article.2013.06.19Actually, you can lose the support of parents in 10 MINUTES, but we wanted this week’s theme to be consistent. Uninformed youth workers often criticize parents as standing in the way of youth ministry. This makes us laugh…and then cry. We hope you get this: Youth ministry is about caring for students and families and parents as they raise their children. It is our job to come alongside them as the church and support them in this calling. We don’t always get it right, in fact today we’ve got three ways youth workers often miss the mark when it comes to parents.

We don’t let them know what is happening in youth group.

Youth group is the best-kept secret in the church! How cool would it be if parents knew the lessons ahead of time and could have the opportunity to discuss it before they left for group? Or at least had some tools on the back end to help them discuss at home what they learned at church… Too often we move from lesson to lesson and program to program without even the most basic communication to parents.

We don’t return phone calls.
It doesn’t matter what type of communication you prefer. For many parents, hearing a voice over the phone is far and away the best message. When you don’t return a phone call it subtracts equity from your ministry. It doesn’t take long before you are overdrawn. If you aren’t a phone person…who cares? You need to become one because a phone call is the love language of most parents these days.

We keep the spiritual growth of their child a mystery.

This year we’re trying to go public with the spiritual progress of each student. We’re not hanging a star chart on the wall of the youth room, but hoping to connect parents and small group leaders every month in some tangible way. Maybe in a personal email, a coffee date, or even a breakfast gathering that would function more like a parent-teacher conference than anything else.

How else do we lose parents in our ministry?

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.

You’ve probably heard something like this dozens of times:

“Great message this week. Hey…what do you do all week anyhow?”

The tempting response is to punch that person in the neck (in love, of course). But a better response might be to actually be ready to give a quick answer to an honest question. We don’t always reply this way, but here is one example.

Serve students faithfully.

We got into this because of our love for students. Something about that age still resonates with us as we remember how critical this stage was in our lives and in our spiritual development. What do we do all day? Serve students. Talk to them about life. Nudge them toward Jesus. Call them out. Empower our leaders to do the same.

Equip parents and volunteers strategically.
What do we do all day? We create tools and resources to help our team of incredible people minister to students. We write talks and lessons and experiment with all sorts of ideas to help moms and dads love their teenagers more and empower them to spiritually disciple their own children. We celebrate when leaders bring someone to Christ or when a parent sees a wayward son or daughter come home.

Love the church wholeheartedly.

We love youth ministry—but we’re all about the whole church, too. Part of what we do all week is caring for adults and helping our teenagers not just fall in love with youth group but want to be a part of an adult movement that is changing the world for Jesus. We want to do whatever we can to help the whole organization be healthy.

Love our community unconditionally.
Part of what we do all week is love people—love our neighbor, love our spouse, and love our kids. I (Josh) serve in the community and chaplain the Cub Scout pack down the road. Ultimately what we get paid to do all week is love God and love students.

P.S. Obviously Josh also spends a good portion of each week doing calf exercises.

“So … what do you do all week?”

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.

article.2013.06.11It seems like much of what’s written to help youth workers only addresses those who are married: balancing life with kids, making time for your spouse, and the like. All good and important stuff, but a little alienating to the incredible youth workers who are doing ministry as a single person. Today we’ve got some insight for youth workers who are single and serving.

Set up clear boundaries.
Just because you’re not married doesn’t mean you should work like the devil. Satan has never been a strong example to follow and there’s no doubt if he can’t get our hearts, he’ll make us busy—even busy doing the Lord’s work. Making sure you have space for a life outside of the church is wise and will help you keep a healthy balance as you march one step at a time toward longevity. Don’t allow yourself to be run ragged just because you don’t have a family expecting you home for dinner each night.

Take advantage of the single life.

Not intending to say the opposite of what we just said above…but take advantage of some of the freedoms the single life brings, and invest relationally with students. Grab dinners with families; enjoy an extra night out at a sporting event or visiting a small group. Don’t be afraid to keep clear boundaries, but also use this season strategically, too.

Go back to school.
One of the ways you can maximize your time as a single youth worker is to go back to school while you continue serving. While it might not sound appealing, think about how much better it is than with a spouse and four kids at home on top of your 45+ hour a week job. For many youth workers, if they don’t go back to school in this window of their lives, they’ll never go back at all.
Never leave room for speculation.

Being single in ministry increases the attention to your relationships, and unfortunately perception can become reality as you minister to teens. Make sure you always are keenly aware of your perception. Make sure you never counsel students of the opposite sex alone. Make sure you are above reproach since you may be under increased scrutiny.

Look for love outside of the church, too.

Too often we hear about single youth workers getting set up by everyone and their mother (literally!). Everyone knows the great guy for the single youth worker or the perfect woman who will complete you as a youth pastor. Forget it! While you just might find Mr. Right within the church walls, make sure you have a healthy life outside the church in case God has them there, too.

What advice would you give single youth workers?

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.


As youth pastors we don’t like to talk about numbers, or if we do, it’s with wailing and gnashing of teeth as we imagine the elders shaking their heads in frustration at the job we’re doing to reach the students in the community. Or we laugh at the image of the same elders shaking their heads with concern because the numbers are up, but the students you’re reaching are causing problems…serious problems like an occasional swear word, and wearing ear-buds on church property.

Here’s the truth: Numbers matter.

Try as we might to help leadership see the student ministry discipleship process as more than a head count, it remains one of the universally accepted currencies of “health” in youth ministry. Here are a few numbers to keep an eye on.

Youth group attendance
We use a simple head count to track this metric. It matters, especially to see trends in the year, trends by series/topics, and shifts in big picture participation. This measurement is often weighted too much in many church cultures (ours included), but it can still be a helpful number to watch because people do vote with their feet. A growing number reflects a strong ideal entry-point for our student ministry; students are entering the ministry through the top of the funnel. To some degree, this reflects the health of friendship evangelism in our ministry.

Small group signups
There is an additional level of commitment to join a small group, which causes participation to decrease, so we expect this number to be less than the youth group number. Knowing how many students are signed up and/or actually attending can be helpful to make sure students are entering and flourishing at the next step in the discipleship process. This number should grow in proportion to the weekend number; if we had 60%+ active in a small group we would be thrilled.

We try to share about the life-changing message of Christ every week, and once a month we have baptisms. It is continually important and recharging to see how God is changing lives. We celebrate any student who accepts Christ and gets baptized, because it is such an important step across the line of faith. This number is usually compiled from response cards collected at youth group.

Text database / Instagram followers
Texting is our primary method of communication with students, and seeing this number grow is a reflection of the lives we are touching. Students can sign up online and be added/removed with a checkbox on the response card.

Blog/social media traffic/friends
This one is still new and emerging, but it would be nice to see what kind of “buzz” is out there in the wild about your youth ministry. Does your student ministry Instagram have more followers this month than last? That’s a winning number. You can get all into this as well using Google Analytics, YouTube Insight, Twitter Search, and other analytical tools you can see who is viewing your videos, visiting your blog, how many people are checking you out, and see what people are saying about your services and their church experience.

There are other numbers that certainly matter (kids doing ministry, offering, distribution of spiritual growth tools, etc.)—what matters most to you? What’s missing here?

What other numbers matter? How do you deal with the reality of attendance-based performance grading? Speak up in the comments!

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.

3 Go To Games

 —  May 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

article.2013.05.29_2Crisis! You’ve got 10 minutes to come up with a great youth ministry game for your students. What do you do? Chances are, you reach into your back pocket and pull out an old standby game that works time and time again. Here are a few classics that can be ready in an instant.

Cell Phone Shootout
The game host has a cell phone and the first person to call the number on the screen and get connected wins a prize. It works best when everyone in the crowd has access to a cell phone and you’re okay with them breaking them out during this part of the service. If you want to spice it up, have the first person to text in a specific message on the screen to the host win.

Sit Down If…
Another instant classic you can make up as you go. Have everyone in the crowd stand up. The winner is the last person standing. Begin to call out things that, if they are true about that person, they need to sit down. Here are some examples:

  • Sit down if … you are wearing jeans.
  • Sit down if … you didn’t brush your teeth today.
  • Sit down if … you are wearing a hat.
  • Sit down if … you can’t roll your tongue.
  • Sit down if … you have ever been to a Justin Bieber concert.

You can spice it up and even throw in some “Stand back ups,” which always get a laugh as well. Keep going until there is just one left and give him or her a prize!

The classic rock-paper-scissors game that can be played at the crowd level. Everyone picks a partner and on the count of 3 uses their hands to display rock, paper, or scissors. Rock beats scissors; paper beats rock; scissors beats paper. If the two people both pick the same item, they are BOTH out! Repeat with everyone until you’re down to the final two for an ultimate showdown up front. Play 2 out of 3, and in the final round the same item is a redo. Epicness from such a simple, classic, and instantly ready game.

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.

Kurt had a great post yesterday about some basic speaking tips and helps for youth workers running games. Thought there was some good stuff here, head there for the full piece:

LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE: A short lesson is almost always better than a long one! Nobody ever complained that the lesson was too short. Plus, a short lesson leaves your junior highers actually wanting to hear more. Short games are almost always better than long ones, too. Playing their favorite game too often ends up making it a game they are tired of and no longer get excited to play.

THE PAYOFF NEEDS TO EQUAL THE SET UP: The longer it takes to tell a story in your lesson, the better the punchline or application needs to be. When you start by saying, I’ve got the most hilarious story in the world to share it better be a pretty stinkin hilarious story. If you say, Today’s lesson could be the most important one I’ve ever taught it better be really important! A game that takes 10 minutes to explain and 35 seconds to play is a fail the payoff didn’t equal the set-up. When you send out a text claiming, tonight in JH ministry we will play a game of epic proportions  only to have the game be a rousing game of musical chairs, you lose.


article.2013.04.30Got a smartphone? Chances are you’re working at integrating some great apps into your youth ministry world. We do the same thing and while Angry Birds Star Wars and Temple Run 2 take up a little too much of our time if we’re honest, there are some incredible apps for youth ministry.

This week Josh is up first and Kurt will offer up his 3 favorites tomorrow. Add your favorite apps in the comments!

TOP 3 APPS for youth ministry

1. Evernote (FREE)
Evernote is a productivity app that syncs important documents in the cloud and on all your devices. It is incredibly robust and keeps everything from brainstorm notes, pictures you take, and even voice memos and delivers them to all of your devices. It’s a great place to work on talks, share documents, and even manage to-do lists. An incredible app for your phone, Web site, and computer and the price is right.

2. HeyTell (FREE)
Communicate with your friends like a walkie-talkie. The best part is you can make a group and send a quick voice memo to all your volunteers at once. The interface is simple, one touch, and responsive. Even if someone isn’t a phone person, this is a perfect compromise.

3. Icebreaker Questions ($.99)
The only one on the list that costs actual money but well worth it. Suggest it to your small-group leaders so they have a starting point for conversations and figure out how to talk to teenagers. The questions are fun and make it easier to get past that awkward pause while waiting for everyone else to arrive to group.

Other incredible apps that didn’t quite make the cut:

Haze ($.99) check the weather to make sure the summer event isn’t going to be rained out.

Starbucks (FREE) consolidate all of your Starbucks cards into one place and earn stars toward free drinks. Maybe even have a church card and personal card both on the same account.

YouVersion (FREE) the best Bible app out there. The daily reading plans with reminders and notifications are super to keep you on track, too.

Pandora (FREE) want to have a great playlist for before and after services? Download this app, turn on the TobyMac station, plug it into your sound system, and you’re set. Easy there is an occasional commercial, so you might want to drop the $36/year to go ad-free, too. You might never buy another CD again!

What are the other best youth ministry apps out there you’d add to the list?

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.

article.2013.04.23This week we’re going to simply knock out 20 ways you can increase the level of relational ministry in your youth group. Quick, random, hits that we hope inspire you to try something new, too!

1. Add a greeting time in youth group. Give them a couple minutes to help new people feel welcome.

2. Spend time with a student every day. It doesn’t have to be physical, face-to-face, time send them a quick text, comment on their Facebook, like an Instagram picture, etc. Just make contact with one or two students every day.

3. Start an Instagram account for your ministry. Post pictures every week of people, not places.

4. Give out your personal cell phone number instead of the church office line you completely ignore.

5. Walk slowly through church this week. You might be surprised at who stops to talk to you when you aren’t hurried.

6. Let someone else teach so you can work the room.
7. Allow volunteers to have their own style don’t force extroverts into draining conversations with one person, or kill introverts by having them be up front.

8. Ask for your office hours to be trimmed 1 hour so you can be with students.

9. Go to the FCA huddle or Christian club on campus once a week.

10. Pick a sport or fine arts event to be at. Enjoy as much of it as you can, then text the student(s) afterward to congratulate them for a job well done.

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.