When I was young and single, spending time with students was simple and it was easily the best part of my job. But then I got married and we had two kids (third on the way!), and all of a sudden an evening with a sophomore meant a night away from my family. Juggling those commitments is the most difficult part of my job.

That’s why I look so forward to the second week of Christmas vacation. Students are past the Christmas craziness and I am too. By the second week of Christmas vacation, life has slowed down for me, and all of my students are still out of school.

Time to hang out! Scheduling time with students during school breaks is easy and fun. Lunches and hot chocolate breaks mean that I can spend most of my day with students and all of my evening with my family. It’s too important an opportunity to miss. Here’s how to make the most of this week:

Leverage social media like a pro.
Try this. Pick up a book. Go to the food court. Update your Facebook status to say something like this:

Hanging out at the food court until 2:00 p.m. today. If you come and hang out with me for twenty minutes, I’ll buy your ice cream!

Then wait.

Email parents.
Send an email to parents to let them know that you’re available and excited to spend some one-on-one time with students. They’ll be thrilled to get their stir-crazy child out of the house for a little bit and will take care of the scheduling for you. This is also a great way to spend some time with students who are too shy or uncomfortable to set up one-on-one time themselves.

Tell your staff what’s going on.
You don’t want someone to accidentally charge you a week’s worth of vacation just because you weren’t around the office. Explain that this is the BEST WEEK you’ll have all year to spend one-on-one time with students. That’s why you won’t be around and that’s why you won’t be available for meetings.

Are you missing out on the best week of the year to build relationships? Are you going to do anything differently in 2013?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministryto help youth workers with their biggest frustrations. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

Every weekend I do my best to have a couple outside voices share their learnings from the world of youth ministry. In all honesty is started as a simple way for me to get away from feeding the monster I created when I started this blog now 6 years ago. Still today I enjoy reading other opinions, even when I don’t always agree with everything written, and often find myself learning from their posts or nodding in agreement.

Here is a selection of the most-viewed guest posts over the course of 2012. Some really solid stuff here:

JG



We’ve all given that one message that got great reviews. Students were complimentary. They even laughed at your jokes – and those laughs weren’t even courtesy laughs. They said they liked it, so that means you did something right, doesn’t it?

Maybe not.

Your goal is a lot bigger than merely giving a message that people like. Your goal is to usher people toward Jesus.

I’ve heard a lot of incredible speakers and can remember a lot of their funny stories, but sometimes, the greater point they made about Jesus was lost in their ability to be entertaining. That means there’s a massive difference between being effective and merely being impressive. How can you make sure you’re doing the one and not the other?

Analyze your motives. If your goal is accolades, you’ll write messages that are designed to bring accolades. If that’s you, it might be time to ask God to break you down a little bit (that’s one prayer where I’ve found God is almost always faithful).

Provide students with a talking point. If you don’t prompt students with an idea, they’ll have nothing to say to you except, “Good message today!” Instead, leave them with a question to wrestle with. Then when you see them later, ask them how that wrestling is going. Make the conversation about their response and God’s call instead of your message

Identify the memorable moments of your program. A few years ago, our media team put together an absolutely incredible announcement video. It was hilarious and it was all anyone was talking about after the service. What got lost in that? Anything that had to do with Jesus.

Make Jesus the star. If the most memorable parts of your program don’t point directly to Jesus, rebuild your program. If your hilarious story doesn’t remind students of Jesus, frame the story differently or let it go altogether.

What do you think? Is it more important to be impressive or effective?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like effective communication. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

You already know that your volunteers are a crucial piece of your healthy ministry. That’s why you spend so much time identifying, training, and developing awesome volunteer leaders.

But what are you doing to make sure your volunteers are really cared for?

Remember, your volunteers are susceptible to stress and burnout, just like you are. They also have important relationships with students, just like you do. That means that if a volunteer leaves your ministry, they’ll leave behind some saddened kids, and now you’ll have to start finding and developing a new person to fill that spot.

But, if you exercise good care over your volunteers, there’s an excellent chance they’ll be there for the long haul. That’s what you want.

Here are four (fairly) easy ways to make sure you take better care of your awesome volunteers:

1. Regularly send notes of encouragement.
Did a volunteer do something exceptional? Tell him. Is it her birthday or anniversary? Celebrate with her. Did you spontaneously remember the Cheez Whiz incident from last fall’s retreat? Send a note to your volunteer so you can laugh about it together.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but sometimes the easiest way to tell someone you appreciate them is to actually tell them.

2. Create volunteer teams that are larger than they need to be.
Your leaders shouldn’t feel anxiety if they have to miss youth group because they’re going to an out-of-town wedding. But if you are always tight on volunteers, then that’s exactly what will happen.

You want your leaders to be missed when they’re gone, but they also need the freedom to take a session off without guilt.

3. Pray for and with your volunteers.
This seems like a no-brainer, but when a volunteer reveals a problem, stressor, or struggle, they are asking you for your prayers. Yes, add them to your prayer list.

But as a leader (administratively and spiritually), be willing to place your hands on another person and to lift them up in prayer. It won’t take long until you become comfortable with this, and you won’t believe the impact your prayers and presence can have on your volunteers.

4. Say ‘no’ for your volunteers.
There are always a few volunteers who will say ‘yes’ to everything. I love those volunteers. So do you.

But be careful about overdoing it. Your volunteers need to have healthy home lives and careers in addition to helping with ministry. Don’t impose your own program so much that it starts to affect everything else.

Just because someone has the inability to say no doesn’t make it right for us to take advantage of that.

What else do you do to make sure that your volunteers are well-cared for? I’d love for you to share your input.

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – like leading volunteers. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.



Every few weeks, I hear about youth workers who need new jobs.

  • Sometimes they leave because they want to
  • Sometimes they’re asked to leave. We call this a forced resignation.
  • Other times, they’re outright fired

When I started to learn about how devastating the effects of youth worker turnover are for the local church, I started doing some research. I discovered several themes – the easiest and most common factors that cause good youth workers lose or leave their jobs. Make sure you’re not one of them

If you want to stay in youth ministry for the long haul, don’t do these five things:

1. Mismanage budgeted money. Depending on your theology, it’s either God’s money or other people’s money. Either way, it’s not your money. You’ve been given the responsibility to be a good steward of some of your church’s resources. You might not know what you’re doing yet, but you’ll need to figure it out soon. (This link contains all kinds of good information about managing your church’s money better.)

2. Fight with your Senior Pastor – especially publicly. One problem with working in the Church is that many of your friends will come from the congregation. We all like to vent about our bosses, but if you’re venting to a fellow pew-sitter, you’re in the wrong. If you’re in the business of creating division in the Church, you won’t be a staff member for very long.

3. Show up late for your own events. Parents have their own jobs with their own responsibilities. They know exactly what would happen to them if they slept through their alarm more than once. You can expect the same thing to happen to you.

4. Work way too hard and never, ever take a break. Your own soul care ought to be a top priority. When you’re worn down and hurting, you’ll be less effective as a youth worker. Less effective youth workers frequently become baristas. Besides that, a lack of soul care is the easiest way to make sure you run yourself out of youth ministry. The church doesn’t have to fire you if you get exhausted and quit.

5. Refuse to participate in the larger life of the congregation. You’ll appear much more dispensable if the rest of the congregation never sees you – or your youth group.

Find ways for you and your students to become a crucial part of everything the congregation does. Crucial people are much more difficult to fire.

Now it’s your chance to be the teacher. What is one of the money mistakes you’ve made? How did you fix it?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

You love working with students and despise working with money. That’s why you’re a youth minister and not an investment banker. But you also know the fastest way to lose your job is to mismanage your church’s money. You’re doing the best job you can with the funds you’ve been given, but it’s easy to mess up without even thinking about it. These are the four most common money mistakes I see when I help youth workers manage their budgets:

1. Paying sales tax sometimes or all of the time. Depending on your state, as much as 7% of your budget could go to sales taxes if you’re not careful. It takes just a little bit of work on the front end to figure out tax-exempt systems, but after that, it’s a no-brainer to make sure you don’t pay what you don’t have to pay.

2. Being too optimistic when paying deposits or buying tickets. I know, it would be awesome if 80 students showed up for the Switchfoot concert, but if that’s never happened before, you can’t count on it. Don’t get stuck with forty extra tickets – that’s like setting $1,200 on fire.

3. Failing to negotiate totally negotiable prices. Imagine you ran a retreat center that was running far below capacity during the off-season. Would you rather rent your space at discounted price or not rent it at all? Can you imagine how many fundraisers you could cut if you asked for and received a 20% discount on your next big rental?

4. Focusing on saving pennies instead of making a few big wins. I know a guy who would call his volunteers to ask them to cut pizza coupons from the Sunday paper. It saved him a few dollars, but he would have saved hundreds of dollars and hours of time if he’d just called the pizza place and asked for a church, non-profit, or large group discount.

Now it’s your chance to be the teacher. What is one of the money mistakes you’ve made? How did you fix it?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like managing money. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.



If you’re like most youth workers, just reading that headline probably made you shutter a little bit. Youth workers get uncomfortable talking about money and might even be a little uncomfortable managing it. Besides, economic times are tough, and it seems selfish to ask for a bigger piece of the pie, especially if the pie is getting smaller.

But here’s the thing. If your ministry is healthy and growing, an antiquated budget can absolutely be the thing that limits your growth. Don’t let that happen. It’s time to approach the overseers in their financial tower and ask for a bigger budget. Before you march in there, make sure you have your bases covered.

Explain how a bigger budget will help you to do bigger ministry.
If you’re asking for more money because you want to more easily sustain status quo, you’re doomed before you even begin. Explain how many more students you expect to reach or how many more service projects you’ll be able to complete. Be prepared to be measured on these later.

Demonstrate at least THREE ways you’ve worked to cut costs.
This is likely the first question you’ll be asked. So what have you done to save money in other areas? If you can’t answer this question, you need to start here and not with the budget proposal. You can’t win a bigger budget if you can’t illustrate that you’re trying to be an effective steward.

Make it clear that your new goals are good for the entire church.
The first time I asked for a budget increase, it was so we could continue to build our outreach ministry. Several new students had become part of our program, and two of those students brought their parents on Sunday mornings. After I shared this story, I was no longer asking for a budget increase for myself. Suddenly, it was for the benefit of everyone.

Know the names of the people on the Finance Team.
Rookie mistake. I called a guy Jeff for an entire meeting. His name was John.

Treat your proposal like it’s important because it is.
The first time I wrote a budget proposal, I was a 21-year-old in Business School. My proposal was 17-pages and impeccably formatted with color charts and graphs. I even had one of my professors review the thing for me. I found out years later that no one on the team actually read past the third page. But I got the budget approved because according to either Jeff or John, “If it was that important to you, we figured it should be that important to us.

Saturate the entire process in prayer.
Just because it seems like a business transaction doesn’t mean it’s not a spiritual one. You’re talking about the allocation of the gifts that other people have given unto God, and you’re likely having that conversation with several people who have to make several difficult decisions. A little of God’s wisdom is absolutely necessary.

This entire process can be pretty intimidating, and you’ll likely have more questions. I’ll be happy to engage you in the comments and answer any questions you might have.

Aaron Helman is a youth minister in South Bend, Indiana and the creator of Smarter Youth Ministry. He wants to reduce your frustration so that you can do ministry forever. Join his free email list to get a copy of his Budget Questions Worksheet.

I’ve yet to meet a youth minister who gets excited about managing budgets or planning fundraisers, but those are things we all have to do. At Smarter Youth Ministry, I’ve shared the kinds of money saving ideas that make it easier to manage your finances so that you can pay more attention to your students. Last month, I heard from a youth worker who’d been able to eliminate to car washes and replace them  with fun outreach events. Here’s how he did it.

Cut a ton of money from your budget by negotiating pizza prices.

Most chain stores are run by independent franchisers which means that they’ve got the latitude to cut you a deal, and except the one you’re currently using, every place in town would love to cut you a deal. Here’s how to give them that opportunity.

1. Create a one-page proposal that you can share with every pizza place in the area. Tell them how many pizzas you anticipate ordering this year. Tell them the kind of deal you’re getting right now. Tell them you want a better one. Give them a window of time to get back with you (48 hours seems right). Throw out phrases like “official pizza provider” and give franchisers the option to place posters or coupons at your serving area.

2. Fax, email, or hand-deliver your proposal to every decent pizza place in town.

3. Once you receive responses, send another proposal to each of the places that responded. Share the best deal you received and give each one more chance to beat it.

4. Decide on a deal and lock it in. Negotiate delivery fees (these are always negotiable). Make sure the organization knows that you’re tax exempt!

5. Do this every year. Pizza franchises are notorious for changing ownership on a regular basis, and a new owner might be more willing to cut a deal.

When I started in youth ministry in 2004, I was paying $9.50 for a large pizza at Donato’s. Today, we get large pizzas from Cici’s for $4.50, there’s no delivery charge, and the owner insists that we do not tip the driver. In a larger youth ministry, it’s feasible that this could save you $1,000 or more.

If someone showed up to donate a few hundred dollars to your program, you wouldn’t hesitate to take it. What would stop you from saving just as much money and giving a couple of local establishments an honest chance to win your business?

Aaron Helman is a youth minister in South Bend, Indiana and the creator of Smarter Youth Ministry. He wants to reduce your frustration so that you can do ministry forever. Join his free email list to receive the actual copies of the letters he’s used to negotiate pizza prices.