New Year’s Ideas

 —  December 28, 2010 — 1 Comment

This is a reprint of my Small Church Youth Ministry column in Jan/Feb 2011? issue of Group.? ? (I even asked? Rick’s permission to print it!) Want an uber cheap subscription rate to Group? Only $15!!! (normally 29.95)

“Time to Take Out the Trash”?

Three times each ministry year, I feel like starting over: summer, back-to-school, and the new year. At the beginning of each school year, we all try out new variations on programming, small groups, curriculum, and maximizing our volunteer leaders.

By December, we should be clued in to whether these changes are working-even if we can’t quite admit when they aren’t. By Christmas break, we’re often so tired of hearing about whatever change everyone hates that we set aside the problem and the stress. But by the new year, it’s time to take out the trash. If the fresh idea didn’t work, fix it. Gather everyone together for a chat and work together on solutions. Admit to your team, kids, and parents: “Hey, I tried something new, and it stunk.” Just as God allows U-turns, it’s okay to admit we aren’t always right and then correct our course. ?

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? In fact, why not take the garbage idea that didn’t work and turn it into an experiential, hands-on, teachable moment? Create a lesson or multi-week theme out of it. Call it “Taking Out the Trash” or “Dumpster Dying.” Use it as an opportunity to explore ways to deal with failure. Help teenagers discover healthy ways to die to themselves and start over when they make mistakes. For biblical impact, tie that message into what God’s Word says about fresh starts (for example, see the account of Saul/Paul; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5; and so on).

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? To carry the theme even further, use lots of giant black trash bags for games. Have relay races while wearing the bags, hold a costume contest with only trash bags and duct tape, and go on an eco-friendly scavenger hunt (give each team a bag and a list of trash items to find).

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? For a serious moment kids won’t forget, have small groups meet around a Dumpster. Incorporate the multisensory sights, smells, and sounds into how sin trashes up our lives. Help teenagers connect this experience to problem areas in their own lives. End by having them write down their mistakes and toss them into the Dumpster.

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Each new year, many people make resolutions about things they’d like to change. Usually it’s a futile, short-lived effort. But you can impact kids for a lifetime by letting them know that God allows us to trade in our ashes for beauty (see Isaiah 61:3). ?


Most Read Posts in 2010

 —  December 27, 2010 — Leave a comment

I just looked at the stats for this blog. I wanted to see what posts had the most reads in 2010. This is what I found:

Top viewed post in 2010 was: College-age Sunday School. This surprised me because I wrote this in 2008! In this post I ask some honest questions about this format.

Second: The Un-Talked about College Students. This post is about how we deal with apathetic college students that have grown up in the church.

Third: Terms We Use. This one also surprised me a bit, because I also wrote this in 2008. In this post I discuss the pro’s and con’s of different ways we refer to our ministry.

Fourth: Stats That Might Shock You (and change the way you do ministry). This post discusses how the “traditional college student” is changing and how it might affect our ministries.

Fifth most was read blog post of 2010 was: Para Confused In The Church. This post challenges the typical approach to doing ministry in a local church context.

We get caught up in society’s view that bigger is better. From restaurants with huge over-sized portions, to big monster trucks, we think that unless we get something in gigantic portions we are missing out on something. The opposite is true when it comes to praise and letting students know you care, really care about them. You became a youth ministry worker/volunteer because you have a heart for students. When you take the time to let a student know he did good, even if you don’t know that student very well, you just built a bridge to him. He’s going to remember you. It just needs to be a few words, a pat on the back, or a quick hug.

The unfortunate fact is that today more than ever we are dealing with students from broken or single parent homes. The positive attention you give that student could be the only positive feedback he received from an adult all week. (Matt: I’ve had students tell me that the only hug he ever gets is when he comes to church. It breaks my heart to know that because I came from a family that hugged all the time. It also warms my heart to know that the hug I just gave a student made a difference in his day.)

Doing the smallest things can make the most difference. (Steven: A few weeks ago our student band and choir led worship in the “big church” for all of our adult services, and between working and attending, I was there for four out of our five weekend services. After the second time seeing them on stage, I made it a point to go up to one of the junior highers I know who had a vocal solo, give him a high five, and tell him how great he was. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I saw him light up.) All it took was a simple fifteen-second interaction to make that kid’s night.

(Matt: We have the guys in our small group lead the lesson each week. After our small group, I make sure that I text them or send them a message on Facebook telling them what a great job they did.) If a student reveals a hurt or prayer request they have, don’t miss that opportunity to let them know you care, and that you are available for them.

To piggy back on the text idea, if you don’t have some kind of texting plan for your cell phone, get one right now. Texting is one of the most effective “small things” you can do for your students, and you can do it throughout the week. It takes five seconds to send out a text to someone, and chances are they’ll love getting a text from their leader. (Steven: I also make it a point to text kids a few times a week if I know they’re going through a hard time. It might not fix their situation, but it gives them a sense of encouragement and love from someone they look up to.) That action that took you five seconds may have just turned that kid’s day completely around.

Just because something doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a small thing for a student, but think about the small things people do for you that make a huge difference. (Matt: For example, if I’m having a bad day, sometimes all it takes is a few simple words of encouragement or caring to help me shake off the bad.) (Steven: Something that will absolutely make my day is someone telling me I did a good job. When I hear that, I know that I did something well, and it encourages me to want to do more.) We got into the youth ministry game to make a difference in students’ lives. You don’t have have to buy a kid a Ferrari, you just have to show them you care.

Matt Reynolds and Steven Orel are volunteer youth workers at Saddleback Church. They approach youth ministry from two different generations and perspectives. Look for lots more from them in the future — for now you can follow them on Twitter ( and check out their previous blog posts (

This has nothing to do with smaller church youth ministry except that I thought it was a great article.? “ADHD Tips from Teachers”? is full of spot-on practical ideas for creating a solid environment of learning around the ADHD student. Now that I think about it, this does apply to youth ministry since these are ways to partner with parents so that ADHD function better in your ministrylearning environments like SS or small groups.


If you are like me you may be asking the question “Why are you talking about summer camp in the middle of winter?” That is a great question and something that I want to answer. I am about chest deep in winter camp right now and our students are leaving in less than a month for High School Winter Camp. We have been working on winter camp for the last six months and most everything is set in motion. The planning is pretty much complete. The leaders who will attend are set (almost). The conversations with our speaker and the direction he will go have already happened.

This means that I need to start thinking about, and preparing for, summer camp.

I’m not suggesting that you focus all your attention onto summer camp right now. I am hoping that you close Facebook so that your brain can start thinking ahead to summer camp. Now for us, summer camp is the biggest event we do outside of our regular Wednesday night program. Summer camp is a place where we see huge life change happen and I want to make sure we are ready!

This year we had our location slotted, reserved our spots and booked buses about ten months prior to our departure date. Now this is not my natural bend in life. What I am saying is that I naturally have the tendency to not be extremely planned ahead. I have trained myself to think ahead for situations that require intense planning and require others to be involved.

Here are just a few things you may want to think about as summer is approaching:

1) Know the location
Do you already know the location you are heading to? (You may want to avoid Las Vegas, where I live, cause its really hot!) This is going to be your first priority in planning the camp. Find the location you want your students to attend. Learn about the camp:

As I prepare to make somewhat of a transition in my ministry and in my life, It’s been hitting me hard that at some point in the next few weeks or months, I’m going to have to say Good bye to my students. It’s tough because I know there are many different kind’s of Goodbye’s in Youth Ministry, mainly Goodbye have fun in college or Goodbye I’m leaving.

But today it hit me that there are a lot of tough things that Youth Pastor’s have to do as part of their job that no class in seminary can ever prepare you for.

I thought I’d make a list of the 5 Hardest things to do, mainly to pass along to some of my friends graduating this May to go into the wild with. Luckily, I have only had to deal with a few of these things, if you have done them all then I simply say thank you for loving kids.

1. Do the funeral of a Student in your Ministry

2. Help hurting students as their Parent’s go through a Divorce

3. Be with a student as they explain to their parents they are pregnant

4. Say Goodbye to a Ministry you are leaving

5. Explain to your Youth why you got Fired without causing further damage to the Church

Ben Read is the Pastor to Students and Director of Family Ministries at West Gate Baptist Church in Trenton, IL. He and his wife Sarah have no children, just a black lab named Max. Check out his blog, Small Town Student Ministry, right here.

Just finished up What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. It was a really interesting read – helping unpack the Google way of doing business and transferring those game-changing principles to your world. I enjoyed it a lot, the first two thirds more than the ending act I have to admit. In the main section of the book Jeff teaches us how to be more Googly, sharing principles of how to build business through relationships, how (and why we must) hear and respond to our customers and tons of other great insights about the new work ethic and new speed of business: instantaneous. The illustrations are fantastic and deepen his points throughout. Then he changes pace and begins to apply its own principles to various industries – some were a total hit and interesting, some not much honestly. Of course, I was wishing he had done a chapter on churches or non-profits than I would be singing a different song. All in all a very helpful book that I enjoyed reading and translating internally to youth ministry and the church. B+


Merry Christmas!

 —  December 25, 2010 — 1 Comment

From everyone here at … wait a minute, it is just me here … either way, here’s hoping you and yours have a very Merry Christmas!


(love the iPad/iPod/iPhone music video from North Point)