7 Tips for Setting a Phone Usage Policy

Technology is a game changer. Love it or hate it, it is here to stay, and the harsh reality is that it is becoming a greater part of our lives with each passing day. It isn’t lost on me that I write this on a computer, connected to WiFi, on a website I can literally access from anywhere on my phone, in order to connect with a wide range of people.

Technology is both a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes to ministry. Students love their tech and the tech they love the most is their phones. Students are streaming videos constantly, sending selfies and adding to streaks every couple of minutes, playing games, sharing memes, and finding their identity in and through their phone.

Have you noticed it at your youth group yet? Have you seen the student who claims to be using their Bible app but no one makes that face reading the Bible? Have you seen the student who is playing a game during your message? How about the student whose face is never unglued from their device? What do you do about it? How do you handle it?

I am no expert at this, but I have found ways to utilize technology and a lack of technology for the benefit of our students and our group overall. Here are some tips on how to handle this issue well.

1. Set a policy and stick to it

Policies will look different for each ministry, but the key is setting the policy and sticking to it. Some ministries don’t allow phones, others do. Some ask students to engage with their phones during the evening, others don’t. I know students will have their phones, but during our message time and small groups we ask our students to put them away because we provide notes, Scripture, and all that they need. It isn’t because we don’t like phones, but we want to help remove distractions during specific moments.

2. Have a policy for trips

This is important because depending on what type of trip you are on, phones may be necessary. When we take students to our denominational conference we are in a convention center in the city with thousands of other students. We know our students could be doing any number of things at the conference and we want to be able to communicate with them. Therefore, we allow them to have their phones. On shorter trips or mission trips we do not allow them as we want students to be intentional about building lasting relationships with one another and with Jesus. We communicate this to families well before each trip, and also give parents other means of contacting their students (like calling leader phones) if necessary.

3. Model the policy

This is a big thing. I have been on trips and retreats where there is a no phone policy for students but leaders are often seen on their phones. Students end up getting upset and frustrated because they were given a rule but the leaders seem to be above the law. When we tell students they can’t have phones, we explain that leaders will have theirs for emergencies and photos only. I make it very clear that leaders are not to be using phones in front of students unless it is for one of those reasons. That way leaders are following the rule and also intentionally connecting with their students.

4. Share your phone policy

I stated this briefly above, but whenever we go on trips we explain to parents and students what our phone policy is and why we have it. By sharing this with families it helps us all to be on the same page and it avoids any day-of conflict about having a phone on a trip. It is also important to communicate with families about your phone policies for your weekly programming. This could be done through an email, a newsletter, a social media post, or by hosting a parent meeting.

5. Utilize phones well

Some ministries allow phone usage more than others because it works in their context. If this is the case for your ministry, make sure to talk about how to use phones well in your setting. Talk about various apps students can and should use. In fact, a great resource would be to utilize the Bible App as a means for students to take notes during your messages. You can always use phones to take polls from students, have them text in questions, and interact with the media you are using. You can also look into developing an app that incorporates all of the above aspects and encourage your students to use this during your programming to help them stay engaged.

6. Cast vision for why you are disconnecting

If you are saying you are not allowing phones for weekly programming, a special event, or a trip, it is always good to discuss why. Families will often want to know if there is a specific reason for not having them, and what they need to do if there is an emergency. By sharing the vision and reason for disconnecting you will help parents to be on board with it.

7. Empower your leaders to speak into the moment

Often it isn’t every student who is on their phone, but a singular student or a smaller group. Instead of calling them out all the time in front of everyone, encourage their leaders to engage with them and find out why they are on their phone. Some kids hear better with additional stimuli. Others want to appear to be disengaged and cool. Others may not care or have never been mentored in how to listen and engage. The reality is we don’t know why they are on their phone until we engage and your leaders are the ones best suited for the job.

How do you deal with phone usage in your ministry? Is it something you encourage or discourage? What advice would you share with others about this topic?

Our Picks: Top Bibles for Students

Part of our role in ministry is helping students understand and interact with God’s Word. However, it seems that this is a struggle for our students, and I would assert for most Christians, and we don’t often see results. But as I have contemplated why this is, I have come away with two thoughts:

  1. Students needs to be taught and discipled in how to read and understand the Bible, and
  2. Students need Bibles that they can read and understand.

During a series on how to study the Bible, I actually ended up giving away over thirty Bibles to our students. Many of these students had Bibles that were gifted to them or passed down from another family member, but they all stated that they were too difficult to read. So I resolved to offer them multiple versions and translations in an effort to help them study and be in the Word more often.

Today I am sharing some of our top picks of Bibles for students in hopes that it will allow you to better equip, challenge, and disciple your students.

NLT Study Bible

This is an easy to understand Bible that uses common English language, and I have found many students enjoy how readable it is. It offers a lot of resources and helpful tools for students throughout the text, and is a less cumbersome Bible to carry around. You can find this in many variations (student’s, men’s, women’s, etc.), but I personally like the regular pocket size style or the Teen Life Application Study Bible for students. The compact size is an easy addition to a backpack and the Teen Life Application Study Bible is not very large or heavy and has applicable material for students.

CSB Apologetics Study Bible for Students 

This has quickly become a favorite resource of mine and I have multiple copies of this Bible in my office. I have many students who are asking the hard questions and wondering what the Bible has to say about it. This Bible offers a vast amount of conversational pieces designed to help students understand how the Bible is integrated with real world issues, and how they should cultivate a Biblical response. This is on top of the already detailed notes and insights that come with a standard study Bible, and it is in the easy to read and understand CSB version.

ESV Student Study Bible

This is a solid study Bible, and frankly I like it better than the larger ESV Study Bible most adults prefer. It doesn’t skimp or trim on the material, but rather puts it in easier to understand verbiage that is geared toward students and practical life application. This version also comes in a variety of colors and in hardcover and paperback which allows for preference and versatility.

Jesus Centered Bible NLT

This has become one of my favorite Bibles to date, and my students love it! I have also handed this out to adults and my senior pastor who have found it be incredibly helpful in understanding more about Jesus and how we engage with Scripture. What makes this Bible stand out is that the over 600 Old Testament passages that point Jesus are in blue text with additional helpful information about said text. It helps students who are reading the Old Testament to understand how Jesus played a role during that time, and how that then applies to their lives. It helps them to see the validity and necessity of all Scripture.

CSB Study Bible 

This is a personal favorite and one that I have seen more and more students gravitating toward. The CSB Study Bible is designed to help you grow in your relationship with God by using readable and reliable text. The editors of the CSB have sought to remain as literal as possible to the original text and meaning, while also making it easier to engage with Scripture by making it readable. This version is becoming more and utilized throughout churches and students love the easy to read and understand translation. They also have a student version of this study Bible, and I am always trying to get these into the hands of my students.

Have a Bible that you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

8 Tips for Generating Early Sign-Ups

Have you ever tried to get students to sign up for a trip? Have you ever received that last minute phone call, text, email, or DM asking for a student to be allowed to go? Have you been in that situation where its the week of the trip and only one student has signed up for a trip and you may have to cancel?

I get it. We have all been there. Getting students to sign up early, let alone on time, is extremely difficult. For many years I just assumed this was the norm in student ministry, but it doesn’t have to be. There is a way to make it work. I want to share some tips on how to achieve earlier sign-ups and increase them overall.

I should note that you won’t see changes overnight. In fact it may take a couple of semesters, trips, or years for changes to be seen. But don’t get discouraged. Stick to your values, keep the rules you set, and see what happens. Actual change will take time and if you begin to implement these tips it may just help move that change forward in the right direction.

1. Cast vision early.

This is something I learned early on in my tenure in student ministry. It is important to share the what, the how, and the why. If you are asking for students and families to have buy-in to what you are doing, talk about it as early as possible. Communicate why you are going on this trip. What will be the result? What will happen in students’ lives? How will this trip be paid for? Why should a student go? Why is this important in their spiritual journey? Answering these questions early on will allow for families to better plan and prepare for what you are doing, and it will generate buy-in.

2. Be excited about the trip.

Have you ever started at a new church where you had to take students on a trip to a place you had never been? I have, and I will be honest: it was hard generating excitement about going somewhere I had never been. So instead of talking about just the logistics, I shared about what I was looking forward to. I shared pictures and videos of where we were going. I tried to make travelling overnight sound like an amazing adventure (and it was an adventure). My point is this: if you aren’t excited, or you talk about the trip begrudgingly or with no emotion, why would you expect students to go? Get excited and let your excitement bleed into your students as you prepare to go.

3. Know what you are talking about.

This is a big thing to remember. Make sure the information you are sharing is accurate and clear. I will admit that sometimes I have shared inaccurate information and it has kept students and families from signing up. I have been actively looking to better communicate and share what I know to be correct information. In fact, if I don’t know the answer I let them know I will find out and share it with them as soon as I do. This actually helps me be more intentional with communicating with the host site or camp. I ask better questions and get their vision for our trip and that allows me to share more accurate information with my people.

4. Communicate with parents.

Have you ever felt like parents don’t know what is happening? Or have you ever received the email that claims they knew nothing about your upcoming trip or retreat? The reality is that there will always be communication that is missed, but what we should be looking to do is over-communicate.

Think about it: parents have hundreds of emails coming to them all the time. They are seeing all the stuff you are on social media and probably even more. They are trying to balance school activities, sports, social lives and so much more. Be willing to give grace when appropriate but also seek to communicate ahead of time through multiple outlets, and continue to send out communications. Consider hosting a plenary parents only meeting to share about what is coming up. No, you won’t get every parent on your first go-around, but the number will steadily increase as they see your passion and desire to share. The more parents know, the more your students will know, and the more sign-ups you will get because you are all on the same page.

5. Have an early bird sign-up.

Want to guarantee more sign-ups? Work within your budget to have an early bird deadline. Most camps and retreat centers already have that, which is why we preregister so we can save money. But what if you offered the early bird price that you paid for a certain period, and then the price went up to the actual cost (the cost it would be if you hadn’t preregistered)? Now you are generating a desire for students and parents alike to save money. This almost guarantees sign-ups because no one wants to pay extra if they don’t have to. And you are not simply upping the price for the sake of doing so, but from an ethical and moral standard you are keeping it in line.

We do this for all of our big trips. We figure out the lowest possible cost and offer that as the early bird. Then we adjust the rate going forward in accordance with the up-charge in the conference fee. We offer four different payment times: early bird, regular, late, and last minute. At most we have three to five late sign-ups and maybe one last minute because of the price differential. Not only does this generate sign-ups, it also alleviates a lot of stress. Planning appropriate deadlines affords you the ability to collect registrations in a timely manner.

6. Offer a payment plan.

Let’s be real: for some families, paying for longer trips is taxing financially. We get that. If you are asking a family to drop a thousand dollars right away for a trip, you won’t get many sign-ups. If you present a payment plan instead, and give them a means to an end, you will allow families to participate with less financial burden up front. If you have different sign up times you will need to have a plan for each one, but again, it allows families to see how much they owe and when, which can ease the burden.

7. Don’t allow late sign-ups.

This is a big thing for me. I used to always allow people to sign up late. I would hear their reasons why they hadn’t, I would see the change this trip could bring about in a student’s life, and I understood being busy. But what I didn’t see was that I was cultivating a culture where rules, guidelines, and timing didn’t matter. It added stress and tension to planning a trip and going on it. That student didn’t have buy-in like everyone else. Recently we made the decision to not allow late sign-ups unless extenuating circumstances applied. This is a tough stance to hold and there were parents who pushed back. But we shared our reasoning and heart behind it, and when communicated effectively beforehand, parents will see that the were ample opportunities to sign up earlier.

8. Host a scholarship program. 

Regardless of whether there are payment plans or not, you will always have families who cannot afford to pay for trips. Please consider offering scholarships for those families. It may not be a full ride, but even a little may allow for a student to go who originally couldn’t. This may mean getting creative and reworking your budget to put money aside for scholarships, or hosting a sponsorship event at your church, or even seeing if the church would consider taking a special offering. Any time you can help a student go to a camp, trip, or retreat could be life changing with eternal results. So think about how you can help get students to camp who need the financial help.

Help! My Students Don’t Like Me

“How do you make students like you?”

“I am a new youth pastor and I am not connecting with my kids…what am I doing wrong?”

“I have been in youth ministry for years, but I can’t seem to find common ground with my teens in my new position.”

These are just a few quotes I have heard over the past couple of weeks from youth pastors who are struggling to connect with their students.

The real question before us is this: how can I connect with, relate to, and push my students to the Gospel? Throughout various ministries, and lots of trial and error, I have seen many ways work and lots of ways fail. I want to share a few ways to help you connect with your students regardless of where you are and how long you have been there.

Don’t put your worth in students liking you.

If you find your success, identity, and validity in students liking you, then you went into the wrong field with the wrong intentions. You aren’t here to be liked–don’t get me wrong, that’s a huge plus–you are here to disciple students and point them to Jesus. Don’t go looking to be liked but go seeking to show them Jesus and love them the way He does.

Don’t expect them to come to you.

Go to where they are. I think sometimes we believe that if we keep office hours, have an “open door policy,” and invite them over then they will come. That isn’t the case. Students in fact have been told to not go hang out with strange people. If you are in a new position, you are a strange person. They don’t know you yet. They don’t know your passions and heart. So go to them. Go support them at their games and activities. Get involved in the community. Bring donuts to their school in the morning.

Know your students.

This seems like an easy one but depending on the size of your program (and if your memory, like mine, isn’t great) you may not be able to know every student. But try to get to know the ones you can and remember them. There is so much power in being called by your name instead of “hey you” or “buddy” or “dude.” Remember their names, but also seek to know more about them. What school do they go to? What activities are they engaged in? Who is in their friend group? Where’s their favorite place to go hang out? What’s the best coffee shop? What’s their favorite thing about youth group? When you know these things and bring them up in conversations you are showing intentionality and a desire to be a part of their lives.

Be real.

I cannot stress this enough. All you have to do is look at all the memes out there about youth pastors being one way around students and another in front of church members or parents to know that the common perception of youth pastors is they aren’t authentic. Maybe it is just a meme and I am trying to be too insightful, but I think the underlying truth is there: be authentic.

Students can tell when you aren’t being genuine or you’re trying to “just relate” but don’t truly care. They have plenty of people who pretend to care or invest in their lives, they don’t need another one. Be yourself! Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. If you are dorky, own it. If you are an athlete, play basketball with them. If you are quiet, don’t try to be an extrovert. And don’t pretend to know someone when you don’t. Love them as Jesus does and show them who you are.

Have fun.

Don’t be a stick in the mud. Sometimes engaging with students means having fun with them and with what they are doing. Think about it: what adult other than a youth worker do you see playing Gagaball or challenging students to an eating competition? I’ll wait while you come up with names… But seriously, have fun with your students. If they like board games, play with them. If they are into video games, brush up on your gaming skills. You don’t have to crush it or them, and when they beat you, laugh about it.

I love playing 9 Square with my students. Some of them are super athletic and can dominate the game. I can go toe-to-toe with them, but I often choose not to and allow myself to get spiked on. Why? Not because I like losing, but I love to laugh at it and also I get to connect with the students who did get spiked on. Have fun and let your hair down.

Tell personal stories.

Elise wrote an awesome post about the power of a story and she couldn’t be more correct. Stories convey truth and emotion, and they connect with people in a very real way. I love telling stories when I teach and they are almost always personal. I do this for two reasons: people see I am real and just like them, and it allows for my students to know me on a deeper level. My students know about my childhood, college years, my day-to-day activities, and all the times I messed up. In fact, I have students come up and say “remember when you did…” But the funny thing is they weren’t there for that moment, but they were there for my story. They connect with you as you allow them into your space.

Be consistent.

Don’t give up. The reality is all of this takes time and effort, and there will be moments you want to check out or walk away. Don’t! Stay invested. Keep showing up. Go to the plays and sports and coffee shops. When no one comes on a youth group night still show up. Students see you. They see your heart. Be someone who is there for and with them. Be the person they need and the person God called you to be. When you say you will be someone where, be there. When you say there is youth group, show up and be excited. Be consistent and watch what God does.