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The Perfect Youth Ministry Fundraiser

 

fundraising      Every year there comes a time in youth ministry when extra money is needed for camp, mission trips, and even the youth budget in general.  Summer programs like mission trips and youth camp are wonderfully formative opportunities for students.  At major summer ministry events, many students may come to faith in Christ, have a sense of spiritual rejuvenation, grow closer with friends from your youth ministry, and make new friendships that will last a lifetime.  You, as the youth minister, know just how big the impact can be on students who attend these events.  If you could pay for all the students to go on trips out of your own pocket, you would.  Reality however, is that you’re a youth minister and your salary doesn’t allow you to be as generous as you may like. Sounds like it’s time for a fundraiser.

Yes, I said it—the “F” word.  (for youth ministry that is)  Over the years, I have met some youth ministers that seem to do more fundraising than ministry during certain times of the year.  After tallying the money, some fundraisers are hardly worth the effort required.  There may, or may not, be a “magic bullet” fundraiser that works every year for your group.  The quest for the perfect fundraiser is for the student minister, the search for the Holy Grail.  Here are four tips for effective fundraising:

1: Build Parent Buy InParents and other church members may hold to the idea that this fundraiser is the youth’s project so they should do all the work.  This may be true to an extent, but the money raised is not to relieve the bank accounts of thirteen-year-old Jr. High students.  The money raised helps the parents financially.   Many of the students rely on their parents for rides to church, and therefore transportation to assist with the fundraiser.  If parents are involved, you can bet your salary their students will be also.  Parents have just as much, if not more, to gain as their teens from being aware of and involved in the fundraising activity.   

2: Keep Overhead LowMany fundraising companies want you to petal their goods and wares, but only after you purchase large quantities of said goods.  Is buying $1000 of Tupperware or frozen pretzel dough really worth it when you consider the mark-up required to make a profit?  What if you get stuck with half of the product you purchased because you discover the hard way that the elderly people in your church don’t like hot pretzels for a late-night snack?  You may be able to make a giant pretzel at your next youth lock-in, but the money you eat will leave a bitter taste.fundraising

3: Communicate Early and OftenIf you were doing a big car wash, a church-wide garage sale, or a silent auction, you would be an idiot to announce it the week of the event.  In every church I have been on staff at, people generally want to support the youth ministry of the church.  Make it easy for them to do that by advertising your fundraising venture in every way possible for at least a month before the event.  Announce it in the bulletin and in weekly e-newsletters, mail reminder postcards, make announcement slides for worship times, hang posters around the church, get a giant inflatable gorilla to place on the roof of the church, and by all means have the students call everyone in the church directory to invite them to the event.   

4: Follow-UpAfter the event is over don’t forget to say thanks to everyone who helped.  A little gratitude goes a long way.  People will be more likely to help next time if they know that their gift of time or money is truly appreciated.  Twentieth-century author G.B. Stern once said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”  She was right.  Saying thanks is useful to the students, because it teaches them how to live a life of gratitude.  Saying thanks is useful to the adults who gave their time and treasure because it validates and affirms the worth of their gift, and the spirit in which they gave.  Don’t forget to say thanks after the fundraiser.  It will do everybody involved some good.

This past Sunday our youth group had a spaghetti lunch fundraiser.  We got parents involved by asking them to help with food prep and to bake deserts for a silent auction we paired with the luncheon.  Because the parents were involved, student involvement was high.  Over a month ago we started advertising the event in every way possible and did everything mentioned here (except the inflatable gorilla) to ensure high attendance.  Overhead was low because people donated almost everything from the homemade spaghetti sauce to the table decorations.  We made almost $3000, which will almost completely pay for the twelve students signed up for summer camp.  This week at our Tuesday night youth group meeting we will write thank you notes to those who donated their time and money to help us.  Was it a perfect fundraiser?  Not entirely, but it was pretty darn close.  

These are just a few tips for effective fundraising in student ministry.  Fundraising does become necessary from time to time in youth ministry, mostly because the majority of churchgoing people don’t tithe 10%, but that’s another blog post!  Fundraising for youth ministry can be a real pain if not planned carefully.  We want to hear about your successes and failures in the world of youth ministry fundraising.  What has your experience been?  What ideas do you have?  We would love to hear your input!

Five Tips For Effective Preaching

Ifemale holding Biblef you’re in full-time student ministry, there are a few things that are guaranteed.  You will certainly gain weight if you try to keep up with the students during pizza eating contests.  You will certainly get injured playing dodge-ball/table-tennis/and/or that sport-that-includes-more-than-one-hyphen.  And finally, you will certainly preach and lead small group Bible studies on a regular basis, and eventually get asked to speak at another church, retreat weekend, camp, or (insert sport-with-more-than-one-hyphen)-night.

To make your night/weekend/kangaroo-boxing-championship-night a success, here are the five best things you can do as a preacher:

1.       Consider your context:

This seems simple, but it’s important to remember.  If you’re working at a Methodist church, it’s probably best to not preach a sermon titled “Why infant baptism is silly.”  If you’re going to preach at an event primarily focused on senior citizens, you might want to avoid preaching on the power of teenagers to change the world.  Make sure you know what you’re walking into when you agree to preach.  Does the church or senior pastor have certain theological expectations?  Are there any recent tragedies or dramas affecting the group you should aware of?  What does the outside group you’re partnering with expect from you?  This is also a great time to find out what’s been preached on before.  If a sermon series was just preached on the topic you had planned, you may want to consider changing your topic or theme.

2.       Plagiarise the Bible, not other Pastors.

I love Matt Chandler.  I also love Judah Smith, and Mark Driscoll.  Perry Noble is a blast to listen to.  For some odd reason, I really truly enjoy podcasting a lot of my favorite preachers.  It’s an ordinary part of what I do to focus my attention on Christ.  I’m attracted to them because of the way they exegete the Word of God.  Pastors, at best, are simply fantastic plagiarists.  Sometimes though (and maybe this happens to you,) I start adapting parts of their speech patterns, stories, examples, and even points to fit my sermons because they sound really great.  Maybe this has happened to you.  I think this is especially easy for younger folks (like myself) to get drawn into.  God however, wants to use YOUR voice!  God doesn’t need you to become the next (insert speaker you really love).  In the pulpit, you should be you.  You have the ability to reach students that other preachers will never have the opportunity to reach.  God placed you where you are, with your abilities, and with your specific voice to reach a specific group.  Use your own voice.  It’s far better to develop your talent through developing your own voice and not stealing from others.

3.       Put the hours in.

You will preach how you practiced.  When I get ready to preach, I spend hours in my room, praying, writing, and yelling whatever I’m writing out loud.  Then I’ll preach it all the way through several times out loud.  Maybe your mind works differently and you can pull fantastic sermons out of the air on the way to the pulpit, but for most of us, this isn’t true.  We need to put the hours in, studying the Word, preaching it to ourselves, practicing illustrations, and hammering down points that make sense.  Is there anything worse than the story that leads nowhere, or the illustration that looked cool but has no semblance of meaning or relevance to what the speaker is talking about?  One way you can avoid horrible illustrations and points that don’t flow well together is to…..

4.       Phone a friend.

No, seriously.  Make it someone you trust.  Make it someone who loves you enough to point out huge flaws GRACIOUSLY.  Sometimes, reading illustrations, ideas, and even main points to a friend before preaching can save you lots of pain.  If our sermons are really meant to point people to our Savior, isn’t it worth the awkward conversation of discussing whether your sermon makes sense?  You’ll benefit from this, and so will your hearers.  Learning to take constructive criticism is crucial to functioning better at any task in ministry, but especially preaching. 

5.       Rest in God’s speaking ability.

You can’t do this on your own.  It’s impossible.  Only the Holy Spirit can draw people to God.  And thank God!  When we rest in God’s ability instead of our own, we are free to gracefully make mistakes, learn, and trust in God’s sovereignty to change the hearts of people instead of our own ability.  For some of you, speaking is one of the most terrifying events of the week, but in our limited ability, God can still speak with unlimited potential.  He’s bigger than you.  He’s got a better microphone than you.  And thank God, he’s promised to build His church, regardless of you.

BONUS POINT: Flannel.

Why flannel? Flannel is the bonus point, because it’s incredibly difficult to sweat through, but it will also give you at least a few points with the hipsters. Can’t decide what to speak in? Rock the flannel. It’s always right.

Top Ten Ways To Promote Ministry Events

(Disclaimer: Events should not be the main focus in student ministry, but rather relationships.  Every event should help you further your church’s mission, and we should never do events just to have something else on the calendar.  That said, we hope this helps in the planning of your next major ministry event!)

Student Ministry Van

Is your aproach out of date?

Audrey (my ever-so-lovely bride) and I were talking the other day about promoting events in student ministry.  She mentioned that she had recently skimmed a student ministry book from the early 90’s.  The author described several ways of promoting youth events that had proven successful.  They included buying an ad in your local newspaper, using public bulletin boards at city libraries, and making an announcement at the local Bingo hall.  Ok, so I made that last one up!  The truth is we all know that there isn’t a youth on planet Earth that looks for cool stuff to do in the classifieds, and library… yeah, I’ve heard of those.  There simply MUST be more relevant promotional and marketing approaches for 21st century youth ministry.  So what are they?

Here are our Top Ten:
  1. Face to face invites:  In a culture already oversaturated by media of various types, face to face communication is more crucial than ever.  Studies regularly show that 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of the direct invitation of a friend.  This statistic has been around for a while and everybody has probably heard it, but did you know that last year Barna Research released a poll showing that only 30% of Christians planned on inviting a friend to Easter services.  That’s a HUGE disconnect!!!  Personal invitations have much more meaning than direct mail, local advertising and pulpit pleas.  Encourage your students to rise above that 30% mark and set the example for the rest of your congregation.  What if just 50% of students regularly invited a friend?  Or 75%?  Our ministries would explode!
  2. Use Social Media: Ten years ago Facebook didn’t even exist.  Today it has between 500-600 MILLION regular users with almost 500,000 new users weekly.  Chevy updated its Cruz Sedan with a feature that allows the car’s computer to read you Facebook status updates while you drive.  Regular radio: look out!!!  Facebook is taking up your airtime in the one place people still listen to your broadcasts!!!  The power of social media is ever more apparent to me as I continue in student ministry.  Students RARELY check regular e-mail accounts, if they even have one.  They are likely to be on Facebook and other social sites daily.  Create an event, invite students online, and get students to invite their friends.
  3. Communicate Crucial Info Early:  This means YOU must plan early.  Many people try to plan big events and don’t get crucial info out in time to participants or other partner groups.  This is plainly evident at many youth events where forms and event info are not mailed out until a week or two before the event.  FYI, if you have a sizeable youth group, it will be impossible to plan ANYHTING on short notice.  Set your dates 4-6 months out for events like lock-ins and concerts, and 12-18 months out for events like camps and mission trips.  Mail all crucial forms no later than 10 weeks out, and give the info away in every possible format.  Audrey and I once planned a lock-in in partnership with 8 churches, and 250-300 kids attended.  Each church received a “FORMS CD” with all the event forms, artwork, and other info in multiple formats including Word, Publisher, PDF, JPEG, and PNG.  Also, if you expect people to use your artwork for an event, make sure and send them the fonts you used or they won’t be able to print customized posters and flyers.
  4. Build Buy-In and Ownership: One of the best ways to promote your event is to get as many people to buy-in as possible, and give as many of them ownership as possible.  When people have ownership of an event, THEIR reputation is on the line as well in promoting it.  This means that by putting together a leadership team of people for large events, you exponentially increase your marketing capacity, creative ingenuity and forward momentum.  Bringing multiple youth ministers to the table for an event like a camp or lock-in ensures that the best ideas come to the table, and that all the church groups involved feel needed for the event’s success.  When others have ownership of an event, they’ll promote it just as hard as you will.
  5. Shoot A Rediculous Promo Video…or two:  Viral marketing is the rage.  It’s called viral for a reason.  The word ‘virus’ comes from a Latin word in the late 1500’s meaning slime or ooze.  The medical definition is “an infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts.” (Dictionary.com)  Shoot a wild and crazy promo video and see how many hits it gets on YouTube and how many youth post it to their social media profile!  If the video is off the wall enough, it will become “viral” or self-spreading.  Don’t stop at posting the video online.  Burn it to DVD and mail a copy to every group and organization you are trying to target for the event.  For the lock-in we made a 6 minute music video and a 30 second promo ad.  These can also be used at youth group meetings in the months and weeks leading up to the event.  Video cameras are too cheap these days for churches not to invest in one.  Basic editing software is too easy to learn.  There are no excuses!  Welcome to 2012.
  6. Use A Text Messaging Campaign:  A few fun facts from iZigg.com… 96% of text messages are opened.  83% are opened within 1 hour.  Over 1.5 trillion texts were sent in America alone last year, triple the same number from 2007.  All three of those numbers will no doubt continue to climb.  Can your e-mail or direct mail campaign do that?  Hardly!!  I have found that even more than Facebook, students respond to text messaging.  Churches that do not use text messaging are BEHIND the curve.  So churches are always behind the curve right?  Maybe, but texting is not a trend that is going away and its clearly more effective than email for certain age groups.  To churches who are leery about paying for one more monthly subscription or service, and who may question the wisdom of spending tithe dollars on text messaging I say “Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead.” (Ephesians 5:14)  (Check back in a week or so for the Top Ten Texting Services For Churches! ttyl!)
  7. Let Others Promote It For You: I sent out the promo DVD and Forms CD for our lock-in to the regional denominational office.  The day they got the packet with the cover letter (on church letterhead) our lock-in was the first thing listed on their youth ministry page.  A huge part of networking is to build relationships with people who may be in a position to help you.  Are you planning a cool event at your church and want to get the word out?  Go straight to the top of any regional office for organizations or denominations with which your church may be affiliated.  These hard working folks have the mailing lists.  Their endorsement can give your event legitimacy in the eyes of churches that may be on the fence about bringing students.  Many times, they are the gate keepers for truly branching out to get good saturation as you advertise your event.
  8. Advertize Internally: If you have not done it already, make a checklist of ways you can advertise and promote a ministry event internally.  I try and hit all bases when advertising an event.  Many parents still communicate best by e-mail and phone.  I ask myself, have I used the church bulletin, the monthly newsletter, the announcement slides before church, the announcement monitors in the church hallway?  Have I used regular mail, a phone tree, brochures and flyers, posters around the church building, the church LED marquis, screen printed vinyl banners, promotional t-shirts, stickers, postcards, riding around in a church van with a megaphone? You get the picture.  There are countless ways to advertise internally and externally.
  9. Face to Face invites: I’m pretty sure I already mentioned this.  But just in case it didn’t sink in, 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of a personal invitation from a trusted friend.
  10. Giveaway a Sweet Prize: Want kids to invite their friends to your next major event?  Then you shouldn’t be above bribing them to do it!  Once, we gave away an LDC TV to a student for bringing the most friends to an event.  When there is an incentive students get competitive.  They might initially just invite friends to church to win whatever the prize is, but they’ll also learn that they won’t turn into a pumpkin if they actually invite people to church.
The best way to promote an event in my opinion is to use all or some combination of these proven methods.  The research doesn’t lie, and neither will your results if you promote an event properly.  Promoting big events is hard work, so don’t plan huge events every week or even every month.  And remember, Jesus didn’t come and die on a cross so we can have fun playing laser-tag or play with water balloon launchers and rubber chickens. (Seriously, a water balloon launcher and a rubber chicken duct taped to a tennis ball is amazing!)  The events we do in youth ministry are not half as important as the relationships we build with students and parents.  Think about your goals for an event and what your stated ministry goals are.  If the goals do not match, DON’T do the event.  Events are simply a tool in ministry, but they are not the sum of what any ministry should be.  We’ll be praying that your next event is a great success and that students grow closer to God as a result of it.