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Simple But Effective Training for Volunteers – Part 1: Time

I love my volunteer youth leaders! They give up their evening and weekends for some of the most craziest stuff in youth ministry. Recently, I was able to spend a weekend at with some of them. The conference was a great opportunity to get feedback and evaluate how they were growing. Ultimately, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to consider how I was helping them to grow into their leadership and effectiveness as youth leaders.

The big takeaway for me was this: Effective training is better when it is simple, memorable, and practical. Volunteers are busy and have many to plates to spin. It’s better to give them small steps or give them small bites to chew on. Over time, I am finding the small steps add up to significant impact!

As we consider the simple, memorable and practical principle, here are some training I will be giving my volunteers about how best to use their time to impact students lives. (This is something a learned a while back from one of books):  Continue Reading…

Family Focused Student Ministry – Part 3: Volunteers

In my previous post I talked about how a successful ministry goes hand in hand with a leaders who care well for their own family. Today I want to talk about the importance of caring well for volunteer leaders and supporting a healthy family focus for them too. Many of them work full-time, or have teenagers of their own and busy lives. Therefore, it’s imperative that I create an environment that is conducive to healthy family ministry for them too…

I could start by telling you what I do to promote a healthy family focus for my leaders, but I will let some of them start by telling you instead: Continue Reading…

Family Focused Student Ministry – Part 1

Today I am beginning a five-part series on family focused student ministries. In the last few years I have intentionally changed my focus of ministry to focus on the family as a whole. Here’s why:

Every student that we see in our ministry is part of a family system and is impacted by the health of their family. Given that we typically will have only a few hours a week of contact time with our students, I have had to realize that my impact on my students is greater when I can impact and support the whole family.

In addition, students value relationships and family more than ever. Many of them have been raised in a world of broken families or have seen the impact the of broken families in their friends. Out of this brokenness, they are desperate for answers as they look to their future. Therefore, it is imperative that we not only look to support their families with healthy family focused ministry, but we also look for ways to model healthy family through our own lives as volunteers and paid youth workers.

In the next four days I will take a look at how I am attempting to model and support healthy family ministry for myself, my volunteer leaders, my students parents, and for my students. I don’t claim to have all the answers, I am simply on a journey to discover the answers. Here is a snapshot of where I am going this week:

For Me: In 1 Timothy 3 Paul gives Timothy the charge of calling overseers and deacons. He insists, “if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church”? In the same way, as a church leader, I have to realize that healthy family ministry starts with me and how I model health for students and their families. It’s crucial that I understand how my ministry will reflect my own life and family…

For My Volunteer Leaders: My volunteers have families and are an example to our students on a weekly basis. Many of them work full-time, or have teenagers of their own. The time they volunteer in student ministry is over and above their work week, is over and above their family time, and ultimately takes them away from their families. Therefore, it’s imperative that I create an environment that is conducive to healthy family ministry for them…

For My Parents: Families are busy, stretched, and stressed. Everything I do must be intentional about helping families – not hurting them. The way I schedule, the way I communicate, and the way individually support parents should be a passage to helping them (and ultimately helping their kids). Again, if I can impact parents positively, I am helping my students for the long-term. If however, I choose to lead a silo ministry that runs incredible programs, I might feel like I am helping students, but in reality I am not.

For My Students: Many of the students in our ministries come from broken homes or difficult situations. Statistically many of them are living with only one parent and have seen divorce. It’s important that I see the big picture of my ministry as a model to these students who need to see how a dad / husband acts and lives. In the same way, many of my students need to see how a mom / wife acts and lives through the example of my wife. It’s vital that my students get the inside scoop to myself, my wife, my kids, and the way we live… Scary thought?

In the next four days I will be exploring each area and brainstorming the ways that I currently support families and how I hope to support them in the future.

Phil <><

E-book Review: The Student Mission Trip Greenhouse

is a student leadership development ministry using trips, innovative training, and curriculum to help students identify and develop their personal leadership skills. In addition, I am amazed at how many freebies they give away to anyone who asks! What’s more, I am astounded by the quality of there latest freebie and wonder, “why don’t they sell this stuff? It’s brilliant!”

For now, I will let them figure that out, and I will tell you about The Student Mission Trip Greenhouse by

This e-book is very helpful for anyone who is in ministry full-time, part-time or volunteer, who is looking to lead a short term mission trip. The big idea behind this book is best captured by this excerpt:

The leadership principles and life lessons that can be taught on a mission trip have no rival. Yet students will only learn these principles and lessons if we are intentional about bringing them to the surface. We cannot simply hope the trip alone transforms them; we must be intentional about transformation through- out the entire process. It’s one thing to toss some seeds on the ground, hoping they take root. It’s another to cultivate the soil and provide an environment for solid growth.

Here’s some more great reasons to read this e-book

IT’S CONCISE: If you are like me, I have bought books and manuals on leading mission trips, only for them to sit on the shelf and gather dust. If I am honest, it’s often because there is too much detail in them and much of what I read is not applicable to my situation. What I love about this book is how concise it is! It’s so easy to apply the “greenhouse” principles to my setting and situation without wading through pages of information.

IT’S PRACTICAL: It’s broken down into sections that allow us to to plan, prepare and put into action the steps needed to allow my students to get the most out their missions experience. I particularly like the section on casting vision with the adult volunteers. So often, our adult volunteers are too quick to step in and take over when kids are struggling. However, it’s imperative that we cast the vision for “teachable moments”  that allow some of the best lessons to be learned by students. It’s imperative to train adult volunteers to see themselves as supporters not solvers…

IT GAVE ME A NEW LENS TO LOOK THROUGH: It’s easy to get consumed with the planning and details of a trip and not truly consider how one trip can lead to long-term transformation. Instead we are challenged to consider the “before, during, and after” of a mission trip that will bring long-term fruit. This e-book helps us to focus on the long-term outcomes and how to shape the trip (and all it’s components) toward the end goal.

Overall it’s one of the best freebies you could download.

Get this FREE e-book: – Let me know what you think?

Phil <><

Crucial Times for Youth Leaders

We don’t have to look around us to much to see that there is so much at stake in the lives of students. Whether it’s the student who is seeking God to find purpose and meaning in life, or a student who is struggling through hurt and pain, or a sold-out student who is wondering how to stay strong in their faith, we have a window of opportunity to minister to these young people. There are only so many hours and opportunities to make a difference as these students navigate challenging obstacles. Or to put it this way: Time is crucial and we must make the most of crucial times as we minister to students

Because it is likely we only have few hours a week and a few years with these students (as well as having many students to minister to), it is crucial that we use our time wisely and well. Here is what I consider to be the most effective use of my time:

1) The first fifteen minutes At our youth program, I consider the first and last fifteen minutes to be the  most important times. Often, it will be the first fifteen minutes that will communicate whether or not we really care as students arrive. It is usually the time when students are most nervous about walking into a room of students and leaders. Therefore, as leaders, even if we have not seen each other since the weekend, it is important that we do not get caught up in “leader conversations” as students arrive. Secondly, it’s important that we look out for nervous or introverted students as they arrive. You can’t take back a bad welcome…

2) The last fifteen minutes: The last fifteen minutes is often where I see students most open to God’s working in their lives. It is here where they will be most comfortable and will be processing what they have heard from the message / study. But, if you are like me, as the evening starts to wrap up, I am already thinking about evaluating what happened and begin conversations with leaders about how things went for them. However, it is important that we look to seek out students and check-in with how they are doing. It is here that we most likely to hear from their heart and be able to minister most effectively to them.

3) The next fifteen to sixty minutes: What I mean by this is the next contact time opportunity with students outside of programs and events. If you are full-time or a volunteer and have a number of students, it is often challenging to know how to reach them outside of your programs with limited time. However, I find that it is small (but impacting) times with students that make a huge difference.  Examples like:

  • Show up to the last part of a sports game if you have a busy week. (Make sure your student knows you were there).
  • Send a note in the mail. With all the modes of communication we have, I find this to be the one students love the most. Everyone loves to get mail!
  • Facebook, text, tweet! Letting students know you were praying for them, encouraging them, or just saying “hi” all go a long way to communicate care to them. Caution: Be careful of getting into deep conversations online and ensure that their parents are ok with you communicating with them this way.

I am sure you have better idea than these, and I know they are not rocket science, but I have found that so many leaders do not do these things regularly. The challenge is to realize that time is crucial and we must make the most of crucial times…

Planning – A Volunteer Perspective

Yesterday I posted about how I plan our message and series for the year. I emphasized why it is so important to pray and plan well in advance. One of the reasons is to help my leaders and students be involved the process creatively as well as give our speaking team time to prep.

In my post, I mentioned one of my leaders ‘Sara’ who speaks regularly in our large group environments. Not only is Sara a great communicator, she is an authentic and effective youth leader who has been ministering to teens for nearly a decade now. However, she is a full time mom and wife, and has her own that keeps her very busy. Yesterday Sara commented to my post and gave her perspective of why planning well in advance is helpful to her as a volunteer.

PLEASE NOTE: I hesitated to post this since I did not want anyone to think I am giving myself a high five for what I do. I felt it is important for all of us who are in the trenches full time to consider the ripple effect we have on volunteers and their effectiveness when we plan well…

One of Phil’s greatest assets as a leader is his dedication and determination to plan in advance with an openness to have to change or fly by the seat of his pants if needed. As a volunteer, I cannot tell you what a blessing this is! I am not constantly given last minute projects, spontaneous times to teach, whirlwind ideas and unnecessary crises that could have been avoided if there was good advanced planning. In Youth ministry and in any ministry frankly, we have to throw down often enough for crises, last minute emergencies or changes and there are always fun, spontaneous moments. But, to be following a leader who doesn’t plan in advance eventually becomes draining, exhausting, frustrating and frankly a complete drag since their last minute plans now become your problem when everyone is expected to drop everything in their life to make it happen. People and families get burnt. Phil leads a great example in this area and guess what one of his biggest problems is? He has more leaders than he needs! People are drawn to those who are respectful of their time, talents and families!

Message Planning

It’s been a couple of weeks away from the blogosphere for me since the summer break began. In ministry I have slowed my pace a little,  I am getting some extra time with my family, and getting jobs around the house done before the birth of our second in a couple of weeks.

Today I got together with one of my key leaders to finalize our Fall message plans and talked about some changes in the way we do our messages in our large group environments. Here’s what we do:

1) What we Teach for the Year: As I look at the year I have found that I need to consider which foundational areas students need to know and apply by the time they get to end of the school year. I wish I could say that I have developed my own system to ensure we have balance and foundation to what we teach, but I have not. Instead, I have found that ‘The Seven Checkpoints’ by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall is a great start to ensuring that what we teach throughout the year. The premise of Checkpoints is this: We are likely to get about 32 hours of teaching time per year in our large group environments. However, we cannot teach students everything that is in the Bible in that short time. Also, everything in the Bible, while being true, is not relevant to students.  Checkpoints helps us to ‘narrow our focus’ (an Andy Stanley term), and ensure that we are teaching students the most important and relevant topics. Through a typical year we hit 7 areas that we feel every student needs to know.

2) Team Teaching: Although I lead my ministry, I have found it to be important and neccesary to incorporate good communicators to teach God’s Word to students. I have to be able to admit that different students need to hear different personalities and perspectives. It is easy for students to tune out the guy who is on stage every week. I am very blessed to have one leader who has her own ministry as a speaker to teens, and I have two other leaders who I utilize often who do a great job too. Even though team teaching requires a lot time, meetings, and investment on my part, it is so worth it to see students being blessed. Even if you are a volunteer, consider who at your church might do a good job coming in to speak or lead one evening?

3) Planning Well in Advance: Planning well in advance is imperative since it allows me to ‘perculate’ ideas and themes over weeks and months. It also allows the other speakers to prepare well and be creative. They get the opportunities to draw in students and leaders into the creative process.

4) Leave Some Gaps: My experience has taught me to leave at least 4-8 weeks of teaching unplanned for the year. In other words, every Fall and Spring I try to leave an intentional gap in my series teaching so that as a ‘current need’ or topic with greater relevancy comes up, we can be flexible to teach about it.

5) Be Flexible: As well as having gaps, it’s important to be flexible. No matter how detailed we try to be, there are always variables and last minute changes to consider. Whether it is a change in the large church schedule that requires me to change, or a leader who cannot speak for me, there are always changes to be made. I have found it is important to create a great teaching plan, but remain flexible with it.

6) Pray: Finally, but most importantly, I am always trying to seek God’s Leading as I plan for the Fall and the rest of year. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit works just as effectively a few months before as well as a few weeks before. Therefore, it’s imperative to be praying carefully before I start planning.

That’s what I do, hopefully this is some help to you as you plan what you teach. Feel free to comment or send me a message if you have any questions.

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 <><

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