Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 8.49.02 AMIf you’re anything like me managing email is nothing less than burdensome. Add onto that Twitter DM’s, Facebook messages, and text messages…at times there is just too much to respond to for a personality like mine. I’ve made some adjustments in the way I manage social media that has helped, but I have also learned a few “tricks” to managing email. Some of these may not apply to you or your context, but maybe you would get an idea or two that could help.

3 Tricks for Managing Email:

  1. Close the door.  When I respond to an email I do not have anything else I need to do. So, my email IS following up. If I don’t have all the information I need to get back to the person, I wait until I do and then I send the email. This cuts down on the back-and-forth emailing that is usually unnecessary.
  2. Delete them.  After I respond to an email, I delete it out of my inbox. I use Mail on my Macbook, so if need to find something later I can. But the bottom line is after I send something, I know I don’t have anything left to follow up with, so I delete. This also protects from emails getting “buried” in my inbox. My staff also knows that if I forward them something to respond to, it’s deleted out of my inbox and therefore they are now responsible to follow through.
  3. Kill inner office email.  My staff and I rarely email for communication sake. We just talk or set a meeting to discuss things. When proofing documents (whatever those may be) we don’t use email either. Instead, we use Google Drive so we don’t have to email back and forth.

What are your email tricks?

- Chuck

9a36f_parent-talking-childmkb

One thing that has been drilled into the minds of parents everywhere is that keeping the lines of communication open with our children is a vital part of parenting. And in my experience this tid-bit of advice has been very true. And so as Rachel and I have raised our kids, we’ve worked hard to provide an atmosphere in our family where it’s always a good time to talk about stuff.

And while that’s been a good “atmosphere”, it’s actually a lousy strategy. Because it isn’t “always a good time to talk about stuff”. The fact is that sometimes it’s a lousy time to talk about stuff; and everybody seems to have different ideas of when it’s a good time, and when it’s not.

So, my simple tip for today is this: Discover your child’s “window of conversation” and do most of your talking at that time.

Your child may HATE to talk in the car ride to school…the window is closed, so don’t force it.
Your child may LOVE to talk in the car ride to school…the window is open, climb through!

Your child may HATE to talk around the dinner table…the window is closed, so don’t force it.
Your child may LOVE to talk around the dinner table…the window is open, climb through!

Your child may HATE to talk in formal family “quality time” settings….the window is closed, so don’t force it.
Your child may LOVE to talk in formal family “quality time” settings….the window is open, climb through!

Your child may HATE to talk about something in the “heat of the moment”…the window is closed, so don’t force it.
Your child may LOVE to talk about something in the “heat of the moment”…the window is open, climb through!

The problem many parents make is to determine when THEY want to talk with their child instead of being wiling to pay attention to when their child is most open to talking….when their window of conversation is open. When we try to force open their window, they slam it shut!

So much of effective parenting needs to happen on our terms, but I’m not convinced conversation and communication is always one of them.



The Death of Facebook

 —  November 13, 2013 — 1 Comment

One tech question that has come up several times in the last few weeks sounds something like this, “The kids in our ministry are not using Facebook as much as they did a year ago … how are you responding to this shift?”

It is true, Facebook is not the powerhouse of communication that it once was, and social media in general is just too decentralized to reach everyone with one or two networks. Before you go deleting your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts hold on, there is still a place for all that, but we do need to consider a shift.

Side Note: This post is more descriptive than prescriptive.  I do not think you need to do what I am doing but I hope this post helps you think through your own potential shift(s) in communication.

Instead of following culture in the area of social media and communication, we are trying to create culture.

At one time we were doing everything (instatwitvinemailbooking) and in doing everything we found we were decentralizing too much. While I want every parent and student to hear about our upcoming ministry events, we needed to stop catering to everyone’s “needs” (which are actually wants and conveniences).

At the start of the school year we over communicated and clearly laid out our new effort to communicate student ministry information.  Here is a brief overview of what we are now doing.

  • We email once a month: This is us to them (our direct connect). This forces me to look ahead, that’s a good thing. 12x a year instead of 52x times a year creates greater urgency (before our once a week emails were more like spam than help).
  • We text when deadlines get closer: Short notes, directly to their phone is a huge win and Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS makes that happen for us. I know, there’s a 99¢ app for that. No app is as robust and useful as SYM TOOLS! Sign-up for a free 30 day trial here.
  • We put everything on the web: It’s our hub! This is them to us (their direct connect to us). They need something…they can trust it is there.
  • Publications: We still do a quarterly calendar that we mail to everyone on our mailing list. We also do a flyer for every event, something cool that kids will take home and hopefully take to a friend.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc have their place and uses, but they are not a main focus any longer.

If you’re not creating culture in this area, you are subject to shift when students move on to the latest thing so will you…and you will be starting from scratch.

Brandon

@uthguy9

Speak Teen SPEAK!

 —  August 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

texting

In our ministry we have a rule.  No cell phones in use while the students are present and our programming is in action.  This rule goes for volunteers, staff and participants.  Unless you are using a “Bible App” to look up scripture, we shouldn’t see it,  and yes I check it.   This summer as we have had a number of our teens actually volunteering in our elementary age day camps I have seen something interesting.  At 2:00 the moment program ends and the last child walks out the door,  cell phones immediately emerge!  It’s like the texting/social media/ smart phone zombie apocalypse has taken root.  Heads are down, eyes ablaze as they catch up on all the pertinent information they have “missed” in the last 4 hours of “no phone zone.”

As I have text to talked or been FB direct messaged on major life issues I just have to wonder if scripting every thought is an easier way to go?  Since TONE doesn’t exist well in word/online communication a lot of drama erupts that could be avoided with at least a phone conversation and even more so with facial expressions and body language in play.   In short, I think we need to encourage students to learn how to sit down and use their voice once again.

Please hear me.  I am not anti-text/social media connections.  What I am seeing is that this the “goto” method of “talking.” I wonder if we are raising a generation that avoids face to face communication? Have they forgotten how to speak?

Can we do anything about that?  Here are some starting places:

  • Meet With Students One on One:

When I started in youth min, my mentor would say,  “If you want to get to know a kid take them out for a soda.”  What we did or drank was arbitrary.  The point was being present with each other.  Sit face to face, make eye contact and talk about deep issues,  outside of programming.  If at all possible draw in other adults and small group leaders to do the same.  Begin to teach, that this is the way we handle the “toughest stuff.”  It’s unscripted, raw, messy and uncomfortable.  That’s good.

  • Encourage Parents To Draw Lines.

I get it. The battle for independence with anyone from 6-12 grade is constant.  It’s also part of adolescence.  We drew up “electronic contracts” for our kids that not only included appropriate use, but times when cell phones are not “allowed.”   This has helped tremendously.

  • Be a good example:

I admit it,  I can be the worse at this one I was convicted even recently about how if I want to teach students the importance of communication beyond written form and the need to put the cell phone aside when talking to someone,  I have to step up and do the same.

Students need to learn to have a full conversation,  face to face conversation when they are totally present.  There is a place for tweets, Facebook, email and text, it just shouldn’t be the ONLY way we talk to each other.

What are YOU doing to help this generation learn the art of “in person” communication?

 

 

 



rotary phone

“Does it work?” one of my children asked.

“Yes, it’s plugged into the phone jack, of course it will work,” their grandmother responded.

“How do I use it?” they sat wide eyed.   “Well, you put your finger in the hole of the first number you want to dial and pull it down until it stops, do that with every number until the call goes through.” she explained.

“Can I try it?!?” they wanted to know.

This conversation happened last month between my three Middle School children and their grandmother.  She happens to keep an “old fashioned” rotary phone plugged in.  It’s funny to think a generation not only has never “used” one of these, they can’t recall seeing it before much less it existing in their home.  There was a time when getting in touch with students was as simple as seeing them in person or picking up a phone… that was attached to a cord of some kind. Not so any more.  In person is still the BEST way to communicate with a student or their parent.  However, there are times when we must track them down by other means.  If I want to “know” what’s going on in their lives I have to use different methods. I think this is true of the “churched” and “unchurched” crowd.

It may seem like an oversimplified list,  however to be in the know of my students I literally have to use ALL of the following methods:

 

text

The “Old” Faithfuls

Phones and email still remain key ways to communicate. I have one student who loses their phone often, but always checks emails. Another student will only text me. Now with talk to text options on smart phones, conversations are made easy.  There are times when I just need to hear their voice. I always make sure to know if they still have a landline, and who answers it.  These are always are starting places in the dance for communication.

 

facebook Facebook

My students may ask if you have an account on “The Book.” (It’s what some of my youth call it.)  Sometimes this is the best way to get a message to a student, or a simple reminder on their home page. Starting a youth group page, or events page for trips is usually the easiest place to get all of your students to check and be held accountable.

 kik Kik

“Kik” is a texting app that can be added onto a smart phone, ipod or tablet.  The reality is not all of my students have a phone, or their phone service is turned off from time to time.  This texting app allows you to talk to friends as long as you have “wifi.”  Recently, I had a student with no phone, who never checks Facebook or email.  We finally determined she had this account and we could get her info she needed.

instagram Instagram

More and more of my students are either taking down their Facebook pages, or they simply don’t use them.  Where they are at right now is Instagram.  If a picture is worth a thousand words then this is the place for you to “see” what’s going on in the life of your students.

This may not be true of everyone, however, most of my students currently do not use Twitter.  Vine is the up and coming video looping site and Pinterest is where we go to gather information about an idea. However, the truth is if I really want to “talk” I still approach it “old school,”  I show up and see them face to face.

How do you stay in touch with YOUR students?

Having some frustrations with your boss or supervisor? This won’t come as a shock for most youth workers that have been in it for any length of time – about the #1 complaint or challenge I hear from youth workers is difficulty with the senior pastor or supervisor. So how can you help make progress in this relationship? Hopefully these words will be helpful even if you’re working well with your boss:

1) Figure out when they typically communicate and be available
This may take some time, but figure out what tools they use to communicate. Determine what they value most – long conversations over email, passing conversations in the hallway, texting all of the time – there is no wrong answer here, just try to figure them out!

2) Respond quickly as much as possible
Add your boss/supervisor to your VIP list on your iPhone or your “coworkers” tab in Outlook so their emails always get priority and a special callout in your inbox. Respond thoughtfully but as quickly as possible.

3) Use the method they prefer
It doesn’t matter if you’re a texting guy or someone who loves Facebook – use the method they prefer! If they are a phone person, become a phone person to them. If they love email, you love email. If they don’t have a Facebook – delete your … wait a minute – just don’t use Facebook or you’ll only hear back from them 2x a year.

Want to get some quick wins with your supervisor? Value what they value and communicate how they communicate.

JG



One of the most difficult questions to answer as a youth minister is:

What would your community look like if your ministry did not exist?

The devil whispering in my ear wants to say, “It would look the same as it does now.”  That’s doubt, and the evil one making sure I believe that my ministry is not having any effect at all.  The way I combat the insecurities that come from negative thoughts is by focusing on the youth ministry’s vision.

With vision your ministry has purpose; however, it’s not as simple as just writing one out.  Your vision has to answer the question, “Why does your youth ministry exist?”  and then you have to answer that question with your strategies and mission.  But, the way your vision is really going to take life, is if you make it a priority by:

  • Knowing It Well: In order to achieve big vision you need to believe in it.  That means memorizing and repeating it.  There’s not point to just having a statement, it needs to be the very essence of why you exist.
  • Making It Visible: Big vision is accomplished when it becomes contagious.  Share it in messages, emails, meetings and announcements.  Make it visible for parents, teens, church members and most importantly your volunteers.  People will invest in a ministry with vision because they see it has a purpose.
  • Celebrating It Widely: When you see moments of your vision accomplished celebrate them like a mini win.  Not only will this bring team unity, but enthusiasm around the process.  The more you celebrate your progress the more momentum you bring to the movement.
  • Using It As A Measurement Tool: Utilize the vision as a way to determine whether or not you are succeeding.  This means examining what you do and asking yourself, “How does this fulfill the vision?” If it doesn’t tweak the component or get rid of it completely.  Use your vision as a way of measuring success.

 

Big vision means big risks, big challenges and big results.  If you can rally your troops around the vision of the ministry nothing will stop you.  To obtain the best vision spend time with God, ask Him for guidance and then unleash it.  There is no better joy than seeing God’s vision come to life.

How do you make your vision big?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Our ministry once hosted a “Battle of the Bands” fundraiser that required a lot of work. Our team had to audition bands, price out food, order speakers and recruit volunteers. We put so much work into this event; however, we forgot one key component:

TO INVITE PEOPLE

We had sent out an email, and made a few flyers; however, that was it. What was the response? Embarrassing. While a few people showed up, they were mostly friends and families of the band. It was a disaster.

Developing a communication strategy is a must in youth ministry and while it doesn’t seem like the most attractive responsibility, without it you can’t expect your ministry to grow. Developing a strategy for how you communicate means being intentional about what you say, how you say it and to whom. That means:

  1. Scheduling a Designated Time: Your communication efforts need your focus; therefore, give yourself allotted time to respond to emails and voicemails. Carve time to work on a message and schedule your social media posts ahead of time with software like Simply Youth Ministry Tools, Hootsuite and BufferDevelop a plan so you don’t rush and create a costly mistake.
  2. Understanding Your Mediums: Part of a communications strategy is understanding that people utilize different mediums. We are no longer in the days of emails and phone calls. Understanding the power of your platform by utilizing social media, texting and even your message is key to getting your point across. Pick a few resources that you feel most of your target audience uses and practice using them.
  3. Gaining Feedback: Get someone’s insight and feedback before you post something online, respond to an important email or deliver a message. The problem with electronic communication is that it can be difficult to read emotion and once it’s out there, IT’S OUT THERE. You never want to come off patronizing, sarcastic or offensive to your audience. So before you hit SEND, ask a friend to share their thoughts.
  4. Knowing Your Audience: Come off patronizing to parents and they won’t take you seriously. Speak over a teenager’s head and you’ll lose their engagement. Know your audience by spending time with them; however, do not try to be them. The best way to speak to any audience is to acknowledge when you are an expert and when you are not. People will appreciate your humility if they know it’s coming from sincerity.
  5. Repeat, Repeat and Repeating:You can’t say something only once and expect people to remember it. Repeat it, tweak it and then repeat it again. Utilize all the different mediums, and stagger it so that it doesn’t get lost in the noise.

If you communicate clearly and effectively you will be able to mobilize the next generation. Develop a strategy and make it a part of your daily responsibilities so that you are never wondering if you’ve been heard. To get one started takes a little bit of commitment; however, once you get going the possibilities are endless.

Which of these tips is the hardest one for you to embrace?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)