We’re making some little name shifts in our youth ministry these days – moving away from calling events by catchy, cool names and calling them by far less cute but very clear names.

Over and over again it feels obvious that insider names are nice for the core kids, but completely alienating for outsiders and confusing for people who bounce in and out. If you’re using a cool name for your youth event, plan on explaining it to parents and new students. If you’re using a Greek word for your small groups, your effort to please your hermeneutics professor will be lost on a 13-year old incoming freshman.

Clear wins every time. Here’s a few examples of what I’m talking about:

HSM Summer Camp
We used to call our summer camp by the destination camp we were attending, so we would call it Hume Lake or Camp Ojai. I love the traditions, but think it requires explanation to adults and clarity when a student shares their testimony about what happened there. Why not just call it camp? So now we call it HSM Summer Camp, enabling us to be very clear about what it is and less about the actual location. It also allows us to change camps without losing momentum or rebranding.

HSM Winter Retreat
This one had a great name originally – Chi Alpha (which means Christ First or Christs’ Ambassadors) – but honestly it wasn’t working in our culture. The students that attended last year loved the event, but when talking about it they would inevitably call it a “spiritual growth retreat” or “discipleship retreat” – so why didn’t we? Now that I think about it – even “discipleship” might not be clear, maybe we should even be considering a more student-friendly and clear word like “grow.”

We’re simply called HSM
I know that “the high school ministry at Saddleback Church” or “HSM” isn’t the sexiest name on the block. I hear of youth group names like IGNITE, maXimum or Warriors of L.I.G.H.T. and I think how boring ours sounds. But the clarity is worth it. Even within our own church, and I love our college ministry (Crave) and junior high ministry (Wildside), but they have to be constantly explained to outsiders.

So that’s what I’m thinking, and where we’re moving these days. Anyone agree/disagree? I’d LOVE to be convinced of the value in creating brand and identities with creative and unique names for groups and events.


A video we “found” to help introduce new HSM team member Chris Wohlers that we played during the Happily Ever After kickoff weekend. So funny!


Weekend Teaching Series: Happily Ever After: (series premiere, week 1 of 3)
Sermon in a Sentence: Happily Ever After may be a fairy tale … but you can find and fight for true love that lasts a lifetime by following God’s ways.
Service Length: 74 minutes
Main passage: 1 John 4

Understandable Message: This weekend was the kickoff of our relationships series by talking about the possibility of having a marriage that goes the distance if you choose to love like Jesus asks us to. The message included a clear presentation of the Gospel, and challenged students to think about their future now, and become the type of person who is attractive from the inside out now rather than having to deal with the ghosts of relationship past by not forward-thinking. Couple stronger elements in the talk – I showed the picture of a recent couple (who came through the church) who got married and asked if they really had a shot at happiness or really had a 50/50 shot of making it. I asked students to fast forward to the moment on their honeymoon when this picture would be taken, and think about how to get there God’s way. In another section I used a Jenga game to show how dishonesty and breaking someone’s trust crumbles the foundation and can leave a relationship teetering or falling apart.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: We played “Who Wants to be a Fraction of a Millionaire: sponsored by McDonalds” where student contestants could win $5 Arch Cards for correct answers. Each of the questions had to do with some sort of love story, fairy tale or connection to the theme of the series. We also had some fun introducing Chris Wohlers as a new member of the HSM team.

Music Playlist: Just the Way You Are [Bruno Mars cover], The Earth is Yours, Savior of the World, You’ll Come, Yours Forever

Favorite Moment: The funniest part of me was during the 2nd Saturday night service, I was pulling out Jenga blocks one by one hoping to demonstrate how relationships are fragile and how sin destroys them at the foundation. I pulled a few blocks 1 …2… 3 …4 … then more and more and more! 15 … 16 … 17 … and the stupid thing wouldn’t fall! Felt like I played the perfect game of Jenga in front of a ton of students when I really wanted it to teeter and fall. Finally just punched it over with my hand all over the stage to a roar from the teens. Amazing.

Up Next: Happily Ever After (week 2 of 3]

Chris Wohlers was added to the HSM team this week – we’ve been praying for the right new addition to the team and he’s the man! Chris grew up in the church, Saddleback’s High School Ministry, and was a small group leader already. He will be helping out primarily developing the weekend entry-level service and continuing to grow the area of spiritual growth. Yeah!


This week I created a new team award – I called it Unforgettable Moments in HSM History.

We picked up this inexpensive plaque at a local trophy shop and announced the first winner at a recent meeting. I gave it to Chris Wohlers, new to the HSM team. We were doing a funny bit live on stage during the Air Guitar activity last week, and it involved a complicated dance move that ended up with me tackling him, ruining his new HSM shirt and even giving him a war injury.

So why the award? I want to create a culture, I want memories, and I want to invite others to help me create this environment to work in. We work hard, we give everything, we love students. And now there are 11 empty spots on this plaque for more moments that bond us together as a team and help us remember the fun we have serving Jesus in youth ministry.

Might be a fun idea to start with your volunteers at your next team meeting!


Love Thy Volunteers

 —  September 16, 2010 — Leave a comment

A brand new blog was launched this past week – Ryanne Witt from the HSM team is stepping into a larger leadership role and one of the steps I’ve asked her to take was to share her brilliance and insight on her blog. I think you’ll love her thoughts posted a couple times a week on Love Thy Volunteers. Her 3 posts so far are great – make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss anything. Here’s a clip from a post called Worth Keeping:

I have a folder in my inbox titled “Worth Keeping”.
In order for an email to be placed in here it has to meet one of two criteria:

  • Encouraging – especially directly to me.
  • Makes me laugh – especially an inside joke or something only I would get.


Tonight I had the strong urge to write a blog post about saying goodbye in youth ministry. It hit me because we’re going through it again – first Robby (leaving HSM to be a lead campus pastor for a regional Saddleback) and now Becka (leaving HSM at the end of a fantastic 2-year internship). I wanted to post to be about how saying goodbye is just part of the gig we’re called to, that we have team members, volunteers and graduating seniors that eventually leave our life and we have to be OK with that.

Then I did a quick search of the blog and realized that I already wrote that exact post just 2 months ago (Saying Goodbye is Part of Youth Ministry). So tonight, in my sorry of saying goodbye again, I wanted to focus on how saying “hello” is part of youth ministry, too:

Hello to incoming freshman
This is the time of year when freshman are coming into your high school ministry for the very first time. As your students go back to school and rubbing shoulders with their friends, expect some new faces to show up. Make it a point to seek out new freshman and be particularly welcoming them into your community.

Hello to great volunteers
The beginning of the school year is when new volunteers, particularly small group leaders, typically enter the ministry. Take the time to make them feel welcomed, trained and encouraged as they begin their time serving students. Your relational investments and the community you build could help keep them around for years.

Hello to great members of the staff
As hard as it is for us to say goodbye to great team members – even staff – it gives us a chance to see God putting the pieces together for what is next.

Every goodbye is a chance for a new hello. As you mourn the loss of a great senior class just a few months ago, pour into the new freshman. As you think about that long-time volunteer who finally steps away, remember the new team forming for the next season. And when you have to say goodbye to a great pastor on staff, remember God is about to introduce you to who He has next.


Weekend Teaching Series: LAUNCH: Ready for Re-Entry (week 4 of 5)
Sermon in a Sentence: Launching into a successful school year requires dedication, investment and using the gifts God has given you for Him.
Service Length: 79 minutes
Main passage: Luke 5:1-11

Understandable Message: This week we had the final summer guest speaker teach our entry-level program. David Hughes grew up in the ministry and has become a long-time volunteer and most recently a seminary student. He did a great job introducing himself to our students and challenging them to follow Jesus’ call on their life. He focused on Jesus calling the disciples, causes their boats to overflow with fish and them leaving everything to follow Him. In some ways our lives become a cycle of faithfulness – God entrusts us with more, and we find joy when we use everything in our lives for God.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: We had a text poll from polleverywhere.com as well as a simple Race This! game featuring Spaceships – we divided up the crowd into 3 sections and the winning section got a candy shower. We haven’t used Race This! much in high school, but it definitely worked with the crowd and tied in nicely to the theme. We sprinkled in a few announcements and a fun video promoting the Shake It! greeting ministry, too.

Music Playlist: My Heart (Paramore cover), Awesome God, The Stand

Favorite Moment: This was a bittersweet weekend – we said goodbye to a couple of great members of our HSM team. Becka finished up her 2-year internship this week and has been an absolute star the whole time. Robby was asked by Pastor Rick to head up a new campus in Huntington Beach that will launch this Christmas. VERY proud of both of them, and VERY hard to see them go. Shoot.

Up Next: LAUNCH series finale [Fall Back to School Kickoff]