Thought we would take a quick look this week at ways to communicate with students—ways that are Hot or Not. Here’s our take; feel free to offer your opinion in the comments as well:

HOT: Facebook
This is where our money is at right now—the highlight of the tools we’re using to communicate with students. The only downside is that a youth ministry page requires constant updates and management to really be effective. And there’s a desire to spend time on our OWN pages instead of building up the church site. Facebook is where it’s at, so get on board to get it mastered just in time for your students to move on to something else.

NOTE: Our junior high ministry uses Facebook, but not as strategically as high school. We walk a fine line due to the reality that Facebook has age restrictions, but most junior highers are still there.

NOT: Email
When you’re communicating to parents, email is as hot as can be. The older people get the more possessive/stagnant they become with technology. Students on the other hand are quick to jump on what is next, usually before adults have even heard of it. If you are emailing students and it is working, realize that it is a miracle of God and won’t last very long. Email is out.

HOT: Texting
Probably right up there with Facebook is texting—it comes in two flavors: individual and mass, and both work incredibly well. Use a service like Simply Text or Duffled to build a list of everyone, and don’t discount the power of a personal text from their small group leader or youth pastor. Texting is where it is at right now for sure.

NOT: Paper
You’ve gotten very good at Publisher 2003. I get it. You like clip art and flyers made on the church photocopier. We do too, but those days have past. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

HOT: Facebook event pages
Different from your main Facebook page are the event pages you create for service projects, mission trips, or special events. These are usually syncing with many students’ phones now, so you get calendar reminders as well as triggers built into to social media. A classic win-win-win situation.

HOT: Calendars
Calendars, if they make it home, have a tremendous return. Put a magnet on the back and you might get on the refrigerator for 2-3 months!

NOT: mass postcards in the mail
The shelf life is just too short for a postcard for a series and the cost is typically prohibitive, too. I love these and am sad to see them already fading out, but unless you’ve got cash to spare or a cheap printer to crank them out this one is dropping quickly.

HOT: individualized postcards from small group leaders
This one will never go out of style. Try it out this week: Pick up some postage-paid postcards and scribble out a few handwritten notes this week and see if it works. Or just trust us…no technology will ever replace the power of a handwritten note!

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.

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.

Mind mapping has eased it’s way into my weekly workflow. Here’s 4 ways that I’m using it regularly:

1. Series Outline 

For each of our teaching series, we put together an outline that’s used by several different teams for things such as creative elements, small group curriculum, etc. I will create a mind map for each series with the overall idea, key Scripture passages for each week, the main point of each message, quotes, random creative ideas or illustration possibilities.  Here’s an example of one we did last year.

2. Brainstorm an Idea

Sometimes you need to process out an idea and just want to be able to get a lot of stuff written down quickly. Mind mapping is a great way to do an idea dump, utilizing each branch of the map as a key idea. We recently had a large event that had multiple layers and components. A mind map helped me to make sure we had thought through all the different areas that needed to be covered.

3. Broad, Bare-Bones Outline

To get a message (or really anything that I’ll be writing) started, I will create a mind map with just a few broad key ideas. This won’t have much more than some major ideas or movements in my message as well as any key passages of Scripture and illustrations. I then have something that I can go back to at any time later to fill in.

4. Preaching Outline

I use a pretty extensive outline to preach from, so I have to go beyond just some general ideas in an outline and do it in a way that’s readable. So, after I have filled in more than the bare bones outline and color-coded it, I then format it to be preached off my iPad. I right justify the map (because it’s easier to scroll through it that way), export it as a pdf, and then download it to GoodReader on my iPad. I zoom in on GoodReader to a point where it’s easy to read at a glance, and bring my iPad on stage with me to speak from.

Here’s an example of a portion of what my outline usually looks like when it’s done (trust me, it’s much easier to read on the iPad, then it looks)

Mind Mapping Apps

While I have personally tried around a dozen different mind mapping apps, these are the ones I keep coming back to:

1. Mindmanager by Mindjet. While I use the Mac version, there is also a Windows version as well as a significant non-profit discount if you are using it for ministry. This has more features than I ever even look at, but it’s able to consistently work in the way that I need it to as well as to export in a manner that makes sense for me to preach from.

2. iThoughts HD for iPad. While I do most of my writing on my Macbook Air, I will occasionally do my broad, bare-bones outline on my iPad. IThoughts can sync via Dropbox and easily import into Mindmanager.

3. Pen and Paper. While I love technology, sometimes it’s helpful for me to revert back to some simple pens and paper. Right now, when I do that, I’m using Staedtler Lumocolor pens with a Quattro blank notebook and will go old school to sketch out a mind map.


Mike Goldsworthy is the Lead Pastor at Parkcrest Christian Church.

I kind of stumbled into mind mapping. For 10 years, I had always manuscripted my messages and I needed to switch things up, if for nothing else, to keep my message prep fresh. I’ve now been using my own modified form of mind mapping to write my messages for the past 3 years and have found it to be helpful for the way I work.

Here’s 3 reasons mind mapping has become helpful for me in my message prep:

1. I Can View Everything on One Page

I’m a visual learner and processor, and the ability to create a birds eye view of my message helps me to think through it’s flow, to remember key portions, and to see if I’m too heavy or too light in different areas.

I color-code my messages, using different colors on my mind map to signify different portions of a message (illustrations, a new thought, a key idea, a list, Scripture, or a main point). When I glance at my message, I can get an idea of areas where it might be a little stagnant or overly heavy on illustrations. Here’s a portion of a recent message I gave on Easter, showing illustrations, some statements I wanted to make sure to say a certain way, and a few transitions of ideas.

Not only can I look at that beforehand to know if my message has a good flow, but I then can glance at it on my iPad while preaching to help me remember where I’m headed next.

When I would write my messages on a word-processor, they would often be 7-10 pages long, so I was never able to get a idea of what was happening with my message at a glance.

2. I Can Write in a Non-Linear Style

I often don’t write the beginning of my messages first, or the end of my messages last. The way that I tend to work is that I have an idea about a particular portion of it, and I work through that idea and then will often jump to another portion somewhere else.

Mind mapping allows me to easily jump around while I’m writing my message. I can put together a broad, bare-bones outline and fill in the portions in whatever way I want.

Of course, you can do this on any word-processor, but again, I’ve found it helpful to utilize the non-linear form of the 1 page mind map to make it easier to engage in writing in this way.

3. I Can Rearrange My Message Easily

When I put together a message, I will often have thoughts or ideas that fit in the message, but once they’re written down, they don’t seem to fit in the particular portion of the message I’ve put them in. With a mind map, I zoom out to get a bird’s eye picture of the entire message and can easily rearrange pieces of it, dragging and dropping them where they fit better.

Mike Goldsworthy is the Lead Pastor at Parkcrest Christian Church.

Typography is important and it is pretty satisfying finding that perfect font. A cool font can make an image pop. A well picked font blends in and is not distracting.  These are all fonts I have used in various projects.  If you like one, or all, click the image or the link and it will take you to a site where you can download it…FOR FREE!

Please share the name and a link to your favorite font as well as the sites you visit to discover new fonts.


Eyelevation Pro

Almost Serious



Five Minutes


Dock 11



5am Gender

Bebas Neue

Honey Script









This post on programing is the final in the “Building a Teaching Series” series.  A programing team can be very valuable.  Gathering a team gives you access to more minds, experiences, ideas, and a pool of creativity.  When it is time to create, you have a group to delegate tasks to. One down side is you can hurt feels when certain ideas don’t get used.  I let everyone know that we will come up with dozens of usable ideas and we may only use a couple per meeting.

I do not use a planning team for every series, sometimes I have a specific vision for what I want to see, and other times I desperately need the culturally relevant eyes of other staff and student.  Here are a few boundaries I set when leading a programing team though a brainstorming session:

  • I need to set directions. If I do not clearly define the message/series direction I will not get useful ideas.
  • Write down every idea (whiteboard, iPad, have someone take notes or take a photo of the whiteboard after each brainstorm).
  • Everyone is encouraged to offer ideas (Control the talkers).
  • Build on ideas but do not develop ideas.  It is easy to spend 15 minutes expanding an idea that will never get used, Just get the concept written down and move on.
  • Outside-the-box ideas are good.
  • No idea is a bad idea.  Let others speak freely without shooting the idea down (don;t let others shoot it down either.  Shutting people down or other participants saying, “that’s dumb” will keep people from sharing) Just get the concept written down and move on.
  • Inside-the-box ideas are good too.  Don’t overlook the obvious.

There are a ton of other rules and expectations you can add.  Try not over-complicating the session.

About a week or two before I gather a programing team, I send out the series arc (you can find our example here at the bottom of the post) in a programing guide.  Feel free to download a blank copy of our programing guide here.  This is not originally mine, not sure who gave it to me, but I have made tweeks over the years.

If you want to try the brainstorming from afar, try creating a facebook page to interact on.  Let your group go crazy with their programing guides or ask specific questions like, “We are doing a series on bullying, are they are good songs we could cover for the series opener?”  And you’ll get responses like “Taylor Swift’s Mean” would be perfect!” or “Let’s play a Justin Bieber video and we can mock it, then you can use that experience as an illustration.”

I have found a cool website that might be pretty cool for a group brainstorm. WallWisher is a web app that allows uses with a link that you give out to post notes on the wall.  it is pretty anonymous but you can create a board where you get to approve every post before it goes live.

If you are looking for an app to use in a group try iBrainstorm App.  Type a note on your iPhone and flip it to your iPad.  Check out this demo.

Want to have a great summer? As youth workers that have planned summers that have both crushed and crashed—let us share some tips for planning a great summer calendar.

Don’t wait until the pressure is on.
Here’s some good news right up front: If you’re thinking about summer now, you’re in good shape. Next year, start even earlier! If you plan in advance, even in broad strokes, it will greatly improve the chances of your summer’s big ideas becoming a reality. Resist the false belief that waiting until the pressure is on makes you better—it doesn’t; it just makes you more frantic.

Change it up.
Summer is a GREAT time to change it up. Get out of the school year rhythms and programs and shake things up. Always have youth group inside? What about taking it “under the stars” for the month of July? Always have small groups? Change it up and go with Midweek for a few months. Summer allows you to try something new and experiment in the short-term effectively. Maybe you’ll stumble onto something great that you can bring into the full year, too!

Think free first.
Summer gets expensive quickly. Aside from camp, what if everything else was free? It would make you get creative for sure! This summer we’re trying out a weekly event we’re calling Five-Dollar Friday trying to keep things super relational, super effective, and super cheap. A few years ago we employed a “cheap and easy” philosophy where everything was super cheap AND most things required no advanced registration, paperwork, etc.

Push hard toward a central event.
For us, Summer Camp is THE event of summer—all events before it point toward it and everything after rides the wave it creates. Maybe this summer take the same strategy and put your eggs in one basket. If you plan too much, it creates confusion as to what someone should really attend. We want it to be obvious: COME TO CAMP—and if you make it to the other stuff, great!

What are your summer planning tips?

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.

We have not put many set designs together over the years, but when we do it seems to draw our students into the series more.  If you are looking for ides on basic stage design, check out Church Stage Design Ideas for some inspiration.

PLAN IN ACTION: In our current series, we are kickin’ it old school with an overhead projector. In the opening image you see a black curtain with our logo “re:” shining on it.  That is an overhead projector throwing a transparency on the curtain.  We could have paid $60 and purchased a gobo but I did not want to spend any money.  You can see what we did here and here.

We have used that pink foam insulation from the home repair stores to carve and create objects and characters for our stage.  Here is a video I found on Vimeo walking us through the creation of a set design from Brandon Baker.  I met Brandon Baker at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference this year, this is great work Brandon, thanks for sharing!

What are some of the tools you are using to create stage design?  Share a comment, post a link to an image…