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So, you’re in a church that is too small to hire a youth minister, even a part-time one- welcome to the majority of churches in the world! Most churches in the world have a completely volunteer led youth ministry.
The median church size in the United States is 75. In fact, it is reported that 59% of churches in the U.S. have less than 100 worshipers on Sundays, and the overwhelming majority of churches have less than 500 in weekly attendance. Most churches this size cannot afford a full-time (or even part-time) position for a youth minister salary, yet it seems like most of the training and resources in the world of youth ministry cater to paid youth workers.
Volunteers may certainly be aware of great resources like the Center For Parent And Youth Understanding but many are not. Many volunteer youth leaders may easily get discouraged, having faithfully prepared a lesson for Sunday morning or Wednesday night, only to have one, or zero, youth show up. Volunteer led youth ministry can feel lonely.
What strategies might work to get a volunteer driven youth ministry going in your church? How can workers keep from feeling discouraged or burnt out? Here are three simple ideas that can make an incredible impact on the way we do ministry with teens:
- Find ways to merge teens into the life of the church without feeling the need to start a whole new program. Every church wants a thriving youth program, but many churches are not program size congregations. Most churches that are able to hire a youth minister will initially fund the position on a part-time basis. Teens do not need a flashy program for discipleship to occur, they need nurturing in their faith and to see Christ’s love modeled by caring adults. They do not need to learn that church exists to cater to them, but that we are all in this together, and that inter-generational ministry will have lasting value on their lives. There is certainly a time and place for a program based youth ministry, but I predict that youth ministry in the future will become less entertainment driven and more incarnational, and that small churches may take the lead in being labs for youth ministry experimentation. How exciting!
- Partner with other church groups for youth events. Instead of creating an entire youth program for your church (and expecting teens to magically show up) partner with other churches that may also only have a few teens. Starting small, and finding other volunteer youth leaders in the community to partner with is good for students and for volunteers. Students see that there are teens in other churches and have a chance to fellowship with like-minded people their age, and volunteers share the burden of planning an event like a weekly Bible study, a monthly fellowship, or even a summer mission experience.
- Share your passion for student ministry with your pastor. Many pastors are former youth ministers and already share your excitement about reaching teens and their parents with God’s love. This means that pastors may naturally serve as valuable resources for volunteers looking for youth ministry ideas. (As a starting place, you can always download some free lessons from the SMI team here.) If you share your heart for youth ministry with your pastor, I’m sure he/she will show gratitude and excitement, and remain excited to help equip you in the work of youth ministry. If you are a volunteer who has a passion for youth ministry and you have to deal with a pastor who is not supportive of your passion to reach young people, I’ll be praying for you, and for the future of your congregation!
Our youth are the future of the church, (cliché, I know) and you are likely reading this because you agree that ministering to youth is important. My encouragement to you, especially if you are a volunteer youth leader, is that the work you do is vital. God has given you a passion for reaching students with the love of Christ, and we are here to help. Have questions? Have ideas? share in the comment section below!
Does your church prioritize reaching the Millennial Generation? Studies show that they are the largest generation in half a century, and their participation in church is declining rapidly. Millennials are people born between 1980 and 2000. They’re tech savvy. They’re educated, and they’re passionate. One of the ways to reach any generation is to meet them where their passions are. According to Dr. Rick McClatchy, Millennials are deeply passionate about four things:
Did you notice a few things missing? Flashy programs, stupid games, lock-ins, and Christian concerts didn’t make the list. If your youth ministry program aligns with the above values, then older high-school students may not turn elsewhere to find them. Also, many youth volunteers (and potential youth volunteers) are in their twenties and thirties. If your student ministry (and your church as well) care about getting Millennials involved, then LET THEM SERVE! But beware, they are not interested in serving to just get more butts in seats at your church. They desire to make a significant difference in the world. That means Millennials are looking for a deeply fulfilling way to serve. Perhaps they would be great as a sponsor on your next mission trip, as a small group leader, or even as your church’s next youth pastor!
Here is a great video from Dr. Rick McClatchy that lays out ways to reach Millennials. If we don’t think about this, the church in America could be dead in 30 years. That means this video is probably worth 15 minutes of your time:
Well, summer is upon us! School is out, kids are ready for extra activities and crazy events, and you’re dreaming dreams of camp registration forms and late nights on an air mattress during missions week. My back hurts just thinking about it. So the question is: when and how do YOU find rest in the busy months of summer?
I Once read a book called “Your Right To Rest” by Wayne Oates. Oates wrote in the early eighties that western people were so busy and plugged into technology that they hardly have time for rest. Ironic. I wonder what he would say if he could see our world today. The truth is, even when I have time to rest I have a hard time unplugging. Here are a few tips that have been helpful to me this summer:
- Go to bed early when you can. Your body was made for sleep and rest just as much as productivity. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” Did you catch that last word, epidemic. I think about lots of things when I hear the word epidemic, like Aids, Malaria, malnutrition/hunger, Flu, but sleep?!? Apparently so few adults (or teens for that matter) get enough sleep, that the use of a word like epidemic is warranted. So what are some cold hard facts? According to the CDC, ”Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.” At the end of the day, the quality of your life and the quality of your ability to faithfully perform the ministry you are called to depends on your ability to get enough sleep. To learn more about the CDC’s incredible findings click here.
- Unplug from technology. If like me you’re a tech junkie, then its crucial to unwind from looking at a screen all day. I have a dual-monitor setup in my office with my iPad on one side of my laptop and my iPhone on the other. That’s four screens on my desk at any given time, and three of them come home with me! When I get home I have a TV in the living room that makes it tempting to enter into a vegetative state, especially after my toddler is asleep. Finding time to unplug can be hard when you’re plugged in all the time. My unplugged time is in the mornings when I take our son to a local park. Chasing him around is tiring, but the time away from a screen is refreshing in its own way. Try and find time this week to unplug. Some suggestions… 1) Many phones today have settings for “quite hours” when you do not want to receive calls of notifications. Certain numbers may also be allowed through in case of an emergency. Set your quite hours and stick to them. Just because students may want to text you at all hours doesn’t mean you need to respond. 2) Get outdoors before it gets too hot outside and enjoy God’s creation. In the Houston area this is often before 9:00am. Yes I’m up by 9:00am. Remember that whole go to bed early thing? 3) Spend some time on a desert island. Seriously that’s about the only place where there’s no cellular coverage!
- Realize that you can’t do it all. The day it occurred to me that I could never DO all the ministry that needed to be done was overwhelmingly stressful. The day I let go of my need to DO everything was overwhelmingly freeing. During the summer, we youth ministers get so busy that some things may just fall through the cracks. Sure your church should hire you a secretary. Sure you wish you had more interns. Sure none of the parents realize the work involved in successful camps and mission trips. There comes a point in ministry where you can either burn, out or trust that God will work in spite of all the things we wish we could accomplish. It sounds cliché, but “let go and let God” is a great motto for minister in desperate need of rest. God was working long before you came into the picture, and will be working long after you leave.
- Explore the idea of Compensatory time (comp-time) with your personnel team. Some senior pastors may read this and laugh out loud. Chances are they’ve never done youth ministry. Maybe you have never heard of comp-time. Until I worked at a church that had it in their personnel policy neither had I. Here’s how it works. You go out of town for seven days on a youth trip. While you are gone you miss your day/days off for the week because you are taking care of teenagers 24/7. A church could set it up so that when you miss your day off due to a youth trip, you get it back as a day off at a later time. Alison Doyle, a well known employment and HR expert defines comp time as this: ”Rather than paying employees time and a half in overtime pay, a company which has a comp time policy gives paid time off from work, for the equivalent amount of time to the extra hours worked.” If churches value healthy employees who are functioning at their peak levels of capability, then comp-time should be part of the policy manual. Each state has different laws about comp-time so learn the laws of your state before taking this great new idea to your next staff meeting.
My hope and prayer for you is that this summer, you find ways to find rest in midst of your hectic student ministry schedule. On the seventh day God rested. Rest is part of the cycle of the created order. Its part of the nature of who God is. I hope that you can make rest part of your life’s rhythm as well.
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 In—Parents 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 Low—Many 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.
3: Communicate Early and Often—If 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-Up—After 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!
How do you grow your youth group? There are lots of writers in youth ministry today that quickly say “growth is not the point! Discipleship is the point!” I would say that according to Jesus, more disciples is the point. Discipleship and growth are not exclusionary goals in ministry. Consider these verses (NIV):
“He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” -Luke 10:2
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” -Matthew 28:19
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” -Galatians 6:8-10
Jesus and Paul understood their ministries in terms of harvest. All too often youth ministers resign themselves to the idea that they are only on the planting or growing side of things. Some youth ministers think thoughts like “If I just plant the seed now then one day these students might actually be disciples,” or “since the message of Christ was planted in these students by our children’s ministry, it’s just my job to water.” While both of these statements may be true, depending on the student, student ministers should not overlook the harvest.
What does harvest look like in youth ministry? Is it growth in numbers? Is it new salvations and baptisms? Is it the number of students in your group that feel called to ministry? Without defining how the harvest is measured, it’s difficult to define the harvest. The student population is ripe for cultivation and growth in Christ. There are seeds to be planted and watered, there are weeds to be pulled, and the harvest, as Jesus says, is plentiful.
A harvest is the result of diligent work mixed with the blessing of God. Here are three keys to realizing harvest in your student ministry:
1. Cultivate Fertile Soil. It is important to the principle of harvest to plant seeds in fertile soil. If the soil is fertile then the crop will be bigger. Roots will run deeper. How have you set your ministry up to be fertile soil for youth in your city? Sometimes fertile soil doesn’t naturally exist, and so we supplement it and cultivate it until it’s rich enough for something to grow. Are there any elements missing from your ministry that would lead to an environment that is fertile for growth? Students in my youth ministry recently told me of their desire to have youth-led worship at our mid-week meetings. Over spring break they helped knock out a wall to make the youth room bigger, helped install donated sound equipment and staging, and repainted the youth room to make it more inviting. Now students are excited about the possibility of weekly worship, excited about the freshly-renovated space, and excited about bringing friends. More fertile soil for ministry has been created.
2. Water Often. Plants need water to grow. Without some water, even the most drought-tolerant plant will eventually die. Students need opportunities for discipleship. This includes Bible study and fellowship times, but might also include personal mentoring relationships, service and mission projects, or planning a weekend retreat. Some students will come to youth group and get fed regularly. They will be the ones who spiritually mature the fastest. Others will be on the fringe of the group, and may need extra attention. Jesus heavily invested in a few dozen disciples who then went out and changed the world. Investing heavily in the discipleship of a small number of students may have more of a long-term spiritual impact than entertaining hundreds of students with a slick but surface-level youth ministry. Remember, the payoff isn’t in the watering, it’s in the harvest.
3. Stay Harvest Minded. There are TONS of disciples to be made. There are millions of people to win to Christ! In your own community I bet only a small percentage of youth and families are heavily involved in a church, even if they say they’re Christian. If we cultivate rich soil and faithfully water the seeds that have been planted, growth will happen and the Lord’s bounty will bless our youth ministries. Staying harvest minded means having big enough vision to see the importance of long-term strategy. The payoff is always in the end game in ministry. In the harvest there is celebration. There is the reward of hard labor. In the harvest ministry reaches maturity as disciples win new converts and in turn, make new disciples. NEVER be satisfied with the status quo, because the harvest is plentiful. There are ALWAYS more people to reach with God’s love.
Having a theology of harvest is essential to building a thriving and growing ministry. I believe some churches die because they are not harvest minded enough. Other churches poison the soil instead of making it fertile. Many churches don’t provide enough opportunities for the spiritual watering of young souls. How is God calling you to grow your youth ministry and make more disciples? The harvest is plentiful.
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?
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.