Youth workers work hard, and I have so much respect for the ones that run two different nights for Junior Highs and High School students. In many ways its a necessary part of ministry as running a program for sixth grade to twelfth grade is challenging if not impossible to effectively engage students in such a diverse age range. We felt that same challenge in our group but did not have the resources to go to a multi-gather format. So after much thought and prayer we decided to completely overhaul our youth night to help alleviate many of the challenges we had been seeing in years past. So here is what we did, why we did it, what is working and what needs tweaking 8 months in.

Why did we change things?

For the past few years we have been facing real challenge of students making the leap from our kids program to high school. They were going from being the big fish in the pond to feeling like minnows in our student ministry and the intimidation was a big factor. Our youth night has been Thursday nights from 7:30-9:30 for 10 years now and for some parents of younger students this is a deal breaker, it was too late for their kids and up until this point our response was simply sorry.We also recognized like many of you, that resources were finite at the church and running a two night program would be a strain on our volunteers, worship teams, and myself and my family. The group was out-growing our facility and having 25 small groups trying to find a place to connect and focus was getting more and more difficult. Changes needed to happen, we needed to split the groups but going to two nights just wasn’t going to work, so here is what we did:

The Good: We are now 8 months in and things are going really well and here are a few of the highlights:

  • Early start time for Jr’s has meant that there is much less fear of coming to Youth. Young students arrive with their peers and when they join the older students for Worship they come in a wave of junior high energy.
  • Early end time has made grade six and seven parents more willing to send their kids and those students bring friends.
  • Two teaching times means that we can talk about issues differently and at a level that is challenging to both groups and has us no longer teaching to the middle or losing the young students with a high school level sermon
  • Having a game for the junior high students gets their energy out and means that we don’t have to have a game during the main session all the time which the high school students appreciate.
  • Running small groups at two separate times it allows us to effectively double the usable space in the building by using the rooms twice.
  • The High School-only hang out time before has matured that time and our high school students are showing up earlier and earlier each week just to connect.
  • We have added a half time position to cover off the Jr High coordinating but have maintained the same worship teams, volunteers and our costs have not changed either.
  • Grade 6 is a flex year where families can try youth and if it its too much their students can stay in kidsmin for one more year. Its a safety net that was never there before and it works.
  • Students now will attend youth group on the same night for 7 years and it makes it easier to prioritize instead of switching between Jr/Sr High night.

The Challenges: It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing but we have learned a lot this year:

  • Having such a concise and regimented schedule means that anything that runs long, or a technical glitch and keep the train from hitting the stations on time which can be challenging for people like me.
  • Our 30 minute worship set can keep us from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and while early in the year we were quite rigid about the schedule, we have learned to be attentive and embrace moments that may extend the worship time and cut into small groups.
  • Grade 8′s are funny. The outline has grade 8 being a flex year and this year our grade 8′s are old for their age and dealing with challenging issues so having them with grade 6′s is not something they always want to do. We moved them up after spring break to High School for which they were thankful.
  • Having two leaders meetings has proven challenging and the frequency and quality of the preservice meet ups has diminished throughout the year
  • Writing two versions of the same sermon or two unique talks has been more work than we bargained for, but we have finally found a groove in that department.
  • Parents with students in both groups were vocal about the annoyance of coming to the church twice but with us offering activities before and after those concerns have diminished.

I am so thankful that we chose to do it this way and would make the same choice again to do it.Have you tried something similar? Do you have a question about it? Post a comment and lets chat about it! 

GS – Twitter 

Good Enough

 —  May 9, 2012 — Leave a comment

“Am I Good Enough?” – this little question is asked by a majority of teenage girls. There is an easy answer – unfortunately, most girls need to hear it multiple times, different ways and from a variety of people.

Here are some times and ways:

*Every time you interact with a girl in your ministry you can reinforce your value and worth with an encouraging word and with a hug.

*In your messages share stories of women from the Bible, from your church and from your ministry. By sharing stories of other women you are showing how Jesus sees value in all people…in all their uniqueness.

*Be clear-we are never good enough…Communicate that truth…don’t confuse students (girls) by creating false standards of what makes someone good.

*Stop focusing on the outside. We spend a lot of time talking about the issues related to a girl’s appearance…a girl will never feel good enough when it comes to appearance…point to the amazing unique qualities of each girl in your ministry and help them see what matters most about them.

*Do something special for girls to tackle this topic. Give them an outlet to process and discuss what they are feeling…being able to express their feelings in a safe place is a great gift we can give them.

*Encourage parents to talk about it with their students. Hearing that you are good and that you matter from your parents can change a students outlook on themselves!

What do you do when a girl expresses the pain of not feeling good enough?

Have you heard about Love Does? Or about Bob Goff? I heard him for the first time at Catalyst and got his book before I left the conference. It was a quick and easy read. And while it was so good- I didn’t even feel like you got a full feel of who Bob Goff is…Nonetheless, by the end, I was wishing he was my Uncle and that I that I could live life with the whimsy and creativeness that he does. I began to imagine what ministry could look like if we followed Bob Goff’s lead as he approaches love with an attitude that says LOVE DOES…not just feels.

Each chapter started with a simple statement- a before and after statement that set up the chapter. Each chapter told a story from the life of Bob- from every age of his life. He’s a big fan of Young Life and you’ll hear how it impacted his life as a teenager…which is cool for us youth workers! After each story he shares what he’s learned about Jesus. Super cool…plus he’s got some great stories that could be used in youth messages.

If you don’t have it yet, you should get it! Have you read it yet?

I learned this game at a conference from Scott Rubin ( It is super simple to play and set up. Here’s how we do it…

  • Split students up in groups of about 10.
  • Have them circle up in their groups.
  • Tell them to look down at their feet.
  • Say, “When I shout 1, 2, 3, LOOK UP!” You look up at someone in your group.”
  • If 2 people are looking at each other (making eye contact) they are eliminated.
That’s it. Whittle the groups down to one winner, if you have several groups do one final game with the winners from each group. Some groups will figure out that if everyone looks at the same person every time they will never get out. After a few zero eliminations say something like, “Ok, this time you cannot look at the same person…1, 2, 3, LOOK UP!”
Feel free to grab this graphic I whipped up and use it the next time you play “1, 2, 3, LOOK UP!”

This year we are purchasing a Graduation Gift bundle for each of our high school graduates.  These are three solid books to send with them in their next season of life.  Years past we have given our graduates a Bible but all our students have Bibles and we give out Bibles out all year long to anyone who needs one, so this year we are changing things up and sending them off with a few solid resources. $25 worth of books for under $15, you got to like that!  What do you gifting your graduates this year?

While certain youth ministry “skills” are good…when it comes to ministering to junior highers, a certain mindset, or attitude(s) is arguably much more important. Skills can be learned, but attitude is often something that can’t be taught. Give me an unskilled, but properly attituded (is that a word?) team of adult volunteers any day!

Here are five attitudes that I think are toward the top of my list for junior high youth workers:

- An attitude of OPTIMISM!
Adults who can see the best in a situation, and believes that good things are always on the horizon is a big deal in junior high ministry. Ministering to young teens is undervalued, misunderstood and draining. Pessimists need not apply!

- An attitude of ENCOURAGEMENT!
Simply put: Young teens are dying for encouragement. They need a few extra cheerleaders in their lives.

- An attitude of EMPATHY! While things like a new pimple, getting dumped by our girlfriend of two days and wearing the exact same top as your best friend to the school dance may seem small….almost laughable…to us; they are a BIG deal to our junior highers. Junior highers need adults in their lives who truly “feel their pain” and want to walk alongside them as they navigate the many ups and downs, highs and lows, twists and turns of their journey through early adolescence.

An Attitude of GRACE! Very few people will try your patience like a junior higher. Junior highers will grate on even the steadiest of nerves. They will make the same foolish mistakes again and again and again. They need to be surrounded by grace-giving adults.

An Attitude of PERSEVERANCE!
Don’t give up. Your current junior highers need you…and so do the ones who will follow in their footsteps.

What attitudes would you include if you were making your own list?

Really enjoyed this post over on Matt and Steven’s Generation to Generation blog about Life Group leaders taking on tough topics during small group night. Here’s part of how they take it on, head there for the rest:


  • PRAY PRAY PRAY – The best thing you can do to prepare is seek out God’s direction. Know where God wants to lead your students and how he wants to speak through you.
  • Consider changing your location – In my small group, we meet at one of the guy’s houses every week. When we’ve planned these sensitive discussions, we try to go somewhere else that we won’t be overheard. This puts all the guys way more at ease and helps them be more open.
  • Have a game plan – Don’t go into something like this without having some kind of plan set out ahead of time. If you go in blind, it could end up making things more awkward and then you flounder around looking for ways to move forward.


An Andy Goodbye

 —  May 8, 2012 — 3 Comments

Goodbyes are hard. I don’t care how stoic you are; dare I say – and yes I dare: goodbyes can suck.

If you’ve been in youth ministry for longer than a second, you know what I mean. We graduate favorite (and not so much) seniors out of our ministry. If we’re lucky, we see them over a few college holidays. And if we’re really lucky, we get to do their weddings and a few baby baptisms over the next decade.

I want to say a “from my heart” goodbye to someone who has impacted small church youth ministry more than you may know. My friend, Andy Brazelton, is leaving Simply Youth Ministry to move back to So. Cal. His kids need to know their extended family. I get that and I support it.

But I don’t have to like it. Andy gave me several shots at creating a specialized ministry area designed for reaching the needs of small churches’ youth workers. Not one but two books came under his regime. He said “yes” to an 8-hour deeper learning track at the Simply Conference. He signed off on this blog. There are too many other things to name.

I will miss Andy at the Simply helm. I will miss Andy’s constant mocking me into 21st century technology. I will miss Andy shouting, “Hey, C!” I will miss him allowing us to make fun of him and trash his office. (Though I was NOT present for that event and Michael Novelli is my alibi.)

Andy came to the job young and leaves still young…but wiser.  We’d notice the gray hairs if there was any hair to notice.

Andy, you will always be in my heart like a mom (from a distance) proud of what another son has accomplished. I love you and won’t get to see you nearly often enough now. I don’t like it;  I don’t  like it at all.

Ah crap, now I’ve started to cry again…which is embarrassing sitting on this airplane surrounded by people going somewhere…just like Andy.