IMG_20130103_1015492013 is here, the youth ministry is just getting started, and in the lull of Christmas I was able to take some time to reflect on the year so far. In my office I have a wall that has a photo of almost all the students that are involved in our ministry. Its been up for two years now, and every week someone, without fail, sticks their head into my office and says something to the effect of just how encouraging it must be to look at all those faces.

Confession: It’s sometimes discouraging.

Its tough because there are faces of students that were connected, that were growing, that were falling in love with Jesus and through any number of circumstances have walked away. There are so many awesome and connected students up there, but the ones that have left are hard to see and it never seems to get easier. Some days I regret putting the pictures up because it would be so much easier for those students to be names on piece of paper in the back drawer of my desk, not a face on my wall. I pray for them, pray that they would get connected at our group again or another youth group and find an adult that wants to pour into their lives.

Watching students walk away never gets easy and as Pastors, the loss is often greater than just the student, as there is a always family behind that student who might be just as devastated that their child has chosen to disconnect from Church. It has been a source of tension in the past in our ministry as parents sometimes want to blame the youth ministry for the disconnect and  much like coach on a sports team, we often get too much credit when things are going well in a students life and too much blame when things go sideways.

My encouragement to you is that there will be those students for each of us but commit to praying for them, encouraging them if you happen to see them, and like the prodigal son’s father when his wayward son returns, run as fast as you can to welcome them home.

Geoff – Twitter geoffcstewart 

This week we’re focusing on leadership—and conveniently each of the principles we’re sharing this month start with the letter “F.” Why, you ask? No reason, really.

Follow-Up
A parent mentions something to you in passing right before you walk on stage to give announcements. Later that afternoon, as you are dozing off on the couch while watching football, you suddenly, vaguely, remember something about a concerned parent. You have no recollection of what the parent wanted, or the level of concern in her voice. You shrug it off and decide that if it was something serious, she’ll be sure to track you down. Great leaders have ability and willingness to follow up when others would shrug it off; to take action steps others would have long forgotten. If you want to be a strong leader, accept nothing less than excellent follow-up to each interaction.

Practical ways to get better at following up: Flag emails that need your action. Always start with that folder first to knock some of those out right away. Get good at leaving yourself quick voice memos on your phone you can track down later. Use a Moleskin (real paper—gasp!) or the Stickies app to help you jot down quick thoughts you need to follow-up on later.

Follow the Leader
You serve Jesus…and the pastor He has called to lead your church. Too often youth workers get frustrated by their position on the church staff totem pole (somewhere below the janitor). God has called you to a church and he has called you to serve those “above you.” Until things change, you are to serve and honor them. Breaking the unity of the church is a rookie mistake—veteran leaders with longevity know how to follow the leader…even if it’s the church janitor.

Practical ways to get better at following the leader: Ask them out for lunch one day this week to help build your relational storehouse. Make sure your interactions go beyond crisis management or only meeting when problems arise. Send a thank you card or note to your leader. Appreciate the real weight of those leading your whole church.

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.



The beauty of leading a small group is getting to see it grow throughout the years.  But, getting started can be rough especially if you have that one kid who talks and talks and talks.  At first you like him or her because they take care of the awkward silence.  You think, “Awesome, I have someone participating and I don’t have to do all the talking.”

Then, you begin to notice that they are the ONLY student talking, which prevents the other ones from chiming in.  You also begin to notice your patience wear thin because not only do they answer every question but they begin to talk for what seems like hours.  You are tempted to yell, “SHUT UP!” but common sense tells you that wouldn’t go over well.  You don’t want to lose the group; yet, avoid embarrassing the teen.  What do you do?

Meet Beforehand – Grab them before small group and be honest with them.  Let them know you appreciate their sharing; however, you want to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak.  Be prepared because they might feel a little insulted by your confrontation.  Telling them to listen more and speak less might sound like they don’t have anything wise to contribute; therefore, make a plan to follow up after group.

Sit Next To Them – By sitting next to the talkers you are able to give them physical cues if they are talking too much.  Placing a hand on their shoulder is a subtle way of interrupting them.  You can also whisper to them encouragement if they are getting anxious by letting others speak.

Assign Questions – Talkers talk because they either feel like they always have something to contribute or they are afraid of silence.  To give them an out to their urges and fears assign questions to the rest of the group.  Instead of having anyone chime in, give the first response to someone specific.

Follow Up – Either right after the group or the next day meet up with the talker to reflect on their behavior.  Affirm them with what they did well; ask them their opinion and then address where improvement is necessary.  Because the group is fresh on everyone’s mind, you can point to specific examples of when they listened and when they dominated the conversation.

Some people will be talkers for life; however, the more the group gets to know them the pressure won’t fall on you to give others a chance to speak.  The more you check-in and communicate with the talker the less you’ll have to take the steps mentioned above.  Just be persistent with reaching out and leading the group.  Again, small group dynamics is a growing process.

How do you deal with talkers?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

Really enjoyed reading this post over on the Generation to Generation blog. They hit on two critical youth ministry concepts that you have to grasp early and often: follow up and follow though! Here’s a clip, head there for the whole article:

Sometimes one of my faults is not following up on things. I really need to write things down, keep things in my Outlook calendar to remind me to do something or to re-visit something I’ve started but not finished. Sometimes I get so busy with a new project that I forget to go back and make sure the old project I was working on is complete or if it needs some further attention. I need to do this with with my high school small group as well. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in presenting a new lesson or new scripture or a new life application that I forget to go back and see how my guys are doing with things we’ve already talked about.

I don’t forget about one of my guys who has been going through a tough time or dealing with a specific issue, I’m great at follow up with that, but sometimes I forget about the general topics we talk about. For instance a few weeks ago my guys asked if we could do a lesson on girls and dating and sex and what the Bible says about these things. We had a great lesson that night and I know I made them really think about how a relationship would look like and how to make sure that they put God in the center of all of their relationships. This past week I got a text from one of my guys asking some very specific questions about what the Bible says about an issue. That should have been my reminder that I need to follow up with all of them and see how they are doing with that topic. I need to build a reminder into each small group time to begin and ask questions about past topics and make sure everyone is still on task with prior topics.

Head over there for the rest of the thought!
JG



I serve as a volunteer service coordinator at my church’s youth group.

As I was checking on some things during our youth service on Wednesday night, a college age guy walked into the room. He stood awkwardly in the back of the room seeming as if he was looking for someone. Since I was close by, I walked over and introduced myself to him. I also asked him if I could help him find a place to sit. He told me his name and then said, “I’m here because some girl invited me.” I laughed and said, “Well, I hope you find her.”

He continued to hangout in the back of the room and survey the crowd. Since he walked in during the sermon, he decided to just stay standing in the back until after service. I had to leave him because I had some things that I needed to check on, but I made a mental note to check up on him after service.

After service I had a chance to talk with him. I was able to make a connection with him and invite him back for the following Wednesday night. I also had one of our college guys go over and talk with him and make him feel welcome. The student I sent to chat with him even exchanged cell phone numbers with him and introduced him to a few of his friends.

All of that being said, I did not write this article to show how awesome I am. I wrote this article because I believe that there are millions of people just like this young adult who visit our youth groups and churches every week. God sends them to us, but we have to keep our eyes open for them. How many young men and young women come awkwardly into our services each week and are never greeted or talked to? How many young people do we overlook that God sends our way?

May we keep our eyes and ears open to the young people that God sends to us.

Joey Berrios is a volunteer youth worker, educator, designer, and writer.

Have you ever got a message on your voicemail or read the subject of an email and a pit instantly developed in your stomach? I have. I remember getting a voicemail from a parent that was upset with me. To say the least…she was livid. As I listened to her message, I hoped that she just wanted to scream at me over voicemail and would forget to ask me to call her back. She didn’t and as she concluded her message, she gave me her phone number and told me to call.

You may think that I’m a super pastor and handle those situations with ease. I’m not. I did what most people do–I avoided. I instantly came up with a bunch of urgent to-do items and calling her back was easily put off until later in the day. I remember thinking that I should just suck it up and call her back instantly, but I didn’t.

Fast-forward a couple days and as I waited for her and her husband to come into my office for a face-to-face, I was scared to death. Not only did I forget to call her back as the day went on, I waited to the next day.

The first few moments after they entered my office, she told me that I didn’t see her call (or this issue) as urgent. I see where she was coming from, but in all honesty, what she didn’t know is that I wanted to run away and enter the witness protection program. I always knew that dealing with conflict and angry parents were a part of the gig, but this wasn’t what I signed up for in student ministry. Where was the metro worship pastor playing kumbaya?

The meeting was a mess and nothing I said helped the matter. After a good fist pounding on my desk, several colorful words, and awkward moments of “I’m catching my breath” silence the ordeal was over. That day, I learned that I needed to make my most difficult call first. I realized that doing so forces me to handle situations I don’t want to handle. It also keeps me from accidently forgetting or stressing about it the rest of the day. I’ve compiled a “To-do” list for handling tough issues like this. I hope it helps!

  • Pull out your Bible and read Philippians 4:5
  • Make a list of a couple key points that you want to communicate
  • Allow them to vent their frustration (Resist the urge to interrupt and defend yourself)
  • In response, control your tone of voice
  • Admit any personal fault
  • Thank them for contacting you

These steps won’t guarantee that everything will go away. I still resist the urge to put off hard conversations, but experience has taught me that implementing these items can spur healing and forgiveness.

What is the hardest call you’ve ever had to make?

About Nick Farr: By the age of 30, Nick has served as a missionary, creative arts director, student pastor, graphic designer, freelance photographer, and now church planter. He’s married to an amazing woman and has one daughter. He’s regularly blogs at http://www.EverythingPastor.com



I think most of us in the camp of facebook being a good ministry tool, although its effectiveness at time to communicate and actually elicit some sort of response to who is attending an event, or can help out at an event can be minimal. I am still of the belief that Facebook is useful and here is why I make a point to be a FB friend with every student possible that is a part of our group.

Humility: Lets admit it, most of us have gone home after youth group and scanned through Facebook to see what students wrote for a status update and if they mentioned being at Church. This is less about pumping up my own tires, and more about spotting trends. How did we teach tonight and did it stick? Are students sharing what happened or grieving missing the newest episode of Glee. More often than not, there is not much posted, and perhaps that is a reflection of how the night went. Its not a litmus test, but a decent indicator of whether or not we were clear in communicating God’s word and if we helped them understand how to apply it. The other half of the humility coin, is realizing just how much work needs to be done. My heart breaks regularly as I watch students wander down paths of destruction and pain and any time someone tries to pat us on the back about our ministry I want to reply with “we are not even close”. There are thousand of students near us that need to know Jesus and there is so much to do and just we can’t get full of ourselves.

Accountability: Facebook was gives us the ability to have a window into students and leaders lives that we never had before and vice versa. I love that students have a view into my life and can see the things I do when I am not “on” and I hope that they would see that my faith, my love of my wife goes deeper than just saying it. I want students to see my whole life and that means I need to live it. For students, since you are one of their hundreds of friends, they tend to be pretty real on FB which allows us to engage in parts of their life that are sometimes not good and have conversations about their struggles. I have been able to intervene with students before they get too far down a path of destruction and those conversations are not fun, but I am thankful to be able to have them.

Follow-up / Connection: This has been a huge win for us as far as getting students plugged into our program. We have lots of summer camps near us and several send us a list of students that made decisions, or showed interest in being a part of youth group when they got home. The challenge has always been cold calling students and inviting them to an unfamiliar place and everything we tried just seemed to miss. This year we plugged each of the names into Facebook and that revealed any friends in common who were a part of our group. Taking that information we contacted them and let each student know which of their friends were already here. We then took that list of friends in common and chose a few current students to suggest that they invite the new ones to our group. Retention of camp referrals and “new the church” students has increased significantly.

It’s a delicate balance being “friends” with students and remaining their leader and it’s a unique luxury that not even teachers are allowed to have. I see it as an opportunity to lead them better, encourage them more and model my Christian walk with more than my words on a youth night.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.

After 12 years of working in youth ministry, I have seen many trends come and go. We used to have to phone students (gasp), and then came email, then text, now Facebook. It’s a technological wonderland out there, but my experience lately has been that social media specifically has become more and more of a white noise in students lives. They are engaging where they need to and want to, but event invitation, group updates etc are reaching only those that really look for them and the lack of response to them has meant a major shift in our communication strategy.

Like many ministries, we have worked with mass texting programs, but are finding more and more that they are a “shout” of information but lack the relational foundation that Christianity is about. I am troubled by many studies that are showing that students are becoming more and more incapable of carrying on a conversation and that verbal communication skills are suffering as a result of texts, and Facebook becoming primary communication vehicles for students. Sometimes I just want to talk to our students in blocks bigger than 140 characters.

So this year we have taken a very strategic and intentional page from the days of old and we are picking up the phone with increasing frequency. We are calling students weekly and have recruited teams of like-minded volunteers to come in one day a week after school and call every student who has visited our program this year every week. The process takes about 2 hours with a team calling, but the time is well spent and here is why I think it’s the most important part of our follow up strategy:

Reminding: If you have worked with middle schoolers before you know that they have trouble remembering to put socks on, let alone what night youth group is on. The mid-week call is a great reminder to them that youth is coming, and that you want them there. I would hope that a students would leave that conversation feeling that youth group is not the same without them and that we love when they show up.

Affirmation: When we call students and ask for them by name, the reaction on the other end of the phone to someone calling and inviting them back communicates that they are valuable and memorable. The conversations are not always life changing and often awkward, but if you were to ask your students what a phone call checking in on them mid-week means to them, you would be shocked to hear the value.

Belonging: I have heard that if a student does not attend for three weeks in a row, they likelihood of them ever coming back is slim. When we call students to invite them back and check on how they are experiencing our program it’s a chance for us to let them know indirectly through that conversation they belong, and that their opinions matter to us. Having a solid follow up strategy means that the likelihood of a student coming to our program and leaving unnoticed is much less likely.

I wrote a post last week about making “the ask” on the phone with students which is a key part of our phoning strategy. We are so convicted that having a conversation with students on the phone ;albeit a much larger investment of time, it by far the most effective, intentional and loving way that we can follow up with our students. I don’t do much of the calling myself and I am sure that if you ask around, you have volunteers, and parents willing to come in and do it.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.