Every church in their right mind wants to reach more people, right? And every small church talks about increasing their Good News output, right again? Plus, small churches wouldn’t mind growing a little in numbers, correct? (Though I swear some churches act like none of these are anywhere near their missional radar, but I digress.)

So be smart. You can accomplish all three goals by keeping this trend in mind: People participating in your fall outreach event might just make a decision to come back to your church on Christmas Eve. Or not. Its up to your church.

Here’s what I mean. This is church Fall Festival season. Between now and the end of October, you won’t be able to drive 5 miles without seeing a church-sponsored sign for pumpkin patches, corn mazes, Trunk & Treat’s, fall carnivals, costume parades, Heavenly Home events, and even some church haunted houses. (Whatever floats your church’s theological boat).

Intentionality is the key. First thing? Advertise outside of your normal church box. People can’t attend what they don’t know about. Posters, social media, banners, signs, etc., still work! Next step is to plan on making a GREAT impression on guests who will run through the church’s hallowed halls, hide among the pumpkins or walk around your cemetery.

Ideas to get them to visit again after your fall event:

  • Setup an adult coffee café in the corner of the patch where outgoing members gab with new parents who are watching their kids run around on a sugar-high.
  • Have a drawing for cool stuff to get both adult and student contact info. Then FOLLOW UP with Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Easter invites.
  • Utilize a registration system for children so you gather data and safety info.
  • Take family/kid pictures and mail them back with a handwritten note.
  • Have a quality flyer ready to handout about your holiday family-friendly activities. Don’t make it too preachy or overdone. Be sure to include that you will have childcare available at your Christmas Eve service (and then well, have it available).
  • If they look hungry, feed them. Make sure everything is accessible. They’re cold? Have jackets ready.

Here are ideas to ensure new families don’t return:

  • Hangout in cliques of just your friends from the church.
  • Be tight and controlling about kids running around. Yell even a little.
  • Don’t talk to new people beyond your hello.
  • Tell inside jokes and stories.
  • Be judgmental about life-style, clothing choices, costuming, etc.
  • Ignore the physical needs of your guests.

We all know many people only go to church at Christmas and Easter (and even Easter attendance is going by the wayside) so we have to make the most of what’s in our bag of tricks n treats. You got this, small church friends.

Stephanie

 

 

hellotagIn what it becoming a popular trend these days, another “live-coming-out” video has been posted on Youtube.

These stories will temporarily trend in social media feeds, including one in particular that Facebook highlighted this week: It features a teenager who hid a camera with just the right line of sight to capture his mom’s reaction to his announcement that he is gay.

There’s a lot to digest here, from the content of the post to why it’s even a trend to begin with. I asked Shawn Harrison, noted author of “Ministering to Gay Teenagers,” to give his perspective on the video concept itself. I also had a few thoughts to offer, not as an antagonist to his point but to supplement it from the ministry side of things. Here are two sides to gay teens coming out:

In terms of the content…

(via Shawn Harrison)

In terms of the takeaways…

(via Tony Myles)

For those that don’t know about these videos, check out Youtube and you’ll quickly see. Instead of writing letters, teens now hide a video camera in a room and film their parent’s (or family’s) response to them coming out as gay. A lot of these videos are hard to watch – some are deeply emotional and deeply troubling in how the parent’s reactions are brutally honest and some times come with the words, “Leave my house now.”

As youth workers, we need to familiarize ourselves with these videos, because they definitely give us insight into the personal lives of gay students – students who could at any time come through our doors.

As I’ve been watching these videos, I’m reminded of the time I came to my parents. I stayed home that day because the thought of coming out to my parents knotted my stomach up like never before. Not only was I physically sick, but emotionally and mentally “sick,” too. It is not easy to tell your parents you are attracted to the same-sex, let alone you have no idea why you experience these attractions, and you cannot seem to change the attractions you have. The stress and fear of becoming an embarrassment and a failure to your parents overwhelms your entire being. The fear of becoming homeless because of your “attractions” is a constant nightmare.

For a gay teen that either has come out or is about to come out, losing friends is one thing, but being rejected by family is on a totally different level.

Friends come and go, while family is supposed to be there no matter what. However, many of the teens in these coming out videos, and many who never make a video, face the unthinkable: parents rejection, homelessness, ridicule, and abuse that is physically and mental. I was fortunate in that though my parents and I never talked about my sexuality, they never stopped loving me.

Regardless of what personal stance you may have on this topic:

  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the kid?
  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the mom?
  • What can we learn about youth ministry from a kid who secretly video tapes his mom’s reaction to something?

Once upon a time, kids wrote something in a secret diary or journal so the rest of the world couldn’t see it. We’re now on the exact opposite extreme where students look for validation and affirmation in the global community, not realizing the bias that in itself creates. They may see how many “likes” or “views” their post gets on the internet and assume that’s what they’ll encounter locally among people they will actually interact with.

Maybe that’s not the end goal in their minds, though. Perhaps if they can just get one more “thumbs up” or “retweet” online, they’ll come up with the courage they need to talk to their family.

It’s why my favorite part in the video is when the mom fires back with her own disclosure… not because of what she says or how she tries to identify with her son, but because for those 10 to 15 seconds the teenager is absolutely out of whatever role he prescribed for himself in this conversation.

This “ad lib” is where real ministry happens… but what if instead of his world getting a little bigger that way there was something more Christ-centered in that moment?

Maybe that’s the message we need to remind students of in this moment. Life is larger than what they’re processing today. While culture is ready to rapid-fire validation or criticism to the latest feelings a teenager expresses, it isn’t dispensing context and wisdom.

What if a student isn’t gay in orientation, but is curious about the same sex? Will culture help them sift through that difference? Will you, with Jesus as your guide?

One way or another, this is a topic that must be explored honestly and unedited, even when we want it to feel one-sided and controlled. We all don’t have the means to package things the way we want to… but over time, context does form. For that reason, I’d like to give Shawn the last word on this – here’s some great wisdom:

shawnharrisonAnother thought occurred to me while watching these videos: Youth workers, what if a student filmed your reaction to them coming out, or what if a gay teen secretly filmed you talking about homosexuality during youth group? What would they record?

And before you determine, “this would never happen,” let me remind you that these parents being filmed most likely said the same thing. We cannot wait to decide what we would say or do concerning homosexuality and our students. We need to decide now how we would respond, how we would teach the subject, and how we would help families through the journey. This conversation is too important to put aside and wait for another day. For too long the church has practiced this approach, and the result is what we see today: we are “anti-gay,” gay teens are leaving Christianity, families sit alone in silence, and the church continues to miss the point about homosexuality.

I am not the “know-all” of this subject. I’m just a guy who personally lives out this journey, and I’m trying to help youth workers, families, and gay individuals navigate through their journey, too. For some practical help, let me suggest my book, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers.” I truly believe in this book, and by God’s grace, thousands of people have learned how to navigate this journey, unafraid and in community with others.



On Fitting In

 —  September 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

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In the past two weeks, I feel like I have talked about the topic of “not fitting in” a bazillion times. It keeps coming up at home, in my JH small group and even with my good friend who lives in another country. I sat with a young woman this week with tears brimming over at how mean her peers can be. I spoke with a Dad who shared that his tween daughter has been the center of ridicule on and off for a couple of years.

All of the “grown ups” in your life tell you this will pass. They tell you it will get better, and you will find friends. This is technically true. Yet, I think there is a part of all of us that feels like we never truly leave those years.  

Like the time last week, while leading a volunteer training (full of people I didn’t know may I add) that I felt my stomach gurgling. A fart eeked out just loud enough to ring loud and clear in the room of people intently paying attention. I thought I was going to die. One giggle turned into a room erupting with laughter. I made a joke, but to say I was mortified is an understatement.

There are the moments that even us “grown ups” still feel like that teen trying desperately to “fit in.” The only difference is we have learned how to navigate the from the feelings to the truth of our identity in Christ. Yet, if we are honest all of those adolescent years of trying to make people like us wear us down. There are moments when a friend says to you in words or deeds,”You are no longer good enough. Your personality is annoying and too much,” and all of a sudden you feel 12 all over again.

Yet,  none of us want to say to a student in JH, “This is a great life lesson because people are pretty much always caddy and some people won’t like you.” I am not talking about being “persecuted” for your faith or being bullied here either, I am talking about navigating the awkwardness of not fitting in.

What can we do to help our students (and own children) navigate feeling left out?

Stop saying, “This Will Pass”

Instead, love on them in the midst of the awkwardness. Share both past and CURRENT reports of times you share their feelings. (Of course being aware of TMI.) Let them know that while we continue to struggle there really does come a point where you learn to embrace who God made you to be. We can’t fix it, but we can teach them to navigate the feeling that you are an “outcast,” and rest in the awesome truth with the Lord you are never left out. Sometimes they just want some TLC and a listening ear.

Teach Teens To Search For and BE “Safe” Friends

This is a great term that a friend of mine uses.God needs to mold us and perhaps continue to work off the rough edges, but anyone who expects you to change who you are for them…is not a real friend. “Safe” friends aren’t afraid to ask you why you might be not acting great these days,  and then stick it out with you anyway. You are never too much for a “safe” friend. They don’t love you in spite of your flaws, they love you with them. At the same time if two BFF’s are suddenly on the outs teach them to not simply walk away, but to go to their friend and talk it out. The easier answer is to simply leave someone in the dust, the “right” answer is to work it through. Just remember to let them know being mean intentionally or unintentionally is just plain mean.

Let Them Know They Are Likable

Truth is whether or not you get along with someone is entirely subjective. One girl going through a hard time said to me yesterday, “I just have to accept that I’m just not a likable person. No one wants to be with me.” This isn’t true of any of us. Let them know the truth of what God thinks about them, He thinks they are pretty amazing. The earlier they can learn to stop apologizing for themselves and navigate living as a reflection of their Creator, the less wounds they will carry through a lifetime.

Sometimes Friends Move On

Anthropologists call it the “Village Theory.”  Part of the theory is that you have 2 deep friends in life and once those positions are filled there can’t be “more.” I am not sure how I feel about this, but I do know something. There are few people in life that stick it out with for for the really long haul. In my own life I have one from college, two from the last decade, and my husband. We move on. Life happens. We lose touch or change interests. This doesn’t mean others are “bad.” It’s just the way it happens. There may be a lull when someone close has moved on and you are in the process of  finding a new group of friends. That is lonely and difficult. However it doesn’t make you or them a “bad.”

There isn’t anything we can “do” to make it better for the students who are in the midst of “friend” drama. All we can do is make sure to notice and help them through this. It’s a life lesson, because unfortunately there will always be people to deal with.thewayimwired

How do you help students with this?

Leneita / @leneitafix

 

Help your students worry less about fitting in and realize the full potential of who GOD made them to be.

Check out The Way I’m Wired resources! 

top_5A few days ago I wrote a post on the pros and cons of having a youth group name. Check it out here. If you are thinking about giving your youth group a name, here are a few things I would think through before naming my group:

  1. Think about the purpose or mission of your youth group. – While I don’t think your name has to be something super serious, I do think it needs purpose. If asked, you want to be able to tell the elders, pastors, parents and students why you chose that name and its purpose.
  2. Have conversations. – This could be a great opportunity to define some things within the ministry. So talk with your team, volunteer leaders, parents and even some of your core students and get some outside insight, especially if you are new to the ministry. The last thing you want to do is change things too quickly. Even if you get the ok from the boss to do whatever you want. You must remember that you don’t work with him on the day to day stuff. So be wise.
  3. Think Branding. – Think about the fact that the name you choose is not just a name you will use to identify the group, but it’s also the name you will use to market the ministry to others. So do some research on branding, it will save you some time down the road. I know a lot of people don’t like the words brand or marketable because those terms are used by salesmen. Like it or not, any time you print a flyer you are marketing the ministry. You may not be marketing for sales, but you are marketing for their presence.
  4. Make It Easy To Understand. – Remember, your members are students. And they need to be able to explain the name to a non-believing friend they want to invite. So if you name the group “UpHolding The BloodStain Banner For The World To See Youth Group” or “The Gates Of Hell Will Not Prevail Youth Group” or “Salvation Isn’t Free, But It Is Youth Group” it might be a great conversation starter, but more than likely it could be just confusing.  Think about a name that will only take a few words to explain.
  5. Think about the alternative. - Ask yourself the question “do you even need a name?”.

Hope it helps,

AC



Everyday Parables: Fight Church

 —  September 17, 2014 — 1 Comment

fightchurch“The thing that attracted me to this project in the first place was the idea of Christianity and fighting, two things that seemingly don’t fit, being paired together.”

This quote comes from director Bryan Storkel regarding his project “Fight Church.” This film offers an intriguing synopsis:

Fight Church follows several cage fighting pastors in a quest to reconcile their faith with a sport that many consider violent and barbaric.

Can you really love your neighbor as yourself and then, at the same time, knee him in the face as hard as you can?

Giving a voice to both sides of the argument, Academy Award® Winning director Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel allow audiences to reach their own conclusions about these God-fearing men who beat the holy hell out of each other… because Jesus never tapped out.

Storkel was invited into the project after creating a film about card-counting pastors who won thousands in Las Vegas. Fight Church even participated in a Kickstarter campaign.

So basically… this film is about skilled Christians beating each other down, and finding affirmation from their faith in doing so… while other Christians cheer it on.

Imagine if this was how conflict was worked out in the church.

Oh, wait…

um… yeah.

Any takeaways?

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In this day and age we live in, ministry is a challenge. We have students who are hurting deeply coming to the same group as students who are just average oblivious teens. Church and unchurched students are attending the same group and desiring God the same way. Navigating everyone in the same room at the same time is hugely overwhelming. However, all of a sudden it seems I’ve turned around and students are gone. The ones that seemed faithful, invested and motivated have moved on and I don’t know why.

Here are five reasons I think students leave youth group:

1. Too Focused

We can be too focused on in or outreach. I had a group that was so relationally focused students never wanted to invite friends. “What if they mess up what we have going on here?” was what they would ask me. On the other hand we can look so much to “getting more students,” we ignore the ones we have. Once they are in the room we can be too focused on evangelism or  talk over their heads. Our goal can be so much to “catch the unchurched up” that we try to get everyone “saved” in the room every week. This isn’t saying we assume all are mature Believers, however when this happened to my own daughter her response was, “Mom it’s the same message every week, why would I want to go back?” At the same time are we remembering that just because they have been in church doesn’t mean they “get it?” Being too focused on any one group, loses the other.

2. You Don’t Understand MY Students

We categorize and compartmentalize our groups based on issues, demographics, location and family situations. The trouble with this thinking is we become isolated excluding discussions with others. There are stories that are unique to my group and tales that set you apart. However, there are also deeper issues that connect us all. We live in a world with kids who are troubled and struggling, no matter where they live. Learn the culture of where your, while recognizing it is always changing. Don’t shut your students off by giving an attitude that “no one else but you” could understand them.

3.  Dealing With the “Bar”

In the last two years I have heard the statement, “That’s just how teens are,” more than I can count.  I think we need to flush it down the toilet into eternity. Students meet the expectations set for them. Among your group are really high capacity kids with a deep desire to have more asked of them. Not just in serving (although that’s one way) or even leading (yes that’s another) but to learn how to stand out for Christ. In addition we can drag kids to  a raised standard. We see a potential in them, more than they see for themselves and this is a good thing sometimes. Yet, we can pull them up to where we want them to be. If they don’t want to be there, then they drop the moment we let go.

4.  Become Solely Programmatic:

We like to build a great program full of games and discussion starters. These are great mechanisms to get students through the door. However, the problem comes when this is the “meat” of our offering. If a student becomes interested in another hobby they will move on. Our teens have limited time and there are only certain students who are simply, “looking for something to do.”  We will lose involved students if we aren’t finding a way to engage them in an authentic way that speaks into their lives. I had a student tell me last week, “I don’t need another place to be talked at. I get that all day at school and from my coaches. Youth group is fun until I have something else to do.” Is our group just one more offering for a busy schedule?

5.  Go Shallow

We see a student, interact with them a little and think we know them. Then we label them. You know there are the “overly sensitive,” “dramatics” and even “the good kids,” in our midst.  We fail to really dig into get to know where students are at. Students are SCREAMING for people who will genuinely listen to them and help them understand their walk with Christ. I will say it again, just because they show up to church every week or have been involved their whole life, doesn’t mean they aren’t wrestling with their faith or understand all they have heard. On the other hand the kid who appears to be “struggling” may just be looking for a place they can lead.

The bottom line is when we treat our students as a mass production some are going to fall away. Students will leave and move on. However, I think we need to be really cautious that we don’t unwittingly create an extra exit. Not every student can tell you what they are really feeling, but this is a generation looking to be invited into servant leadership and deeper relationships with meaning. They don’t want to hear ABOUT Jesus. They want to know HOW to belong to Him.

What have you found causes students to leave?



Thiago-nascimento-opera-background-speaker-jpg1We are back this week with our Let’s Talk Youth Ministry video blog after taking some time off for the summer. We discuss how to keep the momentum of your small group launch rolling, and also how we handle parents concerning life groups. If you have any questions or topics you would love for us to talk about just email us at talkaboutyouthministry@gmail.com

 

Hope it helps,

Kurt & AC

child2I’d love your perspective…

How young do you think a child can be to legitimately become a Christian?

We can certainly have some fun with this, and definitely get off on some tangents…

but I’m genuinely asking.

Please share your thoughts.

As you do, here’s something to complement our conversation from the late Rich Mullins.

Cute-Kid-PrayingHow young can a kid become a Christian?

What’s been your experience?

What’s your thought?