Once a year, Simply Youth Ministry has a sale that is too good to pass up! It’s the 40-40-40 sale: 40 Hours, 40 Percent off and 40 free backgrounds! This is a great way to get a great deal on tons of great resources! CHECK IT OUT.


Last night our college ministry officially “Rebooted”. Without going into the long story, it had been in an odd place for the past year or so. Decisions had been made by the “higher ups” that had effected it, momentum had been lost, and we went through a team transition that resulted in THREE of the four full-time Pastors leaving their positions. Tough season to say the least. We needed to figure out a way to give it a fresh start; a reboot.

And that’s what happened last night! Our new college team has been working for a month tweaking, re-inventing, dreaming, recruiting, and promoting the “new” college ministry at Saddleback. Honestly, it’s not better than the “old” college ministry, just different….and well timed.

The result? Hundreds of college students packed out our gymnasium last night. The anticipation and energy was unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. It was fantastic.

So my question to you today is this: What area(s) of your junior high ministry need to go through a reboot? What needs to be tweaked, reset and given a fresh start? Your results may not be as dramatic as our college ministry experienced, but my hunch is that a strategic reboot here or there will help move your ministry in exciting new directions.


If you work with middle schoolers/junior highers, you really should join us for our 3rd annual Middle School Ministry Campference!

At this campy/conferencey weekend designed just for middle school youth workers, you will laugh, play, relax, grow, learn, discuss and even debate a little bit. It’s smaller than most conferences, usually around 100 of us, which sets it apart and really helps it feel like a gathering of the middle school ministry “tribe” (am I the only person in youth ministry that hates that word/analogy?).

I’m so thankful to Marko, Adam and the Youth Cartel for dreaming up this event and I look forward to it every year…it really is one of those “must do’s” if you work with young teens.

You can register for this years Campference, coming in October, RIGHT HERE.

kick butt

Yesterday I sent this tweet: My simplistic answer to the question of longevity in youth ministry: “Kick butt; Be healthy”.

I’ve had a few people ask if I could expound on that a little so I thought I’d do that this morning.

- Ministry deserves my best efforts.
- The freedoms the church gives me shouldn’t be abused or taken for granted.
- My friends in the marketplace shouldn’t work harder, longer, hours than I do.
- I need to take chances, innovate, and “swing for the fence” on a regular basis.
- I need to aim for excellence…but not be a perfectionist.
- I need to be willing to make tough decisions to help our ministry win.
- “Kick Butt” is actually more of an attitude than an aptitude. It says, “I’m All-In, all the time.”

- Having a “kick butt” attitude isn’t an excuse to neglect the important things in life.
- “healthy” doesn’t mean balanced (I actually don’t think balance exists in ministry life)
- I need to spend time with the Father on a regular basis.
- I need to aim to be a good husband, dad and friend.
- Speaking of friends; I need at least one who knows the real me and isn’t afraid to call me out on stuff.
- I need to have some hobbies and interests that don’t include ministry.
- I need to take care of my body.
- I need to enjoy the journey more than the destination.

This month marks my 25th ministry anniversary. And although I have plenty of regrets and things I wish I would have done differently along the way, I think that part of what’s helped me last and have a measure of success (however one measures that in ministry…if you even can) is having a “Kick Butt; Be Healthy” attitude.


Above is a picture of our brand new fire pit. Instead of buying one “off the shelf” at Lowe’s, we went all in. We dedicated 1/3 of our back yard to a large (5′ diameter) fire pit with room for a dozen people to encircle. The idea was simple: We live in a small house with very little extra space for conversation, so let’s create an outdoor “great room” of sorts.

Last night, our teenage son and 8 of his friends broke it in. They hung out around the fire pit for a couple hours talking, laughing and burning things. Somehow, the fire pit created an atmosphere that made them way more open to conversation….with each other and with my son’s dorky middle-aged parents.

It got me thinking about junior high ministry, and the environments we create (or fail to create) to help foster conversations. The obvious answer is to to grab the old faded plaid couch in the corner of your youth room, move it to the center and torch the sucker! Trust me, that would get your kids talking! And it will get you fired. So the second best idea is to simply ask yourself, “How might we create ‘fire pit’ environments in our junior high ministry that would create more natural opportunities for conversations?”

To get you started, here are some thoughts about creating “fire pit environments” in your ministry:

- A warm, friendly feel.
- conversations are welcome, but not forced….they flow naturally.
- laughter is a value.
- Physical comfort. So don’t burn the old faded plaid couch, find MORE of them.
- Create a sense of relaxation…unhurried feeling.
- An environment where everybody’s voice matters.

As you head into Summer, it’s the perfect time to build a fire pit atmosphere in your junior high ministry!


The other day, Doug Fields wrote a great post in which he mentioned four ways churches might help strengthen families:
STRONG marriages
HEALTHY leaders

And while our youth ministry isn’t tackling those four areas in a strategically defined manner, I do think we’ve taken some pretty significant steps over the past two or three years that (I hope) are serving our families well. Here are a few new things we’re doing as well as some old stuff we’re simply trying to do a little bit better:

- Worship Together Weekends: We’ve written and talked a lot about this. Once a month, we cancel our JH and HS youth programs so families can attend “big church” together as a family.

- Parent Text Messages: Both our JH and HS ministries give parents the opportunity to sign up for a text message subscription that provides all sorts of announcements, insights, etc. from our team to mom and dad.

- “Help, I’m The Parent Of….!”: We recently had our first “Help, I’m The Parent Of….” workshop and it was a huge success. “Help, I’m The parent Of a Tech-Savvy Teen” helped parents understand how to navigate the world of social media with their teenagers. We plan to do a couple such workshops each year covering different topics.

If you happen to be in the Southern California area and would like to host your own, “Help, I’m The Parent Of A Tech-Savvy Teen” email me at kurt@saddleback.com and I’ll be happy to put you in contact with the organization the put this wonderful event together for us.

- Family Activities: We are trying to put together more family events instead of events solely for teenagers. Not a ton….just a few per year. This past weekend, we had a family service in junior high and invited parents to join their junior high child for a lesson about the importance of family and a BBQ afterward.

- Better Costumer Service: This is an area I think we have taken big steps in…and we still have room to improve. We want to return emails and phone calls from parents quickly. We want to be easy to find at church. We want our communication to be timely and accurate. Trust is earned in the little things. And good customer service is a great place to start.

Doing youth ministry in a manner that serves the family well isn’t easy. And to be honest, it’s not the way I was raised to think about youth ministry which is why I’m thankful for people like Doug Fields, Kara Powell and others who are leading the charge.

Rick Book

I couldn’t be more excited about the new book, A Youth Ministry Volunteer Speaks His Mind….at least what’s left of it!

Rick Williams has been a volunteer youth worker for over 30 years, and has written a book specifically for those of us who are the primary leaders of our youth ministries. If you lead a youth ministry, this book is a must read. Rick has a fun, simple and very direct writing style that will make you laugh while it punches you in the gut! Rick is willing to say in this book what so many of the men and women who serve alongside us want to say…but rarely do.

I was fortunate enough to serve alongside Rick for the first six years of my youth ministry career, and I’m thrilled he is finally sharing with everybody else some of the stuff he taught me all those years ago. Here is the description from the website:

Ever wondered what your volunteers really think about you, your leadership, and your ministry?

Get an insider’s perspective from Rick Williams, who has seen it all as a volunteer in youth ministry: futile meetings, weak leadership, disorganized events, lax standards, and even the occasional guilt trip. Yet despite all these challenges, he has remained a volunteer for more than 30 years!

Your volunteers have feedback and suggestions that can help you lead more effectively. Most of them want to serve in meaningful ways. They want to take ownership. They want you and the youth ministry to succeed. But are you listening and truly hearing what they’re saying?

A Youth Ministry Volunteer Speaks His Mind will help you navigate the waters of engaging volunteers in life-changing ministry to teenagers. Rick’s perspective may not align perfectly with the people who serve alongside you, but you’ll discover truckloads of wisdom and experience from his insights. Leading a team of volunteers isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but they’re worth the effort!

You can get a digital or hard copy version right here!


In addition to the normal youth group happenings, a typical weekend in our student ministries includes any number of youth pastors popping in for a visit. Sometimes their visit is with several others as part of a planned visit and sometimes it’s a youth pastor and his wife who are vacationing in Southern California and he managed to persuade her to spend a vacation morning sitting in our youth programs.

And I always find myself “apologizing” up front for what they are about to experience. “We’re so glad you are with us! I’m afraid you are going to be a little disappointed, though. We’re not a well-oilded machine. In fact, there’s not much happening in our group that isn’t happening in yours”, I routinely say. But I’m learning that this isn’t entirely true. There is something happening in our junior high ministry that I have assumed happens all over the place, but I’m learning I’ve been mistaken.

If you had visited our ministry this past weekend you would have seen a worship band made up entirely of junior highers (with one HS vocalist struggling to keep everybody on key!), three junior highers in our tech room running the cameras and directing the “shots”, two junior highers running our sound board and lights (we probably could have used a little adult intervention on that one), and an 8th grade girl sharing about the ministry she founded that sells cupcakes to help kids with cancer. And you would have probably happily paid $1 for one of her delicious home-made goodies at the booth she set up in the back of our gymnasium.

What you wouldn’t have seen much of is excellence; at least not in the way it is traditionally defined! The worship team struggled quite a bit, the guys in the tech room were consistently a slide (or two or three) behind at any given moment in the service, My microphone kept popping and getting feedback, and Saturday after church our cupcake girl shared that she wouldn’t be able to be there on Sunday….and hoped we’d still be willing to sell her cupcakes (which we did, of course).

Our visiting youth pastors are rarely impressed with the level of excellence they witness. I’m surprised, though, at how often they comment on the level of student involvement and ownership happening.

I share this to remind you that as you lead your junior high ministry you have a decision to make, and how you answer is determined mostly by what you value. Do you want your ministry to be marked by excellence or by ownership? In high school ministry, and certainly in adult ministry, these two values can coexist but that isn’t really the case in ministry to young teens. Ownership almost always means a lack of excellence, at least as it has been traditionally defined.

But maybe it’s time to redefine “excellence”. Maybe excellence doesn’t mean every note is on key, every cue is hit, every mic is turned up on time, and every announcement is given flawlessly. Maybe Ownership = Excellence.