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A Good Reason to Cancel Sunday School In Your Youth Ministry?

Is it possible that canceling ’Sunday School’ for your youth ministry once a month can actually help your students develop a stronger faith and connection with your church? Well, apparently this is true. According to a gigantic study by , two of the greatest indicators for a life-long faith after high school include: 1) Being a regular part of church worship services 2) Serving within the church. For many of us who have a Sunday morning student ministry program, we are aware that many of our students only attend our student specific programs, and there is the potential that they will hardly ever serve in church or attend regular services.

This could be a detriment to their faith walk… Continue Reading…

Mission Trip Fundraisers – Are Car Washes A Bad Idea?

Just this week my good mate Brit, (I like his name), wrote a post concerning the disparity of car washes collecting money compared to the homeless not being allowed to collect money on the streets. It’s a great post, you can read it .

Well, here’s the deal, Brit’s post really got me thinking about car washes that many of us do to raise money for our missions trips. As Brit’s post communicated,

“I know we have a panhandler and then you have a fundraiser… but why is one who is in need forced to move on, while others who are desiring something more (new skirts, new trumpets, new shoes, bus to go on a mission trip) they can wave their signs and get hand outs.”

Continue Reading…

Helping Students Navigate Through Tragedy

T.J. was one of those kids every parent prayed for. At 16 years old, he was strong in his faith, passionate about the mission field, full of joy, and a real practical joker. T.J. was a student who had been at our church for years and was loved by many!

This past September, while on his way to church with friends, tragedy struck. Who would have thought that a car full of Christian teens would have ended up in a wreck, taking the life of T.J.? After receiving a call with the shocking news, I prayed for God to give me the wisdom to help T.J’s family, students and leaders navigate through this tragedy. Here is what I have been learning in the last few months.

Continue reading at


Transitioning in Youth Ministry: In Transit – Tim Ciccone

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A few weeks back, I posted a book review about In Transit – A Youth Workers Guide to Navigating a New Beginning, by Tim Ciccone. This week I came across a video interview of Tim explaining the book a little more. If you are considering making a transition, this book is a must read that will help you finish well and begin strong.

You can follow Tim on or check out his website: 




Love Wins? Teaching Students How to Deal with Conflict?

If you are on twitter regularly and follow some of the well known theologians and church leaders, you would not have been able to escape the major trending topic from last weekend. For now, I don’t even want to mention names, only to say that a certain pastor, writer and speaker,  was the number trending topic in the U.S.A on Saturday evening.

Why all the talk and trending?

This pastor has a book coming out soon and has an accompanying video promo for the book. But, why all the fuss? Well, without reading the book, but watching the video promotion, some prominent church leaders and theologians were quick to attack the theology of this individual… Before we knew it, this guy was a top trending topic as many of us debated, commented, and attacked the theology of the video promo (and probably many of his past best sellers).

Now, let me be clear, I am not here to give an opinion (and I do have an opinion about the matter). However, I want to address the way church leaders went about voicing their disdain. I also want to tie this into our youth ministry world as I think it means everything to understand the ramifications for the future of our students and the church…

1) Is Twitter Really A Place for the Pillars of our Church to Criticize other Church Leaders? Whether we like it or not, this guy is a pastor of a prominent church and still represents the Bride of Christ. Is it right for us to air our “dirty laundry” in public like this? Could there have been a different way? Is it more about “being right” or is more important to protect the Bride of Christ?

2) Being Too Quick to Attack Only Devalues the Message. To be honest, a big part of me was thinking, “come on guys, you have not even read the book and you obviously have an agenda concerning this guy.” Instead of listening to the arguments, I was just ticked that judgments were being made without good explanation… The argument became devalued since their judgment seemed premature…

3) If we have a Problem with False Teaching, isn’t it better to Deal with the False Teaching rather than the Individual? If we genuinely have an issue with someone’s theology, isn’t better to address the error of teaching than attack the individual? Focusing too much on an individual can make a blurry argument. False teachers will come and go, but false teaching itself is our real problem.

4) If we have a Place of Leadership, we must Consider the Ramifications of our Comments. I am deeply concerned by the actions of some prominent figures in the church who I had respected for years. Their place of leadership in the church directs the thoughts and ideas of so many. Instead of following Matthew 18 when dealing with disagreement, their public comments created a frenzy of debates and attacks within the church… Not so good.

So, how does this all relate to Youth Ministry?

1) As Leaders, We Must Consider Our Speech And Actions In Every Domain. Our students are watching us and are following our lead. When they see and hear us gossiping and attacking others in the church, they will likely follow suit. Consider your church today; How many comments and attacks come from grown ups who once were in our youth ministries?

2) We Must Be Careful What We Post. Students, parents, leaders, and friends are watching our tweets and Facebook updates more than we know. Why? They look to us for leadership and direction and want to get the inside track on how to follow Jesus. Nearly every week a parent or student comments to me about something I posted. Therefore, we must consider the implications of every post and comment. If you are like me, I lost a lot of respect for certain church leaders last weekend and it’s vital that our followers do not lose respect for us. More importantly, it means everything that our comments do not take people away from our Savior.

3) As Leaders We Must Teach And Model Healthy Conflict and Disagreement.

Matthew 18 could not be clearer:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Matthew 18: 15-16

In our churches and youth ministries we must teach and model healthy conflict. Not only should students see us following Matthew 18, but we should constantly remind them that this is the best option Jesus gives for dealing with disagreements in the church. Too often students learn from the church to gossip, get back, or hold on to hurt. It’s important that students in the teen years are challenged and encouraged to learn God’s way of dealing with conflict.

Finally, how are we doing in this area personally? How are we dealing with conflict in our churches? What areas can you and I work on this week? Let’s be real honest, it’s easy for me point to the twitter debate from the weekend, but it means everything that I examine my own actions above all. We might not post opinions and attack individuals publicly on twitter, but how often are we doing so in our churches?


Last week I talked about “Listening” as being a key to healthy and successful ministry. This week I want to looked at an area of youth ministry which should be a given, but I often feel is greatly overlooked: Ownership…

Ever hear leaders say, “Sometimes it is easier to do it yourself”? In student ministry, I think it is ALWAYS easier to do it yourself. And as leaders of ministries, that is often exactly what we do don’t we? Things get done, events get planned, programs run smoothly… But is that a good thing?

While we might be running an organized and well executed ministry, I think it is better to run a ministry that has potential to have, “holes all over the place” if it means we are giving students ownership of what is happening. In the short-term it can be messy, but in the long-term, there is a greater reward for the students we minister to…

1) Students Belong: The greatest need I see in every student  is the sense that they belong somewhere or to something. Giving them a sense of ownership and walking alongside them builds confidence, allows them to learn in safe way, and most of all, they feel like they belong. If students don’t feel the sense of ownership through belonging, I have seen that one or two things can happen. First, they might not stick around… Second, they will quickly become spectators instead of owners. Spectators can often turn into critics…

2) Students Become Long-Term Leaders: I am convinced that the likelihood of students being committed to a church (and having a strong faith), after high school is hugely dependent on how they learn to lead while they are in our ministries. It is imperative that they not only discover their gifts, but they are able to put them into action in a safe environment of a student ministry. More than that, it is imperative that students find avenues to lead and contribute to the overall church and minister alongside all kinds of people. If however, students only ever serve within a student ministry, is it any wonder that the transition from high school into ‘regular church’ is tough? Therefore, it’s important that students lead and serve in our ministries as well as with people in ‘big church’ that they might not normally come into contact with…

3) Ownership Builds Numerical Growth: I will never forget reading about Billy Graham’s incredible ability to predict the turn out of one of his huge gatherings back in the 80′s. People were amazed at how he could accurately predict how many people would come to an event. When asked how he could know, (thinking that maybe God had spoken to him personally), he shared his simple formula: First, he  found out how many people were involved with the planning and production of the event. Second, he would multiply that number by a figure he had come up with through years of observing attendance. The greater the people involved, the greater the number attending. In other words, the greater the number having ownership, the greater of people who will come…

Note: While numerical growth is not the goal, it certainly will become the fruit of having a healthy ministry that builds ownership into it’s DNA.

Therefore, not only is ownership crucial for helping students to belong and become, they are also used to build the ministry they are in… The hope is that new students would plug in and find faith and the same sense of ownership.

My next step is to ‘steal’ a series idea from , where he has students lead a whole message series called, “You Own the Weekend”. This is a great way to build ownership for students. Check out Josh’s blog for how he does this…

Phil <><

Easter brings many new beginnings…







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 <><

‘Simple Church’ Book Review

simple-churchThis book is a MUST read for lead pastors and every youth worker. The principles, research, and conclusions in this book have the ability to transform a cluttered and visionless ministry. Practical application of the simple church principles could move our ministries from a trajectory of burnout and help us hit the target of transformation in our ministries and personal lives…

Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger begin the book refering to the ‘simple revolution’ and the move of generations toward simplicity and solid ideas without clutter. The idea is this: Successful organizations are responding to a generation of people who strive to remove clutter and seek to quickly understand how to take a next step to buy a product or buy in to a program that is clearly defined. Gone are the days of the large menu approach from many boomer driven models that sought to provide as many options to cover all their basis… Gone are the days of churches trying to do everything for every single person, group or idea. In their research they found the following: 

…simple churches are growing and vibrant. Churches with a simple process for reaching and maturing people are expanding the Kingdom… Conversely, complex churches are struggling and anemic…

The book walks through their extensive research while also giving examples of churches who follow a simple or complex model. As I read, I was struck by how so many churches try to provide so many ideas and programs that they end up have no identity.

A number of years ago, I remember being at a church where we went through the 40 days of purpose campaign. At the end of the campaign we had a ministry fair so that people could sign up to get plugged into a ministry. I remember someone commenting to me about how the church was amazing because of the 130+ ministries it provided… I began to count the weekly attendance and concluded that if EVERYONE served each week, that each ministry would have 8-10 people in it… Obviously that is not likely to happen in any church. However, I was disturbed by the fact that many of the same people served in multiple ministries… “How can that be a good thing?” I wondered. To this day, I am aware that the same church has had leadership struggles and lacks direction, and still has many programs and ministries… and ultimately has shrunk by about 50% or more… How is a large menu ministry effective?

If you see this in your church or ministry, take some time to read Simple Church and learn how you can find “Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus”. Simple church is helping me narrow my focus and process how I move unchurched students into becoming sold out followers of Jesus. Simple church is helping my leaders and parents understand quickly and simply how our process works… When it’s simple and solid, people see the vision and know how to support it. When it’s simple and solid, students know what their next step is….

Hope you get a chance to read it…. 

My next book: ‘IT’ By Craig Groeshel. 

Phil <><

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.