I am still somewhat new at this whole being a Youth Pastor thing and because of that I am still learning as I go about some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what its all about. One thing that has been on my heart is providing places and spaces for students to invite their pre-Christian friends to. But I found on at least a few occasions, I was ill prepared to reap the harvest and likely missed a great opportunity. A great example would be our Flashmob event that we held last spring, the students hyped it, we planned for everything, they brought their friends, in fact we saw a nearly 50% increase in students at the event, but I was not prepared to handle that. In light of this, here are a few things I am wrestling with:

Make it manageable: We only get one chance to make a first impression, and if someone is an invited guest in the Church, I would like to make that experience the best I can. If we host an outreach event with many new students, there is a chance they could not be personally welcomed, they might feel awkward and this could be the last time they set foot in the door. Our Flashmob event taught me a great lesson that I need to take an active role in greeting those new students so that they do feel welcomed. If you plan and event so that students can bring 10 friends each to, and they do, you might be doing more harm than good.

Unleash your leaders: If you don’t have a welcome and greeting team, you need one! This is the best way to meet students when you cannot do it themselves. This is one of the most important front line ministries; they are the friendly face of the Youth Group. Our greeting team has a ’20 questions’ form they hand out with questions ranging from contact info, to Bieber or Timberlake to Pancakes or Waffles. These questions are quite strategic in quickly finding if they are from a Christian home, if they are skater kid or a “Lightsaber kid” with apologies to Josh, these are the pseudo dorky 8-10th grade boys that grab the coat rack and pretend it’s a Lightsaber. The purpose is to find a small group that they will thrive and make meaningful connections with students with similar interests. On the first night they are there, they will meet at least 3 core students, their new small group leader and myself.

Learn their name: There is nothing more valuable that learning a student’s name, it says to them that they belong and that they are memorable. All that contact information we get from outreach events is entered into our database; they are added on Facebook that night, invited into our student ministry FB group and added to our SMS blasts each week. Once they accept a friend request, we print a copy of their Facebook profile pic, put in on the wall in my office and the next time I see that student, at their school or at Youth, you better believe I will do everything I can to remember their name.

Planning an event is easy, engaging, welcoming and retaining the student influx of students is the difficult part, it takes teamwork, intentionality, hard work and diligence. Otherwise, these events will be attendance spikes that will have little long-term value. If your objective is for big numbers at one off events that is one thing, but if your goal is creating more disciples, be prepared that when you cast your net, it might come back full.

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. You can, too! See how right here.

An interesting discussion came up on last week’s Simply Youth Ministry Podcast (episode 144, click here to watch it). The discussion was about giving your students an incentive (money, discounts, prizes, etc) for bringing their friends to church. The team seemed pretty much opposed to it, but I didn’t see it as a big deal. Curious as to what you think? Vote today!


Here’s the latest episode of the Simply Youth Ministry Podcast. Enjoy it – just recorded another one today, too!


In the process of finishing two books on the topic of Jesus. Here are a few thoughts:

The first, Jesus Manifesto:Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, is a challenging read simply exalting Jesus above everything else. They contend that a complete emphasis on Jesus would completely change the world – if we can introduce people to the real, life-changing Jesus, everything else will follow. Lifestyle will follow. Church growth will happen. Discipleship will happen. Simply teach Jesus. Not sure how much of it I’m ready to go after, but preaching and teaching Jesus has to be what the church is all about. Definitely lives up to its subtitle elevating Jesus to the highest place. Pretty academic read, you’ll want to break it into chunks and not speed read for sure.

The second book I’m tackling is Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross by Ryan Dobson and Christian Buckley, and it is a much more accessible read. It attempts to tackle the social Gospel and evangelism question, giving a brief history of the concept and conflict of the ideas of sharing Jesus. The first half of the book is written by the authors, the second is interviews with people in key churches and organizations that are attempting to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Good stuff, drives me to my current thinking – the Social Gospel must be both social (helping people) and Gospel (spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ)! There are many books on this subject, this one probably isn’t the most academic or comprehensive, but by far the most current.


August is here – summer programs are winding down and school is about to begin. Scratch that – for more than half the country, kids are already in classes this week! You’re heading toward the Fall kickoff of your youth ministry, and thinking about what’s next. I posted When to Buy Youth Ministry Resources last August, but thought something tangible with solid suggestions for the fall might be a good idea as well. Here are the questions I’m asking with a couple weeks to go before our official kickoff:

1. Is your youth ministry service ready to go?
Take the time to lay out the fall teaching calendar. Create or purchase a teaching series that is compelling and make it easy for your students to bring their non-believing friends. The start of the school year is one of the most opportune times for Friendship Evangelism. Then think about the atmosphere that first-time student will walk into – are a few crowd games or a cell phone poll the way to go? Is the room setup ideally for what you’re trying to accomplish? Do you have a way to contact students during the week? How can you give your youth group a jolt of fresh energy this Fall? Suggestions: 2nd Greatest Story Every Told, Heart of a Champion, Awaken Your Creativity

2. Are your small group leaders and volunteers trained?
Capitalize on the fall to get some good reading into the hands of your leaders or good material into your hands for training meetings. Suggestions: Youth Worker Training on the Go, Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry, Connect

3. What are you reading for your personal development?
You meant to read a few good books over the summer – and honestly, they’re still in the bottom of your backpack. Take them out and get cracking! If you’re looking for a good book Terrace had a good list for young influencers and Kurt’s new book The 9 Best Practices of Youth Ministry looks challenging. My favorite book this summer was Linchpin. Pick up a book for your own development. Suggestions: Tribes, Switch, Steering Through Chaos, Crazy Love, The Next Generation Leader

4. What is it time to launch?
For us we’re talking about helping hurting students, so we’re concentrating on our pastoral care program for teenagers who are at risk. You’ve got the pulse of your student ministry – what is it time to launch? Or maybe what is it time to re-launch? Maybe it is time to stop something, so this January you can breath new life into it? Suggestions: The Landing, Help! I’m a Student Leader, LeaderTreks



Excited to get my hands on Kurt Johnston’s newest book The 9: Best Practices for Youth Ministry. A couple of the chapter titles feel right/expected – starting with soul care and listening to God’s Spirit. I love the emphasis on evangelism and volunteer development, which comes naturally for my gifting. But I’m excited to dig more into valuing families and contextualized programs and events (honestly, I’m not even quite sure what that means). Congrats on the new book, Kurt, there’s a lot to think about from the chapter titles alone:

  1. Nurture Your Own Soul
  2. Build an Awareness of God’s Active Presence
  3. Encourage Personal Spiritual Growth
  4. Foster a Sense of Evangelistic Urgency
  5. Increase the Congregation’s Appreciation of Students
  6. Provide Opportunities for Relationships
  7. Develop Confident, Competent, and Committed Adult Leaders
  8. Consistently Value Families
  9. Create Contextualized Programs & Events


Weekend Teaching Series: You Own the Weekend: Trabuco Hills HS (series premiere: week 1 of 5)

Sermon in a Sentence: Christ calls us to a live a life unified together for His glory.
Service Length: 71 minutes

Understandable Message: This weekend we kicked off the completely-student-run series You Own the Weekend. We debuted the series last year after a student threw out the idea to me after a weekend service – it turned into the largest series of 2009. It is back this year, and Trabuco HS student leaders set the bar high as the series kicked off. The message this week focused on unity, and the power of people banded together for one cause. The clear challenge was for Christians to be unified, and it gave a clear invitation for non-believers to become a part of God’s family. A student taught the message broken up in a few parts with 3 testimonies sprinkled throughout.

Volunteer/Student Involvement: The weekend was completely run by students – from the early planning stages through execution. Aside from one adult adviser to the group, all of the adults were there in a purely relational capacity. Really incredible to see – students have been involved in lots of “day of” opportunities to serve – greeters, camera, band, etc but the real work of You Own the Weekend happens in the weeks before – as students invite their friends to attend the service. The goal was that every student would get an invitation to the weekend service.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: Students chose to play Party in the USA and Fireflies during the countdown video, and opened with a Trabuco Hills Rap – it was really creatively done – I don’t remember us ever opening with a live rap before. So fun, so much school pride, they even made a slideshow to run behind the music, lots of picture of their school and students. They also brought in the school mascots to dance around, and used www.polleverywhere.com to put up a few interactive cell phone polls.

Music Playlist: THHS Alma Mater Rap, Tear Down the Walls, another song I forgot

Favorite Moment: This weekend was filled with great moments – the biggest of them all is the continued reminder of the connection between student involvement and evangelism. And that students are capable of SO much when given a chance.

Up Next: YOTW: El Toro HS (week 2 of 5)

No leader enjoys the notion of failure. In the split categories of good and evil, failure is considered evil, success is considered good. Just thinking about certain failures in my own life brings back emotions that stir the depths of my being. Why? Because failure in front of those we live, play, and work with is embarrassing. It just plain hurts.

But we all fail. And some of us are persistent failures. It happens, it is how humans learn, and how we deal with it makes all the difference.

A while back I was not a Youth Director, but rather, I was a Youth Ministry Assistant. In gradations of youth ministry scales, that is just above an intern, and just below a director. You’re supposed to know a few things about youth ministry because you’ve already been an intern and now you are set loose to discover freedom with a few oodles of responsibility.

Upon being hired and oriented, I was given the reigns to a very important ministry in the youth group: the Friday night outreach program. The youth director told me that I had the freedom to brainstorm, propose, and implement the program with hopes that I would be successful in creating a space that community youth would like to come. The guidelines were that it would involve food, music, fun, and some form of evangelism.

Given freedom, I was terrified. When someone is in charge of you and gives you orders, you can always blame the orders or the one giving the orders for failure. Freedom changes that. I had to take responsibility for what would be implemented and I would be making a culture all by myself. In charge of the programs destiny, I began to worry. What if my ideas were not received well?

I tossed and turned during the nights, and wrote up drafts and proposals for the program and presented what I had come up with. It was very practical. We had been moving into a new building with a gym, a game room with pool tables and ping pong, and we had a stage in a gathering area with a nice sound board. So I decided that each week I would bring in a local band. We would start the night off with a big game in the gym that would bring everyone together, and those who didn’t want to listen to the band could hang out in the game room. It seemed simple, and so I presented the whole shebang with schedule from band load in to sound check to a quick devotion and the night would end. The presentation was well received and I was given the go.

And I was terrified.

As I thought through my simple plan I realized that there were many moving parts. (1) I had to bring a team of volunteers along to get used to a new building and a new program culture. (2) I would have to email and call and MySpace about 15 bands in order to fill in every Friday night for a season. (3) I would need a sound tech to work with several servant oriented people to help get the bands in and ready. (4) Amidst the hubbub, I would be giving a short devotion, a reflection, or a scripture verse. And (5) I would have to build relationships as the host to all the students coming through the doors and ensure that they were connected to each other and to leaders in a positive way. Lastly (6) I would have to get the gym game up and running. Oh, and I forgot to mention (7) I would be self conscious of my evaluation from my director.

Thinking through all the moving parts made me more nervous than ever, and as the first date got closer I became somewhat paralyzed. There was a point while I was searching for bands, in which I did not know if I wanted to move forward. I knew I would, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But I thought about how I felt and the notion of failure continued to weigh on me.

In passing with my director I decided to let him know how I felt. I told him that there was a lot to get going and I wasn’t sure of the excellence of everything that needed to come together. Time was going by and not all the t’s were crossed, nor all the i’s dotted.

I’ll always remember how he responded. He said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” It was simple. He told me that I was allowed to try, and if it failed, then it failed. What was I going to do? Permission to fail! I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly I felt much better. Being a perfectionist that often falls short of my own expectations, I realized that the possibility of failure should not stop someone from doing something that needs to be done. So I went ahead and booted up the program.

After four years with spits and spurts of growth pains, and with the perspective and help of a new Youth Pastor to work with midstream, I would say that the program got to where I wanted it to be. But it took many failures and people still believing in me to get it right. In the end, students were getting connected, leaders were doing relationship evangelism, student leaders had developed, I scrapped the band every night idea (allowing it to be special when a band did come) and added video games and music from an iPod set list, and the gym games continued to be popular. The program grew, and new elements added either failed or succeeded. Even after leaving, that program continues to minister to students.

If only I had listened to Christ’s words on the Mount:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? -Matthew 6:25-27

All ministries are a risky venture. Many of us will fail, but the weight is not squarely on our shoulders. The spirit of God is looking out for us when we are trying to do good for Him. Trusting, obeying, and in that, not worrying too much about failure is a part of serving God. He is greater than us and takes us to places and builds things we cannot imagine. Fear and trembling at anything other than God will paralyze you and you cannot do the work you are called to do in a state of paralysis. Just start doing what God is calling you to do. Persevere, and you will find something valuable at the end of the road.

Daniel Griswold is the Director of Youth at St. Andrew By-The-Sea UMC in Hilton Head Island, SC. Check out his blog at http://danielgriswold.wordpress.com or on Twitter.