A few months ago we talked about our first steps in helping our students develop a more Sticky Faith. We interviewed Kara Powell about how to help students have a faith that lasts beyond graduation and how churches are working to build communities that are integrated to a degree but still have effective age-specific ministries as well. If you missed the interview please check it out right here.

The second half of that week we talked about what our church was introducing that very week: Worship Together Weekends. The plan was to cancel youth services once a month in order to encourage families to attend the adult worship services together. The hope was that exposing our teenagers to the larger church experience at Saddleback would help them feel like part of the overall church family, not just part of the youth group.

We’ve been getting a ton of questions about it and many have asked for an update, so here we go!

So far, so good!
The first several weeks of Worship Together have been really great—by cancelling youth services the first weekend we actually also happened to coincide with several holidays (July 4th, Labor Day, etc.) so having the joint services was helpful on the lower-attended weekends anyhow. The real test is probably still coming soon, but it has been great so far.

We have a student section.
Yes, we have a section that is specifically designed for students—but we encourage students to sit with their families and friends first before heading there. Some choose to be there and our student ministry team is very present at all services that weekend, meeting parents, greeting, or on stage for announcements or welcome.

No momentum has been lost.
You would think that cancelling youth group once a month would kill momentum, but we haven’t had adverse affects yet. We communicate with texting and Facebook almost exclusively with our students so they know exactly what’s happening each weekend if we’re on or off. Hasn’t been confusing at all, which is a slight miracle.

So where will we go from here? We committed to a one-year experiment, and so far it seems like everybody is pleased with the results, and we’re excited to hear about other churches that are experimenting with new ideas to help students STICK!

Are you trying new things to develop Sticky Faith in your students?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

At anytime there are Churches all over the world in the process of searching for a lead pastor or recovering from the departure of the last one. It’s not an easy place to be, but the statistics would say that many of you reading this have been through this or are in the middle of it right now. I am currently entering the 15th month in my church without a lead pastor and it has been a challenging season for sure, but I thought it might be helpful to share about the good and bad of a time that each of us will likely face at some point. For some, this transition period is healthy, and the successor simply steps into place taking the baton and running with it but many on the other hand are sudden departures, with no one to fill the position in the wings and it is these transitions that are the most challenging and painful, mine has been the latter.

The obvious challenge of being leaderless has been a loss in momentum of the Church as despite the effort of our team, losing the “face” of the Church has meant a partial loss of identity and we have spent many months trying to regain lost momentum. For us loss of momentum came with a noticeable migration of attendance and the subsequent drop of in giving. It was not long before budgets tightened and decisions became tougher to make.

There have been staff casualties; hours cut back, positions not filled after departures increasing the amount of work to be shouldered by a decreasing number of people. In the midst of these challenges and growing collateral damage of the reality of Pastoral transition, I am thankful that of all the groups in the Church, our students have remained almost unaffected by the process. Even as parents decide to move churches, students have remained where their friends are.

While the youth have remained fairly unscathed, the same cannot be said for their volunteer leaders and quite frankly myself. It has been very challenging to lead in this uncertain time, with no clear voice or vision to execute; it has taken a great amount of patience and trust in the Lord believing that there are better days ahead. I have had to manage my expectations of what decisions can and will be made in the past 14 months. Even changing obviously broken systems is not easy in with out a leader.

Much of what has changed in the past months has been incremental as stability is often the focus in times like this, and thus a young, passionate leader can become frustrated when we have to put a pause on new initiatives and programs for an indefinite period of time. For some churches it could be 6 months to find a new leader, for us we are going to be 16-20 months at a minimum.

In the midst of a growing portfolio of work, I have had to remind myself that my first priority is my students, their spiritual growth and shepherding. When I look at the relative health that has remained in the youth group, I am actually excited because I am deeply convicted that from this health is an opportunity to shape the future of our church and to be an encouragement in a discouraging time.

Working in a Church without a lead pastor is challenging to say the least, its often difficult, and could seem like a logical place to jump ship. But please, please, please consider what you have been called to. Like a marriage, I chose to work at my Church in sickness and in health and it is not until the moment I am called away that I would even consider leaving no matter how challenging the circumstances.

Chances are each of you will experience a time of lead pastoral transition, I pray for you that it is not as long as ours. Stick with it, trust the He has better days in store for your Church. The workload may seem like too much and the road too tough, stick with it and serve the Church. The refining process for lack of a better word stinks, you feel overwhelmed with work, disheartened by declining attendance and longing for the day when the right leader arrives and takes the reigns. In the mean time, I have to stay faithful and love my students, my Church and focus on doing what I can to lead well in a challenging season of ministry.

PS – If you are in the midst of this and want to chat sometime, email me! We are in this together geoffs@peaceportalalliance.com

-Geoff (Twitter)


My Burning Question

Geoff Stewart —  August 15, 2012 — 7 Comments

I have just returning from spending the past 3 weeks in Uganda leading a missions trip with our High School students. It was a powerful time, and despite being around teenagers 24/7 I still managed to find time to rest, pray, and think. As I sit at my desk and long for the rolling hills of Mpigi Uganda and the adorable children that live at our property there, I have one question that I can not seem to shake, and its one that has impact on many of us. So first let me give you some background.

Over the past few years I have had the great honour of meeting youth workers from all over the world, I love hearing their stories, hearing about what God is doing in the youth group and hearing their heart for ministry. After hearing about that leaders youth ministry, I often ask them to tell me about their church and the tone sometimes changes. This is where my question comes from: when I meet a youth worker who is leading an effective ministry that connects with and draws students into the Church, where they encounter the living God and begin a relationship with him. But what happens if you are in a Church whose services are targeted at a much older demographic and try as they might, students struggle to connect with God on Sunday morning.I have a friend who has a youth group of 90 students in a church of 300 people, but can seem to get students to make any sort of lasting connection in the Church.

So my question is simply this:

Is it irresponsible or unwise to pour into a youth ministry in a Church whose Sunday gather is targeted at the age 50+ demographic?

Would knowing this be a deal breaker for you if you were applying for a position?



Feeding The Monster

Geoff Stewart —  April 24, 2012 — 2 Comments

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with a fellow youth pastor named Landry who works at a Church in downtown Vancouver. Above is a photo I took as we walked around talking about life and the complexities and challenges of being in ministry (Landry really suffers for the Kingdom as you can tell). While we walked he expressed some frustrations with the other parts of ministry that often take time away from serving Youth. He was frustrated with the amount of meetings, the amount of bureaucracy and other elements that someone who is new to Church ministry might not know are part of the gig and he was simply looking for a healthy perspective on how to embrace it.

A friend of mine once referred to this as “Feeding The Monster”. He expressed his begrudging acceptance of attending board meetings, all-staff lunches, health and safety committee get-togethers and taking tickets at the Children’s department nativity presentation. For my friend it was not that any of these events was bad or had no value, but for each of us, we recognize that an hour spent doing something other than focusing on our students and leaders is an hour that we might not get back. This past week, on top of leading our student ministry, I preached at our main services, taught at our local Christian school and then did two funerals. It was hectic and exhausting but as I reminded Landry, its part of the deal.

When I get frustrated about meetings and pastoral requirements I have to remind myself of this:

The Youth Group Exists To Serve The Church, not the other way around. If it were not for the loving and prayerful generosity of the rest of the Church, our youth group would look much different. We exist as a part of the body of the church, to serve, support, encourage and be a part of all other ministries.

I Am Not Building My Own Church. When I put my head down long enough and focus, I can easily get in the mindset that my ministry is the only one, and convince myself it is the most effective. What happens is that I lose sight of that we are building The Church and if our goal is to have students successfully assimilate into the body, I need to be working with other departments to collaboratively plan for this to .

We Are Called To Be Pastors To The Whole Church. It took me a while to grow in my comfort level to pastoring people 2-3 times my age but as I have grown in that, I have watch God grow me in my patience and love for the older people in our church. Sadly there are weeks like this week where pastoring them means leading a memorial for two of them. Funerals are never easy, but it’s a role that I have grown into as the Lord has shown me that my leadership is wider than just leading our High School students.

The responsibilities that each of us take on outside of our specific roles can be frustrating and can seem like we are simply feeding the Church monster. But in reality its fulfilling our role as a pastor, and reinforces that we are a part of a much bigger story that is unfolding each week at our churches. The key is that we need to see it as a blessing to be a part of and not a burden to endure.

GS – Twitter

•Small groups are messy. Really messy.
•Small groups are a logistical hassle. Meeting in homes only adds to the chaos.
•Small groups require lots of leaders.
•Small groups need constant attention and maintenance.
•In short…small groups can feel like a BIG pain.

But … small groups are totally worth it.

Here are 4 reasons why we think small groups are a big deal. Feel free to add your own (or a dissenting opinion) in the comments section:

Small groups help make invisible students visible
I (Josh) have 4 kids of my own – a couple of them are going to spend their lives being the center of attention and the other 2 are probably going to enjoy contributing on occasion but usually just fading into the background and allowing someone else to take center stage. Small groups put every student in a position to contribute and be challenged. A church that only gathers in the large group setting is encouraging only the faithful, vocal few to truly participate…others may attend, but very few participate. Small groups help make the typically invisible student a little more visible.

Small groups make any size church feel like home
It really doesn’t matter how big your youth ministry is – it is going to feel unwelcoming or even cold to some degree to an outsider. But when a student is invited into a small group… with only a handful of others it begins to feel warmer and more inviting. Personally, we love small groups in homes because this helps them feel even warmer.

Small groups create a youth pastor minor league
Looking to turn regular men and women into great youth workers? Give them a few seasons in small groups and you’ll be amazed at how their heart and their skills grow, and so will they! Small groups give plenty of opportunities for young leaders to shine. Instead of a personality-driven ministry , a strong small group strategy provides opportunities for lots and lots of youth pastors within one ministry.

Small groups produce Godly students
OK, this one isn’t guaranteed, but a small group environment does allow a great leader to be placed over, care for and disciple a handful of students. You can rest a little easier when a student gets connected in a small group – because you know they have a much better chance of their faith sticking because of the relationships that have been set in motion.

Do you think small groups are worth it? Why or why not?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

I’ve been in various settings of youth ministry over the past decade. First as a student and later as a volunteer, intern, paid staff, and now, pastor. One term that gets thrown around a lot is the phrase “big” church. Over the years, it’s always seemed like a strange term and if I’m honest, not really one that I understand. The further I’ve come along in ministry, the phrase has moved from strange to bothersome. What does “big” church even mean? Is it a church where all of its members are extraordinarily taller or more obese than others? Though that presumption may sound ridiculous, I feel as if it makes just as much sense as what “big” church actually does describe. Let’s think for a moment…

“Big” Church is of course used to describe the adult population of a given church community. For example, the typical Sunday morning worship service in which most in the congregation are adults, regardless of age, may be called “big” church. I’m not sure where the term originated, but I’m sure it was in some separate, age-appropriate ministry years ago (most likely, a youth ministry). Though the term may seem harmless, simply being used to distinguish service times or groups within the church, I believe it presents several noteworthy problems in our church communities.

Vocabulary establishes culture…and culture is the most important aspect within a church (see Sam Chand’s Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code for more on this topic). Whether you realize it or not, there is a culture constantly being written within your church community. And it usually isn’t what’s written on the website or on the “vision” walls. Culture is inked with an invisible pen: the day-to-day interaction and relationships of the body, the church. Vocabulary is one of the biggest factors in this phenomenon. Think about the connotations of certain words you use on a daily basis and ask yourself how they affect you.

Without creating too long of a list, here’s some of the mindset I believe using “big” church creates:

In order to have “big” church, you have to assume that there’s also a “little” church. The people that say the term “big” church, are not the lead pastors or staff pastors (let’s hope not…), but usually kids, teenagers, or even volunteers within age-appropriate departments. The difference between “big” church and “little” church (youth group, kids church, etc.) goes several ways. Saying the term could create a mindset amongst younger kids or teenagers that they don’t matter (even if that usually isn’t the intention). It’s almost as if to say: “You’re too short to ride this roller-coaster.” When exactly does a person graduate to “big” church? Just by going to the Sunday morning service? It inevitably creates a sense of not feeling like one belongs any time there is interaction with older people. Furthermore, the term may cripple a child’s or student’s creativity or willingness to be involved in the greater church body. Why? Because that’s “big” church and you’re not ready for that yet.

The other side of the term is the most common, and unfortunately, the most poisonous. Again, though this insight may not be the intention, it creates an underlying culture. Saying “big” church produces an “us versus them” mentality. This is found primarily in youth ministry contexts where the feeling is that the youth are BETTER than the adults. Encouragements from leaders seem strange like, “Let’s go to ‘big’ church and show those people how ‘we’ worship!” Before long, students stop attending other services because of silly things like worship style & music preference. And it’s our fault! Depending on your context, the building may not help the issue. For example, my student ministry meets downstairs in an industrial-style basement. I have to fight to make sure that “upstairs” is not viewed as “big” church, or for that matter, a separate church altogether. Exaggerated as it may seem, ministries CANNOT adopt an Occupy Church mentality in which adult congregants & adult ministry is considered corporate headquarters.

How did we get from a simple phrase to full-out church division & strife? Because that’s the slippery slope of how mindset is established. No matter how overstated you may think all of this is, consider the culture-shaping impact using a simple phrase like “big church” makes. This mentality is unhealthy, dangerous, divisive, unbiblical, and to use an appropriate word: heretical.

I’m not saying that age-appropriate ministries are wrong (my job depends on it!). What I’m saying is that we have to be intentional about the cultural mindsets we create, even down to the words we choose to paint it with. There has to be a united front to connect, integrate, and strategize ministries all the way across the board. THE CHURCH IS THE CHURCH! There is no big or little, better or worse, upstairs or downstairs. It’s a body. One body with many parts. 1 Corinthians 12, homie!

Discourage your people from saying “big” church. It doesn’t have to be a strong rebuke, but gentle correction. Don’t be afraid to poke fun at the term…because it is ridiculous. My leaders and I laugh about it all of the time when I coyly state my ignorance that we had so many “tall” people in our church. But the fact that I lead a youth ministry that many may deem “successful,” but only 20-25% of my students attend our Sunday morning worship and almost none of those are involved…that is no laughing matter. It’s time to start thinking like the church, friends. And it starts with me & you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one…

Bradley K. Chandler is a graduate of Southeastern University and is the Student Ministries Pastor at Trinity Worship Center in Burlington, NC. Be sure to subscribe to his blog here — good stuff for sure.

This post from last week got a fair amount of traffic/energy from some youth workers, so thought I would base this week’s poll on the same question: if you weren’t a youth worker at your current church, would you attend there?


I thought that Kurt (my boss and Student Ministries Pastor here at Saddleback) may have posted his best blog post so far – this one not really about junior high ministry but about the idea to subtly shift youth ministry a little closer to the adult services so the leap isn’t impossible after graduation. Here’s a clip, definitely worth the click over for the rest:

- We are going to eliminate much of the “competing activities”. We currently do a whole lot of “youth versions” of things such as a youth version of our membership class, a youth version of missions trips, a youth version of deeper learning bible studies etc. We are going to take a close look at these and determine which ones we can eliminate and jump on board with the ones offered for adults.

- We are going to creatively look for ways to get our students to actually attend an adult service on a somewhat regular basis! The older the students, the more effort we will make. So we will work extremely hard to get our college kids in the adult services, work sorta hard to get high schoolers there, and work a little bit to get our junior highers there.

- We are going to create a few easy events that intentionally get our students to rub shoulders with the adults (the above strategies also do this…). For instance, I friend of mine just shared that his group invited the senior citizens in their church to a movie and popcorn night to watch the movie “UP”. He said it was one of the easiest, most effective things they have done in a long time.