Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 2]

Last week we kicked off this two-part series by thinking through a few ways to make leader training more than just informative. Information is helpful and beneficial but it’s important to do more than simply focus on giving information. If all people do is receive information there can’t really be any transformation because there’s no care, practical application, or really any reason for your people to keep coming.

My hope with these two posts is to encourage you to think about how and why you do leader training. The ideas we are presenting are meant to help you think outside the box. And perhaps incorporate new aspects that will not only generate better leaders, but will help develop leaders who develop leaders, all while valuing and caring for them holistically.

Pray together.

Prayer is something I cannot overemphasize enough. I think every ministry has this intention and every ministry leader, hopefully, prays often for their ministry. But when was the last time you prayed together with your volunteers? Is it consistent? Is it allowing the Spirit to guide and direct you, your team, and ministry?

When you gather for training this presents the perfect opportunity to pray with and for your team. This is an exciting opportunity to engage in prayer in new and different ways. You can pray all together for the ministry, or you can pray in smaller groups for one another. You can go on a prayer walk around the building praying for where your students gather and for the entire church, or you can even spend some time in silence praying. Trust me when I tell you that if you consistently pray with your team, be prepared to see God move in powerful and bold ways.

Practice spiritual rhythms and formation.

This runs hand-in-hand with prayer while moving past just one rhythm, and seeks to engage your team holistically from a spiritual perspective. Often training sessions can focus on how to lead small groups, caring for students, safety requirements, and other areas that are very important. But when was the last time you stopped and intentionally trained on spiritual rhythms?

Training your leaders on prayer, spiritual gifts, fasting, journaling, time with Jesus, and various other aspects is hugely important. I think it is easy to assume our leaders know all of these things and further still we may assume they are practicing them. But if they were never taught them, how can we expect them to teach and lead our students through these rhythms? Let me encourage you to take time to actually walk through spiritual rhythms and help your leaders grow in formational ways so they can lead your students deeper in their walk with Jesus.

Change locations.

This is an easy idea but not often one we think about. It is easy to default to trainings at church or in the youth room. But what if you moved it to someone’s home? Better yet, a home with a pool, or a fire pit, or a backyard where you could play games together. Being able to take training offsite or outside of where you meet normally allows you to be creative in your training, it gives your leaders freedom to think and process in a new environment, and it provides a change of scenery which can often lead to new thought processes and perspectives.

If you can’t meet offsite, consider changing the environment you train in. Move things around, bring in comfortable seating, change the lighting, make it comfortable and inviting with decorations. These little touches help you to show intentionality and change a space that perhaps we have become used to.

Provide resources.

Resourcing our leaders is a great way to both help them grow personally and get something into their hands that will be beneficial going forward. This could be handouts and studies from Barna Group, devotional guides for them to use with their small groups, a podcast, helpful tools and resources from Fuller Youth Institute, various assessments like DISC or spiritual gifts, books to read as a team, or even resources specific to your own ministry. These resources aren’t meant to just be things you get into their hands but resources that will help them grow and continue to excel as the leaders God has designed them to be.

What aspects do you make sure to include in your leader trainings?

Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 1]

We just finished hosting annual fall training for all our student leaders and it made me reflect on how our structure of leader training has changed throughout the years. We have gotten into the rhythm of hosting quarterly trainings and while they all differ in focus, the heart and vision remains the same. Each session will focus on some sort of training or equipping, but will also incorporate other elements to make them more engaging, fun, relational, and formational.

Today I want to share a few easy ways to make your leader training more than just informational. I am not arguing for the elimination of information and equipping, but instead would argue that we need to make our training more holistic in its approach. We should think about the information but also the relationships, the spiritual formation of our leaders, and the element of fun.

Provide food.

One of the best ways to make leader training inviting, relational, and community-focused is to have food. Food is attractive to people and also helps to break down barriers. There is reason that Jesus taught around a meal or used imagery of food to help people understand what he was talking about. Food just makes gatherings warmer and more inviting.

So have snacks, share a meal, provide coffee and donuts. Be intentional with the food, don’t just throw out leftovers from youth group, but show your leaders you care in a very tangible way. You don’t need to blow your entire budget on the food, but be thoughtful with what you get.

Have fun.

I think fun is drastically underrated when training happens. Often when we are training we focus on information, policies, and making sure everyone is on the same page. Perhaps you have noticed like I have, how those types of meetings cause people’s eyes to glaze over or they start nodding off. But what if you threw in some fun activities as well?

Try incorporating some type of group game like charades or Scattegories. Set up a volleyball net or 9 Square and just play together at different points. Or set up a church-wide scavenger hunt for your leaders with prizes. These moments help take a mundane, typical training and make it more inviting and fun, which encourages your leaders to continue to come and participate.

Incorporate team building.

Team building can get a bad rap at times. I know I have definitely been at trainings, conferences, and gatherings where the team building was actually more traumatizing than informative and unifying. If you have ever done team building with mouse traps, you know what I am talking about. But there are so many more options to make team building actually focused on building a healthy team.

There are classics like the human knot. There are some newer options like doing a Shark Tank-themed game. You could present challenges to the team that they need to accomplish with certain limitations placed on them. There is the activity that has a teammate leading another teammate who has a blindfold on. A quick Google search lists many different options including ones that focus more on unity, ones designed to make you think and problem solve, and even ones that require little preparation and are easy to run. These are all great ideas and can lead to healthy interactions, debriefs, and unification of your team.

Bring in someone new.

Sometimes a change of the speaker or leader helps in great ways. We have a cool opportunity to work with a local school that is focused on providing education free of charge to families in financial need. We have many students from that school attend our program, so we brought someone in from the staff to share about how we can best minister to and care for those students. It was awesome and so much fun, and frankly better than anything I would have said about what we could do.

So who could you bring in? Maybe it is a volunteer to talk about how to lead small groups, perhaps it is a parent or another youth pastor, or maybe you could bring in a school employee or a local counselor. These new faces will allow your leaders to see the benefit of hearing from others and hopefully help them grow and become better leaders.

What sets your trainings apart? How can you encourage your leaders to attend them?

The Importance of Discipleship

This past weekend I had the privilege of baptizing a former student who had become a leader in our youth group. This is a young man whose life has been radically transformed by the Gospel and someone I have witnessed grow and mature into the godly young man he is today. As we were walking out into the bay to prepare for his baptism, I asked him how he was feeling. “A little nervous because everyone is here, but excited because I know what this means.” I was, and am, so proud of this guy and how he faithfully and unashamedly follows Jesus.

As I reflected on this momentous occasion in his life, I couldn’t help but think about all the moments that led up to this one. Many people have continually poured into his life and helped guide him through some deep valleys and celebrated with him on the mountain tops. But as I thought about how people poured into his life, I had to ask this question: what would have happened if no one poured into his life? If no one poured into his life, I don’t know if he would be where he is today. It was through constant discipleship that this young man became such a strong follower of Jesus.

You see, this young man was not a bad kid but he could struggle to behave and he could push around other students due to his size when he was younger. It would have been easy to dismiss him as a “bad kid” or to find a “better” student to walk with. But, for myself and his leaders, we saw him as one of God’s children who He loved dearly and as such, someone we should love and care for. Because of that truth, this student was loved and discipled for many years and we saw great fruit come from that. He began to show up early to youth group to help set up, he began to talk about his faith in school, he led Bible studies and small groups, he mentored younger students, and he ended up coming back as a leader in our youth program. Discipleship works and it is a beautiful representation of what Christ did for His people years ago.

Our ministry is fully focused on discipleship. We spend forty-five to sixty minutes in small group each week. Our Sunday mornings are focused on table discussion groups that dig into our Sunday lesson. We encourage our leaders to meet with students throughout the week and to be actively engaged with their students and all that they have going on. Our vision statement is all about making disciples who impact this world by making disciples. Our ministry meets in smaller groups once a month in homes. It is why we are seeing more and more students have their lives changed by the power of the Gospel. Discipleship matters. This is why Jesus intentionally focused on a smaller group within the masses. It is because personal relationships, and intentional life-on-life moments that guide a student to Jesus, bring about change.

But what exactly is discipleship? Discipleship is defined as “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another” by Merriam-Webster. When it comes to Christian discipleship, it is more than just having someone live the way we do, or espouse what we want them to. It is about them modeling their lives, hearts, and minds after Jesus. It is helping students see that the way of Christ is the way of life. It involves allowing them to see how Jesus works within our lives in order for them to see the reality of faith in action. Discipleship helps students surrender their lives to Jesus and place their full identity in Him and Him alone.

As we seek to engage in discipleship there are some metrics we can look at in the lives of those we disciple:

  1. They put Jesus first no matter the cost (Mark 8:34-35, Luke 14:25-35).
  2. They follow Jesus’ teachings (John 8:31-32).
  3. They love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31, John 13:34-35).
  4. They honor and seek to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
  5. They commit to building up the body (Ephesians 4:11-17).

It should be noted that it isn’t about doing all the right things or about focusing on works-based righteousness. We will all fall and mess up, and that is why it is about allowing the transformative power of the Gospel to impact the lives of the students we lead. These metrics help to differentiate between making disciples and mentoring. While both are good things, discipleship helps to create followers of Jesus who are passionate about His mission. As disciple-makers we should be highlighting these characteristics to our students and helping them to grow in them and reflect them outward. Discipleship is all about inward transformation that is reflected outwardly. Our inward transformation is reflected in how we act, speak, and engage with others because of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts.

When we allow for discipleship to be the heart of what we do in student ministry we will see a radical change begin to take hold of our students. They will grow and make their faith their own, which will result in them beginning to disciple others in their faith. Discipleship is a replicating model that will allow your students to grow and mature as followers of Jesus, and we will bear witness to them growing as leaders of our faith.

5 Quick Tips for Encouraging Volunteers

Throughout my time in ministry I have become convinced that our volunteers are the lifeblood of our ministries. I’m sure many of you would agree with that statement and you have seen the fruit of having great volunteers on your team. Volunteers are amazing people because of the ways they sacrificially give of themselves, love their students, and continue to serve in ways that go above and beyond their obligations.

I think sometimes we can take what they do and who they are for granted. We don’t intend to but we can get into an groove where we just continue with the status quo. We function normally and may unintentionally forget to care at the level we should for them. But the thing we must understand is that our volunteers are vital to our ministry and without them we will not be able to continue in what we do. My hope with today’s post is to highlight five easy ways that you can intentionally care for and encourage your volunteers.

1. Pray for and with them.

Our leaders are real people who have real issues affecting them just like we do. So pause and give them space to share what you can pray for. Allow them to talk about what is going on: their struggles and difficulties, the victories and high points, their spiritual walk with Jesus, and anything else they want to share. Then take time to pray with them and remember to continue to pray for them. The powerful impact of prayer is one we cannot overstate and is one we need to lean into all the more to seek protection, care, and guidance for our leaders. Prayer helps our leaders be seen, known, and loved in a very powerful and real way. So make sure to pray for and with them often.

2. Ask and care about their life outside of ministry.

During my recent time away from ministry, I was able to meet with my volunteers and church members but I wasn’t able to talk about work. I’ll be honest with you and let you know meeting in this way at first was pretty hard for me. I had gotten into a rut where the majority of the time I spent with people was focused on how they were doing in the life of the church or in a specific ministry. For instance, I would always ask my leaders how their small group was, how their relationship with their co-leader was doing, or how I could improve our student ministry. But now I was forced to do away with that method of conversation and focus more on who they are personally.

I got to hear more about their families, their struggles, what was happening at their schools or jobs, and how they were handling all the changes that have been happening. And it was in those moments that I began to connect on a truly deeper level with my volunteers. I realized that I had fallen into a habit of being ministry-focused and not personally-focused.

Most of you probably already do this but if you don’t, let me encourage you to shift how you engage with your people. I never meant to dismiss their personal lives, I just got into a rhythm and didn’t shift. But now, my priority in meeting with leaders will be to care for them, and then to see how things are going in ministry. Doing this not only values your leaders but shows them that they mean more to you than just being a body who shows up to watch students at youth group.

3. Follow up and remember.

This is a big one that really encapsulates the first two points. When you remember what your leaders are going through and follow up with them, it truly makes them feel seen and heard. You are letting them know it wasn’t just checking off a to-do list when you met with them but truly a relationship. Knowing that someone truly cares about you and is willing to continue to see how you are doing is an aspect of leading in ministry that cannot be understated. It is in these moments that we not only validate our leaders but we highlight what the Body of Christ should truly be.

4. Send a note or card.

Sending someone a physical note or card is one of the best, and easiest, things you can do for your leaders. I think we all know how great it feels when we get a letter in the mail. It brings joy knowing that someone spent time writing out a heartfelt message and mailed it to us. I know I personally love seeing a letter amidst the advertisements and bills, and it makes me smile. Now imagine how your leaders would feel getting a note or card from you. Let me encourage you to not make it generic or simply ministry-focused, but to make it personal and relational. These are the moments that you truly get to value and encourage your people by letting them know you care. Never underestimate the power of a personal, handwritten note to your volunteers.

5. Champion them.

I believe all of these points are important, but I really believe this one is huge especially as it pertains to your ministry and the church as a whole. When you highlight your leaders publicly and talk about how awesome they are, it brings a whole new sense of ownership, validity, and relational equity to your volunteers. I love to talk about how awesome my volunteers are during youth group or in staff meetings. I want everyone to know how well they care for and minister to our students. And I want our leaders to know that I see what they are doing and I am eternally grateful for them.

So highlight them to your students. Talk about them to your supervisors. Make sure parents are aware of how awesome they are. And tell them personally. I love to share encouraging things I have seen when I meet one-on-one with a leader. I get to love on them and tell them how grateful I am for them, and it is awesome to see how encouraged they are by those moments.

How do you encourage your leaders?

3 Quick Tips for Volunteer Recruitment

As we enter into summer programming you may not be actively thinking about recruiting new leaders for the fall. Perhaps this seems early for some of you. I know that isn’t how I have typically operated, which usually leads to a mad dash and panicked few weeks in August as we try to find quality volunteers right before we start programming. This isn’t a healthy way to start programming for us or our volunteers as we both end up feeling rushed and not fully prepared for the school year.

As I have begun to take some hard looks at volunteer recruitment, I have realized that things need to change in order to better equip our leaders and ministries to serve our students. If recruiting sounds difficult or exasperating, I get it. I have often felt the same way. But if we approach recruitment differently, we can help alleviate the tension. So here are three easy ways to save yourself a lot of stress and hardship, and help yourself find quality leaders.

1. Start early.

For the first time ever, our team started recruiting this past week. We began to reach out to potential leaders, we added volunteer opportunities to our monthly newsletter, and we asked our leaders to identify potential additional leaders. Perhaps this is something you always do, but for our team it isn’t. The earliest that we have started would be the end of July, and it often led to a rushed and angst-filled month before programming kicked off.

Planning ahead and building up your volunteer group early allows you to make sure your leaders are equipped and prepared for the school year. And as you begin to plan ahead, you can scale it each year and begin to recruit even earlier. Next year we are already planning to begin recruiting as the current school year ends. So think about when you will start recruiting and how you can begin to do so earlier to help best prepare your ministry for the fall.

2. Think outside the box.

When it comes to who you recruit, how you recruit, and where you recruit from, try to think creatively and in ways you haven’t before. I have found that when I recruit I can fall into doing the same thing over and over again. Bulletin announcements, cold calls, asking leaders to talk to their friends, and asking people who used to volunteer. But this year I decided to try something different: I reached out directly to parents.

This may be something you already do, but for me it was my first time doing it in a new way. We send a newsletter out once a month and this month’s almost solely focused on volunteer needs with the hope that parents will see it and consider jumping in. My point with this is to encourage you to try something new and different. Shake up how you have done recruiting in the past. Ask other youth workers what they do. Try something new and see if it provides you with a new recruit or multiple volunteers.

3. Consider changing things up.

I think for many people it is easy to get stuck in habits and rhythms. These aren’t necessarily bad things but they can hamper us, especially if they aren’t providing the necessary volunteers that we need. What we need to do is the be creative as we think about recruitment. If we think of this as an opportunity to creatively try something new, it all of a sudden opens up brand new perspectives on how to recruit.

One of the things we have done out of necessity is think through whether our staff team needs to do all the things we have traditionally done, or if we can empower volunteers to take over those roles. That means creating new positions and leadership opportunities, offering additional training, and identifying new leaders. But the benefit of having leaders take ownership and allowing our staff team to flourish far outweighs those additional needs.

What are your best tips for recruiting new volunteers?

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?

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.

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.