The Bionic Teenager?

 —  August 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

I sat in a planning meeting today with several caring local professionals. They hope to host a youth summit in our area, and our conversation eventually centered on the desired outcomes of the conference. We began brainstorming  what we want to see happen in the students involved. In other words, “Who will they ultimately be when they leave this event because they were a part of it?”

After several minutes on that line of thinking, I raised my hand and offered an observation:

“It feels like we’re trying to create a bionic teenager. I don’t know if everyone remembers that old TV show the Six Million Dollar Man, but there was this concept in its opening theme that it feels like we’re sharing here – that we have the means to make students better than they were before… ‘better, stronger, faster.’

I think everything we’ve talked about are great values for kids to grow into, but if I were to force this on my own son he’d feel immense pressure because he can’t get there overnight (let alone consistently). Maybe we need to include the values of ‘rest’ and ‘journey’ somehow? Students can take steps this way, but they may need to intentionally pause along the way and take stock of their progress so they don’t crash because they feel they’re not yet perfect.”

My thoughts were met with enthusiasm, not to mention a lot of affirmation. I felt like I’d made a real contribution to the discussion.

Only…

praiseI wondered how often I’ve not had that thought in ministry. Maybe you can identify:

  • “Once kids go on this trip, their hearts will be forever transformed for Jesus.”
  • “If I can only get that student baptized, then he/she will become a role model to the others.”
  • “The more often students are consistent with youth group attendance, the more consistent they’ll be with Jesus.”
  • “They have to start (reading the Bible/praying/fasting/tithing/singing) more if they hope to have a real breakthrough.”

Even just writing those made me realize how absurd they all are.

And yet… don’t thoughts like that creep into your head and planning, too?

The thing about bionics is that something unnatural was added to appear natural.

Hmm. Is that the end?

What do you think is reasonable and unreasonable to expect in these matters?

article.2013.02.05New, new, new!

For many youth workers a big part of their job description seems to include “Think outside the box on a regular basis”… constantly coming up with new ideas and innovative programs that are bigger and better than last year, last week, and last night. And while there is certainly a place for risk-taking and improvement in each new season, sometimes what you really need is tried and true, solid stuff. Stuff that is actually totally inside the box!”

Ask yourself these questions as you look at planning the season ahead:

  • What has worked really well in the past year?
  • What is a “classic” that would be fun to revive?
  • What were people talking about after last summer?
  • What is MY favorite event of the year?
  • Where did we see the most life-change in the last season?
  • What is easy to plan but brings the ministry a big win?

There’s a fine line between tradition and boredom, so be careful as you plan—but sometimes, the best things you can do are ones that already worked in the past.

Here are a few examples of ideas that started off as new ideas and have become traditions in our youth ministry:

You Own the Weekend—This is a series where students completely run youth group. It has had an incredible response every year!

Pumpkinfest—We don’t do a ton of big events, so we tend to really do our best to go “all in” on just a couple a year. One is this fun festival in the fall that students now know and love.

Guys Trip / Girl’s Trip—These fun summer overnighters have become really popular with out students and were one of the highlights of just last year. So guess what? We’re doing them again this summer.

Take a second to think inside the box for your next season of ministry!

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 love Google Maps.

When you load the homepage the default view is zoomed way out showing you the whole United States. Type in an address and it zooms in quickly to show you a specific region. Click “street view” and BAM! you’re looking at things as if you were literally walking through the neighborhood by foot. Kinda creepy since Google is secretly stalking us, but kinda awesome at the same time. And a great example to how we typically plan our youth ministry calendar.

We first take a look at the big picture of our ministry, then zoom in on the season ahead, and finally get a street view all of the way down to the current teaching series and events. Let me explain in a bit more detail:

THE BIG PICTURE
It is a wise idea to get away for the day and get a big picture of your ministry. Take a break from the pace of ministry and the distractions of email, voicemail and the persistent nagging of Google+ and wrestle with an overview of your youth group. August is the perfect time for this! Now for some this is a simple task because they live in the world of ideas and vision – for others it will be challenging to stick your head up over it all and get a glimpse of the whole.

Key questions to ask yourself at this big picture stage:

  • Where you think God wants to take students in the next year?
  • What worked well last year, and will it work again?
  • What annual events would be effective again this year?
  • What needs to get the axe?
  • Have I blocked out my 2 weeks of vacation?
  • Where are we strong and where are we weak?
  • Is there a good balance of God’s eternal purposes for our ministry (evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, worship)?

Paint in broad strokes what your youth ministry year will look like at this point. Lots of prayer – ask God for discernment. Use pencil.

THE SEASON AHEAD
You’ve now got an idea of the big picture of your youth ministry – now it is time to specially plan the next season. There are lots of ways you can do this – right now I like to divide the year into 3 unequal parts – Fall, Winter-Spring and Summer. This is the time to start to really firm up specific teaching topics, series and events. You probably already locked up some bigger things like summer camp, trips and retreat locations, but now is the time to make final decisions.

Key questions to ask yourself at this season stage:

  • What needs to be cut?
  • Am I keeping this program to satisfy a parent/vocal students or because it is what is best for our ministry?
  • Where do I have momentum naturally and where is it lacking?
  • What are the teaching topics for this season?
  • Who is the best person to teach?
  • Has my spouse seen this before I go public with it?

What looked good in the big picture view might be too much now that you’re zoomed in a bit closer. You are still flexible enough at this point for an audible. Use the eraser now if needed, but definitely not on your vacation time.

CURRENT SERIES/EVENTS
The closest we zoom in for planning is the current month. You’ve planned everything from a year out, you firmed up much of those plans in your season overview, now it is time to lock everything down and walk into what you’ve planned.

Key questions to ask yourself at this season stage:

  • What adjustments do I need to make based on circumstances that have come up since we planned the year/season?
  • Am I balanced and healthy with this calendar?
  • What can we do make our youth ministry even better next year?

I’m in the thick of planning our summer right now! May God bless you as you serve students and plan your youth ministry calendar, too.

JG

During a recent brainstorm of ways to love and serve our local campuses, we decided to focus on ASB (student government). I don’t know about your schools, but our ASB teams work so hard so support and entertain their schools. Because of their hard work, we came up with a few ways to show our support:

-Encouraging Notes. As youth workers, we know how hard it can be to entertain teenagers. Unfortunately, so does ASB. It is rare for these hard working to receive praise or acknowledgement for their effort. Try to get all of the names of the student government at a school and have some of your students write letters to them. Being able to tell the ASB that they are loved and appreciated is a guaranteed win at any school.

-Event Set-Up/Clean-Up. Having your ministry as a whole be available to help them set up and tear down their events can be huge. Sometimes the events that ASB throws are  massive (i.e. dances, shows, etc.) and they require a lot of manpower to pull off. Again, we know how tiring it can be to be the first to arrive to an event and the last to leave, so we know how much it means to have someone offer to help. This is a great way to have your students be servants at their school.

-Bringing Food. This was an idea that one of our students came up with. Offering to bring a home cooked meal on a day that ASB is working late could mean the world to them. And it doesn’t always have to be some extravagant ordeal; it could even be something as simple as brownies or cookies. Putting in that effort could go a long way with showing love to the student government.

-Treat the Director. Don’t forget to include the ASB director! They are the ones that really help pull everything off! They are the ones that are empowering their students to make a difference at their schools. Many of our students’ lives have been changed by being in ASB, so it was so important to us to make that known to the directors. This could be something as easy as a Starbucks card and a handwritten note. Make sure they know how much they are appreciated and make sure they know your ministry is here to support them. Include your contact information so that they can let you know if they could ever use a hand. It is a GREAT way to build relationships with faculty!

We could not be more excited to get moving on all of these projects! Our ministry really believes in putting effort into campus outreach. It makes a huge impact on not just the campuses, but in our students as well.

Supporting ASB is one of the ways we are doing campus outreach, what is your ministry doing to serve the local high schools?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.



Between the two of us we’ve literally created hundreds of youth ministry calendars. Over time we’ve managed to pick up a few pointers we wanted to share in this SYM Today. A calendar focuses you on the purposes for your ministry and lays out the direction for the ministry. Here’s a process you can use, modify, or mock as you plan the upcoming school year calendar:

Strive for balance
The first mission is for the leadership to be clear that one purpose or agenda isn’t going to dominate the calendar. We lead a youth ministry that wants to be purpose-driven, not driven by one particular purpose. We will spend time talking about evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and worship—not letting any one thing drive the direction. You may not be “purpose-driven,” but we hope you want to be purposeful in your approach to ministry, and a calendar helps.

Take one purpose and run with it
If you decide balance and purpose is a good thing, the next step is to plan specific events, classes, trips, and meetings that focus on specific purposes and goals you have already deemed valuable. We also look at what we did the previous year and debrief them on the fly. If they worked, we consider it for the next year. If it didn’t work, we do our best to go after something fresh. In our setting, we like to take a specific “purpose” and spread it out over the course of the year.

Repeat that process for each purpose
Then we go month by month again, this time through the eyes of a purpose, such as evangelism. After that we’ll hit fellowship dates for small groups, then drop in discipleship retreats, camps, and trainings. We cover all of the purposes, with the goal of having each purpose represented clearly on the calendar.

Drop in the deadlines
Once the calendar is more or less “set,” we drop in deadlines for registrations and various milestones that related to the projects. For example, our mission trip requires a registration start and end, as well as three meetings for parents and a celebration weekend. Small groups don’t just start on day one; they need registration dates, deadlines, and enough time for us to process the students into groups. When you plan an event, be sure to also include the follow-up dates as well.

Look at the big picture and cut away
Then we look at the overall big picture and goal for balance and health, and we start the painful process of figuring out what needs to be cut. We also go in with the mindset of what items need to be adjusted—could we partner our event with another time our target audience is already at church, instead of asking for another night out of the team and the committed?

That’s ONE way to think about your ministry calendar. What’s yours?

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

One of the most important administrative steps of any youth leader is the development of a yearly planner. Taking some time each spring/summer to plan out the next school year’s calendar (August – May) holds countless benefits for you, your students, your volunteers, and your church leadership.

Consider the value of strategically laying out a well-planned Ministry/School Year Calendar:

  • Communicates you value students’ busy lives.
  • Allows you to effectively communicate details with parents.
  • Helps you budget more accurately.
  • Provides opportunity to begin promoting events earlier.
  • Forces your hand to strategize various ministry events.
  • Reinforces your leadership ability to superiors.
  • Promotes better work/personal life balance (family appointments, out-of-town schedules, etc).

And yet, developing a Yearly Calendar is neglected by far too many youth leaders and pastors. For some, they don’t recognize the benefits because they’ve never experienced them. But for others, the process just seems too difficult… planning events 8-9 months in advance appears too daunting of a challenge. Be encouraged, many of your colleagues around the country are proving the challenge is not too difficult. And with the right system, you can accomplish it too.

I’ve used the exact same process every spring for the past 15 years to produce a calendar for the next school year. And I’ve found that the whole project can be accomplished in 5 completely achievable steps.

  1. Create an editable calendar document displaying each month of the upcoming school year with clearly labeled holidays. I recommend using a landscape-view displaying 2 months on each page. This allows room for a readable font, but still hangs nicely in your office without taking too much space. I also recommend using the Tables function in a simple word processor to create the template. This allows opportunity to insert text and a variety of shading opportunities. To get you started, here’s the template I’ve used for years (.doc / .pages). 
  2. Track down your local school’s district calendar typically located on their website. Import the important dates onto your calendar marking school vacation days with a consistent shade of gray (again, creating your calendar as a table in Word or Pages makes this shading simple). Be sure to label the first day of school, last day of school, vacation days, and testing weeks if applicable.
  3. Import your regular-occurring ministry calendar programs. Your ministry likely has a weekly/monthly schedule of events (think Sunday Mornings, Small Groups, Wednesday nights, Monthly Trainings, etc.). Begin populating your yearly planner by inserting them on your calendar template. Simply create the title, then copy (Ctrl-C) and paste (Ctrl-V) on to each appropriate day.
  4. Schedule/record any overnight trips for your youth ministry. Some of these overnight events occur on a yearly recurring basis. For example, my ministry goes on a weekend retreat every January and a week-long high school trip in July. Scheduling those on the calendar are easy – they occur every year at the same time. For the overnight trips that don’t recur yearly but you still plan to accomplish, your calendar template will help you select the most strategic week/weekend for each trip.
  5. Schedule the rest of your events for the ministry year. Your final step involves scheduling and recording everything else: outreach events, special parties, unique Sundays, and whole church festivities (just to name a few). This will, of course, be the most difficult of the five steps and will take the most amount of time and foresight. But take heart, with the first four steps completed, you’ll be surprised how quickly this last step flows. Once you can glance at the entire yearly planner in front of you, you’ll find the rest of your events almost schedule themselves.

Once completed, your calendar will quickly become one of the most important documents in your office as it helps provide clarity to your disciple-making strategy and decision-making process. But don’t leave it hanging on your bulletin board. Make sure it finds its way into the hands of your students, parents, and volunteers. You’ll be glad you did… and so will they.

Joshua Becker is a veteran youth pastor who has served churches in Wisconsin, Vermont, and Arizona. He blogs regularly at Becoming Minimalist where he encourages others to find more life by owning fewer possessions. You may also enjoy following him on Twitter.



For the most part, when I write something about youth ministry it is field-tested. I have done it…it worked. I have done it…don’t ever do it. I have done it…check out these scars. One of the ideas floating around in the old noggin that I have never done and I don’t know if it will work is … wait for it…seasons passes.

Allow me to explain: we live in a CostCo world. If I can’t buy 12 of something at a discounted rate then I don’t want any of them. I love the idea of warehouse stores so much that I bought my wedding ring at CostCo. (Longer story for another day) What if we were to sell season passes to our youth ministry with some of the same mentality? It would work something like this. We do 10-20 events throughout the year that cost different amounts.

    Winter Camp-$200
    Summer Camp-$500
    Connecting Event (Broomball)-$10
    Connecting Event (Road Rally)-$25
    Mission Trip-$100

…you get the point. If you were to plan your entire calendar for the year and figure out the cost for a family to send a student to everything you would come up with a grand total. Assuming the above 5 events were the only things my ministry was doing it would cost a student $835 to attend all of them.

What if you offered a 20% (or whatever you could afford as a ministry) discount on the cost of all of the events, and if a parent spends $668 they could go to all of the events for a 20% discounted rate?

The reasons I think I am on to something:

Who doesn’t love a discount? More for less is a good thing.
Forces you to plan (and stick to) your events for the year. I am 6 months into a new job at a new ministry. This will probably not happen for a year or two until I am sure of what works and what doesn’t.

There is a group of students who are bought into an event before you even start to plan for it. Once you have paid for something there is a willingness to go to it. You don’t want to waste the season pass. So you can assume most of the students who bought the pass will be at any given event. If not then you can be disappointed about their absences with a little extra money in your pocket.

You have some seed money for start of the year costs. All of our deposits are due at the same time and I put our accounting offices into a panic every September. If your budget was front-loaded by some extra incoming cash, they might not break into a cold sweat every time they saw you coming.

You can allow payment plans. Take the cost of your season pass and divide it by 12 or a little less after a deposit and then families can budget it on a monthly basis.

This one is a slippery slope…You could give some discounts or other privileges with the pass. Discounts on shirts, books, or other things you sell. Maybe front of the bus (or back) seating. Like I said, this one could get a little dangerous but just a thought. As mentioned, this is in the beta phase of genius, so I would love your thoughts or why you don’t think it would work. Maybe you have already tried it and you have some evidence one way or the other. Would love to see a discussion in the comments!

Jeff Bachman is the High School Pastor at Rock Harbor Church just up the road in Irvine, CA. Feel free to leave comments or email him at jbachman@rockharbor.org and of course subscribe to his blog The Until Matters.

This year we’re trying to be as intentional as possible when promoting our summer camp. Registration opening is just around the corner – thought I would post the schedule that some of our team came up with and we’re hoping to go by this year. Would love to know best practices/ideas that are working for you getting students to camp, too!


Registration Opens April 14/15

- Posters/signage
- Stage announcement/video
- Text message blast (include parent camp list from last summer)
- Business card as students leave
- Email to parents
- Facebook page / Instagram flood
- Big church bulletin announcement

Postcard Mailer May 1st

- Postcard to current Life Group students

Invitation Mailer May 8th
- Letter to incoming freshman
- Letter to graduating seniors
- Facebook / Instagram flood
- Last year’s Summer Camp promo services

May 12/13
- Announcement/video in services
- Facebook push again
- Text Bomb
- Parent monthly newsletter push

Summer Camp Friend Challenge May 19/20

- Bring a friend to camp challenge (design what that look likes)
- Big Church bulletin tear off card
- Camp video with friend challenge twist played at weekend services

Pull Registration Report June 12th

- How many in each grade are registered?
- Do we need to push one grade over the other?
- Text Bomb
- Facebook blast

All weekends after June 12th:
- Stage announcement
- Facebook blast
- Text messages throughout the week
- Instagram

Registration ends July 8th

July 10th: Parent Meeting & Leader training
· Leader training/dinner 6-7:30- team colors announced, cabin lists handed out
· Parent/student meeting- all payments due, cabins assigned, rules/guidelines given, packing list, general camp info

JG