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What I am Learning.

So, as many of you know who follow this blog, I am part of a church plant in Southeast Michigan, (well, does 6 years old still class as a church plant)? At Easter we had our first service in our first full time facility that we now own. Up until now, we have rented facilities, used homes and the youth program when I arrived here met in basements. Now that we have our own place, you would think it would be all plain sailing now? Right? Yes… and no. Here’s 10 things I have been learning…

1) Less Set up / Tear Down? Getting in a building does not necessarily mean less ‘set up and tear down’ every time we meet for our large program. Prior to being here, we rented a facility for youth ministry and we had to set up and tear down every week. Now, we still have the same situation. We do not have our own youth space and this means we still have work hard before and after the program. 

2) Students Love the Place! Our place looks great and does look like your typical church. Students feel greater ownership and love the place and feel. 

3) Students say they bring more Friends! A number of students have told us that they feel it is easier to bring their friends to. When I ask why, they explain that it’s almost like inviting friends to ‘their place’. Before, it was like inviting friends to someone else’s place.

4) It’s Easy to be too Laid Back! I have noticed that many of my leaders took their foot of the gas a little when we arrived here. It’s almost, like “this will be easier, now we can relax”. 

5) Laid Back = Falling Over! We were all a little too laid back about getting in here and we fell a couple of times and we have had a lot of bumps in the road. 

6) Falling Over is a good path sometimes! Falling over and tripping up a little has been an important part of our journey. I love the fact that I am surrounded by leaders who are always looking to learn and get back up when things don’t go to plan. 

7) SWINE FLU changes Everything! Yes, we had to close our youth program down one Sunday after we got word that some students in the local high school were infected with H1N1 virus. I did not want to over react, however, it was important to send a clear message to parents that safety and health is a top priority for us. 

8) I have a LONGER JOB DESCRIPTION! Now that I am in the office more, I end up doing more stuff outside my youth ministry description. I usually preach every couple of months and work on a lot of communication stuff for the church, but recently I have become: Removal man, IT help desk, Cleaner, Handy Man… just to name a few. However , it’s important to say that I love doing this. There are some people who are throwing down a lot more than me. We are a team and it’s important to get stuff done… 

9) I love my British office! I got to paint and decorate my own place. The flavor and feel is British! I have a lot of stuff from my home country in there! 

10) WOW, we have grown!!!! We have increased attendance by about 25% in the first month. Now, we have had Easter and mothers day, but we have seen so many new people, first time commitments to Christ and so many more people have got plugged into ministry. AND, at the end of the day… this is what it is about. 

There, you go, that is what I am learning. Sorry for the blog drought… It has been a busy season!

Phil <><

Keep it Simple

My lack of blogging in the last couple of weeks is due to our church moving into our first ever fulltime facility. Up until now we have met in schools, houses, and rented facilities. As a 6 year old church plant we have seen some pretty significant things happen and it has been incredible to see how ministry can explode without a facility. This last Sunday (Easter) was our very first service in our new facility and we grew by 22% from the previous weekend. It’s been a crazy but amazing couple of weeks! 

This Sunday is our first time we get to run our weekly youth ministry program there to0. There are a number of changes we are having to make due to the differences of location and also because we have many more options to enhance what we do… However, it’s my experience that when we I have had significant changes in a program, it is important to understand that simplicity is better when kicking off something new.

There is always a temptation to ‘shoot for the moon’ to create an incredible first impression, but I have found in the past that it is better to simplify in these situations… Here’s why: 

1) My Leaders can Care Better: I always tell my leaders that students might think they are coming for a ‘wow’ evening, but it is caring and community that will keep them coming back the next week. When our leaders are all caught up in creating a incredible wow factor, it is easy to lose sight of relationships. Even if our students cannot verbalize this loss, they will certainly feel it. When I can allow my leaders to do their ministry as ‘normal’ as possible and keep their focus on caring, we will see students return week after week. 

2) Start Good and Move Towards Great: This idea might seem backwards or contrary to how many of us think, but I have found this to be true. A friend of mine called Jason, went to school to be a professional guitarist in a band, (I never knew you could go to school for that before), he taught me a principle that he learned that has always stuck with me. When doing a gig with a band this is what your set should look like:  Begin with one of your better songs, (not your best), do a slightly better song next, and then your third song should be your best. Start good and move towards great… Keeping our envinronment simple and including a few ‘wow’ components allows us to start realistically.  As we ‘find our feet’ in the next few weeks, we can add better and more complex components to what we do. Not only is this easier to do, it is actually better to do…

3) Simple Leads to a Greater Impact: When we all know how the environment runs because of simplicity it is easier for us all to see the ‘win’ that we are trying to head for. I am big proponent programing simply so that we even our students get why we do what we do. When we have a complex environment, it is often hard to identify the goal and purpose. When we keep it simple, it is easier to keep our leaders and students pulling in the same direction, thus having greater impact. 

How are you keeping it simple and relational? 

Phil <><

d2s Meets the Office

Take some time to check out this funny video made by the guys over at dare2share. It’s real funny and they do a great job in being ‘office-like’. 

Easter brings many new beginnings…

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I love how Easter  reminds me of the great love and sacrifice of our Heavenly Father displays through giving us Jesus. I am always humbled when I consider how much has been done for me and  the great cost that was involved. Easter is about a great gift to us and a new start that comes from Jesus sacrifice. 

For myself and my church, we are even more humbled and in awe this weekend as we will be having our first service in our new facility. We are humbled by what God has done in peoples lives in the 5 years that lifechurch has existed. We are in awe of God’s providence for this new church home.

In Southeast Michigan the economy has been getting progressively worse  and we have seen wave after wave of lay-offs affecting families at lifechurch. However, it has been so amazing to see how God has been providing for each of these families and how He has sent wave after wave of new people here. It is very apparent that when times are tough in the economy, God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask of imagine, according to His power working through us. 

At this time of Easter, I am very thankful for the great cost that was paid for each of us, while I am also in awe of the many blessings that He continues to provide for us each day. 

Please be praying for my church as we transition into this new facility.

Phil <><

7 Steps to Bring Change in Student Ministry

In a few weeks we will moving our main middle school program to a Sunday evening overlapping with our main high school program. Primarily, we are trying to be 1) family friendly by giving parents of both middle school and high school, one evening to bring their students. 2) Free up space in our new facility 3) Enable busy midweek students, (sports, school etc), the opportunity to attend. 4) Recruit more volunteers to work with students who could not make a midweek night, but could make Sundays. 

However, although there are many more excellent reasons for doing this, my experience (and yours too perhaps), tells me:  I cannot shortcut a process to get students, parents, and volunteers on board with changes. Let me list and give a little understanding to how I have brought about this change in our ministry. 

1) Sense the need to make this change: Any potential changes I see must come through prayer and leadership intuition. Seems basic, but how many times do we want to make changes because another church is doing something different or someone else says we MUST do it?

2) Start Early: I began this process back in October… Don’t underestimate how long you need to organize a big change, and don’t underestimate how much time people need to process change…

3) Gather specific reasons and information: Before I gave the idea I gathered information.  Here’s what I gathered:

a. Online survey of parents: “What’s best night for student ministry program”: 84% said Sunday was best. IMPORTANT: Although surveys are great for getting hard facts, do not discount how important surveys are for building ownership from parents. 

b. Surveyed students who did not attend our midweek program: Most are busy on Wednesdays and prefer Sundays. About another 20% could make a Sunday

c. Talked with potential leaders over the last year who kept telling me Wednesdays were tough to make. I had a list of about 10-12 people.

d. Talked to existing leaders about potential of a Sunday night: Most liked Sundays… 

4) Have potential change conversations: As I began to gather this information, I started to have conversations with leaders, parents and students about the potential of this happening. It was important to use the phrase, this might not happen, but it’s possible… I find that these conversations are pertinent to getting people open to the idea. 

5) Present solid facts: After these potential conversations, I found a number of forums to present facts based on what I had learned from surveys and conversations. These forums included email, website, facebook, newsletters and up front announcements. Obviously I met with my pastor and volunteers to talk specifically about what I had discovered. 

6) Present vision: While facts and information are great for getting people to see a need, they mean nothing unless there is vision of betterment for students. As I discussed and communicated with students, leaders and parents, I kept on communicating how students lives would be impacted: 

a. More students could come, b. more leaders could volunteer and invest time in students, c. families win back a night together if they have middle school and high school students.

7) Prepare Leaders: My final step was to meet with leaders individually and together as a group to plan and get their input on the changes. It’s important that I set them up for success and allow them to give ideas and input. I have to admit that I will not cover every detail and I must rely on good leaders to see potential issues or come up with better ways to do something… 

That’s how we are doing it for now. I will post later after the change has taken place and share what went well and what we missed… No matter how well we plan, we will likely miss something… BUT, it’s better to take good steps toward changes than take none… Hope this helps…

Phil <><

Loving Your Wife throughout Ministry…

A few weeks ago my wife and I were at the National Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus Ohio. While I was there, I got the opportunity to ‘hijack’ Tim Schmoyer’s Life In Student Ministry camera… Me and my new buddy ‘Julio’ decided to talk about how we love our wives well in Ministry. Check it out and watch for the out takes at the end… funny stuff. 

Tim Schmoyer hosts a GREAT blog! He has great insights and has lots of resources, tips, video blogs, and hosts a weekly Youth Ministry phone in… check it out!

How I Recruit Volunteers

You have likely heard that you can’t do effective ministry as a lone ranger. I feel that it is a given that we should do our best to recruit Godly adults who love God and love students. But, getting leaders is not always easy no matter how long you have been in ministry. However, over the years I have adopted some strategies that work for me and make the process much easier in the long run. 

Here’s what I do: 
1) Pray – I know, I know, too simple, but let’s be honest, do we ask God to send them or do we try to search for them? There’s a difference. 

2) Recruit Now: It’s March and I am recruiting now for the Fall. Why? People tend to have a ministry ‘mindset’ now rather than in the late spring or summer. Also, I find that many need to make way for ministry in their schedules. Planting seeds or asking now, helps them to clear time and also have plenty of time to consider and sit on the idea. 

3) Ask Existing Leaders: Every leader that commits to a year of youth ministry with me agrees to be proactive in recruiting others for ministry.  The great advantage for leaders who have been in the trenches is that they can identify good leaders who will fit our chemistry better too. Currently, approximately half of my leaders I have come from other leaders who helped me recruit. Howard was a guy I personally recruited since he came on a retreat once with me and I saw great potential in him. His first response was: Are you sure I am the guy you are looking for? Since then, Howard has been a faithful and great youth leader… However, here’s how he’s impacting recruiting leaders: In the last two months there are three guys who Howard has personally talked to who have come to me. 

4) Ask Students: Have you seen the movie ‘Mr Deeds’? Have you seen the clip where ‘Emilio’, his trusty valet, exclaims, I am very crafty sir… This is what you become when you ask students to help you recruit leaders. I have found that some of my best leaders did not even consider being a youth leader unless a students asked them. Even if I, you paid youth guy was to ask them, they would likely still say no. However, I often give my students a healthy framework to work within, and ask them, so, who do you think would make an awesome leader? Next is the really crafty, but of course, ‘affirming’ part: I have students ask the leader. Most times, it is a question of potential volunteers needing to students to believe in them… 

5)  Vision Casting: People come for a vision not a need. Telling people how God is amazing in bringing so many new students into the ministry is a good start. People want to be a part of a winning team, not part of a team that regularly makes announcements in the bulletin. I try to use as many conversational and ‘up front’ opportunities to talk about the great things God is doing in the life of students. My common line is: If God keeps doing what He is doing, I am going to have to ask Him to send me more youth leaders… do you know any?


6) Ask Personally: Again, this might not sound like rocket science, but I have to ensure that this is on my radar constantly. As I pray for God to send people, am I looking out for them? I am asking them personally? Do they know that I have noticed their potential? As mentioned, Howard was one of those guys. He loves to share the story with other potential volunteers and let them know that they might be sure about it all, but once they get plugged in, they will love doing youth ministry… 

What do you do? How are you doing getting leaders? What is one idea you could try to recruit youth leaders? 

Phil <><

Buying Back Time

Do you have those weeks where you put in a whole bunch of ‘extra’ hours in ministry? Let’s face it, what is ‘extra’? The fact is that there is always more to do. More emails, more calls, more meetings, more planning, more messages to write, etc. 

Here’s how I define ‘extra’ in my life: 

Extra for me is when I can see that my walk with God and my time with family has been stretched through the week. Extra is when I know I did not see my wife and little girl for more than a few  hours each day for a two of three days in a row. For me that is how I gauge ‘extra’. I believe that there will always be more to do and my list can become endless if I am not careful. Whether you are single, married or your kids are out of the nest, you need to define for yourself what ‘extra’ looks like. 

‘Extra’ over time becomes ‘extreme’. In other words, it’s ok to have those seasons where it is busy and there are maybe some big events and trips to work on. However, extra become extreme when our times with God and family are stretched over a few weeks or months. When the extra times turn into the extreme, we spend less time with God and more time managing on our own strength. When extra turns into the extreme we spend less time with family and friends and the ones we love feel cheated by ministry. This is why I try to ‘buy back’ these times. 

For me, buying back time is about recognizing these seasons and embracing the busyness with a plan to spend good time with God and the family within that season. For example, I am in one of those seasons now. We are recruiting a new wave of volunteers and we are about to move into a new facility and change things up quite a bit. Therefore, after my last meeting at noon today, I intend to buy back time from my loaded schedule this week. 

What does this look like? Simply put, it is about being intentional to spend time with God and my family this afternoon and this evening. I was intentional about blocking time out this week to do so. I have nothing planned for Saturday and my whole day is centered around time with the family. 

This might not sound like rocket science, but I know how easy it is to justify working the whole day today and doing some more admin on Saturday morning. However, for me, it takes discipline to block out my schedule to ‘buy back’ what God and my family has ‘lost’ this week? 

On a final note: Does this mean that I completely neglected God and my family this week? Nope… just been a little busier doing the ‘extra’ stuff and I want to make sure that the extra stuff over time does not become the ‘extreme’…

How do you buy back time in your schedule? 

Phil <><

What’s Most Important when in gets Messy?

I just got back from NYMC conference on Monday feeling refreshed and very inspired by what I learned and experienced. If you are like me, it’s hard to get away for conferences, vacations, etc, because in the back of my mind I am always wondering what I will be missing and coming back to.

Fortunately, I have some great volunteers who have been partnering with me in ministry for a while now, so I  don’t usually come back to a catastrophe. However, no matter how much I  get done before I leave, there are always emails, voicemail, new tasks and the ‘usual’ week to get back to. For me, all the catch up can make for a ‘messy’ week and it is easy to lose focus in the midst of it all. At these times, it’s easy to get swallowed up by the latest email, or the ‘urgent’ voicemails people have left me… 

So what do I try to do? Here’s what I have learned over the years: 

1) Embrace this Reality: That given a couple of weeks, (or less), you will be caught up. It’s path of the course. It helps to realise that the pressure I feel today with all the added admin and volume of voicemail will only be for a while… It helps because if we do not relax with the idea that we will naturally catch up, we will think we have to pour our energies into these items today. (Note: we need to also embrace the reality that admin is a part of ministry, and will always be there. Therefore, when I say we will be ‘caught up’ I don’t mean it’s ALL done)…

2) Commit to Quiet Times: Everyone in the world might think that their voicemail is the most important, or that their email needs urgent attention, or the plan that has been on their mind for the last 5 days should have been on your radar during that time too. AND, if I we are honest,  we have our own agendas and lists too, don’t we! This is why we cannot short cut our quiet times. For me, even if I am not getting the deepest Bible study accomplished I cannot short cut my quiet time. Instead of being led by the stress and schedule, I try to seek God out of silence and solitude. 

3) Commit to Contact Time: No matter how busy I get, I always maintain certain ‘blocks’ of time for contact with students and my leaders. Busyness is the enemy of relationships and I must make sure that I have certain default times to get together with the people I am ministering to. For myself personally, I have had periods in the past where I have gone weeks without good connection outside of our programs all because I was consumed with admin and organization. In the short term I get stuff done, but in the longer term I am ineffective due to a distance people feel. I must connect in community because students and leaders will follow someone who knows them… Not someone gets stuff done… 

How do you prioritize when you are busy? What defaults do you have set in place? What areas do you struggle to keep focused on?

Hilarious Videos Part II – NYMC 2009

Here’s another video from National Youth Ministry Conference.  Just goes to show that us youthworkers can be creative!

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