OK, friends – you’re rounding the corner. There’s 3 days to make this Christmas Eve THE most impactful ever and capture those illusive once a year attenders. You CAN do this!! (If you’re just catching this series, part 1 & 2 were the past two days. Go enjoy and then, come back and join us.)

Tip #3 – Parking Lot Impressions

Here’s where you may start stepping on members’ toes. This is the point where they have to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. “We need more families! We need more children and youth!” Well, small church – the time is now and it means you arrive earlier and park further away. Make your guests’ visit with your church the easiest as it can be. Remember that many families have gone through great sacrifice (crying kids, lost Santa gifts, etc) to get there close to on time. Don’t make their arrival experience one more reason they wished they’d stayed home.


1) Spread the word to church members to park farther away. It might mean helping a few of the older members to the front with a golf cart or valet service, but its worth it.

2) Have friendly members in the parking light with flashlights and a happy greeting to help point families to where they need to go.

3) Ask a few students to lend a hand if families need help getting all their stuff inside (stroller, car seat, diaper bag, a present for Grandma, etc.)

4) Make sure a few people can help older guests walk, navigate the stairs, etc.

5) Talk to people! Say “Merry Christmas. We’re glad you’re here!” Believe me, it makes a difference. I recently visited Epworth UMC in Franklin, TN and 6 people said “hello” to me before I ever reached the sidewalk. I was impressed.

Tomorrow’s tips: Creating a winsome first impression once they’re at the door.


What’s up Youth Ministry Friends?!

Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS has some sweet new features to help make all the tasks associated with youth ministry easier and more efficient. Specifically, the COMMUNICATE and the TEAM tools have been improved and added to for the best experience yet. A couple new features to be excited about include:

- Unlimited messaging
- Enhanced mobile experience
- New interface for browser experience

New in TEAM:
- Custom questionnaire
- New workflow step

Try it out along with other new features TOOLS has to offer with a free trial. Call Jake with questions at 1-866-9-SIMPLY or visit tools.simplyyouthministry.com.


This time of year we hear a lot about all the ways the Lord has “blessed” so many around us with answered prayers. Sometimes they are silly: “Wow, I was asking God to find me a good parking place, and here I am up front at the mall.” Other times desperate nonprofits trying to meet end of the year budgets say, “Thank you Lord for answering our prayers and allowing us to continue on in our work!” They run the spectrum and are all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. Inevitably, there are some among us whose prayers aren’t answered for Christmas or the New Year.

  • What about my friend who lost her grandmother and father two weeks apart right before this joyous season?
  • What about the student whose parents are either getting a divorce or not getting back together?
  • What about those who are sick, hurting, desperate, struggling, losing loved ones or stuck in a bad situation?


I can’t tell you how many times I have had this conversations with students: “I have tried to pray. God just doesn’t hear me or answer my prayers. He is silent and forgets me.”

It is one of the most difficult conversations to have with youth. Sure there are times when they have “selfish” prayers. These are the ones where they ask for an “A” on a test when they didn’t study, or want a blessing on their life for something that is living outside God’s plan. A laugh gets stuck in my throat admittedly in conversations when a youth is blatantly ignoring the Lord and then says, “Why won’t He do what I want Him to do?” We all know He isn’t Santa, a Genie or a Vending Machine. Yet, the heart-wrenching conversations are the ones without an answer. Why would the Lord choose to take care of one family’s finances miraculously while another can’t get dinner for their table?

There are times when we don’t know how to answer this question. We say things like, “God’s thoughts are bigger than our thoughts.” or “His ways are unexplainable.” That is really our way of saying, “I don’t know.” Honestly, I think it paints God as a tyrant when we allude to the fact that it might be God’s will that someone die of cancer.

This question is a challenge because sometimes if we are really honest we adults have the same one. We feel ashamed admitting we doubt sometimes too. As an older person aren’t we supposed to have this figured out?

Here is where we start:

Take It Seriously

I think what is REALLY important when this question comes along is to treat it with weight. What I mean is let’s not throw out “platitudes” and move on. When I was a teen someone told me, “If you just had more faith then this (situation) would change.” I felt so much pressure to figure out what “more faith” looked like practically. I also felt like I couldn’t ever get it right and that God just wanted to manipulate me. Instead, when someone said, “Let’s pray until we know for sure what God is saying,” that changed everything. Don’t sweep it under the rug, this is one of those thoughts that makes or breaks pursuing God.

Be Honest:

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t claim to understand.” I always tell students I will never comprehend how sin fully effects our day to day lives. Yes, there is sinning against each other, but what about disease and natural disasters? Remind them that while we are each individually “saved,” we still are living in a fallen world with fallen people. It doesn’t make sense to us. What does make sense is that God wants more for us than this. We don’t always have to have the perfect thing to say.

Focus On God’s Character:

Another person said to me once, “Everything that happens comes through God’s filter.” Again, this is a concept I don’t understand. I would think, “I hear all of these stories of disabled people being healed, why doesn’t He heal my sister who has so many disorders?” It made me feel like my prayers were never good enough for God to hear them. Other people must “pray better,” and that’s why theirs were answered. Then I started to seek the Lord with my whole heart. I sought Him and learned a lot about Him. His nature is one that genuinely will do whatever it takes to show us how much He loves us. Trusting this is true is up to us and it takes us getting to know Him.

Prayer is hard. There are times when it does indeed feel like God is silent. Maybe He is, maybe we aren’t listening. Isaiah announced the coming of the Messiah almost 700 years before His arrival here on earth. Then He didn’t come as the hoped for king on a physical throne, but as a baby. He was more concerned for our souls and lives than for our power position. Simeon and Anna had been promised to see this Savior with their eyes before they passed. They waited their WHOLE lives and then saw Him not as the Resurrected one, but as a regular infant. It wasn’t until the end they saw Him. I think you are seeing my point. We are not the only ones who have prayed for something and it didn’t happen the way we would like. The point of prayer is connection and hope. This is why we pray. It isn’t about what we “get” at all but who we are spending time with.

Tell them that as this new year begins, just to keep praying and see just how God shows up. He isn’t a lunatic or liar and when you seek Him with your whole heart…. well you get to know Him better and you trust He is Lord.

How do you talk with students about prayers?

- Leneita / @leneitafix

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 11.06.32 AMIn my previous post, we talked about potential areas of awkwardness for students when they come home for the holidays. I gave you one idea to bless them. Here I want to give you five thoughts to keep in mind as you have conversations with these students. 

  1. Be aware of their potential discomfort. Any time you have been away from something for a few months, it is going to be a little bit odd to reengage with it. This could be anything from a job to relationship with a neighbor, parents, friends…or you. You may be excited to see each other, but it doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t a bit awkward at this point. There is a lot that happened in your lives apart from each other that, well, is simply impossible to share over one cup of coffee. For students to try to articulate everything they went through emotionally, physically and psychologically is daunting, to say the least. That to say, I would recommend intentionally keeping this in mind and embrace the reality that you are going to leave this meeting not knowing everything…but that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful.
  2. Ask direct/specific questions. Asking an open ended question like, “So, how was your semester?” can be overwhelming and lead to them feeling like they can’t connect with you. To think through and articulate everything in that short of time is too much, and your students can leave feeling like their life is too separated from you. I’ve found it’s much better to ask specifically about their roommate, favorite class, closest friend at school, involvement on campus ministry (or lack of), favorite or most frustrating class, or even if it’s a bit awkward for them to come back home…things like that. These types of direct and specific questions allows you to really connect, on at least some levels.
  3. Share about your personal life. You pursuing your students for a time of coffee or lunch will likely be great, but it can come across as formal – or maybe even an “accountability time” from their perspective. This can be okay, but I’ve found it’s MUCH better if you take the “pastor” hat off and share about yourself. Now is the time to intentionally begin to treat them like a friend, especially if they were in your high school ministry. This can really bridge any separation and kill any awkwardness they may be feeling about their “home church.” Sharing about your own struggles, doubts, family life, etcetera can be a great next step for your relationship – as long as you don’t dominate the conversation!
  4. Ask for prayer request. At the end of your conversation specifically ask them for ONE thing you can pray for them about. This let’s them know they don’t leave your mind as soon as they leave, and let’s them know your relationship means more to you than just being a part of your job! Periodically over the next few months make sure you send them a text message or six letting them know you’re still praying.
  5. Ask them if they’re being encouraged. You could get a whole spectrum of answers on this one, but it’s a great question to ask. Some might break into tears, while others will simply be encouraged you asked. Either way, I’ve found it to be a great question to ask. It can also give you insight into areas where you can personally encourage them. Some will be more open about this than others, but you may want to ask them specifically how their relationship is with their parents, an ex, their best friend they had in high school, etc.

- Chuck / @chuckbomar

So go back and read my post from yesterday to catch up, but the main gist is this. Christmas Eve is a big deal for small churches: guests come that don’t come at any other time and they just might give your church a chance. Or not. You’ve got four days left to make this happen so get going!


Whatever it cost to get 2+ people to staff the nursery – pay it (with background checked people, of course). $75-$100 each for two nursery workers is worth it! Better money spent than any other advertising you spend all year. Have a back up plan for a 3rd person if the numbers go over 10-12 kids.

1) Staff it properly with kind, good first impression-type people. These people will be letting parents know that this is a love-one-another type place. Make sure its not staffed solely with youth (I’m sorry, students; I love ya, but there has to be an adult there, too.)

2) Review safety procedures with the nursery workers so that when reluctant parents think they might leave their child in your church’s care, you look like you know what you’re doing.

3) Have a sign in and out procedure because believe me – parents notice. Provide a name tag for each child where any special little reminder can also go.

4) Determine how you’ll find the parents in case of an emergency – which there won’t be. Maybe its sitting in a special spot, texting them (on silent), taking their picture so the usher can find them, a small scroll on the screen, or maybe you’re lucky enough to be a small church and still have those fancy light up things the big church has. Whatever works.

5) Don’t waste the opportunity! What I mean is this: its the birth of a baby and many of these kids will understand the concept. Tell the story in the nursery. Have a Nativity set (or more than one) for toddlers to play with. Crafts that reinforce the lesson wouldn’t hurt either. Spread the good news!

All for now. You can do this! This is not a chore; this is an opportunity to serve a family that needs Jesus…and a moment’s peace and quiet. Check back in tomorrow for the third tip: The Parking Lot Experience.




Small church friends, if you know me at all, if you’ve been one of the churches I’ve coached in the past, you know what I’m about to say: Christmas Eve is your time to shine…so don’t blow it! You’ve got 5 days till the big night so stay tuned daily to make sure all your bases are covered.

Why, you ask? Because Christmas Eve is the best shot you’ve got for a whole year to get 1) New families with kids through the door 2) Inactive members to give you a second chance and 3) Former youth, now all grown up, to remember that maybe they did like church after all.

The 5 Tips for sharpening things up? : 1) “Never Assume Anything” Publicity 2) The Nursery 3) The Parking Lot Experience 4) Through the Front Door Impressions 5) The First and Last 5 Minutes of the Service


I get it: people are busy at the holidays. Items on our to-do lists begin to slide off, shortcuts start looking really good. Fight through it, friends! Force yourselves to look through the lens of having company over…because you are!

Here’s a list of of quick tips to make what’s happening have even more impact:

1) Put Christmas Eve service times outside. Mention having candle lighting and a nursery provided. (More on that tomorrow!)

2) Make sure someone is answering the church phone all day Christmas Eve because people will be calling asking about time, candles and nursery.

3) Up-date the church website NOW with the above info and for goodness sake, put a few pictures from last year’s service on the front page to give them a taste of the beauty they can expect.

4) Update old info on the website about your children’s and youth ministries. While they’re looking for service times, they just might click over there as well. you don’t it to look like there’s nothing going on…unless there’s nothing going on (and then you need to call me for some coaching).

5) Splurge for the fancy bulletin covers and make sure its a pretty one. Don’t overcrowd the bulletin with extra fluff and stuff. At the same time, give guests everything they need to fit in with the crowd. Put nursery info in a prominent place. If you advertise anything about the church, promote the next CM/YM events. Guests see that as a sign of life in your church.

6) Have children’s bulletins ready and not the leftovers from some other thing. Make these fresh ones with picture to color while at the same time paralleling what’s happening. Come on; you can do this! Also a candy cane doesn’t hurt and battery operated tea lights for the candle light time for the wee ones keeps someone;s bulletin from catching on fire.

OK, this is enough for now. Don’t do it all yourself; divide this up into tasks and make a few quick phone calls. Check back tomorrow.


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 their 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 Jake works with our MCs year-round, along with a bunch of other stuff.

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 & CEO 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 — 2 Comments

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.

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Contest starts: December 17, 2014

Contest ends: January 9, 2015