Josh Griffin —  December 8, 2012 — 1 Comment

One of the best lessons that I have learned this year is the power of showing up. Whether it is a football game, a jazz band concert, or a chess tournament, your presence can make a huge difference. Since I made student’s events a higher priority I’ve noticed a huge difference in the strength of my relationships with students and the number of relationships I have with students. From my experience, I believe that this is one of the most powerful things we can do in relational ministry. The reason I believe in it so much is that it builds and creates relationships with several different people.

The student(s) you came to watch. Think about the people that came to your events when you were in high school. Mostly parents, maybe a few close friends if it was exciting enough. The people that go to your events are the people that love you. That is what you are telling students when you show up… you love them. You are saying that you care about what they care about. You are entering their world. You are showing them that your ministry doesn’t stop at the door of your church. It is crazy how much it means to them and it something that they won’t forget.

The student(s) that you see when you’re there. If you happen to go to one of those exciting events (football games, basketball games, musicals?, etc.) you might get to run into other students (or you can just bring some with you). It’s cool because the message of love and support that you are sending the student you came for is being seen by all of the others in the crowd. You are letting students know that your ministry cares for students all of the time, not just on the weekends and at small group. It is an awesome opportunity to meet some new students that might not even go to church. How cool would it be if their first impression of your ministry is shaped by you actively caring for a student?

The parent(s) when possible: When you go to a sports game, a play, or a concert, parents notice. It lets them know that you care about their kid… a lot. Make sure you take the time to meet and talk with the parents. It can sometimes be hard to find organic ways to do parent ministry, but this is one of them. You get the chance to brag about how awesome their son/daughter is and it is a chance for them to get to know you better. Your interest in their child and family will help form how they view not just you, but your ministry and church.

You don’t have to go to every game or birthday party, but make sure that every once in a while you’ll be there. Go to stuff and see what a difference it makes in your ministry.

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

Here’s a 2-minute video we played a few weeks ago when our Student Leadership program was taking admission applications. We only take applications around 2-3 times a year to create “entry points” to the program and allow them to build some community as well. I was asked at a meeting a few weeks ago one of the things I’m most excited about in our ministry in this past season – and watching student leadership take off was at the top of the list!


One of my favorite things to do is meet up with other youth pastors. I walk away from each meeting feeling challenged, encouraged, and/or inspired. I recently got to meet with an awesome youth pastor named Jon from a church that is doing some pretty incredible things with campus outreach. Over some coffee, we talked about what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we’re going to. I walked away with a ton of really great ideas and (hopefully) he walked away with one or two. Here is a little of what I shared about our campus outreach projects:

Sticky-Note the Girl’s Restroom: At the beginning of the school year, some of our student leaders put encouraging sticky notes on every student’s locker and we were blown away by how well it went over. One of our student leaders was inspired by the success of the project and started planning another that was aimed at girls. So she rounded up some friends and put encouraging notes all over the girls’ restrooms at her school. The notes had encouraging Bible verses on them as well as affirmations like “you are beautiful,” “you are precious,” and “you are loved.” It was such a great and easy way to do ministry for girls.

Janitor Breakfast: When we were looking at different people groups that we could be serving on campus, we almost forgot about the janitorial staff. They are some of the most unnoticed/unappreciated people on the campus, so our leaders wanted to make sure that they knew they were seen and loved. Our leaders are planning to get to school before the janitorial staff so that they could serve them a fresh, warm breakfast and spend some quality time with them. I am a huge fan of projects like these because it has students serving and ministering to adults! We are currently making our way through the office approval system (fingers crossed)!

Trash Pick Up: A great way to keep Christian club meetings fresh at school is to mix them up. Most of the time, Christian clubs will sit, eat their lunch, listen to someone talk, and leave. Sometimes that works great, but Jesus called us to do more than just that. We are encouraging our school club leaders to put their club members to work. One of the lunchtime serving opportunities that we came up with was trash pick-up. If you haven’t seen a post-lunch high school campus recently, let me tell you, they are a warzone. Picking up trash not only helps put a dent in the litter problem, but it also makes a huge statement. Let’s face it, litter patrol isn’t a glamorous job and any student that does it is instantly going to be set apart, providing them with incredible opportunities! If a student gets asked why they are picking up trash, than they are getting an awesome opportunity about their love for Jesus and their love for their school!

How is your ministry doing with campus outreach? What ideas can you share about how to do ministry on campuses?

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

Like most ministries out there, we have been struggling with cliques. Our “core” students, student leaders included, have not done a great job about being inclusive with our lesser known/new students. At our last Student Leadership meeting, we decided to address the situation head on. The response was incredible! I know that this is sometimes a hard issue to confront in a way that is impactful, so I thought I would share what we did that made our meeting so special!

We started with a short testimony from one of our adult volunteers. She said that she went to her youth group and felt totally alone even though she was in a room full of people and how she wanted so badly for someone just to come up to her and say hi. She asked if anyone could relate to her story and one by one, students in our student leadership program started telling their own stories of how they used to feel unwelcome at church. They told us how badly they wanted to be known and seen. It was such a powerful way to start the discussion because the problem became real and personal.

We followed that by telling our students that God wants to use them to make students feel welcomed and loved in the church. The idea was inspired by an interview I saw with Taylor Swift. In it, the interviewer asked if Taylor ever thought of the millions of girls that she is influencing everyday. Taylor responded that it would be irresponsible for her not to be aware of the influence that she has because she can make use of it for good. That is what we communicated to our student leaders. We wanted them to recognize that the Lord has given them influence. It is a gift from God and it would be irresponsible (or a waste) to not use what He has given them.

So we challenged them to make a difference. We told them we didn’t want them to focus on destroying the reputation of cliques at our church; we wanted them to focus on reaching out and showing the love of Christ to other people. Breaking down cliques can be an outcome of our ministry, but it isn’t the point. We told them that we want them to be on the look out before, during, and after service for students that seem disconnected. It could be one student by themselves, or a small group of students that don’t seem to know anyone else. They were challenged to never be with more than one other student leader as they make these outreach efforts. They were also challenged to go to another youth ministry alone and see what it feels like to be that new student.

I think it is so important to end it with their feedback. Some of our students who used to feel left out gave us some great insight on what we can be doing to make students feel welcomed and loved. Other students shared tips on how to built intentional relationships with new students. We closed out with prayer and hugs. It was awesome!

How have you approached students with this topic? What have you done to make it “work?”

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

I believe that the most effective student leadership programs (and ministries in general) are the ones that empower their students. And I mean, actually empower them. In youth ministry, empowerment is rooted in the belief that students can actually make a difference in their church, community, school, and even the world!

If we were to ask ourselves if we believe in students, believe that that they could change the world, most of us would say yes. However, if some of us were to really think about it, that might not be fully true. I think we might sometimes say yes out of habit or because we feel like we are supposed to, but the real answer lies in the actions of our ministry. We can say we believe in our students all we want, but if our ministry isn’t empowering students, than we might need to reevaluate our answer. For some, their ministry used to be powered by a belief in students but, somewhere along the way, empowerment got lost in the shuffle. For others, empowerment might not have ever been a main priority in their ministry. But if we want to see students serving their church and community, we need to make it a priority.

One of the first steps in getting a student to serve is getting them to believe in themselves, and we can’t expect students to do that if we don’t believe in them first. We need to believe that God has called and equipped the ENTIRE church to serve. Each of us has been gifted for ministry, even our students. Our student leadership programs, and our ministries as a whole, needs to communicate this belief. Where are we taking a chance on students? While it is awesome to let students pass out pens and bulletins at the beginning of service, we need to be providing significant opportunities. Sometimes this means letting go of a certain aspect of your ministry and allowing a student to own it. If you have a student that wants to be a pastor and has the gift of communication, let them speak at a weekend service. If you have a student that has a heart for the elderly and the gift of leadership, let them start and lead a elderly care ministry. At the end of the day, God believes in our students and our ministry needs to reflect that.

Does your ministry communicate to students your belief in them? Does it empower them?

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

I recently started putting together a project that I have wanted to do since June, care packages to our graduated student leaders! This was largely inspired by the Sticky Faith concept that we should continue our ministry into our student’s freshman year of college. We thought that a great way to show our continued support of them would be to send them some college essentials for them to keep going as they come in close to the end of their first semester. We wanted to send make sure we sent them some useful things, some “study break” things, and some random things. On our list:

On top of all of that, we are also giving them a handful of encouraging notes written by our Student Leadership Team. I believe that these cards are the real star of the whole package. Those encouragements are where the majority of the ministering is happening. Your first year of college can be crazy! You’re not just figuring out how college works academically, but socially as well. For many of them, this is the first time that they have lived on their own, thus beginning a huge self-discovery phase of their life. It is my hope that these cards will remind them that there is a community back home that loves them and is praying for them.

Care packages aren’t something that we have done before, but we believe that these will make a huge impact on our graduated students!

What is your ministry doing to minister to your newly graduated students? Take a moment today to pray for those students as they continue their transition into college!

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

We start each student leadership meeting with what we call, “celebrations”. Celebrations, a tradition inspired by our weekly staff meetings, is a time where our student leadership team reflects on the things that God has done in the weeks since we last met. Students will share things like a great conversation they had with a classmate, a powerful moment they had at the small group they lead, a story from an event they threw at their school, or even them getting into a college! This is one of my favorite parts of our meetings because we are able to slow down, take a breath, and acknowledge all of the great things the Lord has done through our team. Through this reflection, the Lord continues to work and helps us build a great community and teaches us some really great leadership lessons.

Community Building. Through celebrations, students are able to identify with each other; they see that they aren’t alone in the trenches and that they have a community that is there to support them with their projects, ministries, or events.  For example, Delaney shared that the Jr. High small group she leads finally opened up to each other. McKenna (who is also leading a Jr. High small group) revealed that she was having trouble getting her girls to be open and honest and asked for help. One by one, other students who lead small groups began to share advice and things that they had been learning. It was awesome to see a community instantly built through one student sharing about what God did in her small group.

Leadership Training. Celebrations are also an awesome way to teach applicable leadership lessons. I love this because we get the opportunity to teach on more than the book we are going through or the podcast that we listened to. For example, Lauren shared that the event she threw at her school was a huge success. She went on to admit that she was really scared at first and almost backed out completely. She shared that she knew God was calling her to lead the event but she felt like she wasn’t the right person for the job. But then she remembered the story of Moses and that God provided for him each step of the way, and that God was glorified through Moses’ weaknesses. Boom! A student just taught an incredible leadership lesson that anyone can identify with!

Our “celebrations” have really grown us as a team. I think a lot of the success comes from how organic it is. We get to learn and get closer together without a structured lesson or game. It just feels like a group of friends laughing together, supporting each other, and loving each other. A total win!

What activities is your ministry doing to build up your student leadership team?

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

Last Friday, our ministry tailgated two of the biggest games of the season. I got to admit, we were a little nervous about how well this was going to go over. We tried to do tailgates about 5 years ago but they just weren’t working so we cut them. But, with our huge focus on campus outreach this year, we thought it was worth another try.

We decided to learn from our past and completely reinvent how we did tailgate parties. The first big difference was our location. This year, we held our parties at parks that were near the schools. We did this for a few reasons… well one reason, the schools said no. It was a frustrating thing to hear because there are so many people that tailgate on campus anyway, but we would rather call and get a “no,” than to go and hurt the reputation of our ministry. Because of that, we ended up doing out parties at the parks, and we loved it! Having it at a park let us do more activities (ultimate Frisbee, Football, Spikeball, etc.) that kept students at the event, giving us more relational opportunity. While having the tailgate in the campus parking lot would have given us a more convenient location, I feel like students would have grabbed food and left, giving us little face time with students.

As far as the event itself, we kept it simple and fun. The games that we tailgated for were the big rival games so we made sure to capitalize on their school spirit. We decorated everything in school colors! We had the balloons, tablecloths, streamers… the whole bit. We even set up a “War Paint” booth, where students could get their face painted for the game that night! Once students started coming over, we handed out some Frisbees, footballs, volleyballs, set up a game of Spikeball, and threw a dance party in the parking lot. We fueled them up for the big night by giving them pizza, cupcakes, cookies, chips, soda, and anything else that we found cheap. The event as a whole was super fun and super easy.

I am so happy with how it all turned out. We got to meet so many new students and got to make some awesome memories with our regulars! Tailgates can be a great outreach opportunity and can work for a ton of ministries out there because there are so many different ways to do them. I’m already thinking of ways to take ours to the next level!

Has your ministry tailgated a game before? How did you do it?

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