ad they are fine as long as they have a voice.
  • Young leaders need real opportunity and responsibility // At some point you have to choose to give young leaders opportunity but with that you also have to give real responsibility. Leadership is hard work and it comes with real responsibility. We help young leaders grow when we give them both and see what happens.
  • Young leaders need mentors // Every young leader need someone to hear them and someone to push them. They have questions that they need to process with you. They have ideas that need careful shaping. They have dreams and need direction. Mentors walk with young leaders and simply remind them they have someone in life that believes in them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

4 ways I'm using my iPad

In 2011 decided to add an iPad to my list of tech toys with one condition...I was going to find way to actually use it on a day to day basis. If I did not have a plan to use it I was not going to waste my money. I waited, planned, researched, saved up, and finally made the jump in December or 2011 with an iPad 2. Sure I debated if I should wait till the 3rd version came out but I decided to make the jump and move forward. You could find an Ipad 2 online and get Office Depot promotional codes and find the best deal. Honestly I think it is one of the best purchases I have ever made and I use it every day. As I talk about how I use my iPad please understand that the iPad will is not ready to replace your MacBook or iMac but it will allow you to be more flexible. Flexibility is the great advantage that comes with the iPad. Here are 4 ways I'm using my iPad every day...
  • Meetings >> Evernote and Wunderlist are 2 apps that have dramatically helped me be more efficient in meetings and in follow up after meetings. I use my iPad in every meeting I'm in because I always want to be able to write notes down and mark dates down in my calendar that will then automatically sync with my MacBook.
  • Speaking >> Yep, I use my iPad every week when I speak. I can make changes right up till the point of going on stage and then delete things for my next talk.
  • Thinking and Dreaming >> The iPad has some amazing apps for brainstorming and drawing and I don't lose what I have created because I can send the documents to Evernote.
  • Slowing down >> When I go home I leave my MacBook at the office. For some reason it feels great to leave work at work. There are things I can only do at the office and it allows me to be very intentional about when I bring my work laptop with me. My iPad allows me to feel a separation from the office but still have many tools with me to be very productive at home.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

STRETCH your ministry for growth

What would happen in the ministries we lead if we began to stretch our leadership, our volunteers, our structure, and ourselves in order to make our ministry dreams a reality? Incredible is what would happen because we serve a God who desires for us to live in faith and rely on him. When it comes to making change happen instead of allowing change to happen to us we often become fearful of taking the steps needed to take. Many times we just need a little push, a dose of encouragement, and a ton of prayer in order to move. Jim Wideman just released a book that I think will help many student and children's leaders understand the next step to take. STRETCH is all about helping you understand what it takes to structure your ministry for growth and forward progress. When it comes to volunteers, structure, and vision casting Jim knows what he is talking about and the entire book reads like you are sitting down for coffee and talking real life ministry. This is a book I hope you will check out. I am sure you could find it on an online retail like Target Book promo codes at a great price. Here are a few notes I highlighted on my Kindle...
  • The right structure can keep you from being afraid of growth. The wrong structure can keep growth from happening. Improving your structure can allow growth to continue. What you do now really is going to matter later.
  • As you establish your organizational structure, you can create a growth structure by asking, “What can we do now that we would be forced to do when we are double or triple our size?”
  • The moment you get comfortable and let your people get comfortable is the moment you turn back into a maintenance structure.
  • I’m not married to anything but my wife. If there’s a better way to do it, then let’s do it the better way.
  • People follow people with a plan. Planning always needs to go before action.
  • The devil attacks busy people by getting them to do stuff they have no business doing. You are the only person who can control your priorities.
  • Responsibility without authority only brings frustration and never leaves fruit that remains. You must dare to trust people to represent you well.

Monday, February 13, 2012

10 incredible youth ministry blogs

I'm a blogger and I follow many of other blogs written by some amazing leaders. I write because I love pushing myself to share ideas and get them onto my blog and out of my head. When I see that same passion on another blog I just want to follow along and learn. I can't even begin to say thanks to all the people who have invested in our ministry here at Grace Community through their writing so I thought I would share ten blogs that you will want to follow if you work with teens. All of these are places where it is safe to learn, ask questions, and find encouragement from leaders moving in the same direction. Here it is, ten amazing youth ministry blogs you should check out...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Motivating Volunteers

In 2011 I went to the first pre-conference day I have ever been to at any conference. I never thought I would be a "pre-conference" kind of guy but it ended up being my favorite part of the Orange Conference last year. Session after session I was able to slow down, meet other leaders, have meaningful conversations, and learn about some issues that I might miss when the conference starts. Kendra Fleming is an amazing leader and these are the notes from one of her conference sessions which focused on motivating volunteers. This session is ministry GOLD so check it out...

Motivating volunteers is a constant challenge for every ministry team. How do we keep our leaders tuned into our mission? How do we keep volunteers energized? This morning Kendra Flemming reminded us that what motivates volunteers connects back to what attracted volunteers to our ministry in the first place. Of course none of us are motivated by the same things but these are 7 principles that attract volunteers to our ministry and can keep our teams motivated.

We are initially attracted to things that are visually appealing //  Some volunteer connections are bound in relationship but many times we are drawn in simply the look and feel of an environment. Branding, clear communication, and environment matter.

We are naturally attracted to excellence // No one wants to feed time, energy, and talent into something that is mediocre. Be committed to progressive excellence.

We are increasingly attracted to things that are celebrated // What we celebrate becomes attractive to our volunteer teams. Celebrate what matters most.

We are relationally connected to dynamic communities // Excellent leaders attract other great leaders. Dynamic attracts dynamic.

We are selfishly attracted to things that are personally beneficial //  leaders stay when they are serving and growing at the same time. Make sure your volunteers are growing and being rewarded!

We are attracted to fun! // Environments that are fun, where we laugh, attract people! We have to create margin for fun.

We are ultimately attracted to leaders and organizations with integrity. //  Know what we value and live what we value

These attraction factors help to motivate our volunteers. The end goal is to empower volunteers for the long haul. Motivated volunteers are going to thrive and serve longer. What are you doing to motivate your team? In this list of 7 is there one that stands out?


Thursday, February 9, 2012

learn, listen, worship, laugh, dream...TOGETHER

This is a picture my friend Sam Luce took last year at the Orange Conference. This may look like any other conference you have been to but it's not. What you are looking at is an army of children's, preschool, student, and college leaders TOGETHER. I have been thinking about how to unite family ministry teams. How do we come together in order to reach this generation. I may work with teens but I need my college pastor creating ways to help them integrate faith into life on the college campus. I may work with teens but I need my kids pastor figuring out how help preschoolers know God loves an them and made them. You may work with children but you need my to help pointing  middle school students to Jesus as they navigate the storms of life they face. At some point we have to break down the walls and come together. Five years ago the Orange Conference helped our family ministry team learn, listen, worship, dream, and laugh together and our church has never been the same. We are different because we are working every week to reach the next generation together. Our student ministry team is helping our preschool environment capture the attention of kids. Our children's ministry team is helping our college ministry staff be more structured and organized. We are fighting for each other.

If you are processing how to get your team together and on the same page them this conference might be a great place to start. Sure, you will still have questions. No, there is no magic ministry bullet. Yes, ministry is hard work. The Orange Conference will simply help you find ways to accomplish more together.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our big move in 2011

2011 was a year that pushed our family ministry team to make some big moves. God used the Orange Conference to help us see the direction we needed to go, and God used a specific breakout, led by my friend Tom Shefchunas, to help me see we had to get better are empowering volunteers to lead ministry and not just fill roles on Sunday. Here are my notes from that session. They still inspire me months later so check out these ideas from Tom about freeing volunteers...

"Freeing your volunteers." That statement can mean a million things and it really sounds good when you say it. This afternoon Tom Shefchunas helped us wrap our minds around creating ministries full of volunteers who are pumped to be there, using their talents, and seeing progress. Many of our ministries simply just have volunteers serving out of obligation. Freeing volunteers means we are actively create a culture where leaders thrive. Freeing your volunteer team is not about changing people it is about changing the culture. Here are some steps to creating that kind of culture...

Resolve yourself that this will take time. // You don’t see a culture change your realize it has changed, change takes time. Changing a culture takes intentional long term attention and focus! 

Get great people in the room. // organizations have to get the right people on the team, the right people off the team, and the right people in the right seats. Nothing defines your team like the people on your team. A healthy culture can push people to be more! Look for people with time (willing to give their time), mature faith, and character.

Decide this is not your ministry // Leadership is a stewardship and I am just leading once small part of it. We often build our ministry around our personality with no other foundation of a volunteer team. Not a good idea. Will my ministry outlast my time leading it? We have to empower team to the point when we leave it moves forward with strength!

Simplify your strategy and define the volunteer’s job and role. //  If you want your leaders to feel like they are important give them something important to do.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't go to your next conference ALONE!

There is nothing like a conference with your team to inspire, refuel, and provoke change! With the Orange conference coming up in a few months and time to register, this is the perfect time to plan a conference for your team. We have done this several ways here with our family ministry team but every time we have had a mix of staff and volunteers with us. Every time it's paid off in big ways. When we go as a team we make sure and create time to connect with each other, space for each other to have alone time, and time to network with other leaders. When that combination happens we all gain more from a week together. There is a kind of synergy that can happen when a team of leaders (preschool, children, students, and college) get away to a conference to dream together. Here is what we see happen every year when we get away together...

  • Our team is inspired >> Taking time to learn from other leaders is inspiring. There is something inspiring about discovering we are not alone as we strive to reach this generation. When we get away as a team we have a better shot of getting the inpsiration we need to keep fighting.
  • Our team is refueled >> Something powerul happens when our team slows down to hear God's Word taught, pray together, laugh together, and worship together. Conferences are great places for teams to slow down enought to allow God to refuel our souls. 
  • Our team is usually pushed to make changes >> Sometimes you just need a different perspective in order to see needed change. So many times God has used time away at a conference to help our team embrace needed change. Conferences are safe places to think through ideas that might lead to changes that could lead to ministry momentum. 


Monday, February 6, 2012

When do you need a curriculum partner?

When do you need a curriculum partner? Right now! Don't get me wrong, I love that so many kids and student pastors are creating amazing curriculum for the ministries they lead. We create some great stuff with our team here at Grace Community but one idea we embrace is that the right curriculum partner can make sure we have time to do ministry and not just write great resources and material. I know many of you love to create, write, and develop resources but you still need to partner with an organization you believe in. We partner with several great organizations that create some amazing products that help us be better are sharing the gospel with this generation of kids and teens. This is not a post for any specific organization. You need to find an organization that you believe in and an organization that will listen to you when you have ideas. You need a curriculum partner. Here are a few reasons why...
  • You need a strategy not just curriculum. // You need a plan not just another Bible study. Partnering with an organization that makes great curriculum helps you find a plan you believe in.
  • Great curriculum takes hard work to create. // Great curriculum takes intense work from many people. Make sure as you are creating resources that you are balancing your need to focus on other needs in the ministry.
  • You need to avoid tunnel vision. // We all then to write and teach about what we are most passionate about. Having a curriculum partner ensures that we are pushed to teach with a wider perspective.
  • You are in the people business not the resource business. // Your volunteers need you to lead, not just create resources. Volunteers are never cool with us not returning emails or calls just so we can perfect the wording on that teaching script! They need you. Your church needs you. A curriculum partner can help you to have more people time.

Hello Orange Week...

We're about 80 days away from the Orange Conference and I can't wait to see how God works during those days that we set aside to process how we can reach this generation and partner with families. For the next week I am going to "think orange" on my blog with a bunch of other amazing children's and student ministry leaders from across the country. Many of these guys are my friends and they have some great insight into where family ministry is headed over the next 10 years. Check these blogs out this week and I hope you will join us in Atlanta for the Orange Conference...

Orange Bloggers:
Amy Fenton Lee:
Wayne Stocks: and
Cass Brannan:
Michael Bayne:
Jenny Funderburke:
Tom Pounder:
Henry Zonio:
Nick Blevins:
Amy Dolan:
Steve Cullum:
Ben Read:
Kenny Conley:
Dustin Valencia:
Paul Mannino:
Jeremy Lee:
Jason Chenoweth:
Benjamin Kerns:
Jonathan Cliff:

Friday, February 3, 2012

8 kids ministry innovators I'm learning from

It's been an incredible experience the past few years to meet so many amazing kids ministry leaders across the country and begin to learn from them. Yes I said it...this old student ministry guy is learning from kids ministry leaders. I know those lines never used to cross but those days need to be over. Now more than ever, children's an student pastors need to work together to reach this generation. Here are a few family and children's ministry innovators who you need to be following!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Experience or need both!

Many people find themselves graduating college and asking if the need to gain needed experience or move further in their education with a graduate degree. In reality you need both. One of the most dangerous things people in ministry can do is wait to serve. Your call as a pastor, leader, missionary, servant is not to get a degree, it's to make a difference in the Kingdom of God. Yes, you need education but you also need to get your hands dirty and filter your knowledge through serving. Here at Grace Community Church we are launching a program to help young leaders serve and learn at the same time. Yes we know it sounds odd but we’re calling it, for now, our Residency in Ministry program. Similar to a medical residency, we view this as a post-college “residency” where those in the program will be doing real ministry alongside pastors who are a little further down the road. They’ll be entrusted not with making copies (though, as we all know, that is a small slice of ministry, too) but with life-changing ministry. They’ll be viewed as full-on staff members, held to the expectations of the rest of our staff team. They’ll also receive a small stipend and have their housing covered.

In addition to doing the work of ministry, one major benefit of the program is that seminary tuition will be included. Clarksville is 45 minutes from the new Nashville campus of Southern Seminary. We’ve already had staff members (myself included) who have worked full-time at Grace and attended classes concurrently. And as I said above, I believe that this is a great way to learn and do ministry: in the classroom and in the “lab.”

We’re receiving applications now, looking to have residents in place by August, 2012.
If you’re interested, just head right HERE and start the application process. If you know someone who would fit the bill, send this info along. If you have any questions, we’ve tried to answer the most frequently asked HERE.

We’re stoked about this program, and are convinced it will be a great benefit to a great number of young leaders.