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How to Build a Youth Ministry Fan Base

Once any of us have been in a church for more than a year it becomes very apparent that the honeymoon is well and truly over. People are starting to discover that we have faults and failings. We’ve already stained the new carpet with paintball. Or we might have shown a video clip in church that had a cuss word in it. (Actually, I have never done that… I have tended to leave that to my lead pastor… he’s done that twice)!

The fact is, give it time and people get to see that you are not one of the Apostles and that you don’t stay awake 24 hours a day, and that you are not the answer they were looking for in a youthworker. It’s in these situations that you and I need to build what I call a ‘youth ministry fan base’.

A fan base is not an ego boost… The fan base are the people who have your back, who know you, who understand you vision, who see you and accept you for who you are. Our fan base will not only keep us encouraged, but will also keep us in healthy accountability. The fan base are the ones who speak for you at a church meeting or when a parent is concerned about you and their kids. The fan base can be the difference between short-lived ministry and a healthy long one. So how do I work on my ‘fan base’

1) Invest in the Leaders. Choose 4 or 5 influential people at your church, (in leadership or simply influential). Take them out for coffee and find out about them, ask them about their hopes and dreams for the church. Ask them how someone like you and I could do well there. Then, at the end of your time together, ask them if you can share your vision and dreams … (You will be surprised how your vision might be restated by someone like this at opportune time).

2) Invest in Parents. Parents need to be heard and need to know that we care. They need to know that we are reaffirming what they say at home to their kids. They only know we care if  we take time out. On a typical evening you will see that I spend 50% of my time talking to parents at the end of the program. These conversations are valuable to understand families and their dynamics, but also to build trust with parents. Here’s the other upside… some of those parents become your leaders, event planners, and food providers too. Hopefully, they are blessed, but so are our ministries.

3) Invest through the Generations. At my last church we had quite a large number of shall we say, ‘older folks’ who seemed to struggle with teenagers. (I am sure your church has similar issues). However, I quickly learned that it was important to seek out a few influential pensioners who could become ‘youth ministry fans’. It was just a question of taking time to talk with them about what the students were up to and what issues these kids face today. It’s amazing to see the walls come down when you share stories of kids joys and challenges to older folks. You see, it’s a lot harder to judge when you heart is hurting for kids…

4) The ‘Up Front’ Strategy. Work with you pastor and leadership to be ‘up front’ as often as your schedule allows, even if it is for the announcements on Sunday, or helping with a kids message. Whatever way you can, it pays to let people see you. At my current church I preach every couple of months, (it used to be every 5-6 weeks), and I regularly do announcements. Even if I am not doing either, you will always see me on the door greeting people as they leave. Even if I don’t feel like I know everyone, I have found that people feel connected with me because I am up front a quite a lot. When people feel like they know you, it’s harder for them to be a critic. Be strategic about being up front. 

More ‘Fan Base’ Ideas to come…

Phil <><

Building a Good Foundation

img_85181My church began just over 5 years ago with 30 people in a backyard of my pastors house. Since then we have met at 4 different locations (one house and 3 schools), as we have seen good growth occur. The student ministry program too has met in 3 different locations (houses and rented facilities), and has had to ‘set up’ and ‘tear down’ every week just like ‘big church’ does. In March, all that changes for us… 

That’s when we get to move into a renovated office/warehouse building that will become our permanent home for church and student ministry. We never originally thought that we would buy and renovate so soon, but, being in Southeast Michigan we have seen many businesses move away and this facility was a great opportunity for us…

As we build and renovate this facility I have learned that 5 years of not having a full-time facility has allowed us to focus more on the people and less on a building. Sure, we have a place to meet and we have to set up and tear down every week, but the reality is that we cannot keep up with some of the amazing things that other churches do. Instead we have been forced to think and act simply. The results are: strong relationships with students, healthy growth in depth and numbers, and many many students who have been recruited to do ministry in a church plant situation. 

Someone once said, (I don’t have much of brain to remember who), that planting a church is like trying to build an airplane as it is rolling down the runway for take-off. I think that is a good analogy! Can you visualize what that might look like? I can right now… a bunch of guys and gals frantically working to put the pieces together that will ensure a safe takeoff… Can you imagine the urgency on their faces as they bolt things together?  

But here’s my question: 

What are their priorities to get done first? 

The most important things? 

Do you think they worry about the video system in the plane, or the comfort of the seats, or the color of the interior? Nope… They are concerned with getting the plane to take-off safely, (and of course), land safely too :o )

Being in a church plant has forced me to consider what matters most as I partner with great leaders to build a ministry. But it hasn’t always been this way… If you are like me, I have ministered at churches where I have got hung up on stuff that was not so important. Stuff that could best be described as ‘youth ministry fluff’. I have to confess that I have often spent too much time comparing my youth room with another church, or wishing I had more stuff or better space etc… Are you like me? Come on… let’s be honest :o )

In my time here so far, I have been blessed to see that ‘stuff’ and ‘facilities’ only go so far to reaching and keeping students coming. What they desire (and need), goes so much deeper. I am so thankful for learning this lesson, and it is my goal to keep reminding myself of this as we move in March. 

I hope this is an encouragement to you as you reach and equip students. I hope you can relax and invest in what matters most and build a solid foundation wherever you are.

It’s ok to kick back sometimes.

January 4th = The night before school gets back in the swing of things… Or a night when families are not back in the swing of things… 

Every year for the last few years I notice that attendance is down this weekend of the year for our high school program ‘EDGE’. On weeks like this I am concluding it’s ok (and better)  to use this to our advantage.

Rather than have a huge kick off and be dissapointed by turn out etc, I find it’s ok to accept what is going to be, and change up what we do a little. On nights like this we make them a ‘connections night’ where we have extended worship, more hang out time and we are intentional about having lots of varying games opportunities. We also have a message, but brief and to the point.

This is what we find happens:  The students actually seem to make the most of the relaxed atmosphere and  seem to connect real well with each other. But here’s another insight I saw tonight: Since we have less in the program schedule, the leaders have less programming to do and therefore spend more time with the students simply connecting.

In the last 6 months or so we have been intentional about creating these connections nights and it has really paid dividends for us. It has also been to good to mix up the pace for our leaders. They too need a night where they can focus on talking, laughing and praying with these students and not programming so much. As our students get used to these nights, they have also become a place where students know they can invite a friend to EDGE as a ‘first base’ event and then step into the usual program the week after… I wish I could say we planned that… we didn’t. 

Our typical ‘flow’ of what we do looks like this: 

Series kick off (big elements including band covers, videos etc)

3-4 week series. 

Connections Night

Back to series kick off…


Phil <><

Ministry can be like chasing cheese!

Do you ever feel like ministry is like trying to chase cheese down a hill? It’s like you always have something more to do, always another student to meet with, another leader to train, another message to write… Or the church toilet to clean (after the middle school lock-in), the website to update, a boring church meeting to attend… you name it, it’s always a busy time in youth ministry.

So what do ya do when it gets crazy and busy? Here’s what I am learning to do: 

Two books have influenced me in the last few years that have been huge in discerning how to ‘get down the hill’ of ministry safely: 

1) What Matters Most by Doug Fields (pick it up at ). When you discover what is most important in life and ministry, you are able to let the cheese roll away and not have to chase it. In other words, there will always be more to do and the reality is you can’t get it all done. You can either chase like crazy and not get it done anyways, (and in the process compromise your walk with God and your family), or you can take time out to discern what is truly important and ensure that these things get most of your energy, while less important things get delegated or put on the back burner. Doing this gives me great confidence to say, “great opportunity, but if I say yes to it, I will be saying no to something more important”. 

2) Eat That Frog,  by Brian Tracy: This book is practical and helps me in priorities and ensures that the ‘big frogs’ or the most important and challenging things get done first. It outlines practical steps that I can take to be organized. To say, “oh, I’m a youth worker and all youth workers are disorganized” is a cop out… that does not have to be true. And my effectiveness is tied to my planning and organization.

Nothing happens unless I am intentional… great events of tomorrow are planned today. 

Happy Reading 


I’d be dead without Volunteers.

roadkillThis morning I am meeting Sara and Nancy for coffee, and later I am meeting Jeremy for lunch. All three of them are great volunteers in our youth program, but they have also become great friends in the last couple of years. In ministry, these are the kind of people I would be dead without! They not only produce amazing things at our events and programs, but they are the kind of people who every youthworker needs to hang in for the long haul. 

For me, the key to getting and keeping volunteers like this has been very intentional in how I meet with them and how we do life together. Here’s 5 things I do with all my volunteers: 


1) Large Leaders Meeting – Every two months: This is to celebrate victories, cast vision about why we do what we do, take a look at what is coming up in the big picture and pray for our kids. (I sometimes bring a load of postcards so leaders can write their kids as they pray for them. (When I say ‘their’ kids, I mean the ones that they have in a small group)… We always try to meet at the house of one of my leaders (it’s big house), and have snacks and drinks to make it laid back. (We could meet at the church, but I want it to me more like a party than a meeting)!

2) Individual Meetings: On an ongoing basis, I try to meet with all my main leaders at least once every two months for a coffee and catch up. I split an hour meeting into three ‘C’s. First, I ‘Check Up’. How are you doing personally? How is your walk with God etc. The second ‘C’ is: ‘Cast Vision’ – What do I need to say that will restate or refocus why we do what we do? Finally, the last ‘C’ is to ‘Communicate Details’: What events, details or changes do they need to know about?  

3) Key Leader Meetings: ’Key Leaders’ are leaders who oversee a certain area in our programs. These are the people I often meet with at least monthly. This time includes, planning and implementing what is coming up. 

4) Emails – once a week:  This is how I communicate the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what we are doing. Schedule, events, details of program are emailed to leaders and are we have a calendar and events page online with specifics. 

5) Quarterly Fun Events: Events at my house, BBQ’s, Christmas party, Wii nights etc… All designed to build community and relax

Phil <><

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