The Value of Networking

This past week I had the opportunity to be part of a coaching cohort that was provided by our friends at Slingshot. It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself when it comes to ministry and growth as I came away being encouraged, challenged, and refreshed after what has been quite a difficult season.

This cohort was originally intended to start in late 2019, got bumped to March 2020, moved to fall of 2020, then to spring 2021, and finally October of 2021. While these setbacks and schedule changes were frustrating when they happened, looking at this past week I truly believe God had every intention of moving the cohort to this moment because He knew how many of us needed it in this season.

One of the many things I walked away with was the understanding that community and networking is highly important in our ministry contexts. Many of know and affirm this, but like everyone else over the last year and a half, have struggled to make it a reality. My hope and prayer for each of you reading this is that networking and community become a priority for you and that we radically pursue it in our lives. But I think for some of us, we may be curious as to why it’s important, and that’s what I want to share with you today. I simply want to point out a few key reasons networking is so important and hopefully encourage you to be a part of this as it is highly important to your sustainability and the sustainability of your ministry.

Vulnerability and transparency.

As we gathered at this cohort I was reminded of how good it is to be raw and honest with others. Many of us had been experiencing similar things over the last year and as a result we we able to be transparent and real with one another. What happened was not a moment of critique but a time of support, encouragement, and care for one another. As members of the body of Christ we are called to love and care for one another, but we can only fully do this when we are honest and transparent with one another. When we build networks and relationships, they help us to be real and honest with others who care about us and understand.

Community.

I think we all recognize the value of community, but if I am being honest, I think over the last year I was missing out on it. When you have a group of people who know you, care about you, are going through similar things, and can relate to what you are experiencing, you feel known and loved. This type of community isn’t always the easiest to find, but when you do it will help you in amazing ways. You will feel heard, you will gain insight, you will have people in your corner, and you will know you are not alone. Community is one of the best things that can come out of networking with others.

Being challenged.

At our cohort we talked about the complexities of leading in ministries and we took some deep and challenging looks at our current ministries, systems, and visions. And if I am being truly honest, this was really difficult for me. I was forced to work through areas I was weak in, to think about failures, and to look at areas I needed to cut. These types of conversations are never easy and are really challenging. But because of these conversations, I was forced to think critically about why I was doing what I was doing. It forced me to be reflective and to rethink what we were doing in our ministry. These types of interactions are not meant to be critical but instead to challenge us. When you are doing life with a community of people they will challenge you to grow, they will push you to adapt, they will provide helpful critiques, and they will be in your corner. Being challenged isn’t easy but it is necessary to help us grow and mature personally and within our ministries.

Personal growth.

One of the many things I loved about this past week was the ways I was able to grow and mature. I never want to get to the point where I feel like I know it all or have done everything, especially as it pertains to ministry. This cohort helped to challenge and make me more self-reflective as we took various leadership and personality assessments. Allowing for these assessments and godly men and women to speak into my life helped me to see areas that needed growth, it helped me learn how to be a better leader, and how to relate to other people in a more intentional way. When you engage in intentional community, networking, and education with people who care, you will see yourself grow in wonderful ways.

Collaboration and new perspectives.

During the past year I have missed this part of networking. And if I am being honest, I think we can become comfortable and complacent because we are used to the status quo. We do things one way because we have always done them that way. They may not be bad or wrong, but when we network with others we see things differently and in new and exciting ways. Networking affords you the opportunity to rethink, adapt, and improvise. You learn new tricks, find exciting opportunities, and build your toolbox. Collaboration helps you to do your job better as you are able to grow and experience new opportunities.

Shared passions and unity.

As I sat with youth workers from around the country last week, it was so evident that we all had shared passions. We all love Jesus, we all love students, and we all desire that our students love and walk with Jesus. This was so encouraging and refreshing. It was a moment where it was good to know I wasn’t alone. I knew I had a team and family of likeminded individuals around the country. People who shared the same mission and had the same heart for students that I do. This was something that I believe we all need. We all need encouragement and to know we aren’t alone, and networking affords us that opportunity.

My prayer for all of you reading this is that you know that you have a tribe. That there are people who love and care about students like you do. That you know there are people who understand and can relate to what you are going through. That you know that you are not alone. At the very least, my hope is you have found that refuge here at Kalos, and that you know we are in your corner. If there is anything we can be praying for or encouraging you with, please do not hesitate to reach out because we are a part of your network.

Dealing with Disruptions

With the start of a new school year, I have heard multiple youth workers lament how there have been increasing disruptions within their ministries. Whether it’s students not respecting a speaker or one another, or inappropriate comments during youth group, or constant interruptions in small groups, this is a reality many of us face. And for many of us it can feel frustrating and discouraging. We begin to wonder if we are part of the problem or we just get upset to the point of perhaps yelling at a student. But instead of responding critically toward the student or ourselves, it would be prudent to step back and think about the situation at hand.

Before thinking critically about how to handle disruptions, I think it is helpful to think about the “why.” Why are these disruptions happening? Why do they seem to be manifesting in force right now? I believe if we take time to reflect on this past year and a half, we may see some rationale for why these disruptions seem to be occurring on a larger scale than prior years.

  • Students weren’t engaging in interpersonal relationships due social distancing and schools going online.
  • Students were engaged in relationships primarily online which allowed for anonymity and for increased boldness to say and do things they normally would not.
  • Some students were not receiving the discipleship they needed and were therefore not developing in spiritual, emotional, and relational maturity.
  • Students have forgotten how to engage in interpersonal relationships and their filters have been forgotten as well.

So what should we do if there are disruptions? How do we handle it well? Today, I want to provide you with some steps on how to handle these types of situations, but also to caution you to remember that there are never two situations exactly the same. There will always be differences, so how you handle the situation won’t always look the same. Therefore, these steps may not all be included, or the process for engaging the disruption may change. And that is okay. These are meant to be steps that simply help us see the whole picture and lovingly walk with our students even in difficult moments.

Speak with love.

Sometimes when disruptions happen we can respond in ways that are not always healthy. Responding with sarcasm, accusatory humor, or even saying something like, “Come on Nick, why do you always have to be distracting others?” will never help you get your point across nor help the group respect and follow after you. Instead, always speak in love. Look to model Jesus and seek to love even the most difficult student. We don’t always know what students are going through or why they are responding in the manner that they are. And when we bite back with a quick retort or cutting comment, that immediately causes students to pull away and build bigger and stronger walls. So always speak with love, be willing to be humble, and remember your calling. When you embody these things it will allow you to better engage and handle the situation at hand.

Never assume.

We are all really good at assuming. But just because we are good at it doesn’t mean we should do it. It is easy to assume how a student will respond because we work with them and know their family history. But we don’t know everything that is happening in their lives. They may be getting bullied. There may be abuse. They may be struggling with their identity. They may be having harmful ideologies. These moments when a student becomes disruptive are moments for us to step up and be the leaders that God has called us to be.

We are called to embody the love of Jesus and care well for our students. You may not know what that student is going through until a later date, or perhaps you will never know, but I can guarantee you this: if you respond in love, that will create a better opportunity for you to invest in and care for that student. On the flip side, if you respond out of frustration, more walls will be built and that student will become more withdrawn and less likely to trust. By seeking to understand and responding out of love you will be able to better assess and engage with the student and walk with them.

Don’t call out publicly.

This is a big thing to avoid, and if we are honest with ourselves we may be guilty of this. I think sometimes our propensity when students are disruptive or distracting is to respond in the moment. But when we do that we make it personal and we become the attacker. We have allowed for what the student is doing to be an attack on what we are doing and we take it personally because we are presenting the Word of God and students should listen and pay attention. But the problem now is bigger because instead of seeking to understand, we have made it about how that student is the problem and how we are the authority who will quell the problem.

Instead, what we should seek to do is love the student and engage with them personally. Show them that they have value and worth. Look to explain and seek to understand. See the student and not the issue. When you do this it allows you to invest into the life of the student and love them, which shows the student you truly care. I have often found when students are disruptive they are seeking to see if the youth leader really loves them and they are watching how they respond. They want to see if you are for them and if your words match your actions. So use this as a time to care for them and model Christ.

Look for the “why.”

As you engage with students don’t assume you know why they are acting out. Take time to dig deep, to ask them questions, and to get to the heart of the matter. There may be extenuating circumstances that are affecting the student and causing them to act out. We never know until we seek to understand and ask those questions. So talk with the student. Show them you care. Ask about their life. And seek to understand. When you do this you will begin to see the relational equity pay off and you will be able to engage at a deeper level with the student.

Do not use absolutes.

It is easy when talking to students to make statement like, “Why are you always the one who is disruptive?” Or, “Why do you never want to listen to the lesson?” Or, “Why must you always be a problem?” These types of absolute statements tell students that they are the problem and always will be the problem, and that they will never be anything other than a problem. This type of language is incredibly harmful and will stick with the student for much, if not all, of their life. So seek to use statements like, “Why did this happen tonight?” followed with concrete examples of other times if this has been repetitive behavior. But in that same vein, highlight how you have seen the student actually pay attention or be a leader. Don’t only focus on the negative, but seek to affirm and raise up the positive.

Challenge the student.

When you are engaging with a student and talking about the difficult moments, use this as an opportunity to not only highlight the difficulties but also to challenge the student. Speak truth into their lives. Affirm their strengths and what they bring to the group. Challenge them to be better and be the leader they can be. Help them to see that what they do matters and that they can help to bring about proactive and beneficial change in the lives of other students and the group. When you tell a student that you love them and see potential and great things from them, you are telling them that they have value and worth. You are telling them that they matter and are needed. This will help students see that they can and should be looking to be different and to lead out.

Bring in parents.

This is typically a last resort for me, because students hate having their parents know that they misbehaved. When a student is disruptive it rarely qualifies for bringing in a parent, but depending on the severity of the situation it may be warranted. In those moments do not seek to simply be right or prove your case. Share the facts and the reason it warranted calling in the parents. But also highlight that this is not something that means the student is cast out from the ministry. Let parents know you are for their student and for them, but that the behavior needs to change because it is negatively affecting the group. Allow for the parents to work through a solution and be willing to partner with them and the student. I would also say that whatever discipline the parents decide on, do not write off the student. Continue to love them, pray for them, and walk with them. It may not be received right away, but remembering that this student is still a part of your program and one of your sheep will allow for you to care them in real and tangible ways.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 2]

Last week we began sharing some insights into how to work well on a team and this week we want to continue the conversation by providing a few more ideas. While none of these ideas is a guaranteed fix-all, utilizing them together will help you as an individual and your team grow and mature as you seek to serve God together. Today’s ideas are more directed toward self-reflection and growth but can also be applied and embraced within the team.

Strive to enhance the team not individual goals.

For most of us it is easy to default to seeking our own goals even when we are on a team. This isn’t always from a place of pride or ego, but from simple human nature and the way culture has shaped us to think of ourselves. But Christ has always challenged us to put others before ourselves, and Paul actually encourages us to die to our own desires to elevate Christ.

When it comes to working on a team we need to consider these truths and be willing to put aside our own desires and wants, seeking to elevate the goals of the team and the ministry you serve. It isn’t about self but instead about the team that is working to impact the kingdom of heaven through the ministry of which you are a part. This is not to say that your personal goals aren’t worthwhile or important, but instead to interpret them within the overall mission and vision of the ministry team.

Be for one another.

Being for one another is something we should focus on within each aspect of our lives. Whether your team is present or not, you should seek to speak well of them. We shouldn’t talk poorly about each other or try to point fingers because that will fracture the unity of your team. Being mindful of how we speak and represent one another will help us be for one another in all moments.

It may be easier to be for one another when the team is present, but your conversations outside of the team should also reflect that mentality. If you are not honoring and supporting one another in your private conversations then you are not for your teammates. I am not saying you cannot vent or share how you’ve felt with those who you are close with, but be mindful of what you say. Is it simply sharing frustration or is it being critical of your team?

Pray for each other.

Whether your team is united or not, praying for one another should be a high priority. Praying for one another helps to unite a divided team and brings strength to one that is already united. When you pray for others you see them as real people rather than just a teammate or someone who frustrates you. Prayer allows for teams to be for each other but also to be intentional in how they relate and work with each other. Praying for your teammates allows for you to care for them and love them as Jesus does, and is a way to protect your team from faltering by relying on God to carry you through all moments.

Have important conversations in person.

This is actually a piece of advice I give to everyone when it comes to relationships. Texts, emails, and even phone conversations can often be ambiguous and they tend to embolden people due to distance and the inability to actually see the other person. In many ways, conversations that aren’t in person allow us to think of the other person in a non-relational way. We have actually dehumanized them because we feel empowered and emboldened to say things we normally wouldn’t in person.

When you have important conversations in person it allows you to see, hear, empathize, and sympathize with the other person(s) involved. You are able to read facial expressions, observe body language, and hear inflections and emotions rather than trying to interpret them from afar. You see the person as a real individual and it challenges you to lovingly speak truth while caring for them in the same moment.

Be willing to be humble.

Sometimes when we work on a team we may not always be humble, not because we don’t want to, but because we aren’t always thinking that way. On a team we may have a propensity toward trying to win, or push our ideas, or think we know better than the rest of the team. These feelings aren’t always intentional because our society seeks to cultivate a “me first” focus and direction. But if we don’t seek to understand our emotional and relational intelligence we could actually harm relationships with our team. When working with a team be willing to be humble and choose to die to yourself. Be willing to elevate the team. Be willing to not always have your ideas be the ones that are chosen. Be willing to encourage and love your team. This type of approach will allow for your team dynamic to flourish and for relationships to be strengthened.

Try new things and ideas.

As we continue to grow and mature sometimes we get stuck in our ways and habits. We have developed our rhythms and ways of doing things. But the beauty of working on a team is hearing about and participating in new ideas and methods. So take time to try new things, be willing to adapt, and allow yourself to be stretched. These opportunities will help you grow as an individual and a leader, all while working with and encouraging your team.

How to Work Well on a Team [Part 1]

When it comes to working on a team, whether a student ministry team or an all church team or even as a volunteer, there are unique challenges and opportunities that come with that role. Often these challenges and opportunities will manifest in different ways with each individual and that can make the team dynamic feel stretched or challenging. The question we must be thinking through as members and leaders of these teams is how can we set them up for and contribute to their success so the Gospel ultimately succeeds. Today I hope to share with you some insight that I have learned from working on teams that will prayerfully help you and the teams you lead or are a part of be successful on your mission to reach people for Jesus.

Communicate clearly and consistently.

When it comes to being on a team one of the biggest things to focus on is clear and consistent communication. What you say, what you don’t say, what your body and facial expressions communicate is highly important. As you work with a team think about how what you say, how you say it, why you say it, and when you say it is received by those on your team. This will help you to be self-reflective and to think through motive and purpose behind what you are communicating. Clear and consistent communication also removes ambiguity and allows for clarity amongst the team so everyone is on the same page and knows if there are differing emotions, expectations, or alignments within the team.

Listen well.

This is something that we can all work on. Listening well in life is important but as you are working with a team it is even more so because poor listening leads to poor communication and no clarity or direction. So as you come together as a team be willing to listen to and hear from other people well. Don’t come with presuppositions and do not presume that you know what they will say or motives behind what they do. Instead seek to understand by listening well and look at the heart of what is being communicated.

Be willing to help even if it isn’t your job.

Often times we can get hyper focused in our roles and only see what we need to do. Or we can make excuses about how we can’t help due to busyness, time, or it isn’t part of our job focus. But that is born out of selfishness, and instead we should die to ourselves and seek to help one another. When you see your facilities team setting up or cleaning up from an event (even if it isn’t one of your’s), seek to honor them by helping them out.

Now I will say this: being willing to help others does not mean you sacrifice everything in every moment. You need to make sure you are setting and honoring healthy boundaries to make sure you are staying healthy holistically. It is okay to say “no,” but we need to make sure it is for appropriate reasons and not out of selfishness.

Bring your ideas to the table.

Part of being on a team means that someone has seen your skills and value, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the team. So share your thoughts and ideas. An idea not shared won’t ever come to fruition. But it is also important to remember to value and encourage the ideas of others. It isn’t only about getting your ideas across to the team, but it also includes valuing and affirming other ideas that are presented. Ideas and thoughts from a team provide meaningful insight, creativity, and opportunities for growth and they should be valued.

Be honest with your thoughts and feelings.

This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. When it comes to working on a team, open and honest conversations are hugely important to the health and well-being of the team. So if you’re feeling a certain way about the team, a teammate, or even how you are viewed or utilized, make sure to share that. It isn’t easy in the moment, it will feel uncomfortable, and the tension may be palpable. But actually engaging with one another and being honest is hugely important and will make the team stronger.

I would like to offer a few suggestions on how to do this that will be helpful in having these conversations:

  • Be honest, but be full of grace and humility in doing so.
  • Do not assume or presume about others. Don’t walk into a conversation assuming the worst. Go in knowing God is at work and working all things out for His glory.
  • Be willing to receive. Sometimes you will need to be talked to about how you have been engaging others, and you need to be willing to receive that well.
  • Be willing to hear out your teammates. Hear what they have to say because at the end of the day they may not know how things were received or heard, and by doing this you can help shape future conversations and interactions.
  • Pray for your teammates. In these moments prayer is hugely important as it helps us focus on God and it centers our hearts in how we engage with others as a result.

Next week we will conclude this conversation and look at our final points on how to work well on a team. In the in-between time, what have you done or seen that helped teams work well together?

Shaping Your Youth Group Gatherings

When it comes to our student ministry gatherings we should be intentional with how we shape them. Whether it’s a Sunday morning, a week night, or special event, we should critically think through what makes it something students will want to come to and be a part of, and how can our gatherings can intentionally bring students closer to Jesus. Our times of gathering together are highly important as they are opportune moments to pour into our students and help them mature in the discipleship process.

As we look at our gatherings we should be thoughtful not only in thinking through why we are hosting them, but also in how they are structured and designed. Is the goal of the gathering reflected in its scheduling? Do people understand what the purpose is? Is the gathering intentional and focused so that people can clearly see Jesus throughout it? As we wrestle through these questions, they will ultimately allow us to craft gatherings that are focused, intentional, communal, and oriented toward the priorities and hearts of our students.

Make it intentional.

Whenever we host a gathering, it should never be to just have another event, nor should it be a competitive response to something we have seen. Trying to compete with a bigger church or program, trying to reflect what we see influences do, or trying to be the next “big thing” is not what attracts students over the long term. You may see numbers go up for short periods, but it is not a sustainable approach to ministry, nor are we reaching students with the life-changing power of the Gospel. We should focus on crafting gatherings that have a clear intent and are designed to build community, engage with students, and point them to Jesus. You don’t need to be the biggest and best but being intentional and focused on your students will bring more students out over time because they see you truly care about them and their faith.

Have a focus and purpose.

Whenever you gather your students together there should be a focus and purpose that not only shapes how the event looks, but also has a focused outcome and desired results. If it’s about building disciples then shape the gathering with adequate small group time. If it’s about worship and singing praises, shape the time to give prominence to those moments. If it’s simply to be relational and build community then seek to have opportunities that reach people across the spiritual spectrum and make it easier for newcomers to step in. By knowing your focus and purpose, it will allow you to create programs and elements within the program that will best reach your students with the desired outcome.

Bring in elements that build community.

Whether it’s a Sunday morning, a small group gathering, or outreach event, think critically about how you can make the space more inviting, intentional, and community-focused. By doing this you will help students to lower their walls, build trust, and be willing to continue coming, and prayerfully, invite their friends. There are various ways to do this, but even subtle changes can make huge differences in how students engage and respond. Here are a few quick ideas for what to incorporate to help with this idea:

  • Food. By bringing in food you are automatically creating an opportunity to build community because people naturally want to converse when there is food. Food can look different across ministries as well. It could be a café, it could be a full meal, it could be light snacks or breakfast treats, or it could be a hot chocolate bar. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but that we use it to help amply community.
  • Environment. It is important think about our environment and if the environment reflects and encourages community. Do you have tables set up where students can sit together and converse over their food? How many tables do you have set up? If you set up too many tables it may allow for students to spread out and not engage with each other, but if you have the right amount of chairs, you are leveraging the area that students must use for community. Do you have lighting that is welcoming? Do people know where you gather by the signage you have? Do you have comfortable seating? Is your gathering area reflective of your purpose and vision for community? This is all conditional upon space, budget, and ability, but let me encourage you to think about how you can shape and utilize the spaces you have to encourage community and fellowship.
  • Games. This one area can either drastically help your ministry or drastically hurt it. If we seek to do games that only appeal to a small subset of students, we alienate the others who are attending. Often times youth workers default to games they enjoy, something they saw online, or some crazy idea that they came up with while perusing the supply closet. While those ideas and games may all have a time and place, consider utilizing your games to reach a large swath of students. Put out board and card games. Consider utilizing group games like GaGaball or 9 Square that generate community. Or if you are hosting a themed gathering, think through how all your games and activities could reach the widest range of students. Invest in activities that incorporate more than a couple of students and will allow for conversion and engagement for a larger number.
  • Music. Believe it or not, music can actually enhance community and engagement. Think about this: have you ever walked into a space that was silent? There was no music or even background noise, maybe just a few hushed whispers here and there? Did it feel awkward and uncomfortable? The same is true for our youth spaces. Utilize music to bring people together. Consider crafting playlists in Spotify to build playlists that reflect the atmosphere you are desiring. If you want a chill area, build a coffee house playlist. If you want a more energetic atmosphere for activities and games, build a contemporary playlist with upbeat and engaging music.
  • Conversation. Now you may be asking yourself, why do we need to generate conversations? Doesn’t that naturally happen when people gather? Yes, it does, for most people. Some students struggle with social anxiety or may have difficulties knowing how to engage with others. You could think about posting a couple get-to-know-you style questions on your screens. You could put printed out questions designed to help people interact with one another. Or you could put engagement questions together for your small group leaders that are designed to build community within their groups. These options will help your students and leaders engage better with one another overall.

Think through how the gathering reflects your vision and purpose.

As you craft your gatherings it is extremely important to think about how they are presenting your purpose and vision to your students, leaders, and families. We shouldn’t do something just for the sake of doing it. What we put together should be focused and intentional because that helps us to better minister to our students and it allows us to purposefully communicate our heart and passion to everyone involved. That is not to say you cannot have spontaneous gatherings or that your leaders can’t gather their small group for ice cream. But it should be imperative if spontaneous gatherings happen, that they also reflect the heart and vision of the ministry. That means a trip to get ice cream is more than ice cream, it is a time of care and discipleship. It means a Mario Kart tournament is more than just video games, it is a time of connection and community. When we allow our vision and purpose to be a part of all we do, it shapes our program and our students.

Create a rhythm.

Having a rhythm and flow to your gatherings is highly important as it provides consistency and stability. In a world that is ever-changing, providing stability for families is huge. They can build their schedules accordingly. They can begin to prioritize gatherings and youth events. They can think through what they can and cannot commit to. An established rhythm also allows your leaders to know what to expect, which helps them focus and hone their skills and gifts during gatherings because they are already in the flow of the ministry.

How do you intentionally shape and structure your gatherings to better reach your students?

How to Make Small Group Time Intentional and Purposeful

Small group time is incredibly important for our students to grow and mature as young adults and as disciples of Jesus. We should be looking to incorporate this into our programming and making it a part of our normal rhythms. This will look different depending on the size of your program, the number of leaders and students that you have, and even the layout of where you meet. But this is something that regardless of hurdles, is exceptionally important.

Small groups provide a space for students to process and engage at a personal level, and to think through with a smaller peer group about what it means to live with and reflect Jesus in their spheres of influence. These spaces are truly where transformational discipleship happens, therefore we should critically think through how we are utilizing this time to best impact and challenge our students. Today, our hope is to provide some insight into ways to embrace small group time to best impact your students.

Know your material.

This is one of the best things you can do to make small group time intentional, focused, and beneficial for your students. If you know the material and are prepared, it will allow you to curate discussion and insight that will help your students process and apply what was shared. It also keeps you from scrambling or trying to think through things on the fly. Instead you are able to think about what will best relate to and challenge your individual group because you know them, their desires, their strength and weaknesses, and also where they need to be stretched. These moments will only come about if you prepare for the discussion in small group.

Now it is important to understand that your preparation can only go so far, especially as it depends on your leader getting you the content you need to prepare. Pastors, leaders, and speakers let me say this to you: do your best to equip and provide your leaders with the necessary materials for guiding their small groups. The sooner you get information into their hands, the better prepared they will be to pour into and shepherd your students. But if a leader or speaker does not get you all the information ahead of time, that does not discount you from preparing. Listen to the speaker. Take notes. Think about questions that will engage and challenge your group. Utilize the Bible passages that were shared and use them for further and deeper study with your group.

Know your group and be relational.

Part of having an intentional and purposeful small group time comes from knowing the group and being relational. When you carve out time to get to know your students and for them to know one another, it allows for the conversation to become more intentional and personal as they become comfortable with others in the group. You are helping walls to come down and in the same moment, growing authentic relationships within the group. Through these moments your students will grow to trust you and see you not just as a leader but as someone who cares about them and about their relationship with Jesus. As you relate to them personally, you are making yourself real and authentic to them which will help these times together to be even more intentional and focused.

Balance the time well.

The key to a proactive small group session is to know how to balance the time. Small group time shouldn’t be 90% jokes and 10% discussion. This won’t allow for adequate sharing, relational depth, or spiritual growth, and instead it just becomes another place to hang out and not be serious. Now this is not to say that you can never have a small group time like that. We all know that students sometimes just need a place to laugh and decompress. What I am suggesting is that this isn’t the normal flow and function of the group. Look to balance the time between relational, spiritual, and personal growth. Here’s an example of what I mean, and the timing is malleable to your small group schedule:

  • Relational: Time in the beginning spent sharing highs and lows. Think 10 minutes.
  • Spiritual: Talk about the lesson, what challenged the students, and personal application. This should be the bulk of the time at 20+ minutes.
  • Personal: This is where the rubber meets the road. This can contain prayer requests and a time of prayer for each other, it can incorporate a time of deeper application, or perhaps it is more focused on confession and life change. This would be anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

Talk less.

This may seem counterintuitive to some of us. We may ask, “Aren’t leaders supposed to talk? Isn’t that part of leading the group?” And the answer is yes. Yes, you are supposed to talk, but no, you are not to dominate the conversation or answer every question before the students can speak. While many leaders have tons of wisdom and insight to bring to the table and share with students, we need to remember that people (especially students) need the space to process, think, and talk for themselves.

I have often heard leaders say, “My students don’t talk in small group.” To which I often reply, “Are you giving them the opportunity to do so?” In our small groups we must intentionally allow our students to talk for at least 70% of the time, and allow for our times of talking to be focused on guiding and shepherding them to think through application and their personal walk with Jesus.

This isn’t to say that you set up a timer and only talk for an allotted timeframe, nor is it saying that this balance must always stay the same. There will be times you talk more and times you talk much less. But what we must do is find a balance that allows our students to grow, wrestle with, and apply Biblical truths to their lives. They don’t always need another speaker, but instead need someone who will guide them, ask helpful questions, listen to their answers, and give meaningful insight when needed.

Ask open ended questions.

This goes right back to the previous point about thinking through how we engage and direct conversations. And one the best ways to do this is ask open ended questions instead of “yes or no” style questions. Ask questions that will cause students to think through and process what they heard. Ask a bunch of “why and how” questions. Don’t settle for a simple answer; ask a follow-up question that encourages a student to explain how they arrived at that conclusion. Doing this not only allows for students to continue to talk, but it also challenges them to think through why they believe what they believe and how it relates to their present reality. Another way to ask open ended questions comes in the form of application. Asking students how the topic, truths, or certain points relate to their lives and how they can implement them will give you multiple responses and opportunities to challenge and guide them in their walk with Jesus.

Pray with and for one another.

Spending intentional time praying with and for your small group will make the time with them all the more special and unique. This will not only bring your group together but it will strengthen the bonds you are building. It will help your group to grow and pour into one another and it will help to develop their faith and relationship with Jesus. Prayer is an intimate time and creating an intimate, sacred, and safe space for your students will bring a fresh and personal dynamic to your group.

Follow up and additional connection.

If something important or meaningful is brought up in small group time, make sure to follow up with the student or students. For instance, if a student shares about a struggle they are having, text them during the week to see how they are doing and how things went. If your group commits to a daily devotional time, do a group check in during the week to see if they have been able to keep up with their commitment. By following up and checking in with your students you will allow for relationships to deepen and become more than just a youth group connection. It will be something that unites your group and allows you to be a strong voice for truth in their lives.

It is also helpful to realize that these moments of connection don’t have to be only from things we hear about in small group. Intentionally connecting with your students outside of youth group is important. This doesn’t have to be an every day and every moment type of thing, but something where you are intentionally doing life with your students. Consider taking students shopping with you. Frequent places where your students work to connect with them. Pray for them. Reach out to them to go grab a small group dinner or dessert. These types of connections will enable you to continue pouring into them and helping them grow and mature.

How to Host a Successful Fall Kickoff

Schools are starting back up. Fall sports have begun. Homework is already beginning to take up time during the evening. And for youth groups, there are plans for the fall, what programming will look like, and thoughts about how to start the year off well.

As we begin thinking about the fall, many of us will host some type of celebration or kickoff party to commence the beginning of our fall programming. And with thinking through a kickoff there is probably a deep desire to do something bigger and better than ever before because over the past year we have not been able to do what we considered to be “normal programming.” But in thinking critically through a kickoff for the fall, it is helpful not just to think bigger and better, but to think about what is going to be sustainable, missional, and helpful for directing our students toward deeper discipleship-oriented relationships with Jesus. Today, my hope is to provide you with a few helpful ideas for hosting a successful fall kickoff.

Create a welcoming environment.

This is huge when it comes to programming in general, but even more so at the kickoff to your fall semester. We want students to come to our programs and know they are welcomed and loved. So creating an environment that is shaped for them and where they know that they have a place will generate momentum and continuity. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Have volunteers, adults and students alike, who actually seek out and connect with students who attend.
  • Have a welcome table where students sign in but not merely for attendance. Think about doing a raffle or giveaway to generate momentum.
  • Connect students with peers from their schools and small groups. You’re now fostering an environment of community and relationships that will continue each week.
  • Encourage your leaders to connect with their students and reestablish relationships. Nothing says “you matter and are loved” than someone remembering your name and asking, “how are you doing?”

Have activities and games.

You don’t need to go crazy and have inflatables or a “Fear Factor” style event when you kickoff the semester. These may be fun for a few but I want to encourage you to think about activities and games that will appeal to a broader group of students. A few ideas include: 9 Square, GaGaBall, Minute to Win It games, a small group scavenger hunt competition, yard games, and board games. Utilizing some of these ideas together will generate a ton of excitement but also flexibility for your students to enjoy an event that appeals to a broader group.

Have food.

I firmly believe that food is a must at student events, even weekly gatherings. Food helps to build community, it generates conversation, and brings people together. For a kickoff event consider grilling out, having walking tacos, or even an ice cream social. These moments will create the type of environment that brings people together and helps generate the atmosphere you’re looking for.

Utilize parents and church leaders.

One of my favorite things to do at large student events is to bring parents and church leaders in. This does a multitude of things but a few key aspects include:

  • Showing your students that they matter to the church. Having church leadership present displays a heart for students and shows them that they are the church.
  • It communicates your heart for families. When you bring parents into student ministry it shows that your heart and vision are not only for students but for families and the church.
  • It helps parents and church leaders to see what student ministry is all about. It’s an opportunity to show the necessity and vibrancy of student ministry to those who may not see it all the time.
  • This will allow your volunteers to do what they need to: be with their students. You’re empowering your leaders to lead and at the same time allowing parents and church leadership to witness the discipleship process firsthand. This in and of itself is a huge win.

Connect small groups and leaders.

This is a pivotal time in your ministry as you prepare to kickoff the fall semester because it gives you an opportunity to connect your students with their leaders. This is a prime moment to help your leaders and students begin to reconnect or begin to build relationships that will continue throughout the year and potentially longer. It is an opportunity to begin building and strengthening the discipleship process by intentionally putting your students and leaders together and allowing them to grow as a group.

Cast the vision and heart of the ministry.

Take this time to appropriately talk about student ministries. This is a perfect opportunity for you to share your heart and the vision for the ministry. Doing this helps students, leaders, and parents hear your heart and passion, and also the purpose and direction of the ministry. You are helping to shape, create, and direct the ministry which is ideal for your people. Doing this will create a framework and consistent direction for you and your team.

Tips for Hosting Great Leader Meetings

Our fall program is about to start up and that means we are having our annual team training. We bring together our leaders from all aspects of student ministry and gather for four hours of training together. Now you may have started that last sentence saying “that sounds awesome” but as you got to the end you probably thought something like, “four hours…are you nuts?!”

I know it sounds like a long time but today I want to share with you a few tips about why I think it works. These are tips that we don’t only embody at our fall training but incorporate year round, and I believe it’s the thoughtfulness you will read about in these tips that make our training successful. And as an answer to your follow-up question, no, we don’t do four hours of training every time we gather…we aren’t crazy! It is just that one. So, here are some tips that I think will be helpful for your next training session.

Make it inviting.

How do you make a meeting invitational aside from asking people to come? Think about the setting, ambiance, and attraction. When we host training at any point, we try not to have it be at the church but instead in homes. It makes the meeting more inviting and comfortable because of the setting and location.

Another way to make it inviting is by having food. This may seem like a simple touch but food really does add value to any meeting. It helps people open up, it sets a tone, and it shows that you care. But let me offer some advice about food: don’t do typical youth group fare. Look to up the game because these are your leaders and without them you wouldn’t have a program. Even if you can only afford a few bags of candy, spring for the Hershey Nuggets instead of the store brand. It will communicate value, worth, and appreciation to your people.

A final way to make it invitational is to consider having a time of fellowship, activities, and/or a meal together. Our fall training is hosted by an amazing family who affords us their whole home that includes a pool. So for the end of our training we host a lunch for our leaders and families followed by a time for everyone to swim. It’s a blast! We have kids, students, and adults engaging in fellowship and enjoying time together. If you don’t have a pool, bring yard games or different activities to bring people together.

Make it informational.

As you work through meetings there has to be a purpose to why you are there and what you are talking about. Whether it’s programmatic changes, generational training, or other updates you may have, take time to talk through information that is important to your program. This shows your leaders that there are always growth areas and opportunities for everyone to develop.

Some ways to make this more team-oriented and inviting can include:

  • Have volunteers lead training on topics that they are both passionate and knowledgeable about.
  • Talk about topics that are relevant to students and culture.
  • Make the informational time interactive through question and answer sessions, games, small group discussions, or even by bringing in a guest speaker.

Make it relational and have fun.

I love to build in times for fellowship during training. I make sure to keep the beginning time open to talk, eat food, and fellowship. One of the best things to do during training is to incorporate a meal or food to some degree. If it’s breakfast time get some pastries, do a pancake bar, and make sure to have coffee and tea. If it’s lunch or dinner grill out, have a s’mores bar, or a baked potato bar. Whenever you provide food I would encourage you to think of things outside of what you normally do for students (i.e. walking tacos, pizza, etc.). This shows your leaders that you value and appreciate them.

Another great option for fellowship is to include various fun activities like a fire pit, swimming, yard games, a karaoke contest, team competitions, or even a friendly game of 9 Square. These moments not only allow for your leaders to have fun and release stress but also to connect with one another.

Make it creative.

As you think through training and what it can look like, try to make it creative and not the same training you have done year in and year out. Have different types of team building activities, bring in different people to lead, change up the location and ambiance, or make it a themed training. When you get creative it makes training more inviting and intentional, and it will help make your leaders desire to be a part of what you are doing.

Incorporate prayer and worship.

Whenever we are facilitating a training we always need to remember why we are doing what we are doing. We are simply functioning as disciple-makers and shepherds who have been entrusted to care for His people. As such we should be bathing any training or gathering in prayer and worshiping God because of all He has done and will do. Praying over the year, the ministry, students, and families helps us to shift our focus and remember that this only accomplished through Christ. This allows for us to rejoice in, trust, and acknowledge God’s control and know that the year and everything that happens is all a part of His plan.

Tips for Recruiting Volunteers

Summer trips are wrapping up, the final vacations are commencing, and youth ministries are preparing for the fall. And as we prepare for fall programming many of us are working to finalize and recruit volunteers. Each year we are inevitably faced with the need for new volunteers for a host of reasons. Whether you took over a ministry and volunteers left, your ministry has grown, or volunteers have just stepped back, we all know the pain, panic, and difficulty that comes with seeking out volunteers. In this post I want to provide some ideas to help you grow your team and recruit volunteers who are right for your ministry.

Start early.

This is something we should strive to do. The sooner you start recruiting the less you need to scramble as the next semester or school year approaches. It also gives you the opportunity to truly find people who are committed to the ministry and the vision of the ministry. It affords you greater flexibility and opportunity because you have more time to think critically about who becomes a volunteer and where they will fit.

Ask someone else with connections to help.

This is something I’ve learned to rely on greatly in my last few years of ministry. Some people are fantastic at networking and knowing individuals and their gifting. Our senior pastor’s wife is that person for me. She sends me tons of names of people but includes insight as to why they would be valuable for our ministry. Now it is important in utilizing someone who has this insight to help them know your needs, qualifications for leaders, and the vision of the ministry. This will help in the filtering process and give you more quality candidates to choose from.

Lean into parents.

Parents can make really good volunteers. Some student ministries utilize them and others don’t. It all depends on the program, the vision and purpose, and the relationships between parents and students. Parents bring a ton of insight, wisdom, and a desire to see students grow and because of this, they can be incredibly valuable to the ministry. Many of them are also available during youth group time because they have already carved that time slot out of their schedule.

Now I will say this: it probably isn’t prudent to have a student’s parent be their small group leader. For some families this may work, but for a large majority of them, the student may shut down and not feel comfortable sharing all the time. So if you are going to utilize parents, be thoughtful in where and why you place them where you do. Have conversations with parents and their student and consider what would be the best win for your ministry.

Utilize your current volunteers.

This is a great opportunity for you to lean into your team and allow them to provide insight for the ministry. If you have leaders, ask them who would be a good fit as a new leader. Ask them if they know people who would do well in student ministry. Ask them who they would recommend. They know your heart and vision for the program and they are invested in students. Because of that, they can provide wisdom and insight into who you should be asking.

Another great opportunity would be to ask them to do the recruiting. Having that personal connection means a ton and it allows for your leaders to truly lead outward. They become excited about the program and you are elevating their leadership status and giving them the trust they deserve.

Ask former volunteers.

This is something we should consider each year. Volunteers stop serving for a variety of reasons, and we should remember that they were and still are capable leaders. A helpful place to start when it comes to recruiting volunteers is to start with those who have already served. I have had leaders who faithfully served for four years and then took time off, but promised to be back after a time of refreshment. You may also have former volunteers just waiting in the wings to be asked, and I want to encourage you to do so. Even if they cannot volunteer, you are making personal connections and reestablishing relationships which could lead you to someone else through a connection with your former leader.

Engage in personal conversations.

This is one that will require much of your time but it is arguably the most important and beneficial. It is often through a personal ask that you will be able to recruit more volunteers because it establishes a connection, allows you to share your heart, and it highlights a need. These conversations will take time but they will generate results. Whenever you are afforded the opportunity to meet or talk to someone, I suggest that you take it and leverage those opportunities to discuss what it means to volunteer and why it is worth it. These are moments that will greatly benefit you and your team as you engage with people and they are able to get to know you, your vision, and your passion.

Go old school.

This isn’t something I default to because studies prove that personal conversations and connections generate better results, but we cannot deny that sometimes in order for people to fill a need they need to be made aware that there is one. Some of the ways that we can share about a need include bulletin announcements or on your pre-service slides, announcements from the stage or pulpit, and emailing or cold calling people. This may sound like a lot of work that may not generate a lot of results, but they may generate some, and some is better than none.

A final word of advice. So often I see the need for recruiting new volunteers happen when a new pastor or youth leader takes over. The reason for this is volunteers step back when a pastor or beloved staff member leaves. While I totally understand the why behind this, we as youth workers must seek to leave better. We may not intend our volunteers to leave a program because we do, but they can and will unless we do better.

I believe what we must be doing is looking to build a program that isn’t dependent upon any one person, but instead built on Christ. I tell people often that my desire is to have a program that isn’t about me or my staff, but that students come because they have leaders who love them and disciple them, and a place that is safe for them to hear about Christ. By doing this and saying this our leaders will realize the program isn’t about us but about leading students to Jesus and hopefully will incur a better attitude and longevity in their service, and better set up the incoming leader for success. Look to build a program that isn’t built upon ourselves but on Christ, and speak truth into your people before, during, and after your tenure and help them to continue to stay and move forward with their students.

8 Questions Interviewees Should Ask

Many churches are hiring as the start of a new school year approaches, and youth workers are getting ready to candidate. For many youth workers there are always obvious questions heading into these interviews: what should I ask the church? Are there certain questions I should ask? Are there questions I shouldn’t bring up?

Today, my desire is to provide you with some questions that I believe every youth worker should ask as they prepare to take on a new role. Not all of these questions are easy nor will they necessarily be comfortable, but asking them will better prepare you in discerning if this is where God is calling you.

1. Why is the position open?

Sometimes in our excitement of being brought in to interview we forget to consider why there is an opening to begin with. It could be that the former person left under amicable terms or moved into a new role. Or the potential exists that the previous person was let go, left on poor terms, or did something wrong. Knowing this gives you insight into the church, its leadership, and the student program, which will better prepare you to serve and minister to them.

2. What are the expectations for this position?

Sometimes the written versus desired expectations of the church are different. Asking this question will help you to discern what is most important to the church, the position, and to the ministry. When you know the unwritten expectations you are able to step back and assess whether or not you can meet them and if you are the right fit for the position.

3. What are the expectations for my spouse?

This is a big question that should always be asked by married interviewees. Some churches believe that in hiring one spouse, the couple comes as a shared package. That isn’t true unless they are paying both of you for your time. Your spouse should be empowered to engage with the church in the ways they are gifted. If it’s student ministry, fantastic. If it’s leading elsewhere, praise God. Regardless, a church should never expect your spouse to work for free regardless of rationale.

4. Are there any sacred cows I need to be aware of?

Churches all value different things at varying degrees of importance. You may come from a background where methodology of communion wasn’t important, but the church you are interviewing at may only do intinction. Imagine the awkwardness that would come about if you lead communion in the “wrong” manner. This can be avoided by simply asking a question and seeking to understand what the church values. Asking this question doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find out all of the things that are valued, but it will give you an inside look to understand and discern what is important to this church body.

5. What does the salary and benefits package look like?

We aren’t always willing to ask this during an interview because it feels presumptuous and a bit prideful. But it is important for you to know what the church is offering to see if it is actually a livable wage and something that will not only provide for you and your family but also afford you the option to save.

6. Are you willing to negotiate?

We don’t often think in this way when it comes to serving in churches because we allow our calling to say we will give more than we are paid. While having a servant’s heart is a great quality, your time, effort, and work ethic are worthy of a proper salary. So be willing to counter an offer and ask for changes to the package. Don’t be greedy, but know that you have value. A great comparison is to research what local teachers make and compare the package you are offered to ones they receive.

7. How do you and how will you measure success for this position?

This is a great question to ask because it prepares you for how you will lead. One church may measure success by the number of attendees while another measures it by baptism and still another by simply maintaining the status quo. When you have this answer not only will you have clarity on where the ministry is desired to go, you will also be able to discern if this is in line with how you view ministry and success within ministry.

8. How many hours a week am I expected to work?

Many churches will offer a salaried position, to which many people default to understanding as a forty hour work week. But for some churches that isn’t the case. I have worked for churches where you are paid for forty hours but they want upwards of sixty hours a week. Be cautious with this mentality. A church should care about you and your family’s overall health, and if you aren’t spending time with them and having adequate downtime, you cannot be an effective leader in ministry. Our priorities should be our relationship with God, our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with our family, and then our relationship with our church and jobs.

What are some questions that you have found helpful to ask in the interview process?