Few would argue that some of the most passionate, gifted energy among us is housed in those who are college-aged. And yet few have succeeded in pointing such passion and energy toward lasting, healthy ends-especially in the church.

Most churches and families have programmed a finish line at twelfth grade. We walk our seniors out the door, breathe a deep sigh of relief, and let them disappear. The problem is most never come back. Too old for youth group-and feeling too displaced by labels like “single” or “young adult,” the majority of college-aged Christians disconnect from faith communities. “They’ll rework themselves into our system once grown-up,” we of an older generation surmise. “Once they’re married with kids and able to tithe. For now, however, they seem like a lost cause and our attentions are better focused elsewhere.”

This slow fade is slowly eliminating the potentials and influence of this generation and thus, the impact of the modern church.

What would it look like for a senior pastor, a college pastor, and a twentysomething to sit around the table and flesh-out issues of the current generation’s fade from the church? In The Slow Fade, Reggie Joiner, founder and CEO of the reThink Group, Chuck Bomar, former college pastor of Cornerstone in Simi Valley, CA, and I have done just this. Moving between perspectives of pastor, father, and friend, we confront this fading generation and lend insights toward its halt.

The typical model of twentysomething ministry involves about four worship songs, a sermon, and an emotive ending song to stir the heightening finale. (In the more eclectic circles, the front- and back-ends of worship might be swapped.) From here the emotionally caffeinated crowd disperses to the nearest coffeehouse, Waffle House, or frat house and flirts with the herd until the next gathering.

And we wonder why adolescents are struggling to adequately move into adulthood. We wonder why eighteen to twenty-five year olds have little to no lasting involvement with our faith communities. When the reality is, as adult believers, we have some responsibility in this. We’re among the reasons adolescents are not healthily assimilating into adulthood, because we’ve not shown them how their role matters. Furthermore, how crucial they are to our whole, should we ever hope to bring lasting Love to the world.

A discussion of the most overlooked and underdeveloped facet of the modern church, The Slow Fade makes a case for inter-generational relationships as the way to keep college-aged people engaged in faith. Leveraged belonging is necessary for lasting connectivity. Connecting college-aged people to the life of the church requires more than a flashy band, or even a relevant sermon. It requires individual care and a felt sense of belonging. If you show me my part in the whole, I will continue to show up. Meaning, the answer is not a new program and doesn’t cost a dime. The answer lies within any willing adult wanting to have influence.

College-aged people are making some of the most critical choices of their lives. And any adult who chooses to invest in the life of a college student is likewise choosing to invest in a generation. More than ever, this age-stage needs a community of faith and willing individuals interested in their lives. And we have the chance to play that role. A clan of sleeping giants lies in our midst, and we have the chance to wake them-and maybe even be woken-up ourselves.

Abbie Smith wrote her first book, Can You Keep Your Faith in College (Multnomah, 2006), while a Religion major at Emory University. She recently graduated from Talbot Seminary, in Los Angeles, with a degree in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care” and resides in Savannah, Georgia.

I just got off the phone with a youth worker who overspent summer camp by $6,000. Now, his entire youth ministry budget is $9,000 – two months into the church’s fiscal year nearly his entire youth ministry budget is toast. So now what? As I thought about his situation (a little shout out to Mike!) I came up with a few practices that have worked for me when we have to pinch every penny:

Don’t be afraid to change the calendar
I wrote 6 Ways to Stretch Your Youth Ministry Budget, and when there’s little or no money left that’s when those principles have to be put into practice. Just because something is already on the calendar doesn’t mean it gets a free pass in the new day. Go low cost. Go free. Don’t subsidize it. Cut it. Change up the youth ministry calendar to reflect your revised financial state.

Make every event break-even
I’ve posted in the past 4 Rules to Make Sure Break-Even Events Break Even, and with no budget left to spend this is more critical then ever. Be extremely conservative in your estimates. Set and promote registration deadlines and stick to them so you’re not stuck with the bill. Charge a couple bucks extra, even if it means taking a few less students.

Wait for super deals on resources
With little or no budget left, you might have to put the brakes on significant purchases for your youth ministry. And while some dreams may have to go on hold – good deals on youth ministry resources pop up from time to time so take action when they do. Look for bundle deals, or products that you can purchase one time that keep giving all year (specifically subscription stuff, like the LIVE small group curriculum, or Simply All Access).

Find ways to get more funding
Asking for more budget due to mismanagement will be a tough ask. But growth in your youth ministry is totally a viable reason to look into getting more funds. If you’ve grown 15% halfway through the year, consider going to your leadership and asking for ways to fund the growth – that’s the best kind of “blowing your budget.” Consider making your need visible to the church body and look at other fundraising options if your church allows.

If you’re on a tight budget 1) be thankful you’re fortunate to have one at all, and 2) you may want to consider picking up $5 Youth Ministry which … ironically … costs $9.99.


Recently I’ve been trying to keep my senior pastor more in the loop. I realize that is probably an obvious and smart idea – and to be honest, I’ve been better at it at times and worse at others. In full disclosure, I’ve wanted the pastors I’ve served under in the loop or in the dark at different times for different reasons. Right now, me keeping my senior pastor in the loop looks like this:

  • An Outlook reminder triggers me on Friday afternoon to draft an email
  • I write an email with specific items of interest to him, praises, action steps and roadblocks I’m facing as the leader of our high school ministry
  • I try to include one idea or opportunity to let him know I care and am thinking about the whole church
  • I am generous with the credit given to others
  • I limit the email to around 300 words
  • I don’t expect a response

Is your supervisor in the dark or in the loop? Should you schedule a “stand up” meeting with him or her in the hallway this week? What is his/her best form of communication, the ideal form to handle this information? Take a second to figure out how you can best communicate with your senior pastor to make sure your youth ministry is supported and the leadership can move with good information in their hands. You can prevent a world of hurt if you take a few minutes to keep them informed.


In Mark DeVries book, “Sustainable Youth Ministry”, he writes “If, instead of coasting in contentment, the youth ministry reengages in bold dreaming and engaging innovation, the seeds of fresh, new life can be planted in the ministry.” (p. 72) I believe that Mark is right on and this can be a big problem area in ministry and our personal lives. When we coast, we stop creating and looking for ways to tweak and improve good things that are already happening. It is when we stop creating and innovating that we ultimately lose the edge we have at reaching teens for Christ in ministry and going deeper in experiencing Christ personally.

But creating and innovating is not necessarily the norm and easy to do. It is something we have to fight for as, in all things, it can be very easy to coast. For example, life is going well, just keep on doing what you are doing and coast. Your friendships are going well, so just keep on doing what you are doing and coast. Or ministry may be going well, so again, just keep on what you have been doing and coast. It is when we get in these mindsets that we start becoming ineffective in our personal and professional lives.

For example, some ways that coasting can negatively affect our personal and ministry lives are:

  • You have been friends with someone for a long time and fairly recently they took up an unhealthy habit (i.e., over drinking, over eating, smoking, etc). Instead of saying the hard word, you coast by not saying anything and watch your friend deteriorate in a self-destructive habit.
  • You are in a good place right now with finances and a solid working environment so you coast and do not seek to improve who you are at all. Because you coast, when a change in working environment (i.e., new Senior Pastor) or a financial struggle comes up out of no-where (i.e., car accident), you find yourself stuck in a situation where you are not able to get out of easily.
  • Your ministry is going well and have students coming to know Christ and are being spurred to love him more. So, you coast and continue to do what you are doing with no improvements to programs, strategy or leadership. Because you coast and do not seek to improve what you are doing when leaders stop helping or when numbers decline a bit, you are not prepared to deal with changes.

So, we have to fight to innovate and improve who we are and what are ministries are. For example, some things you could do to not coast are to:

  1. Educate yourself with a seminary class, seminar, or other masters level course to help you be more effective youth minister
  2. Have an outside parent or youth minister come and evaluate your program so that you can seek ways to improve what you are currently doing
  3. Be on the lookout for new leaders. Come up with a potential leader list and start planting the seeds to others that you are interested in them being leaders for you.
  4. Set goals in ministry and your personal life so that you can continue to strive towards excellence in Christ.

As I said, these are just a few examples. Many more are out there. One of my goals for 2010 is to never miss a quiet time with the Lord. This time would not be something that I can just check off the box, but it would be a time where I spend time in prayer, listening, reading scripture, and meditation. As I have experienced a spiritual battle this past year, I know that if I am going to survive and thrive, I need that daily time with the Lord.

Because everyone benefits when we don’t coast, TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Examine your life and your ministry. Look what you are currently doing and set 3 goals so that you can do to stay on top of your relationship with Christ and ministry. Then, strive towards them. It would be best if you had someone to hold you accountable to them to keep you focused and on course.

If you have some ways to create and innovate in ministry and your relationship with Christ, post them so that we can all benefit.

Tom Pounder blogs very often at www.notamegachurch.com and has been featured in several guest posts when Josh is on vacation or is just plain lazy.

Last night we surprised the youth pastor (James Roberts) of First Baptist Temple from Temple, Texas. Their church burned down a few weeks ago in the middle of the night – the facts aren’t all sorted out yet but everything points to arson. We got in contact with the senior pastor after finding out that the youth pastor was going to attend the Simply Youth Ministry Conference – we asked him to shoot a video thanking him for all he’s done in the lives of their students.

Then we rolled out a shopping cart filled with over $5,000 in resources and gave it all to him. It was definitely one of my highlights of the night – what a great youth worker and a humble man. Powerful stuff!


Today’s huge storm reminded me of the very first time I really understood servanthood in youth ministry.

Oh, I’d heard it taught a lot, and even seen it modeled in a few key figures in my life (growing up, my dad; in college, the Dean of Men and the Head Football Coach) – I even knew well the stories of Jesus and the calling for Christ-followers to be servants, too. But this was when I was truly shocked by serving.

It was pouring outside, our church parking lot looked like Lake Michigan. I’ve never seen it rain like that, and it wasn’t letting up. In fact, the storm was just getting started and our old church building was starting to feel it. The storm drains along the roofline were bursting with water, clogged with leaves, sticks and random debris from years of neglect. My pastor said, “put on your coat” and when a senior pastor speaks, good youth workers listen (in all fairness, we sometimes still do our own thing, but in fairness, we at least listen). We grabbed ladders, climbed up and pulled out fistfulls of rain gutter gunk for a half hour until the church was free from its aquatic bondage. We made it back inside, now soaking wet and put everything away like we found it. Then we went back to work – nothing more was said, and it didn’t have to be.

He had said it all.

Serving is the key. Big church, small church, rookie, veteran, influential, relative unknown – it doesn’t matter. All of us are called to be servants. I learned it that day and the lesson was burned into my psyche forever.

So here I am just a few minutes ago, now some 13 years later, walking back from dropping my kids off at small group here at the church. The whole place is flooded out and the parking lot looks like the Pacific ocean, complete with waves. One spot is particularly rough and I realize it is because a bunch of trash has been swept into the drain, blocking it from working correctly. So in an attempt to free the drain, I’m standing ankle deep in water and pulling fistfulls of junk out. Instant flashback.

Now, this happens to be a story of when I actually did something right. I could regale you with plenty of other tales where I looked away, pretended not to notice and skipped out on serving. In my heart, and I think in yours too, I want to be a youth pastor that understands and lives out this concept of servanthood.

To go the extra mile. To show unusual attention, make intense eye contact. To lend a hand and to stay longer than you are required. And maybe … even clean out the rain gutters.


An article I did for Sermon Central went live this week – it deals with the relationships of senior pastors and youth workers.

A few years back, at one of Saddleback’s youth worker conferences, we offered a workshop called Senior Pastor: Friend or Foe.

Unfortunately, it was a really popular seminar.

It seems that youth pastors deal in extremes in many ways–not just in the lives of students at a critical and often misunderstood age, but extremes in their relationships with their supervisor. No matter how good or bad your relationship is with the lead youth worker in your church, I applaud you for reading the title of this article and at least being mildly interested in the perspective of a guy who’s played number two his whole career.

I’ve sat in my church office (which was located in the basement, though I’m sure that fact was no reflection on my value), completely frustrated with my leader. Wrongly, I’ve done youth ministry all alone, frustrated by the lack of camaraderie with my boss. I’ve dug myself into some pretty terrific pits in my time as a youth pastor, too many without the confidence of a trusted partner in ministry. Someone on your team might be thinking or feeling this way right now … in their basement office.

The relationship between the church staff team has to be effortless. But it takes a ton of effort. When people look at a great marriage, they may not realize the arduous amount of hard work that it takes–and your staff is like a second spouse. (I’m just being figurative here, in case you felt like I was endorsing concubines.) You’ve carefully invested day after day in your marriage and built up trust; the same has to be true with that guy sitting in the basement.

I want someone to offer a workshop for pastors on how to partner with your youth pastor–the room would be packed! And I want that person to be you. In order for the relationship to change, there will have to be some game-changing effort put into it. Here are a few first steps to challenge you, the senior pastor, to make the first bold move”

Take them out for lunch
My love language is food, but beyond that, it’s always easier to talk to someone over food–your treat (hey, you get paid wayyyy more than we do). And don’t let your youth pastor choose the place to eat, either. Our cars will autopilot us straight to Taco Bell, so make sure you have a nicer place in mind when you make the ask. And offer to drive, too–no senior pastor should ever have to experience the disaster of the passenger seat of a youth worker’s car. It could take them a half-hour just to make room for you to sit down. Once you’re there, spend time communicating and developing that all-important relationship with one of the key leaders in your ministry. Bonus: Even if they can’t make it to lunch that day, you’ll still get major credit.

Spontaneously buy them a gift
When your youth pastor walks into their office (or is starting the trek downstairs to find it), they’ll be greeted by voicemails, a mountain of email and a list of items to respond to, all with varying urgency. But also waiting for them is a little gift from you. And while thoughtful, it isn’t a gift-with-a-hidden-meaning, like a book on better time management or a polo shirt as a subtle reminder to dress up a bit. Here’s a little gift equation as a guide: A little thought + unexpected – agenda = super meaningful. Something little could be really big.

Invite them to speak in the adult services
I knew this one would be tough; that’s why I put it in the middle where it wouldn’t shock you as much. Go ahead–take the risk and let them speak every once in a while. You know you could use the break, and we always talk about God’s Spirit showing up when the pastor speaks, so why not give it a shot? You could start by giving them the Sunday night message, I suppose, but we both know that doesn’t really count.

Offer to cover for a getaway weekend
This shows you care about your youth worker beyond the workplace. Think of how valuable it would be if someone on the elder board did it for you (I may have just stumbled on my next article). Offer to give them a break, and once you’re there, (with the youth leader’s permission) cast the vision of the church and clearly show how students fit into that plan. Be sure to brag on the youth worker when they’re gone.

Just drop by youth group for no reason
When my senior pastor does this, I totally freak out. I immediately begin to come up with excuses why attendance is off a bit and come up with plausible explanations for the mysterious new hole in the drywall by the drinking fountain. It would be tragic for the only time the senior pastor enters the youth room is when there is a problem. So make it normal for you to drop in. Become the youth group’s unofficial cheerleader, and your youth pastor will take the ball further down the field than you ever imagined she could.

Let me wrap up with a single suggestion: Put one of these ideas into action this week; it could change your church staff relational culture overnight.


Our fiscal year ends in June, but for many youth workers, the end of the year means a reset to the budget year. I realize not every youth ministry benefits from the blessing of a budget and even if you do, times are really tight for everyone right now. Either way, here are a few of the things I might spend end of year budget on:

Are you kidding me? Money left? I’ve actually a little overspent or barely have enough to go to McDonald’s with! If that’s the case – use the pennies left and hit up the Dollar Menu and taking out your senior pastor to help soften the blow when he/she actually finds out the bottom line. I recommend springing for the McRib combo.

Invest in items that benefit you in the next fiscal year
Use the offerings and tithes that have been entrusted to you by getting some long-term bang for your buck. Looking for small group material that will work in the coming year? Grab the LIVE curriculum now, and set yourself up for the next season of small groups. Think about services like SimplyTxt or stocking up on sale items and discover discounts that will give you a supply of resources you typically reach for close at hand.

You can never go wrong with volunteer training
Search for end of the year resources to help encourage and/or train your team in the various aspects of youth ministry. Picking up Youth Worker Training on the Go or a little book for each of them might be good use of your budget money. Short, quick reads will always win. Be sure to write a note inside, too!

Go for personal development
This is a big one for me – when I head into the end of a budget year, I try to register for an event or training that will help me be a better youth pastor. Registering in advance is expected, and doing it over two budget years may allow you to spread the costs out. This year I’ll be at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Chicago – spots are going fast (I hear it is 75% sold-out) and it’d be fun to meet you and you could use the break.

Pre-pay for Events, Camps or Retreats
If you know the camp or retreat center you’ll be using in the coming year, consider placing a deposit on the location and lock it in. If you’re doing an event at a rollerskating rink and you know the date, plunk down some money in advance while you’ve got it.

A few ideas as we end 2009 – if you are interested in more related articles, check out 6 Ways to Stretch Your Youth Ministry Budget, When to Buy Youth Ministry Resources or the book $5 Youth Ministry.