How to Build a Great Team

Josh Griffin —  October 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

One of the earliest mistakes I (Josh) made in ministry was being a lone ranger. And while we specifically addressed that topics a few weeks back — we have received lots of questions about building a healthy team, specifically this question: “Where do I start?”. This week’s issues of SYM Today will help get you started on the exciting journey of building a great team. Here we go:

1. Start with Prayer
Before you begin the to tackle the huge risk of forming a team, ask God to show you the criteria you need to look for in potential leaders and the places in your ministry you need to build some leadership infrastructure.

2. Create a Hit List
If you could get anyone in your church on your leadership team — who would you go after? Which parent stands out as a great mentor and is raising their own kids well? Which young college age-student is showing incredible promise as someone who God’s hand of favor is on? Don’t walk around church lurking and mumbling as you write furiously on your clipboard! Just think through the best and the brightest and begin to pray specifically for them.

3. Make a Personal Ask
There’s nothing wrong with a blurb in the bulletin or an announcement from up front. But the reality is that the shotgun approach often brings a lot of collateral damage. You have to wade through a bunch of people to get to the one you really wanted. So while you are taking broad shots with bulletin announcements, use a laser beam approach and ask people directly, person to person. you might be surprised by the results…it is much tougher to say “no” to a direct ask than it is to say “no” to a bulletin insert.

4. Embrace Rejection
There’s nothing more discouraging than being rejected. And I (Kurt) would know since I had a lot of it from the ladies in college. But embrace the “no” as a sign of God’s involvement in this process — He is the one building the team and sifting through the members of your church for the volunteer(s) that is perfect for your ministry.

Want to build a great team of volunteers? This a great way to start! We’ll see you tomorrow with some thoughts about where to take them once they’ve said yes.

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 just got the call.

A parent is on their way down to the church office, asking for some time with you immediately. They aren’t happy. They aren’t bringing you gift cards to the Apple Store “just to say thanks”. Your mind races with what ifs and you twitch nervously thinking about the ramifications the pending conversation will have on your job status. You quickly make sure your resume is up to date and before you realize it there’s a knock on the door. It happens, parents get angry. Sometimes it’s warranted, and sometimes it’s not. Either way…there’s the knock on the door. Here are a few thoughts to help navigate even the toughest parental conversations:

Set the tone with prayer
You don’t need small talk — you need God’s Spirit to fill the room. A quick moment of prayer centers everyone and reminds all that we’re playing for the same team. It also typically diffuses the rehearsed opening line that might be a blasting salvo headed your way.

Make sure they are heard
This is not the time to talk. Let them share their pains, frustration or outright anger. Fight your natural defense mechanisms and let them vent. Maybe make a quick jot here or there so you can remind yourself of some important talking points or clarifications when it is your turn.

Own whatever piece of the problem was your responsibility
Usually another perspective sheds a ton of light on a situation, but too often a fired-up parent isn’t willing or ready to hear another side of the story. A good idea might be to simply own your piece of the problem and directly apologize. Once the conversation is starting to show signs of completion make sure you help it end well. If it is heading into the perpetual repeat mode, you might have to jump in and cut it off altogether.

Consider the “feel, felt, found” response:
If appropriate, the “feel, felt, found” response is often a great way to respond without letting your emotions get the best of you. It goes like this: “Mrs. Hothead, I totally understand why you would feel the way you do concerning the increased cost of camp. In fact, other parents have felt the same way. I have found that even though camp is expensive, it is one of the best investments you will ever make. And because I am convinced of that, I want to help make it affordable by allowing a payment plan.”

Plan so it doesn’t happen again
Reassure the parent that you will do your best to prevent whatever situation ignited their anger from happening again (obviously, this reassurance varies from scenario to scenario). Make sure you share the conversation and the plan of action from here on out with your supervisor, too. Good communication from you always beats them hearing it from someone else…supervisors don’t like surprises. Unless it’s that time Josh surprised Kurt by paying for lunch (okay, that has never happened, but it sure would be a nice surprise).

Dealing with angry or disappointed parents is part of the youth ministry gig — in some ways it is a good thing: at least they cared enough about their students, faith and church and respected you enough to come talk to you directly. You would have to be a little bit sick in the head to actually look forward to such conversations, but such conversations don’t always have to make you sick in the stomach!
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.

Secrets Series Arc

Josh Griffin —  September 16, 2011 — 2 Comments

This weekend we start our Secrets fall kickoff weekend teaching series. Thought it might benefit you to see where we’re going over the 2 weeks:

Week 1 – Why Do We Keep Secrets
Everyone has secrets! We are all broken and messed up. We all have seasons of life that includes ups and downs where we feel close and far to God and others. But our secrets make us sick. Too often we hear what the Enemy is saying – “you are trapped, you can’t overcome this, don’t tell anyone’ instead of what Jesus is saying – “you are forgiven, you are loved, let me carry this for you, you can do this.” Student testimony.

Week 2 – Dealing with Our Secrets
Get help! This week we’ll focus on being living in absolute transparency before God. How to be real, how to pray, how to make things right first with God then second with people. This message is about redemption, freedom, forgiveness and the cross. Includes a significant push for Life Groups.


The fall is one of our favorite times in our youth ministry. Summer is over and everyone gets ready to go back to school. And in our ministry — it also means “back to church” (we have church during the summer but attendance is much, much lower)!

As our regulars interact with their friends from school, something awesome starts to happen — it seems like the same pattern every year – they start bringing them to church! The fall seems to bring tons of opportunities for friendship evangelism and a boost of momentum. It doesn’t happen automatically, we’ve worked to create this kind of culture. How do you build this type of culture in your student ministry? Here are some ways that work for us:

Have a “fall kickoff” weekend
Our goal is that every youth service is safe for non-believing students — we always include an element of fun and an understandable message. But for fall kickoff we go all out – bigger and better than normal — and most certainly will include a clear Gospel presentation. Last year we handed out a bunch of youth group branded school supplies for our students to share with their friends as the school year started. They turned out to be fantastic conversation starters!

Host a big event right at the top of the school year
Every fall, our high school ministry hosts Pumpkinfest, a massive outreach event at the end of October, and our junior high ministry runs an event called The 3 ( $3, 3rd Friday of the month, 3 hours)! We honestly don’t do too much outside of youth group in the fall — these are it! And for us, they pay off big time. A great activity will get people taking in the schools and on Facebook. You’re not into activities and events? You don’t have a budget or space to accommodate something like that? No problem! The principle isn’t “do something big and crazy”, but rather “do something different and creative…something that builds some momentum as you head into the fall”

Pray about it!
This is the season that sets the tone for the entire year for us. A great start gets us off and running through Christmas. We are sure to cover it in prayer and ask God to do something life-changing. This one doesn’t go without saying … we need to be reminded that we serve and do our part, but the real work is up to Him.

Make sure the next step is clear
With the natural momentum of the fall in youth group, make sure your students know the next step in your discipleship process. For us it is small groups, so not a week goes by without us talking about, promoting, showing a video or texting about getting in a group. Want to start the fall out right? Don’t be satisfied with entry-level ministry alone…challenge students to take the next step!

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.

Had a neighbor invite our family over to an open house for their daughter today – this was her last weekend in Saddleback’s high school youth group and she is heading off to college this very week. The family is so great and it was awesome hanging out with them, they loved our kids and it is always great being in someone’s home.

They had balloons and cake and pretty much what you would expect at something like this, but it went beyond a traditional open house. In fact, they called it an Open House and Day of Prayer.

How cool is that? They invited their friends and family to drop in at any point in the afternoon and eat, laugh and pray over their daughter. They asked people for wisdom on making the big transition from high school to college life. They shared some stories and memories as well.

I just thought it was a next-level rite of passage. Not just your typical give-me-a-card-with-money-in-it kind of thing – it was really something special, something very spiritual as well. I think I just found an idea I’m going to steal for my kids someday. Thought maybe you could, too!


The ‘Mission Trip High’ as I call it is no secret in ministry. It’s that feeling people get after experiencing God in a unique way and they feel like they are spiritually on top of a mountain. It’s a great feeling, but it certainly can be dangerous if it is not handled in the right way. I think the enemy licks his chops when he sees Christians on that ‘Mission Trip High’ because he knows they are easy prey.

Most Christians who return to normal, everyday life after their mission trip or retreat do not prepare themselves for re-entry into the world and therefore fall prey to the onslaught the enemy throws their way as soon as they get home. So what can we, as youth pastors, do about it? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Make your students aware that life after the mission trip, or retreat, is going to be difficult. Let them know that the enemy will be waiting for them and will want to make them fall. A firm realization that they are in the midst of a battle is a must.
  2. Give them practical, user-friendly ways to spend time with God after the trip. It could be a devotional packet, a book, text message reminders, a prayer request list, or Bible reading; the point is that you are setting them up to succeed. You are giving them the opportunity to meet with God on their time and encouraging the development of their spiritual disciplines as well.
  3. Pray earnestly for your students after you get back from the trip. Commit time to surround them in prayer and let the Holy Spirit do his thing.
  4. Follow up with your students in the days and weeks after the trip. Ask them how their experience on the trip has changed the way they live and serve God. Reinforce the concept that discipleship = life change. When we meet God on a mission trip or a retreat, or anywhere really, our response should be worship and a change of life that more closely aligns us with God. This is an ongoing process and is not without its setbacks, so be sure to encourage your students to press on and when they fall to get back up and keep on moving closer to God.

These are just a few of my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours. Comment and let the discussion continue.

Cam Brennan is just finishing his first full year of Youth Ministry and is the Youth Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Gardner, KS. He blogs regularly at

Just got this email from my boss here at Saddleback, Kurt Johnston:

Hey incredible HSM team!

Just wanted to let you know that I will be praying for you as you head off to camp on Monday. As the parent of two campers, I am so very thankful for the time, effort and prayers that have gone into this camp!

I’m sure Josh has already given you plenty of “Pep Talks” concerning camp, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to share a few brief thoughts with you:

- Lives get changed at camp! For some students, this will be the week they meet Jesus for the first time. For others, it will be the week the decide to take him seriously. For some it will be the week they feel called into a life of ministry. God will use this week at camp….the silly games, the chapels, the cabin talks….all of it to impact HSM students in a significant way.

- Leaders are what make the magic happen! Pour into the incredible men and women who are giving up vacation and family time to be counselors. Look for ways to encourage them, to lighten their load, and to spur them on. If not for them, camp couldn’t happen.

- Camp is for the camper! This is a phrase the junior high team has heard me say over and over and over again. It’s just a simple reminder that camp isn’t about you, your comfort, your preferences, your “rights” etc. Everything about camp is for the camper. Look for ways to serve our students in unique ways. Look for opportunities to sacrifice something for the benefit of a camper. Look for a chance to do something that makes a student say, “wow…I can’t believe a leader just did that for me”.

- You are a leader….so lead well. As wonderful as camp is (for all the reasons listed above, and more), it is also an opportunity for poor leadership, unwise decisions, bickering, and recklessness to bubble up. Lead well this weekend so you set the best stage possible for the Holy Spirit to show up in the lives of our students.

I am praying for you….see ya on Monday morning!


Just the encouragement we needed! In the home stretch now … summer camp here we come!


We have pretty high expectations of the leaders in our student ministry as I have written about previously and it’s to the benefit of our students and the effectiveness of the small groups that we do it. We are beginning process of review and meeting with all our leaders from this year and asking them to consider whether or not they want to lead next year. Many will remain and a few will leave, but those returning will hear 4 criteria that we ask them to sign off on doing week in and week out for the next school year.

Commit: This is the foundation of all of it, asking leaders to be there every week, present and engaged with their students. It’s a big ask, but worth it when leaders honor it. We fully recognize that there are circumstances that might cause a leader to miss a week, but asking them to make mentoring high school students a priority means that they will be far more diligent about being there. Sporadic attendance from a leader can be the death of a small group, as momentum, trust and relationships are lost, not only that it can really be detrimental to other leaders as well, who have to pick up the slack or lead two groups.

Call: This might be the toughest thing to get leaders to do regularly, but calling their students is so important. That mid-week phone call tells a student they are wanted, memorable and worth the effort. It might be the best part of their week, even if the awkwardness of the conversation might indicate otherwise. Calling students is more important than leaders realize, the fruit of which is regular youth group attendance and a closer relationship with their leader. We ask our leaders to set aside an hour per week to call all the members of their small group.

Pray: We ask our leaders to pray for their students and when they call them, ask what they can pray for them about and let them know they do pray for them each week. Put yourself in the shoes of a high school student and someone you respect greatly, calls you each week to see how they can pray for you. That is powerful stuff!

Prepare: We give our leaders curriculum each and every week, but we ask that they read it, know it, study the word and come prepared to teach it. There are few things worse than an ill prepared small group leader stumbling through the questions and fumbling through their bible in front of their group as they are seeing it for the first time. Leaders need to lead their group and being prepared is a key part of that.

These are four non-negotiable expectations we have and you could add more but I chose to focus on these four because they have a tremendous impact on the student’s spiritual growth. Its important that we see ourselves as the advocates for our students needs, and what our students need are leaders who are willing do these things, and do them consistently well.

What are your non-negotiables?

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.