YM Logo 3886179_origThis weekend I became aware of a few things that makes our youth group night/weekend great. I also can say pretty confidently that valuing these three things change the game at youth group.

Now, these three things can pretty much be talked about in any context, but I want to address them in the context of youth group night, because youth group night is probably the only night you have all of your students gathered in one place (hopefully bringing friends). I would say right after God, your volunteers are probably the next most important people in the room. So I try to remind our volunteers of 3 things very frequently:

  • Their Purpose at youth group – You are not just creepy people holding up the wall in the back.
  • Their Importance at youth group – We couldn’t do youth ministry the way we do it without you.
  • Their Commitment to youth group – We appreciate your commitment to our ministry, and we thank God for you.

Also, as a quick reminder to volunteers, here are 4 things they need to be on youth group night:

  1. Approachable – Be careful not to just hang out with core students during youth group. You can easily become super unapproachable to students who may not be apart of the core crowd. Also, be careful where you hangout before and after service. Ask yourself, “Am I in an area that may make you unapproachable?”          
  2. Available – Don’t allow the program to highjack time you could be spending with students. Don’t get me wrong. The program is super important, but have it dialed in so you can be dialed in to students. A lot of times we are there, but we are so occupied with the program that we end up leaving without making any real connections. When the program becomes the focal point and connections secondary we lose. The program should help foster community not just entertain it. Majority of returners come back because of a connection made. So be available.
  3. Engaged – You set the tone for the ministry. If you’re not excited about what’s going on during youth group, students won’t be excited either. Service starting is not the time for you to sneak off and work on other stuff, even though it is super tempting (I’m learning this myself). Be engaged because students are watching. It’s ok to really worship God during our time of worship. So be active during service as if you were in the adult service. Be engaged.
  4. Intentional – I use this word a lot because being intentional is the game-changer. I can be intentional in the most simple of things, and it makes all the difference. Example: How about circling back to the student you met during greeting time and asking “How was the service and what part affected you the most?” Thinking intentionally is praying for the Holy Spirit’s lead in conversations with students. Youth group with intentionality is next level quality.

My leaders that serve during youth group are on the frontline of our ministry, so it’s important that they are equipped to meet, greet, connect and pray for students. I’m always thinking about their needs and what we can do to help them win. So what would you add to the list or what are you doing to help your leaders win on youth group night? 


hope it helps,


busyYou know the temptation.

It goes something like this:

  • Plan for your program.
  • High-five some kids as they come in.
  • Say something profound in your message or class time.
  • Talk up the next big event.
  • Run the next event.
  • Over-hype everything you did so your church is glad they hired you.

(I hope that last one rubbed you the wrong way. Either you aren’t doing that, so you’re offended… or you are doing that, and you’re offended.)

That list as a whole may be a stereotype of your pattern. If you’re a good youth worker, you’re obviously doing more than that.

  • You have a broken heart over the phone calls you get from students.
  • You have run out of words from the conversations you’ve had with parents.
  • You have yet another meeting to explain to your church leadership something they don’t yet understand.
  • You have no room left in your schedule for something you know you need to do.

(Keep in mind, some youth workers like advertising the martyrs they feel they are. Don’t become a stereotype on purpose.)

Whatever you’re doing, and whichever version of a youth worker you are, there is one potential downside to all of your effort.

You may be overlooking the opportunities you have for real, generous ministry.

Uncle Leo - helloThink about the moments you remember most about different people in your life. These are the times when they either made you feel alive with encouragement or depleted with criticism. You may also remember when someone snubbed you because they were too busy to even say hello.

It’s an ironic moment in ministry when a kid walks in, and we’re busy prepping for the program. Our lack of availability seems to say, “Right now, I don’t have time to have a relationship with you… because I’m doing this other thing so I can have a relationship with you.”

So what does it look like to be generous with how you invest into the teens and preteens in your ministry?

Here are 20 things you need to tell students this week (in no particular order):

  1. generousHey… thank you for sharing the cool and random stuff from your life with me.
  2. I love you all and always look forward to this time with you.
  3. I can’t believe how many things we’ve laughed about and cried about as friends. It feels like we’re really on a journey together.
  4. I like seeing how you each listen to each other. Do you know that’s one of the ways God uses you to show one another His love?
  5. You are going to change the world somehow. You’re a leader somehow. The question is how you’ll change the world and what kind of leader you’ll allow yourself to be.
  6. I know some of you have it rough in life somehow. The fact that you come here and are looking for a deeper Story to live in is a miracle. Whether you realize it or not, that’s one of the ways God is answering the very prayers you pray.
  7. You know how we talk about those experiences from stuff that we’ve done together? Those “Remember that one time…” moments? By all means, let’s celebrate that stuff – but let’s also look for ways to let some of our newer friends form some memories with us, too.
  8. I learn something from you all just about every time we hang out.
  9. The questions you guys and gals ask? Wow. They’re amazing.
  10. Some of the things we talk about here won’t feel like they apply to your life. It’s because those nuggets aren’t for you, but if you remember them you’ll be the one to share them with your friends.
  11. Listen, I know each of you are going to blow it at some point. That won’t get in the way of our friendship. On the other hand, you also need to know that I will as a friend try to point you right back in God’s direction.
  12. If you ever need someone who will just hear what you have to say, I want to be one of those people.
  13. You will have moments that you feel weird with your parents. Don’t stop being a part of your family. You will also have moments when you feel weird with me or others here. Don’t stop being a part of church.
  14. I mean this as a legitimate compliment: You’re one of the most unique people I know. God poured some of His best work into you. Don’t ever doubt that.
  15. Some day, when you’re ready for it, I want you to ask me to sit down with you and have the most honest conversation about what I think about you. It will involve some of the best encouragement I can give you. It will also involve me talking with you with complete honesty about your blind spots, too. When we’re done with that conversation, it will be the beginning of a new friendship between us.
  16. How can I better understand your ideas and dreams? What can I do to listen to you better?
  17. There will be times that I will have your back. There will also be times that I will have your front, trying to lead you somewhere. I’ll always have your side, though – we’re on this journey together.
  18. You want to play a game? Let’s do something together by doing nothing together.
  19. One thing I really respect about you is that you’re not just putting God first in your life, but are trying to put Him first in everything. There’s a huge difference.
  20. You’re important. This group wouldn’t be the same without you. But never forget this – it would be nothing without Jesus. Any of us can leave and this will continue, but without God we’re just a church club, you know?

Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world. He also knew and proclaimed that He was the light of the world.


If you want your kids to shine, do it first… generously light them up.

(Maybe even share some of that with your fellow youth workers.)

Got any other good thoughts? Comment and add yours to the mix.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


2015GameChanger3inx3inAs I was thinking about this post “3 potential game-changers”, I came up with more than three, but with this post I also wanted to highlight things that seem common to us in youth ministry. I believe we all do these three things to some degree but if we did them intentionally it could be a game-changer for the ministry. Here are three potential game-changers:

Prayer – Prayer can be the easiest thing to get swept away by the business of youth ministry. The effectiveness of what I do every day in youth ministry relies on me receiving inspiration and direction from God. I love how Jesus would get away and pray. He stayed in communication with God. The key to being consistant in prayer is to be intentional about it. Prayer that is done intentionally can radically change your ministry. This is because you are now prioritizing the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit. Being intentional about prayer is more than just praying before service. It starts with your personal prayer life. If you’re not consistant in your personal prayer life than it will be nearly impossible for you to be consistant in praying for the ministry. Four ways to be intentional:

  1. It starts with you – Be intentional about your personal prayer life.
  2. It’s not just something you do – Prayer is your connection to divine wisdom, instruction and direction. Prayer is a big deal and you should treat it as such.
  3. Be strategic - Be creative and think of ways to getting more people praying for the ministry. One example: we have a lot of parents praying for our ministry. I want to unify them which will strengthen them and also bring more focus to what they pray for. Be strategic in prayer.

Listening – I can’t tell you how many students I’ve spoken with that feels like no one listens to them. Specially those who self-harm or have thoughts of suicide. Listening is a powerful part of ministry that can be overlooked. We can be so quick to give the cause/solution/advice not even realizing that everyone else in their life is probably doing the same thing and no one’s listening. Unless I’m intentional about listening I won’t. I will have answers before there needed and solutions before I hear the whole problem. Listening is just as important as having the solution. Whether you are talking with a student, parent or volunteer be intentional about listening because it says a lot. Three way to be intentional:

  1. Listen with the intent to listen – listening helps build trust. If people feel like you genuinely listen to them, then they are more apt to listen to you.
  2. Ask good question – don’t be so quick to respond with advice or the solution because you may miss something. I try and ask a minimum of 20 questions. Asking questions lets them know you are listening.
  3. Watch your body language – your posture can give off unwanted vibes. So make sure your whole body is attentive to the person speaking. It makes a difference.  

Being interrupted – How many times after service, before service, via phone call or a drop by the office were you approached/contacted by a student and you said “heyyyy…how are you?” and they said “I’m alright”with the look of my life is falling a part and I need you to hear me out and speak some life into my situation. I can tell you that happens to me every week. I believe you have to be intentional even about being interrupted. Nothing that is going on during your program or work day is more important than making sure you allow yourself to be interrupted by that student. Three ways to be intentional:

  1. Pray about it – Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance when interrupted. While things may interrupt us they never interrupt Him. Pray God doesn’t allow you to look the other way.
  2. Be more specific than the question “how are you” – Most of the time we ask that question out of habit, but in order to be intentional about it you need to be more specific. Ask “how’s freshmen year ” or “how’s the family”. Being specific is an intentional way to let them know you don’t mind being interrupted.
  3. Followup – I always have them come to me after service because I can forget. I also set up a time to talk with them again.

What else in ministry could be a game-changer if done intentionally?


hope it helps


Being intentional is a concept we are all familiar with in ministry, and more and more it is becoming a key aspect as we struggle to compete with the busyness of students lives. We value our student’s time greatly and know that we are competing against a lot of other activities that they could be doing. Since we know that a student carving out a 3-hour block of time to come to church is a big deal, we respond by making a big deal of our youth night. Part of making a big deal of our night is that we are intentional from start to finish and we have a reason for every element of the night. Here are a few reasons why you need to really intentional about everything:

For God: I believe that taking your weekly gathering of youth seriously is a priority. To steal a page from Doug Fields’ book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, if something we do does not promote Worship, Discipleship, Service, Evangelism or Fellowship why are we doing it? This should be a primary consideration of every element of our youth program and all events and activities we put on. I am not sure that I want to stand before the Lord and say we did something “just ’cause”, because as leaders that is not good enough. We need to point students to God at every opportunity, not just sometimes.

For Students: Modeling for students that every facet of our lives matters to God is important. We are not shy about explaining why we do what we do at our youth program and I think it is a great teachable moment when students ask. Our student’s time is valuable; and when we have them, we will always try and make the most of it. From start to finish our goal is provide them with opportunities to encounter God, to connect with a caring leader, to learn about Jesus and to Worship Him. Having a clear purpose of your youth ministry will benefit the spiritual growth of your students.

For Parents: Parents have been known to be critical of youth programs sometimes because the one they were a part of 30 years ago was not like “this”. For those parents I choose to be prepared when they start asking questions such as:

-Why is the Worship so loud?
-Why do you allow secular music to be played in the Church?
-Why do you allow saved and unsaved students in the same small groups? (Actual question!)
-We never had small groups on the same night
-Why don’t you play more games? We used to play dodgeball all the time.

It is pretty easy to defuse a parent when you have a reason for doing what you do. If they question an element of your program and you don’t have a rationale for why you do it they way you do, watch out. Parents may not agree with you, but will respect that you have thought about their concern before hand.

For the sake of supporting the vision that God has given you for your ministry, and for making the most of every opportunity that you have when your students are in the building, its vital that you have a reason and a rationale for every element of your youth night from the time the first student arrives until the last one gets picked up.

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.

I’m so blessed to have Aaron Crumbey on the high school team here at Saddleback – he is the epitome of someone who loves Jesus and loves students. He’s been blogging for a few weeks now, and I wanted to point you his way because I think you can learn a lot from him (I know I do) especially how he relates and cares for students. Here’s a clip of his most recent post about hand shakes and hugs. Head there for the whole story, and welcome him to the blogging world, too!

  1. I want to be super intentional. – I want to make the best of every opportunity I get to effect a students life. My intentions are to share Christ love for them through our time of interaction. I do not apologize for my ulterior motive.ha
  2. I make sure they have my attention. – I want them to know that I understand its important that they are here. So for however long I’m with them I’m completely engaged.
  3. I make sure I’m being myself. – The worse thing you can do is try and be your version of hip and cool. You will come off super cheesy and weird. You will be known for being that guy/woman who is super cheesy and to new students visiting for the first time they will tell every other student they know. So just be yourself. Remember you are not just representing yourself but you are representing the ministry.
  4. I ask follow up questions. – this just says to the student “I really want to know how you are doing”. You show their importance/your concern with follow up questions. Even if they just say fine I move to a specific area of life like school, family or sports.


I saw “The Social Network” on opening night but with all the Oscar buzz recently around this amazing film I figured this was a worth repost. I was skeptical going in, having not read the basis for the film (“The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich) and wary of anything looking to capitalize on such a trendy topic. But then I noticed it received an astronomical 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll leave others to critique the accuracy of the story, screenwriting, performances, etc but I do believe that people will be talking about it for a long time for many reasons…at least around here in Silicon Valley.

I’ve had a difficult time for many years watching or listening to something without looking for ministry or leadership applications. It’s just something that’s on my brain a lot, I suppose that any work of art can be somewhat of a Rorschach. The rest of this post will make a great deal more sense if you’ve seen the movie, not enough space here to give the full run-down. So with that in mind here are a few interesting nuggets related to youth ministry that I noticed in the film:

  1. Entrepreneurial Energy — There’s a level of energy and enthusiasm inherent in discovery, risk-taking, and the forming of great ideas that you can’t help but get excited about. This in itself was obvious and inspirational in the movie. We saw a group of students portrayed as unsatisfied with existing structures and yearning for more purpose, connection, and significance. This kind of energy and enthusiasm is vital to our work with students and our teams. If you or your team is struggling with being excited about your current plan, existing structures, or roles, it may be necessary to try something new, shake things up, take a risk. Even if you fail in the short term, it may point you in the right direction. Neo didn’t make the jump on the first try because no one makes the jump on the first try. Just like in this movie, often it’s not the first idea that generates a movement but the outcome of many drafts and hard work. Excitement runs downhill, if you and your team are excited about what’s happening, your students will be too.
  2. Priority on Intention — All dubious ethics and betrayal portrayed in the movie aside, it was interesting throughout that the primary motivation for the lead character was not necessarily money but the integrity of the invention. While the more business-minded folks encouraged monetizing almost immediately, it was the visionaries who kept the inner circle focused on the design and intention of the product. For youth-workers trying to stay focused on The Call with a ministry plan strategically designed to produce a certain outcome (disciples of Jesus), the application writes itself: namely, distractions and rabbit trails even with good intentions are still distractions and rabbit trails. Being great at a few things often leads to a greater yield than being mediocre at many things. Not always, but often. How can we stay focused on being great at the few things we’re called to do rather than spreading out our time, energy, and resources on too many activities that have a tendency to produce vision-drift in ourselves and our teams?
  3. A small group of people with an unstoppable idea can still change the world — Who would have thought that three 19 year olds in a college dorm room would revolutionize the world? Facebook stands at a valuation of 25 BILLION dollars. Its 500 million participants makes it the third largest nation on earth. Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history. We’re all aware of the impact of this initially small, simple idea that came from the mind of a kid. A few people with a great idea can make a difference. Reminds me of a small, motley group of people in the Galilean outback that eventually reached Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Student ministry is tough. For many of us, we’re handling what seems like 4 job descriptions on a daily basis. Navigating politics, dealing with conflict, leading different teams, walking with parents, school administrators, teaching, coaching, programming, planning, goal-setting, and on top of it all pursuing the spiritual development of our students…it really goes on, you know the feeling. Sometimes it can feel like we’re running uphill in quicksand and true change happens way too slowly. But we have a trump card, the ultimate unstoppable idea: the Gospel is THE original, greatest, revolutionary idea that can change the world. God broke into our world in the person of Jesus and the world has never been the same. What cool things is God doing among your small group of people as you share His unstoppable idea that can change the world? May we continue to be the tellers of this great, unstoppable story to a generation that desperately needs to hear it.

P.s.: I also saw numerable negative lessons as well in the film — the ends doesn’t justify the means, loyalty DOES matter, people DO matter, narcissism is alive and well…but that’s for someone else to post about.

Matt Bond is the Director of High School Ministries at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church on the San Francisco Peninsula. He’s been serving in full-time youth ministry for the past 16 years plus a few years of volunteer leadership and internships. Check out his blog and Twitter at @matthew_bond, too!