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Clear Names for Your Youth Ministry and Youth Group Events

 —  September 29, 2010 — 26 Comments

We’re making some little name shifts in our youth ministry these days – moving away from calling events by catchy, cool names and calling them by far less cute but very clear names.

Over and over again it feels obvious that insider names are nice for the core kids, but completely alienating for outsiders and confusing for people who bounce in and out. If you’re using a cool name for your youth event, plan on explaining it to parents and new students. If you’re using a Greek word for your small groups, your effort to please your hermeneutics professor will be lost on a 13-year old incoming freshman.

Clear wins every time. Here’s a few examples of what I’m talking about:

HSM Summer Camp
We used to call our summer camp by the destination camp we were attending, so we would call it Hume Lake or Camp Ojai. I love the traditions, but think it requires explanation to adults and clarity when a student shares their testimony about what happened there. Why not just call it camp? So now we call it HSM Summer Camp, enabling us to be very clear about what it is and less about the actual location. It also allows us to change camps without losing momentum or rebranding.

HSM Winter Retreat
This one had a great name originally – Chi Alpha (which means Christ First or Christs’ Ambassadors) – but honestly it wasn’t working in our culture. The students that attended last year loved the event, but when talking about it they would inevitably call it a “spiritual growth retreat” or “discipleship retreat” – so why didn’t we? Now that I think about it – even “discipleship” might not be clear, maybe we should even be considering a more student-friendly and clear word like “grow.”

We’re simply called HSM
I know that “the high school ministry at Saddleback Church” or “HSM” isn’t the sexiest name on the block. I hear of youth group names like IGNITE, maXimum or Warriors of L.I.G.H.T. and I think how boring ours sounds. But the clarity is worth it. Even within our own church, and I love our college ministry (Crave) and junior high ministry (Wildside), but they have to be constantly explained to outsiders.

So that’s what I’m thinking, and where we’re moving these days. Anyone agree/disagree? I’d LOVE to be convinced of the value in creating brand and identities with creative and unique names for groups and events.

JG

Josh Griffin

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26 responses to Clear Names for Your Youth Ministry and Youth Group Events

  1. how often do you have to explain what “more than dodgeball” means?

  2. Waaaaaay too often. I’ve thought many times about changing the name. I love http://www.lovegodlovestudents.com but it was already taken.

  3. Just thinking about XA (chi alpha) brings up lots of great memories…

    We used to call our in-depth teaching “Bible Institute” which was the boring-ist name in the world…but it was super clear … students still came without a clever name!

  4. Agreed. I hate that I have cynicism for older names that are still used today, but I also know that, if I’m honest with myself, I’d rather keep the promote-ability of our student ministry name (since it’s been around for a while, and people know what it refers to), than change it to something I whole-heartedly believe might have a positive effect.

    (I realize that my grammatical structure is lacking and that sentence made no sense).

    On the other hand, I hear myself say, “everyone knows what people mean when they say [our student ministry's name]. That sounds like the epitome of laziness as far as outreach is concerned, ignorance as far as notoriety is concerned, and fear as far as change is concerned.

    Great post though. Looking forward to hearing others’ thoughts.

  5. I agree Josh. Branding is something that we struggle with in the church. When we named our program we were not original (Student Impact) but we felt it represented what we were doing, and who we are. Not too many people ask us what kind of ministry it is, but we get more of “how are you impacting students.”

  6. I love the morethandogdgeball.com name. I think if you are in youth ministry, you should get it. I am all for the clever branding. Our MSM is called FUSION and so is about 10,000 other ministries across the world. When I took the job, there was no name. We had a contest with kids submitting names and FUSION was eventually voted in. That was a cool process. We use it on t-shirts, nametags, newsletters, volunteer apps…everything. It does give our ministry a more professional edge.

    We call our events simple names as well.
    Sunday Morning, Wednesday Night, Fall Retreat, Mercy Me Concert, 7th Grade Small Group Event, Winter Retreat.

    FUSION does look better in print compared to “Middle School Ministry”. But, you all are right kids don’t come because of the name, they come because of the relationships.

  7. Our HS name is simple and to the point R.A.W-Right After Worship, it’s when we meet.

  8. I think there is tons of value in keeping things simple, but at the same time you seek explanation for branded products all the time if you are unsure what the product is.

    What if Pepsi decided “mountain dew” was not a clear enough name for their product and renamed it “yellow carbonated soda of goodness” instead? While that is true, and it tells an outsider what their product is exactly, the name is a mouthful.

    Most of the time names for youth ministry has the tag “youth ministry” in there anyway. My friends ministry for example is called remedy student ministries. The name has a nice catch to it and also conveys his mission to students. Sometimes he puts “there is hope” on the bottom if he’s sending out a letter.

    If you’re going to come up with a name for something that’s not super cheesy I think the key is sticking to a one word name that’s some type of doing word. Elevate, redefined, converge, catalyst, intersect, radiate, ect. One our small groups named themselves “Gravity” and the tag line was “you can’t escape the pull of God.” It was definitely a hit.

    I think branding helps. Students might just wear that t-shirt out in public, but it is not by any means the make or break.

  9. Great comments, everyone! Amy … loved your defense of brands – I just wish I had the marketing budget of Pepsi to go with it, too!

    JG

  10. We just went through the same naming process as Andrew.

    My biggest reason for having a name is about identity. Everyone wants to be a part of something greater than themselves, and having an identity that’s a little catchy and easily marketed can go a long way in terms of buy-in from our students and outreach to others.

    But I can say that as with almost any ministry “idea”, it’s all about your church’s culture. If you’re trying to force a concept that’s not in the culture of the church/community, you’re catchy marketing doesn’t really mean anything!

    BTW, we voted in the name “Amplify”. Not original, but describes where we’re heading.

  11. We did the same thing with our student ministry, it’s now just _______ Church Student Ministry. Much better, and it’s a great reminder that we’re part of the church, not a standalone thing. We don’t name services, etc anymore.

  12. i agree with the simplicity idea. we call all of our student environments fuse __________ . for example, fuse high school, fuse jr high, fuse summerlin, fuse southwest…that way, we have a brand, but also have clarity. it’s been working well, especially in a church where there are tons of people new to the church thing.

  13. I agree with you completely Josh and actually “hate” helping with ministries with catchy names that people know nothing about, other than it’s catchy. I think the biggest problem though is branding. It’s much easier to build a logo off of “Radiate” or “IGNITE” then it is “1st Church Youth Group”. It’s also annoying, from a design perspective, to try to put that last one on a T-Shirt or flyer/poster and make it look appealing and not 80′s/cheesy.

    Church’s who already have a decent name generally have an advantage. For instance, “New Hope Student Ministries”, “Crossing’s Youth Ministries, and “SaddleBack Youth” sound a lot better than anything that has to have the word church or “Name Denomination Church Student Ministries”.

    A side note: I think Student Ministry sounds so much better than Youth Group, any day. I also realized that we should stop referring to our adult leaders as youth sponsors/volunteers. They’re leaders and nothing less.

  14. I won’t regurgitate your thoughts, just know I 100% agree.

    Though, if I had to rename our youth ministry, I’d think about “HIGH OCTANE 180 SPIRIT LEAD MINISTRY THAT HATES THE DEVIL AND LISTENS TO POP ROCK. MINISTRY.”

  15. Just launced our fall program by branding our Jr high program (FUSION) and Sr. HIgh program (ROOTED). It really gives the students an identity

    I like the idea of keeping other things simple…”Wednesday Night Youth Group” and “Fall Retreat”

    I have been using the logo everywhere.

    I do think it will take a while for people to start calling it by its brand…maybe in the same way an off brand “energy drink” is still an “energy drink” even though it’s brand is “velocity”.

  16. I have been at my current church a few months. I was able to visit this church a few times before my interview.. the youth program was called SPY. (it stood for St Paul’s Youth). I have made some changes to schedule and programs and much prefer names that are clear and support the ministry. I have branding our youth group meeting as YOUTH Night and our small groups for Jr & Sr high as LIFE Groups… our trips this summer were simple names.. “Mission Seattle” “Wednesday Mystery Trip”

  17. Winter Retreat and Beach Trip are our boring names for the Winter retreat and Beach Trip.

    I think the best name we ever used was for a Dinner Theater Fundraiser…The Completely Serious Comedy Show. The adults who bought tickets knew they were coming to a comedy show. It was a lot of fun.

  18. I got stuck with a name for our ministry that made no sense, had no marketability, but the students wouldn’t let me change it (The Wave). So I had to work with what we had. And I have promoted and marketed it to the families and community. Then our group split middle school and high school. So I kept the original name for our student ministries, but gave each age group a name that related to the main name (Amped {Jr. High} Stoked {Sr. High}. I don’t know how successful its been, but the students in each group want their own identity. Either way, I think content is more important than name…

  19. I totally agree with the concept of keeping things clear and simple. While we do still have more creative names for our groups like ‘Kickstart’ and ‘Fuel”, we categorise them so people understand what it is they are coming to. Our 3 categories are Church, Community and School.

    We do a LOT of community work and run various groups, so we say “this group is for learning about the Christian faith for this age (church)” and “this group has no Christian content, but is for the benefit of these people (community)”.

    By being upfront about what everything is, we’ve found a lot of success and favour with those outside the church.

  20. I see and like your reasons for simple and clear names, but I think creative, thoughtful names can be good conversation starters as well. It may get tiring to have to explain “More than dodgeball” over and over, but the thought that you’ve put into it, the reminder you get whenever you explain it, and the new nugget the asker gets is pretty valuable, too, I think.

  21. @Sandra – totally fair point! JG

  22. I wrote a blog post on this today. I agree that clarity is essential, especially when the focus of our youth work is primarily evangelism in an urban context. The kind of young people I work with aren’t interested in what the thing’s called. So long as we’re available to them and authentic in our love for them.

    Check out my post here:

    http://niddriepastor.com/2011/12/21/youth-groups-that-do-what-they-say-on-the-tin/

  23. There are merits to both approaches I think. Certain kids will be attracted to the cool name, but then again, I don’t think as one comment mentioned, that it should give them identity. I know I’m being technical here, but I would focus more on their identity in Christ vs identity in a cool sounding group name.

    This is just my own opinion, but Christians by their very nature are a bit un-cool. And especially in today’s society, there is almost a much appeal (in worldly standards) to being uncool and off beat. I may be reading way to far into that though.

    I’ve gone back and forth between how to brand stuff we do. Our group goes by “Freedom Teens” because Freedom is a part of our church name and we chose teens over students for clarity’s sake. (I used to have 3rd graders want to be in our group because “we’re students too!”) I occasionally will think of a cool name for an event, but it always has to be pretty obvious and descriptive of what the event is about. I think we have to walk the tightrope between presenting what we do in an accurate way (because we do cool stuff so why shouldn’t it sound cool!) and being honest and easy to be a part of for new teens and unbelievers.

  24. We used to do some Friday night hangout or lock-in things and simply called them “Are you gunna go tonight?” — that’s what the students would say anyway when talking to each other anyway!

  25. REVOLUTION YOUTH MINISTRY Going be my first one I ever doin it’s going to awesome age 13-19 every Friday night to 7p 9pm

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