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’m excited to give away a couple of copies of the new small group DVD curriculum that Katie Brazelton and I just finished called The Way I’m Wired.

Here’s a little bit about the project:

Every teenager’s life is loaded with undeniable evidence of God’s incredible plans for them, but who helps them unpack all those details to discover why they were born? This curriculum prepares you for the privilege of doing just that. It equips you to teach stu dents that God has three distinct calls on their life: the primary call of being transformed into Christ-likeness; the secondary call of thriving in their seasonal roles; and the “This I Must Do” call to be part o f something that is larger than themselves.

The Way I’m Wired is a 6-week, biblically based DVD curriculum, which is written for a variety of youth settings: small groups, Sunday schools, retreats, camps, homeschooling, and personal coaching/mentoring sessions.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post:

  • The very FIRST COMMENT wins a free copy
  • I’ll select TWO MORE at random next Monday from all of the rest of the comments

Enter now!


We’ve held a Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (PDYM) Student Leadership Conference here at Saddleback Church the past several years, and right now we’re taking a little break from it in the current season. I imagine it’ll come back again soon, details of it’s return will be here first, but what are other great options for your core students to get some training. Google is sending a lot of searchers to my site looking for the answer – so here are some thoughts on great student leadership events coming soon:

  • Student Leadership University (official website) – I’ve been to a couple of Jay Strack’s Student Leadership events with students and had a total blast. He has a unique and memorable teaching style and each event is set in a unique location. Lots of tracks available, including some advanced international stuff. Not something for a ton of students, if you’ve got some hungry kids looking for workshops, community and challenge, this might be some good stuff.
  • Converge 2011 (official website) – I’ve never been before, but love the lineup for this event in Indiana. I was privileged to record a “digital presentation” for the event. Sounds like a really great program they’ve got planned with some serious names teaching.
  • Dare 2 Share (official website) – I really like Greg Stier – he’s a one message kinda guy, but he’ll challenge your core students to reach out to their non-believing friends with the Gospel. High energy, conference-like event, with a ton of locations all over the US. Not something I would necessarily go to every year, but could be a solid challenge for your students.

What other great student-leadership/core-kid event, training or conference isn’t on my radar? Post it, promo it, plug it in the comments!


This weekend we had a student who had a lung collapse at school – he was rushed to the hospital and ended up staying the night for observation. They still haven’t figured out what is wrong, but it appears that he is at least out of the woods for now. Amir is relatively new to our student ministry – he really started attending faithfully since summer camp just a couple of months ago, and recently shared his story during the weekend services. So he’s essentially a fringe kid turned core in a matter of weeks. Love seeing that life change!

And now he’s in the hospital – and here’s what I loved to see unfold over the last couple of days. I saw prayers and love for him all over Facebook. I saw pictures of students visiting him in his hospital room. I saw pictures of his small group leader visiting him bedside. I heard about the phone calls of concern to his parents. I heard about people sneaking Chick-Fil-A into his room for a secret snack. I watched as his ministry leader (Amir serves on the sound board during weekend services) headed up to see him. One mom who took her son up to visit him even snapped this picture [I blurred it to hide some details since he's still in the hospital] of the visitor sign-in-sheet, calling Amir “so popular.” Amir is popular …but more importantly he has found and is discovering what it means to be lovingly embraced by a genuine Christian community of other high school students.

I’ve heard pastors tell stories of when they didn’t need to make a hospital visit because an elder or small group leader had already been there. I just experienced it – and then some! I’m proud of our student leaders. Proud of our Life Group leaders. Proud of our ministry team leaders. Super, super cool.