So, at Group we do mission trips, right?

Last week, 25 of our full-time staff tallied up how many total Group Mission Trips we’ve been on. The number was 285 Group Mission Trips (attended by current full-time staffers alone)! That’s a lot of nights on air mattresses, but if the 25 of us could tell you anything, we’d say it’s worth it.

We did a fun photo shoot of all 25 of us with the t-shirt from our first mission trips (click here for the album).

Group Pano

Panoramic of 25 Group Staffers with thier first mission trip t-shirt.

The shirts photos triggered some pretty fun memories on our team…a few of which were too good not to share. We present you: stories from our first mission trips (the ones we love, hate, and everything in between).

2012 JakeJake, 2012

I got thrown into being an MC at my very first camp. In my first program, I said, “So who is at Workcamp for the very first time?” (A bunch of campers raised their hands.) Then I said, “Me, too!” And I watched as the face of every adult in the room fell. I’d like to redo that first impression.

Fun Fact: Jake went on to be one of our very best MCs that summer. Now he helps hire, train, and supervise MCs year-round.

Valerie, 2003

2003 Valerie

I was a middle school camper at my first Workcamp in Lexington, NC. For some reason, one of my friends and I decided it’d be a good idea to do a cheerleading routine for the entire camp during the variety show. We wore tie dye shirts. We danced to a Mary Mary song. I wish I could forget it.

Fast forward to 2010. 2 days before my first Week of Hope, my grandfather passed away and I was co-leading the camp with my (now) best friend Kyla. I came back from the funeral after camp had started and it felt like I had a brand new family. I’d never even met these people and all they wanted to do was love me and pray for me. I never wanted to stop doing Week of Hope.

 Fun Fact: At the end of my summer on Summer Staff, I went home to Ohio for 2 months before coming back to work on hiring Week of Hope staff full-time. Best job in the world.

1999 Krantz FrahmGeoff, 1999

One of the props required for program at my first camp was a shopping cart. As Materials Manager, I made stops into five or six area shopping centers to try to procure a shopping cart. I went into each store to talk to a manager. I asked to borrow… “No.” I offered to make a deposit that we could get back when we returned it… “No.” So, late on Wednesday night, my crew of four hopped into our brand new F250 with the souped up ladder rack, and went out to do some shopping. In the back area of a darker parking lot…we found our victim. My Program Manager (Ryan Kroll) jumped out, and loaded up our prize. Off we went, back to camp. Needless to say, late Thursday night…we made the same trek to release our captured victim back into its home environment. For the next three camps, I saved myself the time of speaking to managers!

Fun Fact: Geoff was dragged to his first Workcamp. But now, he’s been working at Group for over a decade, setting up mission trips all over the nation.

Lee, 1977

1977 Lee

That’s Lee’s actual Workcamp shirt (from the first-ever Workcamp) in the frame!

Oh yeah, I remember my first camp. It was a lot of fun. Thom called me up when I was away at my first year of college and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do this thing!’ And I said ‘Okay!’ without any idea of what we were doing. We were just a bunch of kids having fun. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing, we just did it. We had no idea whether anyone would show up.  There were no business plans, no budgets – just a passion to connect youth groups who wanted to help with the people in our area who needed the help.  But out of that first camp emerged the basic framework that continues nearly 40 years later—which tells me God had a lot to do with it.  I remember those early days with great fondness for the youth groups who journeyed to the Big Thompson Canyon—and the Group staff with whom I served.

Fun Facts: Thom Schultz, Founder & Chairman of Group Publishing, was a youth leader at Lee’s church. They worked together on the very first Workcamp. Lee has attended over 25 mission trips – he lost count at some point – and continues to be one of the best camp storytellers you’ll ever meet..

This coming summer, we have 195 mission trips on the schedule so we do have some plans and budgets. It’s all for the same purpose, though, and that is simply this: be the love of Jesus to communities all over the world by serving and worshiping God together. Going on our first mission trip changed each of our lives in a huge way – we never stopped going.

How did your first mission trip change your life?

- Valerie / @groupmissions

Win a Band!

 —  December 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

Win a Night of Worship With Jordan Howerton Band!



1) Like the Jordan Howerton Band Facebook page.

2) Share this video from the post on the Jordan Howerton Band Facebook page.



* Jordan Howerton Band will come to your church and lead a night of worship at no cost to you.

*CONNECT – a 4-week Worship DVD Curriculum by Jordan Howerton Band ($29.99 value!)

Contest starts: December 17, 2014

Contest ends: January 9, 2015


Christmas Trivia

 —  December 17, 2014 — Leave a comment


In case you are desperate for a time-filler at tonight’s youth group or upcoming Christmas party:

1. What is the name of the Dwarf children’s author in the movie, Elf?
- Miles Finch

2. What is the top-grossing Christmas Movie of all time.
- How The Grinch Stole Christmas($260,000,000)

3. How many english words can you make out of “Christmas”?
- 216

4. How long did it take the Maggi to find the baby Jesus?
- Approximately 2 years

5. When was Jesus born?
- Late September

6. How many real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year?
- 28 million

7. How much did Will Farrell turn down to star in Elf 2?
-$29 million

8. What color are the berries of the Mistletoe plant?
- White

9. What is the exact same about every snowflake?
- They all have 6 points

10. How much does the average U.S. family spend on Christmas…including gifts, food, decorations and cards?
- $749.51

Idea For Winter Break

 —  December 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

I was thinking the other day about how many students “come home” for the holidays. I was thinking about how weird it is for many of them. When they left for school, they were leaving home. Now, when they come home they are leaving their new life. This can leave people feeling a bit awkward, especially when/if they go to church.

Those that grew up in church come back to a church that, well, can seem like taking a step backward in life. At school they’re moving forward in life – even if they don’t know what “they’re going to do.” Regardless of that they have a new life, new friends and in many ways a new identity. If they come to church over break many will enjoy seeing people they know, but I’ve found a lot simply want to go back to their life after a week or so.

So, is this a bad thing? Can, or should, we try to change that?

I would answer both questions negatively. This, in many ways, is a crucial time in the identity formation of an individual. This separation and distance they feel from “home,” although frustrating and painful in ways (for both parents and kids), is simply part of becoming an independent adult.

But, it doesn’t mean we can’t try to make their trip home meaningful. We can always do an event of some sort that we invite them to attend, but they have things like this at school. So, here is an idea that I’ve implemented that might help you connect on a unique level with students home for the break…

Some college students are privileged to have their parents pay for upkeep on their car, but many are left without the finances to do little things like tune-ups and oil changes. Maybe you’d be willing to invest $100 or so, buy oil, filters, and possibly some spark plugs and offer oil changes for students when they come home…? Maybe even rotate their tires. You can find a mechanic, or just a couple of older mature believers in your church that would be willing to serve the students!

I posted this a few years ago, but it is worth seeing again…and possibly downloading to use at the start of one of your next gatherings.

slumpJust got an email from a youth worker asking for some guidance. He’s feeling the holiday pinch concerning the engagement and attendance of his students. So I sent him my response and thought I’d share it with all of you since we are all in the same boat one way or another this time of the year.

You need to know that the holiday pinch is normal and felt by every ministry. The holiday season is a time for the family, so families are going to do a lot of family orientated things. Students are also taking finals before break so they are studying like crazy. Then there’s winter break so families are vacationing.

There are two things you can do during this time of ministry. One of those things is to do nothing, and just let things be the way they are. The other thing would be to take advantage of this slower time of ministry. So here are seven ways you can take advantage of this slower time of the year:

  1. Use this time to spend more time with your family. Use this time to get back some of the time you spent staying late, staying overnight, going in early and/or coming home late.
  2. Use this time to invest and hangout with the faithful few who show up to youth group. You could use this time to strengthen and build up your core students.
  3. Use this time to strategize the new year. You can launch a new name for your youth group, new ministry opportunities, you can create new activities that students can bring their friends to. You can use this time to look to the future.
  4. You can take advantage of the fact that families want to do things together. Create something for the family. Last year we started doing a Christmas play, and it’s one of our largest attended things we do. Our audience is filled with parents, family friends, and new students. It’s easy to invite someone to a Christmas play, and it keeps the momentum going.
  5. You can use this time to do some much needed training with your staff and volunteers.
  6. You can also use this time to celebrate your staff and volunteers.
  7. You can strategically use this slow season as a time to engage the families that are coming out to church for the holiday season only. Maybe beef up your presence at big church. Let those families know that you exist and the things you offer.

Hope it helps,



We are about one week out until Christmas. This means of course that we are only two weeks away from the end of 2014. Some of us had an amazing year, others (like me) will raise a glass on midnight December 31 with a scream, “GOOD RIDDANCE!” Yet, now is also when we start seeing all of the posts and podcasts about goal setting. They tell us goals are vital to accomplishing anything in the coming year, and science supports this fact.

The other day I had a discussion with my husband about some discontent I have had as of late. I realized all the leadership talk about focus had me riled up. “I don’t know if I truly have any goals.” I told him. “I mean I have lots of great things I am doing for Jesus, in ministry and life, yet I am not sure if I have an end game.”

I got to thinking about goals and how I wanted to set them for 2015. Yet, if I am honest I have tried so many “methods” as suggested from everyone from the known leadership universe from Jon Acuff to John Maxwell to Michael Hyatt in this idea. I have started small, planned out, organized and used all sorts of “mechanisms.” There has been Evernote on my phone, Corkulus on my computer and even old fashioned sticky notes in my plan of attack. I keep my list for a short while and then Patrick Lencioni would accuse me of being the “fire fighter” in his book, The Advantage. I lose sight of the the vision, because I am so focused on dealing with the issues of the day.

Then in the last few days I have realized some real things that have hindered reaching anything:

I Forget to End the Year.

What I mean by this is that it is so easy to focus on what is ahead we don’t wrap up what just ended. Our goals for the new year really become a hold over of what was unaccomplished in the previous year. We feel guilty if we don’t really want a particular goal anymore and now we don’t know what to do. End the year. Take an honest assessment of what was and wasn’t accomplished and why.

I Need to Grieve the “Undone.”

This might sound silly, but I heard it in an interview with Michael Hyatt the other day and it really struck me. It’s important for a moment to allow yourself to grieve a little in what you wanted to do, and didn’t. What did we “hope” we would do and we never go around to is. As the overdone song says we tend to think we just need to “let it go.”  Yet, the true this that there are times when we can’t. When I don’t do this I can tend to have an extra set of “hold over goals” from past years. They sit there as a reminder of what I never get to. Stop the “someday I will be…” because it’s ambiguous and will never happen.

I Have to Acknowledge Discouragement:

I have embraced the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) with the best of them.  I have eaten the frog first. (Gotten through the toughest and grossest portion of the goal.)  Then it still seems like my dreams are somewhere  out there. Another year goes by and I still am not closer (or so it seems) to what I truly desire so my shoulders slump and I stop believing.  It’s not like I literally wave a white flag and give up.  Instead I would say it creeps in slowly until my attitude becomes one of, “why bother with this anymore.”  This is the true reason why I have stopped plodding out goals.  I am really hurt by the ones who have been stolen, buried and tainted.

To fully look to 2015 the reality is I can’t just limp through the end of 2014.

Let’s take the time to end well and then look to 2015.

What didn’t happen and we grieve it?

What was a nice idea but doesn’t need to come over to 2015?

What keeps making the list from 3 or 5 or 10 years ago that if we are honest need to go away?

Before I can even begin to craft a list for 2015, there needs to be some honesty about 2014. Are there unanswered dreams that need renewed focus?

To launch well, we need to end well. Don’t forget to take the time to actually get over this year. Everyone says 2015 is a blank slate. However, it’s not if 2014 has already crept over.

What about you? How do you end well?

Saturday Night Live doesn’t always nail it.

This time I think they did.

Check out this promotional video for an annual Christmas church service:

snlSo… can we laugh at ourselves?

In my opinion, the humor isn’t found in just one side of this. I saw comments on Twitter when it aired like “…and that’s why I won’t go to church. Such hypocrites there!”

Meanwhile, the video itself begins, “It’s Christmas, and you know what that means: It’s time for your annual trip to church with your parents!”

That in itself has it’s own sense of satirical confrontation to the nominal faith of many people who profess God to be “God” and yet put him at a very non-God place on their priority list.

I did that for many years growing up. I was the angry, apathetic non-believing teen.

Now on the other end as a pastor, I’d like to think I can still own whatever gaps I have going on these days in my life.

It’s Christmas. Don’t just give God your best this time of year. Use it as an on-ramp to something genuine all year.

Yes, every Church on this side of heaven is imperfect. Still, Jesus has faith in us. How about we put a little faith in each other and this ragamuffin, Christ-centered community He’s created for us to grow in?