Here at Vanderbloemen Search Group, we are often asked, “What is everybody else doing out there?” Since we work with many churches and student pastors throughout the country, we have the honor of seeing what some of the most growing churches are doing in their student ministries. Every student ministry is unique, but here are a few trends we’re seeing in growing churches:

1. Small Groups – Generation Y craves relationships. Student pastors often share with us that the best discussion and discipleship happens in the context of small groups. Some churches have their small groups on Sundays, and some have them throughout the week. Some have them at the church facility and others have them in homes. Regardless of the approach, we are seeing that small groups are a pivotal part of healthy student ministries.

2. Leadership Development – We find that the healthiest student ministries are equipping their high schoolers with leadership skills to lead Bible Studies, outreach events, and mentor programs to the middle schoolers. We also see churches involving the youth in the Sunday service, training them with responsibilities of sound, lights, worship, etc… Developing an effective leadership program may be time consuming at first, but the long-term benefits are worth it. Many youth pastors we talk to bring on a few of their high school leaders as interns over the summer. These students often pursue ministry after high school.

3. Volunteer Training – Recruiting volunteers can be one of the most challenging aspects of ministry for student pastors. It’s difficult to find dedicated volunteers who also have the “cool factor” that high school kids are looking for. We find that youth pastors who succeed in finding great volunteers invest in their training and development. Bring in a leadership coach and be sure that your volunteers have the resources they need to invest in your students.

4. Separating Jr & Sr High – Some of the most growing ministries are separating the Jr and Sr high worship services to provide a more tailored message to the age groups. Jr highers are concerned about different topics than Sr highers, and the way you approach topics with each group should be different. We’re noticing that growing churches are developing separate teams over Jr and Sr high with a director leading the vision of both ministries.

5. Outreach – We see students craving purpose and meaning. Student pastors are getting students out in the community to serve under-resourced communities. Students like being given significant challenges and responsibilities. Effective student pastors are also networking with local schools to identify the scope of their ministry responsibilities beyond the walls of the church.

Depending on the unique needs of your students, these strategies may or may not be effective in the context of your ministry. If you’re using these strategies in your ministry, we’d love to hear your thoughts! If not, what strategies have you found to be effective for your students?

Thanks to VSG for this guest post! They are currently searching for Student Pastors who are dynamic leaders in a few churches like this one in NV and this one in GA.

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.

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.

Dare2Share and Greg Stier are doing a free webinar on “The Missing Link in Discipleship” tomorrow (Tuesday August 7th) that includes a free giveaway of my brand new book “Firing Jesus” to everyone who attends. The goal is to help youth leaders walk away with tools/ideas to become way more effective in equipping teens to share their faith.

  • Tuesday August 7th: 12:00-1:00 PM CST(10-11 AM Pacific, 11-Noon Mountain,1-2 PM Eastern)
  • Tuesday August 7th: 7:30-8:30 PM CST(5:30-6:30 PM Pacific, 6:30-7:30 PM Mountain,8:30-9:30 PM Eastern)


Fun night trying a new outreach event – lots of new students at church tonight. Part capture the flag part first person shooter, got a bunch of kinks to work out but students had a good time!


A few weeks ago I got a phone call from one of my small group leaders named Lauren who asked if I could come by her house and meet with her and her family.  I had a feeling this call was coming at some point, but we had prayed for months that it wouldn’t. Lauren’s dad had been fighting cancer for several years and where hope had been, now was the realization that the end of his life was near. I have performed many funerals in my short ministry career but never have I had the opportunity to sit with someone and discuss their own memorial. Challenging doesn’t beging to describe it, but I can also say that it was a tremendous opportunity to encourage her dad and to affirm what a tremendous job he had done raising two remarkable daughters.

You need to understand a bit of her Lauren’s journey to truly appreciate this story so here it is in a nutshell. She is a graduate of our youth ministry and gave her life to Christ near the end of high school and has never looked back. She has served as a leader in our ministry for 3 years now and pours herself into her small group girls week in and week out. While she diligently led and prayed for her group, she was also praying for her dad in the midst of his illness that he would come to know Christ as well.

Lauren would send texts and ask people to pray for her as she had conversations with her dad, asking us to pray when she gave him a Bible, sharing the wins and losses in her sharing Jesus with her dad. There were times in the past years where you could sense fear and discouragement from Lauren about her dad, but she always remained hopeful even as his health declined and her dad could have easily hardened towards God.

As our discussions around memorial plans wrapped up Lauren leaned in and said, we also wanted to talk to you about baptizing my dad and my sister. The look on her face as she said that was something I will not soon forget. Her dad had given his life to Christ not long before we met that day and you could see the joy on Lauren and her sister Georgina who had spent years sharing their faith with their dad as now he was sharing his desire to take this step of baptism. Georgina is graduating high school this year and had been thinking about getting baptized for a while so the thought of taking this step with her day was one she could not pass up.

We wasted little time and a few days later, I met the family at their house again and found Lauren, Georgina and their mom meeting me at the door and behind them in his house coat and swim trunks was their dad. We made our way down to their hot tub and where first Lauren, her mom and dad watched as I baptized Georgina who no sooner was she under the water, but was back up and helping her dad into the hot tub. Georgina sat beside her dad keeping him stable and comfortable as he we went through the standard baptism questions and then carefully helped me as we baptized her dad.

The water was warm and Richard enjoyed feeling buoyant so the three of us decided to stay in and spent the next hour in the hot tub while Lauren and her mom sat beside and I was able to just listen as they shared countless stories and memories about their family.

We don’t know how much longer Richard has, but do have certainty about where he will go when he does pass on.  Its days like that, that remind me that lives are transformed when we are bold enough to talk to people about Jesus and its moments like this that put the toughest days in perspective and make it all worth it.

GS -Twitter

We just finished up a huge evangelism effort during our The Book series (40 Days in the Word church-wide campaign student series) where we ended with a Life Book saturation. We put together a whole bunch of packs of 10. Then we put a little card on top that said this:

These are Life Books – it is a tool that includes the Gospel that will change your life. The top copy is for you, the 9 others are for your friends. When you give one away, write their name on this card and remember to pray for them that they will know and follow the ways of Jesus, too.

1 ___________________________
2 ___________________________
3 ___________________________
4 ___________________________
5 ___________________________
6 ___________________________
7 ___________________________
8 ___________________________
9 ___________________________

For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Romans 10:13-15

I’m really proud of our students – a TON of them took a stack over that weekend are actively sharing their faith with their friends. We ended up with a few packs on the table in the back of the youth room that are still being whittled down each weekend!

I’m excited to hear that you can get in on this, too – they are already taking requests for Fall – and expecting 100,000 students to hand out a couple of million more Life Books. Amazing. Get the details here!


 —  February 1, 2012 — 1 Comment

Got a note from Greg over at Dare2Share about their new website for Gospel Journey. Loved their new video trailer and website – check it out!