The Week Before a Trip

When this post goes live we are t-minus five days until we depart for our winter retreat. Every year we take our students to a camp in our area for a winter weekend filled with solid teaching, worship, small groups and discipleship, lots of fun, community, and hopefully a little bit of snow.

But let’s be honest: the week or two before a trip can usually be pretty stressful and busy. There’s all the trip details, making sure everyone is paid up, communication, packing for yourself, making sure your students bring what they need, regular work commitments, and all the other pieces that we know will pop up at the least opportune time. So the question is, “How do we manage and prepare well during those weeks?”

On today’s post I want to share a few tips for how to not only prepare well but manage your time and details to succeed during the prep week and your time leading up to camp.

Have someone else handle speaking.

The week of and perhaps the week before a trip, I would highly recommend having someone else speak at your gatherings. For most of us, the primary amount of our hours are focused on preparing messages for our students, and by recruiting someone else to speak you are giving yourself flexibility and opportunity to focus your time in other places. Whether it’s a youth leader, another staff member, a student, or a guest speaker, having someone else speak frees you up to focus on the trip. It gives you all the time you’d focus on study, prep, and speaking to now focus on making sure everything is handled before you depart for your trip.

Try to keep your schedule as open as possible.

The week before I go on a trip I try to not schedule any meetings or additional work items if at all possible. I will always have various meetings I have to attend, but I try to not add more to my plate. The more we add to our schedules, the more we will feel overwhelmed and behind. So try to keep your schedule open and make the most of the time you have to prepare for the trip and handle what needs to be done.

Over-communicate to families.

No matter what, you will always have people who miss or don’t pay attention to communications you send out. But trying to get ahead of those moments and doing all you can to clearly and concisely communicate will help immensely. I try to schedule and send all of my communications at least a week before parents would ask for them. For example, if I know parents will want a packing list two weeks before we leave, I try to send it three weeks and again two weeks before we go. That way there is a greater chance for them to not only see it but also to have a reminder sent in case they forget.

Have a planning meeting with leaders.

If you have ever served as a volunteer in student ministries, you probably know what it feels like to not have all your questions answered or what it feels like to be unsure about what to expect. The more we can help to prepare our leaders and give them the information they need, the better prepared they will be to lead and disciple your students. So find time before you go to help prepare your leaders mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Remember that these meetings don’t need to be very long and should also be about spiritually preparing and not just information dissemination. So spend time praying together for one another, the trip, and your students.

Create a personal packing list and a ministry packing list.

We have recently written about what to pack for trips as a leader. This is a really helpful resource for both ministry leaders and their team of volunteers. It may be helpful to have a concisely written packing list for your leaders at your planning meeting. On top of your ministry packing list, also think through what you will need personally. For me I always make sure to have different types of cold medicines and throat drops, braces for my ankles that tend to roll, spare clothes, some protein bars, and some extra games and snacks for my cabin. Think through what you’d like to bring and make sure you have your list ready for when you need to pack.

Schedule time off before and after the trip.

This is something I have been making sure that I do more often. Depending on what needs to be done, I try to take an extra day off the week before a trip to spend with Elise and mentally and spiritually prepare myself for the trip. After I get back I try to take a day off to catch my breath, decompress, and heal (for me that means going to the chiropractor and getting extra rest). These aren’t just meant to be comp days but days to decompress and refresh so I am able to minister and care for my people without leading out of emptiness or depletion.

Make a list of what needs to be done and when.

I love making lists and crossing things off as I complete them. And when it comes to trips, I make lists of what needs to be done leading up to our departure. Typically I make two lists for trips. The first one is focused on the big things that need to be done from the very beginning of scheduling the trip. This includes announcing the trip, payment deadlines and reminders, parent and family communications, departure information, and packing lists. The second list is one that is focused on the week or two before the trip. This has to do with leader meetings, social media reminders, final communications to families, texting groups for leaders, sign in procedures, packing for myself and the ministry, and anything else that needs to be accomplished.

What does the week before a trip look like for you? How do you prepare for your trips?

How to Help Your Students Want to Read the Bible

Throughout my time serving in churches I have seen biblical literacy continue to decrease in student ministry and I have been astounded by how little students actually know about the Bible. Whether it’s attributing sayings and musing to God’s Word that aren’t there, not knowing where books of the Bible fall, or not even knowing Bible speaks into various topics, the state of biblical literacy is not looking good. Maybe this is just my experience, but I think this is indicative of a trend in younger people and is why we are seeing more and more companies focusing on students to help them grow in biblical literacy.

Now it would be easy for me to sit here and bemoan the circumstances and to be dismayed by the lack of comprehension and willingness to engage with the Bible. But that would be neither helpful nor beneficial. Instead, I want to be a part of the solution. In my role that means working with our upcoming generations and helping to train and equip them in how to use and interpret their Bibles in a way that helps them make real world applications.

Today, I want to look at how we can help our students not only read their Bibles but also seek to engage with and apply them. Students need to see that God’s Word is real and necessary, but they also need to understand why it is important and know what it means to them. This will allow them to be thoughtful and proactive in how they apply the Bible in their lives and in how it shapes them as Christ-followers.

Teach students how.

We have written on Bible study methods before but it is easy to assume our students know how to read the Bible when in actuality they have never been taught. So take time to show them how to read the Bible. Point out the different literary styles and help them learn basic hermeneutics so they can read it appropriately and apply it to their lives. Help them understand it is okay to have and ask questions. Teach them to be analytical and critical readers in order to think about the Bible in broader and deeper contexts. Doing this will help them grow not only in their knowledge of God’s Word but it will also affirm them and help them see that they can discern and interpret the Bible on their own.

Make sure they have a Bible they will use.

Maybe I’m just odd but I have a ton of Bibles and they all serve a different purpose. Some are for studies, others for personal devotions, and I have others because they offer unique and significant insights. But most students aren’t like me. In fact, I have found many students don’t actually have a Bible they want to use or enjoy using. So take time to help students find a Bible that they can read and will want to read. This may mean having more Bibles on hand and having a broader knowledge of different types of Bibles, but it will allow you to help your students grow and engage with God’s Word on their own in a way they can understand.

Point them to helpful Bible study resources.

There are lots of great Bible Study tools out there and there are a lot of not so great ones. In fact, you have probably seen a lot of “teen Bible studies” that feel dated, or they talk down to students, or perhaps feel childish in their designs and studies. Finding helpful resources or Bible studies may feel difficult, but when you find ones that work for your students you will see them grow and gravitate toward reading God’s Word even more. We have written on some resources and you can find that information here.

Model it for them.

I think this is something the church needs to be better about as a whole. We should model what we preach and teach to our people, and not always in a way that shows us succeeding or doing the right thing. I think we need to model the very real aspects of what studying Scripture looks like, both the successes and difficulties. When our students see the impact that the Bible has on our lives it motivates them to want that for themselves. But they also need to see the moments this is hard for you. Let them know about times you’ve struggled to be in the Bible. Show them how you overcame that and highlight how you felt and what being out of God’s Word did to your life. When students see the real pieces of what the Bible does for our lives coming from people they trust, they will want to model that as well.

Set up reminders and show them how to do the same.

Reminders may sound trivial at first but they work. I love my Google calendar and my reminders on my phone. In fact, I have reminders set for all sorts of things not because I forget them, but because they are of high value to me and I don’t want to forget they are there if I’m scheduling other things. Students are incredibly busy and they have all sorts of things competing for their time and attention. If you can help them in prioritizing what is important and show them the benefit of reminders and scheduling, it will help them to see the necessity of staying in God’s Word.

Help students to set reminders, show them how to put things in a schedule, and help them carve out time to read God’s Word. But remember that this may look different than your schedule. Students may have to carve out ten minutes on a crowded bus to read the Bible or listen to a devotion. They may have to do it at night before or after homework. It may not be every day but it may be a few times a week. That’s okay because it is all about growth and consistency. And remember that reminders aren’t a fix-all, they are just a tool to help us. This isn’t a “you do this and you’re good” approach, but instead is a resource to help us grow as biblically literate Christ followers.

Show them why this is important and applicable to their lives.

I believe it is easy to take the Bible and its impact in our lives for granted sometimes. As western Christians, we live the good life where we don’t see the hardships and persecution that Christians around the world face. And I believe this is part of the reason we may not see the Bible as being helpful and applicable all the time: we live an easy life and we don’t see hardship that the Bible helps us through. However, for many of us in ministry we can point to moments when the Bible and our faith in God carried us through dark moments and how that was a turning point in our lives. Students need to hear that! They need to understand that the Bible has a place in our mundane lives and in the moments when life is at its lowest point. Our students don’t see the impact the Bible always has because we don’t show them how it impacts their lives at each moment.

We need to teach them how the knowledge of God’s Word helps to form and prepare us for those rocky moments. We need to show them how the truths of the Bible have a life-changing impact on our lives, our culture, and our world. We need to help model how we can be agents of good change in our world through being who God has called us to be. When we model this reality to them, it builds a spiritual framework for their lives from which they can live out their calling of being disciples of Jesus.

The Value of Home Groups

Back in 2020 when COVID first reared its ugly head, our ministry did what everyone else did: we went virtual. We shared teaching videos for small groups to watch and engage with via Zoom, we supplied online group games, and tried to host large group gatherings digitally. Like many of you, we saw our numbers gradually wane, and as we hit summertime our students were begging us to not meet online as they and our leaders (like all of us) were struggling with Zoom Fatigue.

Summer 2020 was spent searching for meeting alternatives, connecting with other youth workers to pick their brains and find new strategies, and browsing the internet for ideas on how to structure a youth group during a pandemic. Most of these searches yielded very few results. Everyone was struggling with the same questions as we never had to figure this out before, and our ministry education didn’t offer “YouthMin in a Pandemic 101.” Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see that course being offered now.

So I began to think through multiple strategies that would allow our ministry to continue, while still aligning with our vision, and meeting the need our students had for fellowship and community. Enter Home Groups. We came up with an idea that would allow our students to meet together in smaller groups around the community within the comfort of homes while all engaging the same material. We placed individual small groups in homes with leaders and provided them with a pre-recorded video lesson, games and activities, snacks, and discussion questions.

If you had asked me in the fall of 2020 if we would continue to have Home Groups after moving through the pandemic, I’m not sure how I would have responded. It was such a different style of student ministry that I wasn’t used to and it placed a lot of additional weight and responsibility upon my leaders to facilitate and lead their groups.

But enter summer of 2021. We took our students on a mission trip and for the first time we combined our middle school and high school students, and it was a rousing success. I saw my students love and care for one another in new ways. I watched my students step up and lead in a manner I hadn’t previously seen. I saw spiritual maturity in my students that was at least two years beyond where they should have been. What I was able to witness in my students was a depth, vibrancy, and spiritual maturity that had come out of taking a large group and going small.

Our students had actually grown and flourished spiritually in our Home Groups to a degree I had not seen previously because we inadvertently modeled what Jesus did with His disciples. Jesus always had large groups following after Him, but He often went deeper with smaller numbers, and from those smaller groups great fruit would be produced. What Jesus did intentionally, we had to wait for a pandemic to move us in that direction. And I am so thankful it did!

Today, now over two years since COVID entered our vocabulary, we have kept Home Groups as a part of our DNA. We have incorporated Home Groups into our programming once a month. We have also lengthened our small group time during large gatherings because we are seeing that’s where students grow and engage with the Gospel.

Home Groups take a lot of planning and organization, and at times can be a lot to handle. But the reward far outweighs the struggles. Sure, they look different now–no more video message, it’s all inductive Bible studies–but the growth and maturity still exists. We are seeing more students turn out to Home Groups than our normal midweek programming. Students engage with Scripture at deep and tangible levels. They desire the community and intimacy that homes afford. And honestly, I haven’t looked back and probably will not return to “normal” midweek programming ever again. Home Groups were a step of faith, but the reward has been amazing.

If you are looking to deepen the faith of your students, challenge them to think biblically about their lives, provide them with a place to fellowship and build community, and an opportunity to see discipleship happen in their lives, I would encourage you to consider Home Groups as an option. The reward goes beyond students and also impacts your leaders who are given the permission and opportunity to use their gifts and talents to help your students grow and flourish.

In what ways have the past two years reshaped how you do ministry?

Packing for Trips: Students

Last week we talked about how to pick a location for student retreats and trips. But have you struggled with what you should tell students to pack for these trips? Have you received a frantic text or email the day of departure from a student or parent asking what they should bring?

As we continue the conversation, this week I want to share some ideas for helping students pack appropriately for trips. Next week I’ll share some insight as to what youth leaders should be packing for trips. Over my time in student ministry, I have come to realize a simplified packing list is much better to share than an overly detailed one. It ensures that students pack the essentials and helps them seek clarity when they have questions.

Before you even start to think about what students need to pack, you should be thinking about how you will communicate it to them. There are three main avenues of communication that typically can work with students: verbal communication, physical mediums, and electronic mediums.

Verbal communication.

Many ministries still utilize verbal announcements during their services and programs. These moments are critical for communicating important information in small, sound byte-style clips that peak your students’ interest. Two important things to remember with these moments is there needs to be simplicity, and direction toward a medium they can use for follow up (i.e. social media, emails, handouts, etc.).

Physical mediums.

One of the best ways to get things into the hands of students is to do just that. Get them physical sign ups, postcard reminders, or flyers. This will give them something to physically take, but the reality is these items don’t always make it home or to their parents. So be thoughtful about how much time and effort you put into these mediums as the reward may be minimal.

Electronic mediums.

Over the last decade, the importance of electronic communication has become undeniable. Students have phones and other devices in their hands constantly, and the more you can leverage these mediums the better your results. Use social media platforms, create QR Codes that can be scanned during gatherings, send emails, utilize story features on social media, and send out group texts with information. When it comes to creating online content, you may find yourself in the same predicament I often find myself: I’m not creative in this area. That’s where Canva comes in handy. It has graphics, images, and pre-made designs you can edit and utilize to best reach your audience. So lean into Canva or another design app to not simply list information but make it visually appealing as well.

So what should students actually take on trips? If you use a venue that supplies a leader packet, you may find a packing list there, but you may need to edit it to match your program’s guidelines. When I think about what students should pack, I think in categories: clothing, accessories, toiletries, camp-specific gear, and what not to bring.

Each of these are extremely focused and allow our team to highlight the essentials needed, and what is not allowed at camp. The camp-specific category helps highlight relevant items like winter gear, bathing suits, work clothes, or whatever else is needed. The accessories category allows you to remind students about things like bedding and pillows, a notebook, money, bug spray, and medicine. The “what not to bring” category lets you focus on things that aren’t allowed at the camp and what you ask students to leave at home. We always highlight leaving electronics at home, and things like energy drinks and illegal substances.

Whatever your trip looks like, remember to communicate clearly, consistently, and frequently through multiple mediums in concise ways. When you focus on those aspects you are setting yourself and your students up for success on your trips. Below is a graphic that we built in Canva for our student ministry’s last winter camp. This can serve as a springboard for your creativity, or we are happy to share how we created this to help you further. Feel free to reach out if you need help with creating your own graphic.