In my last post about whether small church youth workers should or shouldn’t go to big conference, one of the reasons TO go is an opportunity to connect to other youth workers. More directly, youth networks run a-plenty in visibility at conference crossroads whether formally (through sponsorships or booths) or informally (through notes tacked up on a bulletin board).

Here’s a list of tips for what to look for in a healthy or unhealthy network:

1) Consistent meeting times: If the times waffle, its too hard to know if you can attend and calendar ahead.

2) Similar interests and affinities: If you’re the one lone small church person, it may be hard to relate to their stories.

3) Make sure the group isn’t a bunch of whiners: Maybe I’m being too blunt…but I’ve met groups both in person and online where the only agenda is to complain about their SP and parents. Avoid this environment.

4) Topical planned groups are best: Look for one that has a structure of what they’ll talk about each month. One or two subjects or tips to share ensures that the group can be focused.

5) Look for sharing time: See that there’s also a time for a balanced sharing of needs and concerns along with a focused topic.

6) Online networks: I think they can work. I’m a part of one that is very caring and concerned. I also recently left one after about two weeks because it was too big with too much trolling for controversy. I didn’t feel safe to ask questions…and if you knew me, you’d know I rarely feel unsafe in YM environments. (I can hold my own!) That particular youth ministry workers group seemed more like an issue of People magazine and I didn’t need that addiction, waiting to see what dirty laundry someone was posting next.

What else comes to mind for you? What can you think of that would be a helpful tip?


I’m in the midst of big youth conference season. REALLY happy to be able to serve small church youth ministries and uber-grateful that I’m invited to the conference table. In these next 7 days, I’ll head to teach at Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention. From there, I leave to spend time with the Simply Youth Ministry people to kick around what their next step is conference stuff. Weird that this post would come to mind…but then maybe not.

For the smaller churches, sending people to big conferences is, well, a big deal. It’s a significant cost for churches whose budgets are in the 6 figures, and that first number is a 1. So should small church youth workers go or should they stay home? Here’s my “to go or not to go” list:


There is no better place to get what a youth worker needs than in the one place where it all comes together. At a big conference, there’s every level of soul or educational need. The veteran youth worker can learn something new just as easily as the new-to-it-all intern. In addition to all of that, it’s a place where youth workers are spiritually fed–something not easy to accomplish in our little churches back home when every Sunday is filled with a long youth-to-do list. Another big plus is the networking possibilities. Meeting up with other denominational people or visiting a NNYM (National Network Youth Ministries) booth could be just the thing you need to get connected to a local support group of youth peeps. Another good thing for the non-professional youth person is all that you can learn while walking the exhibition floor. Seeing what’s offered out there gives you a lot to chew on, a menu from which to pick and choose.


Like I said, it’s a big chunk of change. Rarely can a small church afford to send more than one person. If more do attend, the cost often comes out of the pockets of the people. The argument could be made that the money might be better spent on a small church coaching plan offered by people like Ministry Architects. Such coaching would give each local church its own plan tailored for their specific students’ needs. Plus, all the choices offered in class topics can be overwhelming. (One reason I’m so grateful that small church youth ministry is developing its own platform.)


Nothing. What I mean is this: don’t use being a small church youth ministry as an excuse to not further your youth leadership. Read. Attend whatever workshops you can even locally. Watch online stuff. Google ideas. Join a network. Borrow the “smarts” of the local and bigger youth ministry near you.

OK, I need to go catch a plane so that I can go home for a few days, and then have a great next 7 days with youth workers from all over the world. I love my job. Hope you do, too.

- Stephanie / @stephaniecaro

Yep, its a bar. Not a fancy bar; just a typical East Texas place where the locals hang out. Actually, its name is now Southland due to an owner change…but the older locals still call it Mr. Jim’s.

Get a picture in your mind: inside is the sit-at bar, games, a karaoke setup, a wall where people sign their name to make their mark. Outside is a big deck area and a playground so that people can bring their kids and dogs. White lightbulbs are strung across the yard. There’s a little wooden stage in the corner of the lot. Nothing fancy.

Its a rare weekend that I’m home but being Labor Day, I’m off the road. I had taken my dog to the dog park so she could walk me when I got this text from Sis: “Want to come up to Mr. Jim’s? I’m up here with “so” and “so.” “But I’ve got the dog,” I said. “Bring her, too. No one will care.” So I went.

People, it was fascinating and as a newbie, I did a lot of watching and listening. My sister is loved there. She is accepted for who she is when other “faith communities” don’t easily embrace her. She has deep “family-like” relationships. People hug each other. Introductions are made when strangers come in. No one cares how you’re dressed or if your dog is tied up out on the deck. When you sing karaoke, people cheer you on whether you were good or not (She was fabulous. I wasn’t). Folks ask after one another, especially after those that are missing. People celebrate holidays and other special moments together. At Mr. Jim’s, hot topics are discussed and yes, things can get heated…but they’re usually forgotten the next time the local pro-team scores.

When Sis was going through breast cancer last year, her community had pink shirts made and wore them (guys, too) to encourage her on. She got numerous cards, flowers, chocolates, etc. She had lots of visitors, calls, posts, etc., all from a community where she’s deeply rooted. 

And God is discussed. People on the fringe about their beliefs aren’t scared to mention and question because their $10 on the bar brings a sense of equal rights. Opinions are encouraged, cruelty isn’t tolerated, and life is lived.

I wish my small church was more like this.

I am sad. Not because the stage lights have gone down on one man’s larger-than-life amazing talent. After all, the collective library of Robin Williams will live on for a long time.

I am sad because a man we all knew was so distraught that earthly life no longer felt safe to him. Such sorrow led to the decision that being anywhere else was better than being here.

I am sad about Robin Williams. Not because he was a big star…but because he was a man whose humor came from a deep place of pain, and he died because of that darkness.That same pain has made our family its dwelling place before. Our son, Scotty, was swallowed up by it. 

I am sad…but God is good. 

I disagree with you, Mr. CNN commentator. Robin Williams’ demons did NOT win. That implies there’s a finality to him, and those who suffer have nothing but a doomed fate ahead. Our God has a HUGE mercy for such as these, for such as me, and in the end? “Every knee will bow above, on, and below the earth” to the God who saves in the now and/or in eternity.

Youth worker friends, don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t quit. EVERYTHING you do to show a child, a student that he/she is loved by you, others, and God is a step against this pit of hell. Your efforts may feel like a drop in the bucket…but as my leaky roof can attest to, the drops accumulate.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about Him and them. Let’s get going; we have some love work to do.



…and I don’t mean parents. I’m talking grandparents, the old ladies in the women’s group, the crotchety dudes who grumble when students wear hats in the Sanctuary. The answer to the title question? Of course they do!

Can you believe that I STILL run into YP’s who say their counselors really shouldn’t be older than college-age? I consult with search committees who still describe their perfect youth pastor as a guitar-playing, b-ball throwing, surfboard-skimming, young married dude whose wife will also serve FT in the YM (for free, of course).

So as we’re all recruiting volunteers for the new school/youth ministry year, do yourself (and your students) a big favor: start with older people in your church. The secret? Ask them the right questions. Put them in the places they feel comfortable, where they can use their giftedness. Oftentimes, we frighten off potential older volunteers (who have time available and are WAY more dependable than many other vols) by our approach: too fast, too quickly asked, too confusing, too big, etc.

Older people can do more than just bring cookies. Here’s a list of volunteer roles older folks can fulfill in your YM:

1) Closet Coordinator: Every youth room has a supply closet that needs a mom’s touch.

2) Weekly Supply Organizer: Get your SS teachers s what they need by having a team get the SS rooms ready.

3) Garage Sale Gurus: Have a list of upcoming supplies/props the YM will need and put these folks on the hunt.

4) Prayer Partners: Have each student in your YM prayed for daily by an older person.

5) Divine Design: Your youth room is a MESS! Have someone come in once a month and straighten it up!

6) Data Divas: Many older folks are computer savvy. Have them keep your student data/attendance up-to-date.

7) Craft Coordinators: There is a segment of your students who are the creative, artsy, crafty type and someone to teach crochet (or whatever) would be cool.

8) Paperwork Police: Yeah, why not lesson the chaos for the adult chaperones at events or when leaving on a trip by bringing in a few folks to collect the paperwork? Can’t hire an admin? Schedule older vols for a few hours each day.

9) Who-knows-who: Older folks know a lot of people and they know others in your church that can help with what you need. Put them on your recruiting team.

10) ADULT COUNSELORS!: Of course older people can be a part of your team in face-to-faith ministry with students. The best way I can share this precept is from a friend of mine, Amanda Berger, who is the president of a ministry to girls called Soul Sisterhood. She runs “girls only” camp weeks and for the last 2 years, she brought a Camp Grandma on staff and has had HUGE positive results. You’ll hear from her on a few days and then a few days after that? You’ll hear from the Camp Grandma herself. Stay tuned.




Given my post yesterday on a local church’s lack of VBS administration and follow up, I thought I should repost this game plan from back in May (just in case you hadn’t printed it out and was saving it like an adored document on your night stand for such a time as this).

GAME PLAN: VBS Visitor Follow-up

 Volunteers/Staff Needed:

  • All Children’s Ministry Teachers/Key Department Leaders/Staff are on board with the first-timer process and have signed off.

Calendar Space Needed:   

  • 15 minutes at one VBS teacher training and/or email with response required. Goal is to ensure that all adults are oriented to the process.
  • May Meetings: VBS team, Sunday school team, Children’s Ministry Leader Team to set up plans for follow-up before VBS.
  • August Meetings: Same as above with the purpose of evaluation and for planning a follow-up event.
  • Plan a “Back-to-school” “Fall Kick-Off” or “VBS Reunion” event where all kids from VBS come back for a fun, energetic 2-hour program. The program elements will include a video/slide show from VBS, a look at the fall CM ministry, a craft, game time, snack, songs from VBS, etc.

Database Needed:

  • A database of visitors updated and distributed to all key adults and staff following the VBS week.
  • Sunday School database
  • Church Members/Family database

Children’s Ministry Staff Responsibilities:

  • Ensure that all VBS Leaders are prepared to give special attention and provide an intentional welcoming climate for all visitors, particularly first-timers. They are especially on the lookout for the parents of first-timers/visitors.
  • Ensure that online registration forms indicate “first-time family” or “visiting family.”
  • Create a First-Timer Card that will effectively collect information about that child/family and is emailed upon registration of a first-timer.
  • Ensure that First-Timer/Visitors Cards are available for all Sunday school teachers, children’s ministry volunteers, and any other weekly school year CM program leaders.
  • Ensure that all first-time visitors’ parents complete a first-timer card.
  • Ensure that, in each weekly ministry program and every special event, that at least one volunteer is responsible for distributing and collecting first-timer cards.
  • Be sure that all first-timer cards make their way back to the age-level director who will follow up.
  • Within three days of an event where a first timer has attended, generate a letter to be sent to all first time visitor families & mail before the end of the week.
  • Work with the Children’s Ministry data management person to ensure that first timer contact info is put into the system.
  • Work with the Children’s Ministry data management person to re-categorize all names on the visitor directory when needed as they either fall away or attend regularly. (Based on attendance information.)
  • Work with volunteers and staff on an ongoing basis to create an increasingly welcoming environment for each program of the children’s ministry.
  • Transfer all completed first-timer cards within 24 hours to correct age-level director.
  • Make a call or send an email to all occasional and regular visitors each month.

Children’s Ministry Administrative or Data Management Staff Responsibilities

  • Update the database monthly, placing each person on the database in one of the following categories:

1)    Visited only once

2)    Occasional Visitor (Visited six or less times in the previous three months)

3)    Regular Visitor (has attended at least seven times in the previous three months)

  • Each month, give the staff a list of all occasional and regular visitors (for follow-up contact).
  • Maintain attendance records for all weekly children’s ministry events.
  • Add “regular visitors” to the ministry mailing list, to receive the same ministry mailings that all children’s families receive.
  • Keep a hard copy back-up of all completed first-timer cards.
  • Ensure that the entire visitor database receives invitations to “bring a friend” community events.
  • Personalize and mail a letter for all first-time visitors within one week of their first visit.

Implementation Process:

1)    Create first-timer card.

2)    Determine what software the children’s ministry will use for its visitor database.

3)    Draft a “welcome” letter.

4)    Schedule volunteer leader training in which volunteers will be trained in their responsibilities in the first timer process.

- Stephanie

PS-There’s a Fall Kick-Off Game plan from Ministry Architects if you need one:

Two of Casa Caro’s current inhabitants recently experienced a Vacation Bible School that missed every box on the “how to run a solid VBS” check list. Small churches, you can do better than this! (and don’t worry – this church won’t see this post. Trust me.)

-Permission slip for parents to sign? Nope.

-Medical info on each child? Nope x 2 (and one of mine is a diabetic).

-VBS info on their church website? Last update was 2012

-Theme from one of the major publisher’s? R u kidding me?

-Songs learned? Hallelu/Praise ye the Lord, The Lord said to Noah, I’ve got the Joy, Rock/Sand song-circa 1960.

-Opening worship? In sanctuary where they all had to file in one by one in total silence.

-End of the day release? Open the doors and let them run out.

-Follow up? How could they – they never took names or addresses in the first place.

…and yet my two loved it! Couldn’t wait to get up to go each day (and these are kids that only experience “church” at my house). Climbed into the car SO excited to tell me what they learned, ate, did. They felt loved and accepted. They begged me to come the last day to hear their songs.

Later that final afternoon, the 6-year old was sitting on the bench in our front yard.”What are you doing?” I asked. “God provides so I’m asking him for something I need.” “Did you learn that at VBS?” “Yes.” “What are you asking for?” “A kitten.” Yikes. That’s gonna be an interesting carry-on for the plane ride home.

Well, let me restate that title. You probably don’t need a covenant to create conflict in your small church leadership; I bet there’s plenty of that already. What would it look like if all the leaders in your ministry signed something like the covenant below?

I have been working with a church in the NE through my work with and this was produced during one of my onsite visits. It wasn’t brainstormed by just a few; input was given by every church leader.  Together, they decided that each person who accepts leadership also signs and agrees to live by this covenant. The church published this with Scripture references along side each of the 4 key points. Its made a real difference in what they say and how they live among each other.


1) Be Constructive

  • Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
  • Stay focused on the matter at hand.
  • Would you say it in front of the person(s)?
  • Willingly confess your mistakes.
  • Defensiveness isn’t helpful: avoid “Yes, but…”

2) Be Empowered

  • All are encouraged to intervene.
  • Guard each other’s dignity.
  • Remember the mission: we’re here to serve Jesus.
  • Nip it in the bud. Don’t let conflict fester.
  • Address people directly according to Matthew 18.

3) Be Attentive

  • Make eye contact. Put your phone down.
  • Focus and listen. Don’t form your answer while the other person is talking.
  • Let people finish; don’t interrupt.
  • Think before you speak. Say what you mean.
  • Be empathetic. Try to understand the other person’s position. Restate what the other person has said to test your understanding.
  • Use “I” (or “we”) statements. Avoid sentences that begin with “You…”

4) Be Loving

  • Blaming, bullying, finger-pointing, name-calling and personal attacks have no place here.
  • Agree to disagree. Opinions differ.
  • Remember that every conflict is different, and individuals respond differently to conflict.