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Promo for the Fall

These last two weeks I have been looking and planning for the Fall, (yes call me crazy or call me British – I like to plan this far out). In addition, I got an email this week from a good youth ministry friend who was asking how I promote events for the Fall etc. Here is his question: 

hey. i’m working through some modifications for next fall, and one of the things I’m looking at a lot is publicity & communication with parents and students. I looked at your blog on stuff for parents, but was curious how you publicize stuff to your students. handouts? mailings? facebook? emails? a little of everything? just curious? 

I am sure that there are some much more innovative ways out there, but the following are what work for our ministry right now mainly because they are simple, sustainable and effective. We employ all these ways to promo for events and series kick offs. One way cannot work on it’s own. I find that many ‘hits’ work to get the message out there: 

mission_impossible_postcard_front11) Series Kick Off Postcards (2 weeks before): For our Fall Kick-Off series (and our January kick off), we send out some pretty awesome 5 x 7 postcards to every student on our mailing list, (we are very intentional in getting all their info). The postcards have been designed in one of two ways: First, I have a friend who is a graphic designer and he currently designs our stuff for free, (awesome I know). Second, some of the curriculum’s out there (like SYM and XP3) offer postcards and graphics you can customize yourself. However, I prefer to make it our own. This postcard, ‘Mission Impossible’ started out life as ‘Impossible for God’ from Simply Youth Ministry.

2) Facebook Group /Event Invite (10 days before): Probably the most effective current way to invite students to events and kick offs. We promo our facebook group quite a bit, but we also have many of our students who forward the invite to their friends. 

3) Text Messages (1 week and then again 1 day before): We have many of our students (and parents) signed up for this. I currently used Simply Youth Ministry’s text service (which is basically I love using this and I find that many students will text me back with questions, so it become quite interactive… 

4) Emails (10 days before): Again, we are very intentional about getting emails and contact info. Although email is an ‘old mode’ of communication for students, I find that a number of them still use email quite a bit. They might not check it regularly, so get the info out well in advance. 

5) Blog and Video Announcements (updated two weeks before): Rather than having a traditional website for our student ministry, we have a wordpress blog that we can update and change quickly and easily. It also allows us to upload video announcements which create much more interest than usual. I use my flip camera for quick updates, and I have a great leader who is awesome and creating good ‘trailers’

That’s what we do. Like I said… simple, sustainable and effective. If you have some good ideas, I would love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment. 

Phil <><

Tips for New and Transitioning Youth Workers

Here’s an interview I did with at the National Youth Ministry Conference back in February. I am constantly having to refocus and remind myself how to keep ministry sustainable, simple and effective. Maybe this is a good reminder for you too? 

Tim is a great youth worker has an incredible youth ministry blog with loads of tips, ideas, resources, interviews, videos… the whole enchilada! Check it out at

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 <><

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 <><

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 <><

Sitting on the Steps…

Do you ever feel like you are constantly digging to find new ways to connect with students or find ways to get them on board with a message idea? Do you ever wonder if they are connecting with a youth leader who might seem ancient to them? (That’s you and me by the way). I think we all feel like that at times! I think to some degree there is some truth to the ancient feeling. However, in the next couple of days, I want to talk about some helpful ways that I have been learning to overcome this problem. Today, I want to talk about the best kind of message preparation you and can make… but first: 

The Reality

If we are out of college and over the age of 22, I believe that many students will look at us as being ‘out of touch’ with them and their peers. Perhaps they feel like we do not  understand their issues? However, I also hold fast to the truth that students will let you into their lives when they see a consistent love and care for them. When we speak, the best hours of preperation may not be in the message material itself, I believe it is the preparation we do when we invest in getting to know students and their lives…

When we stand in front of them, they will subconsciously know if you and I understand them well enough to address the issues in their lives. Because of this fact, we cannot short cut our relational time with them. If you have read ‘Hurt’ by , he speaks about the research he did at a school where he would sit and observe (and listen) to students. He found that students have their own world that adults are not party to. As he spent time and ‘sat at the steps’ of their world he slowly began to have conversations with them and discover a clearer picture of their inner teenage world. It took time…

In a similar way, as youthworkers, we need to sit at their steps and listen and learn. When students know that we understand their issues and that we care about them, they are more likely to listen to the truth that they desperately need to hear. 

Sometimes we think we need to put more hours into making our message ‘dyanamic’ and ‘catchy’, where in fact, we need to do our message prep by spending more time with our audience. We need to spend more time being their audience. We need to tune into their world and let them know we are following their story. Maybe then, they will tune into God’s truth that you and I deliver? 

Three Things I do to help me ‘Sit on the Steps of their World’ 

1) Ask Good Questions: I am always asking questions about them, their week, their friends and their opinions on events. I often use the phrase, “help me understand this..”, (even when I think I already do). I also use phrases like, “what do you think adults misunderstand about you guys”?  I find that so many adults want to tell kids what they need to know before they ask what they need to know… get it? 

2) Get into their World: As a youthworker we should all be reading and understanding the latest trends etc.   has a lot of great articles and updates that I find very helpful. I also try to watch what students are watching on TV and surf where they surf online too. This is helpful. However, I find that getting into their world happens best if I show up to their world. Planning a lunch, going to a game or school play sends a powerful message to the students we are trying to reach, but it is also a great opportunity to learn about students in their world. 

3) Meet with Them: No matter how big our ministry has become, I always maintain how important it is that the lead youthworker still meets with students regularly. When we do this, we send the message to students and their friends, that we care enough to meet with them. When I meet with them, I always ask them honestly, “how is our student ministry helping you?” I am often suprised, encouraged and challenged by the authentic responses I get at these times… Sometimes they give me my best message content…

Message Writing Format for Leaders

It’s imperative that we step aside and let leaders speak, but it’s imperative that we also give our leaders the tools to do so. I have found that coming up with a basic message writing format really helps me, as well as my leaders. Here’s a format that I have developed from guys like Andy Stanley and Doug Fields: 

Giving a message is like taking a flight and going on a journey somewhere…brit-plane2

TAKE OFF: Intro/Grab Attention/Get students on board. 

Just like a plane on take off, most of the thrust and power goes into the getting the plane off the ground. Without a good thrust, you will run out of runway. In the same way, no matter how great our message content is, if we are unable to grab attention and get kids ‘on board’ and ‘take off’ with an idea, we will run out of ‘runway’ quickly. What media, drama, or special element will help us take off?

TOPIC: What issue do students face? What problem are you presenting? 

TRUST: How have you struggled in this area. How do you relate to this problem? (It’s important that students can sense that we are on the journey with them, and that you have or have had struggles in this area). 

TRANSITION: One sentence that takes us ‘above the clouds’ of the problem and transitions us into clarity of God’s answer. Example: How can you and I deal with this issue in our lives? It’s a good job God didn’t leave us in the dark. Let’s take a look at God’s Word and figure this out…

WORD: This is where we draw out God’s truths for students. Usually I try to break down this part into the following: i. Context – What was happening at the time.  ii. Characters – Who are the people being addressed or written about. iii. Our context – How does this apply to us today. iv. Why is this important for us to understand? Remember to ensure that we pick a passage that addresses the issue that was raised at the beginning. It’s easy to take students on unnecessary diversions by focusing on every detail of the passage. Try to stay with the big idea. 

WHAT IF: As we begin to descend to ‘land the plane’ it’s important to ask the question, What if you and I were to live this truth out in our lives… what would our lives look like? What would our decisions be like? What would our relationships look like? It’s important that we begin to give them a runway to land on with us. So that they can visualize the vision God has for them. Just like a pilot can see the certainty and safety of the landing lights of a runway, students need to see the certainty of how living out these truths will impact their lives… Without the “What if “questions, we are asking students to land in the fog…

WHAT NOW: What steps can students take to live out these truths? 

As they ‘disembark’ do they know where they are going this week? Just like passengers need directions once they get to the airport terminal, so students need further steps they can can as they navigate through their week. What specific steps can we give them to take that will help them start living out the truth they have just heard? 

This is the basic way I have shared with my leaders to help them take students on a journey. It helps to give them a natural and normal format to follow and gives them a starting point in their message journey and gives them an easy ‘landing’. Try and tweak it for yourself?

Step aside and let leaders Speak

If you knew that you could make changes in your ministry to present God’s truth to students more effectively, would you make them?  Seems like a no brainer right? One of the best ways to present God’s truth more effectively is to step aside and let other leaders speak…

Why is that so difficult for some of us?  Let’s be honest, if you are like me,  it’s very easy to come up with reasons for not making use of volunteers in this way…

First, it’s easy to conclude that their volunteer status equals poor messages… Not true. 

Second, it could mean that we have to plan far in advance… Not easy for some of us!

Third, after we have met with the leader and walked them through the message,  we could have written it ourselves in less time… This is true, but would it be more effective? 

All seem like compelling reasons?  However, here’s why it is imperative to to invest, equip, and empower our volunteers to give messages: 

1) They are Different: As hard as this is to admit, students in our ministries will tune us out week after week. No matter how dynamic we are,  kids will naturally tune us out.  I have a British accent and my youth ministry friends say I could talk about anything and it would be interesting… I wish!  I tell them, yes, the new kids love it… (if they can understand me at first), but give them a few months and it’s old!  Our leaders are a different face, have a different style, and different ways of thinking through things… Your students have different learning styles and different ways to think through things too… We cannot cover the whole ‘bandwidth’ of students personalities and learning styles on our own. 

2) Planning Pays Off Volunteers will present poorly if we give them short notice… When we plan ahead in a series, we can give leaders 4-6 weeks to think and work on a message.  Leaders perform better when they have time to pray and think through their message. If we are not planning this far ahead, we are not helping our leaders succeed. 

3) Investment  Pays Off. Recently two leaders gave messages for me and I have invested hours of time into both of them. They both have good communication skills and a strong faith and these most recent messages were the best I have seen them give. We would all agree that their first messages were shaky and not as concise as they could be, (do you remember your first message?) Investment pays off as we take time to encourage, tweak and improve their skills. 

4) Get the Night off and Lead: When a leader gives the message for me and I am able to take the night off from speaking, I am able to lead better. I can step back and assess the program from a different vantage point and see tweaks we need to make that I would not normally see.  Finally, I can invest more relational time with leaders and students. It’s great for students and leaders to see us laughing and being a part of the group in a different way…

Is it time to step aside and let leaders speak? 

Phil <><

Building a Youth Ministry Fan Base – Part II

A few days ago I talked about the importance of building a youth ministry ‘fan base’. The premise is this: All of us in youth ministry will get through the honeymoon of ministry when those around us realize that we are not one of the Apostles (or even better, Jesus). Give us a year and we realize there are people in church who  have concluded that our  ministry is heading in the wrong direction. Or, you and I have made some mistakes that are very apparent and we have to make good of them. It’s at these times when we need gracious people who know us and our hearts. It’s in these times we need youth ministry fans…

So, how do you and I allow people at our churches to have a better perspective of our ministry and ultimately each of us as individuals? How do we ‘allow’ people to be more gracious with us, more than they were with the previous youth worker? It helps to be building a youth ministry fan base (See previous post, ‘How to Build a Youth Ministry Fan Base’)

First, I want to be clear that our goal should not to focus on trying to manipulate or become everyone ‘fake best friend’. What I am talking about is realizing that there are some healthy things we can do to supplement what we are trying to implement. Implementing our ideas without the supplement of ‘fan base building’ will become a detriment. 

Here’s some further ideas: 

1) Serve People in your Church. An effective way to build bridges and promote your wonderful students in your ministry is to be intentional about planning some service type events that bless people in your church. We try to do ‘Serve Team’ projects once a month which are aimed at blessing our community by showing God’s love in practical ways. At the same time, we try to find a few people in our church we can help or visit during that event. You will be surprized at how much the youth ministry will be promoted positively by those people inside and outside your church. Example: Before Christmas, we took our middle school kids Christmas carolling. We were inentional about going to some families at our church who needed the ‘blessing’ of middle school kids singing to them. I heard a lot of favorable comments from a number of people. 

2) Look out for your Pastor. As youthworkers it is imperative that we ‘lead up’ by always having the back of our lead pastor and other ministry staff. When we are team players who cover our team and supports them, we will see the same support extended to us. Note: I have seen and been apart of teams where everyone is for themselves. It’s tempting to fall into the mold too… In these cases you will build trust with insecure team members and you might just change the environment. Whether or not we do see fruit from this… We must do it since it is the best and right thing to do.

3) Do jobs Outside of your Job Description from time to time. Again, so many larger churches, (and smaller ones too) can easily live in silos where we only care for our own area. I am learning that building a fan base, (as well as good friends in ministry), happens when I agree to do jobs or tasks that are outside of job description from time to time. Things like, helping out the kids ministry with a message, or helping to update the website for your church, or preaching once in a while to give your pastor a week off (I currently preach every 6-8 weeks). Or even things like ‘talking up’ other ministries and helping them recruit volunteers. Note: Be careful not to become the doormat who gets asked to do EVERYTHING, but, make sure you don’t live in a silo either!

Finally, and most importantly, be a God pleaser above all else…

Building a youth ministry fan base is important, but it can go very wrong if we do not start with pleasing God first. We might become people pleasers who stretch ourselves too far by being the doormat of church ministry. Make sure that you are sensible with your time and bridge building. 

Any other ideas for building a youth ministry fan base?

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