As we’ve already discussed, summer is a chance to change up your student program; why not let it be a chance to change up how you care for your leaders as well. This summer we’re trying some new things, and bringing back some time-tested classic ways to encourage and care for our leaders. Here are a few of both!

Kick it off with a BBQ.
Nothing says “You’re important to me” like a double cheeseburger fresh off the grill….unless  you have ribs, too. By now your summer is in full swing, so take an evening to relax, eat some tasty food, and love on your volunteer team. They’ll need the encouragement to make it through the rest of the summer schedule!

Think about a ball game.
A while back we did a big tailgate party with our leaders and bought them tickets to a baseball game. Pick a great night (with fireworks) and if you’ve got the chance, spring for tickets for their whole family as well. Everyone makes sacrifices when a parent serves in youth group—give them all a ballpark dog and a seat in the upper deck to say thanks.

Host a coffee drop-in.
As you care for leaders in the summer, consider this one: Drive-By Coffee. You bring your MacBook and work from Starbucks for the bulk of the afternoon and let all your leaders know if they drop by you’ll buy them a drink. In our experience most will stay for maybe 10-15 minutes, so you can get in a ton of relational time as well as crank on a few emails in between. Of course, you need to be prepared for the awkward leader who decides to hang around for the majority of the afternoon!

Have some end of summer beach/pool fun.
Summer has been incredible, so why not pull everyone together for a little fun poolside? Maybe break out the grill again or just do s’mores at the firepit. Forget any formal program; just circle everyone up at the end of the night to share highlights, favorite moments, and stories that are destined to become legendary in your ministry for years to come.

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.

Our focus this week on relational youth ministry brings us to the practical question: How can we make our student ministry more relationship-based? Here are a few ways we’re trying to do just that in our ministry.

1 – Add a “welcome time” to youth group each week.
We’ve all seen this before, the “shake hands with 15 people around you” but when used sparingly it can be really effective. As your group grows, it’s surprisingly easy for the “basics” like a warm greeting to slip through the cracks!

Our students have come to love this time—we’ve expanded it to several minutes so that people can actually have a short conversation rather then just a cursory greeting. This is a great chance for introductions to be made, too! We have a volunteer every week who works hard to get to know someone new and makes it a point to introduce them to us specifically each week.

2 – Have everyone in place before and after the service.
If you are still running around finalizing details of your program when everyone is coming in, it’s gonna be tough to be relational! Work hard to do program-related stuff before students arrive; if you’re still dialing things in as they’re walking in, it’s simply too late. And tell everyone on your volunteer team they are “dead to each other” once youth group starts.

3 – Build down time to hang at every event.
If you’re at a youth conference, camp, or other big event, the planners have been paid to fill up every waking moment with something. In many cases, youth leaders choose a late-night option or yet another training session when what the group might need is some discussion time.

Maybe a break is in order, and you need to ditch a session and go get some frozen yogurt and just talk over what they’ve already learned. Relational ministry fights the go, go, go approach.

4 – Train your leaders in the art of asking good questions.
Help your leaders ask good questions—open-ended questions that require thoughts instead of a simple yes or no. Help them have an instantly ready queue of questions to ask someone they are meeting for the first time. Give them the tools to help them fight the awkward silences of first getting to meet someone.

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.

I was born in the eighties. As a result, I grew up playing the original nintendo entertainment system. Shout out to that orange duck hunt zapper. Well, as any good eighties kid knows, there was a secret code that worked on many games that could, if inputed correctly, help you get a leg up on your game completion.

“Up, up, down, down, b, a, b, a, select, start” was known as the “Konami code”. It could grant everything from extra lives to extra energy to extra power ups. But, no matter what this cheat code gave you, there was one thing you always gained: progress.

One of the things that I love so much about taking students to summer camp (or any other kind of extended retreat) is that it allows you to leap ahead in your relationships with students. Lots of time spent together + fun + late night talks = earned trust. Earned trust = relational progress. Relational progress = the ability to speak into a teenager’s life.

I’ve been taking students to camp since 1999. Holy cow! 13 years! I’m old! Here are a few “cheat codes” that I’ve discovered along the way to help you leap forward in your relational progress.

One Hour- As human beings, we naturally gravitate toward certain people. In ministry, this usually works itself out as spending more time with a few select people than with others. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But youth ministry has the deck stacked against this natural behavior. Lots of teenagers are already fighting a battle against a world that wants them to think that nobody likes them. The last thing that we want, is for them to go through camp (or any ministry activity) feeling invisible or unloved. At the beginning of your time together, figure out with each student in your cabin or group a time during the week that you can spend one hour together. Of course this is only appropriate for same gender pairings and in public places. Above reproach! You’d be surprised what one hour of your focused attention can give a student.

Shuffle Meals- This goes along with the same principle as the hour. Students will congregate with the same people all week during meals. Don’t allow yourself to follow that pattern! Mix it up! Sit at a different table of students at each meal! Start conversations with students that you wouldn’t normally. Believe me, they won’t run away while they’re stuffing their faces with corn dogs and tater tots.

Use more question marks than periods- As my former boss used to say, “Camp is for the camper.” This applies to priorities in conversations as well as activities. Ask questions to your students and then listen! Get to know them and show them you care by using your ears!

Create snapshots- I had a volunteer leader who once told me that a certain student would always “talk about the same thing” to her: a time that they had raced against each other at one of our park days. I told her that he just wanted to talk to her, but only had one thing that he could use to relate. That race! Spend your week at camp doing fun things, having late night conversations about the message, racing through the grass, and jumping from the high dive! The more memories you help create, the deeper your relationship with your students will be and the more they’ll allow you to guide them to the cross!

Josh Treece is the associate youth minister at Trinity Baptist Church in Cayce, SC. You can follow him on twitter at @joshtreece or check out his blog at

Loved this article from last week’s Homeword newsletter. Jim Burns wrote  Taking Advantage of the Parent/Youth Ministry Partnership – here’s a clip of it but the whole thing is solid and might be a great addition to a parent newsletter or meeting soon:

Build relationships with your youth pastor and youth workers. This is so valuable to the parent/youth ministry partnership, yet is so often overlooked. Do yourself and your family a favor and make the effort to build relationships with the youth ministry adults who work closely with your kids. Building relationships with these youth workers creates common ground, understanding, and trust. Building relationships fosters empathy, caring, love, and concern. We are better together, and even more so when we see each other as friends.

Help your youth ministry team help you. The more vulnerable and open you become to those who work most closely with your kids, the more understanding they will have into your family, and the better prepared they can become to help guide your kids, and to provide you with the support and encouragement you need. Scary? Perhaps. Valuable? Absolutely.

Engage with your youth ministry. Do you know what your youth ministry is trying to accomplish in the lives of kids? Do you know what programs are being offered, and what goals they are trying to achieve? The more you engage, the more you’ll know and understand, and the greater the sense of partnership you will feel.

Attend regular youth ministry parent meetings. Ask questions. Read ministry newsletters, emails, and texts. Stay in touch. When those seasons of life arise where you aren’t able to keep up on everything, and when you finally get your head above water, give your youth pastor or youth worker a call and ask for an update.

Volunteer in your youth ministry. Maybe you are a good fit for being a youth leader, or maybe not. If so, and if your kids are agreeable, volunteer! But even if serving on the front lines with kids isn’t your gift or passion, there are still many ways you can help your church’s youth ministry become stronger, healthier, and more sustainable. Prepare food, provide transportation, help with administration and communication, or offer to be a sounding board for new ideas and programs. In providing support to the youth ministry, you will be helping your own teenager.


I have to admit, I am what you would call an affectionate person and if you know me, you have probably have received a solid hug or two or ten. I am sure that many of you have heard of the five love languages, which are Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts, and if you haven’t you should check them out but if you, its eye opening stuff. When the dust settles, I am a Words of Affirmation & Acts of Service type guy and this has implications on ministry and how we engage our students.

Last week one of our students came up to me while my colleague Emily and I were visiting her school and she ran up and gave us both big hugs and said to me “Geoff, I want you to know that I love you, thanks for caring so much about my life.”  I was taken aback by what she said, I mean having someone come up and say that they love you for the first time is a big deal. I was surprised, not by what she said, but why she and many other students before her said it.

This student said it because the finally GOT IT! For years now we have placed a high value on living out the example of 1 Thessalonians 2:8 which is the verse that we base our Ministry around.

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us”

This verse is a core value of our ministry and we remind students often that they are loved. Loved by our leaders, by our church and by my wife and I. We care so deeply about them and try and reflect the Agape love that God shows us to our students.  So hearing a student say that they “I love you” or “I love you too” is not something strange, in fact each time it happens its for us a validation that our students are getting what we are about and that Loving God and Loving our students is more than an attitude, it’s the words that we say and they are sincere. The guys in my small group, the worship team, the rowdy eighth grade small groups they all know that we Love them!

Over the past few years one of the things I have noticed is that there are certain students who can get a little uncomfortable with this, but often times its because they come from families where expressing love is not common or doesn’t happen at all. For these students it’s even more important because for them to be able to understand and embrace the love of the Father, it needs to start with us. Sooner or later most of them warm up to it and start to understand why we do it.

We accept that there are risks of making people uncomfortable or weirded out by having leaders living this out but the pros far out weigh the cons for us and we are committed to fostering a community that reflects Gods love through action and words.

We love our students and for us part of that is telling them that. Is this a value for your group too? How do you show your students that they are loved?

-GS -  Twitter

Let’s face it.  If you’re in ministry you either have or will drive the bus. Here are 6 ways getting a job as a substitute school bus driver will just enhance your ministry potential.

1. You’ll connect with students by driving them to and from school.

It’s time you got out the office and used your time more wisely!  By working as a bus driver,  you’ll spend way more time connecting with students.  You’ll hear their conversation!  You’ll see them interact!  And you’ll learn about their world.  What’s the latest pop culture reference?  What are they excited or concerned about?  What major events happened during the day?  There’s not enough time to learn about this stuff on Sunday morning or Wednesday night.  And reading about it only takes your time away from students.  More interaction is what you need.  Bus driving is the key.

2. You’ll connect with the school officials by working for the district.

Connecting with school officials can be a daunting challenge.  You can always connect with students outside school hours but chances are you’ll never meet a school official outside of school.  By becoming a bus driver you’ll learn more about the ins and outs of your schools employees and programs than was ever thought possible as the outsider.  You’ll interact with staff.  You’ll get to know them personally.  You’ll become intimately acquainted with the school calendar.   When’s the next dance or week of testing?  This is good stuff to know and all too easy to miss.

3. You’ll receive valuable training and certification through your employer.

As a youth pastor we require training and certifications that are sometimes hard to come by.  Some are just easy to overlook.  When was the last time, for instance, you were trained in CPR and first aid?  Others are expensive.   My state, for instance, has made it difficult to obtain a bus drivers license.  Gone are the days when you could walk into the DMV, read a book and take an exam.  It now requires training by state certified instructors.  Courses run around 2,000 dollars.  There is another option though.  School bus barns have these instructors by which they train their employees. By becoming a school bus driver you can earn a valuable commercial drivers license and stay on top of CPR and first aid certification.

4. You’ll leave your best time available for students by working bus hours.

Secondary jobs can be a pain when you’re in youth ministry.  They tie you down and take up valuable hours when students are free from school.  But that’s what so cool about working as a substitute school bus driver.  You work both a little before and little after school.  The heart of the day is free to plan your next staff meeting, event or message.  You’re also free to plan events when students are available.  Don’t forget you’re off when students are off – weekends, holidays, summer vacations.  Finally as a substitute you’re free to choose those days that work best for you.  If an emergency arises, you just tell them you won’t be available.

5. You’ll supplement your small ministry salary by a second part-time job.

We do what we do because we love it, not because of the money.  But money is still important.   Bills are bills and sometimes youth ministry salaries just don’t cut it.  School bus driving is a great way to supplement your income without taking away from what you  love doing best.  The money could also help you to run a little farther.

6. You’ll raise needed youth funds through a second job.

And of course if money is not an issue for you or your church doesn’t want you moon lighting on a second job, the wages you earn could always make a much needed contribution to the youth ministry budget.  Can I hear an “Amen!”


Your thoughts?

Matthew Miller is a youth pastor who drives bus and blogs at Logos Made Flesh. Be sure to check out his blog for youth ministry insights as well!

My friend AC has a great new blog about leaders at our weekend services being active and available in our youth group meetings – here’s a clip of how he is leading our volunteer team on the weekend. Read this teaser, and head there for the rest:

  1. Greet – We want to greet students.  We will greet students instead of wait in a corner for them to come to us.  We will reach out to them instead of waiting for them to reach out to us.
  2. Meet – We want to make sure that we genuinely meet them.  Refer to the hand out “Hand Shake Hi to a Hug Goodbye/”.  I also had them refer to this handout I created to help them really connect with the students “Conversation tactics for youth workers“.
  3. Connect – We want to make sure that we are intentional about our conversation with students.  We want to look for ways in the conversation to suggest a next step.  For new students we want to guide them towards community.  That could range from life groups to serving opportunities within the ministry or summer camp.  You can even suggest grabbing coffee, lunch or ice cream with them sometime.  For students who are already in life groups, you can suggest serving in a ministry, missions or summer camp.  We want to make sure students are getting connected.
  4. Pray – We want to pray for students.  While you are connecting through conversations, once an area of struggle, pain, disappointment, hardship and trial appears offer prayer.  We want to avoid saying “I’ll be praying for you”.  Pray for the student right there on the spot.  Even pray for the core students you already know that have been met, greeted and connected.  Go deeper in conversation and pray for them.  Just because they are a part of our core students doesn’t mean they have everything together.  Every situation will be different but when the opportunity presents itself feel free to pray.


I really enjoyed reading Thom Shultz’s Holy Soup take on why students are leaving the church post-high school. There’s been so much discussion about this issue I enjoyed a fresh angle on how to help fix it. Here’s a clip, head there for his complete thoughts:

So, why are our young people losing faith in the church and God? It’s a relationship problem. They don’t think of Jesus as their friend. He’s a concept or an historical figure. He’s an academic subject that their churches teach. And once they graduate from youth group, they forget about the Jesus subject—just as they forget about their other high school subjects. Jesus gets left behind with algebra and early American literature.

Ironically, many youth ministry analysts suggest that the cure to the young’s exodus is . . . more academic religious knowledge. They insist what’s really needed is “deeper study,” “stronger biblical teaching,” and “more robust theology.”

Thorough Bible knowledge is a good thing. I’d like to see more of it. My organization publishes Bibles and Bible resources. But kids aren’t walking away from the church because they lack an adequate accumulation of Bible facts.

They lack relationship. And relationships—of any kind—rarely grow and bond primarily due to the accumulation of data. Relationships—with people and with God—develop through demonstrations of unconditional love, building of trust, forgiveness, reliance, and tons of two-way communication.