Just finished up writing a little article for Outreach Magazine‘s next newsletter. Its not too often I get a chance to speak to senior pastors, so I had some fun with it. Here’s a clip of what I just sent them, I’ll post the rest/link to it when it makes it online January 4th:

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 had no reflection of my value), completely frustrated with my leader. I’ve wrongly 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 now you’ve got 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 build up trust, the same has to be true with that guy sitting in the basement.


you’ve never heard of the Pareto Principle, chances are you’ve probably experienced it. The Pareto Principle basically states that 80% of the effects are produced by 20% of the cause. In ministry, as it relates to volunteers, this is usually translated into 80% of the work is done by 20% of the volunteers or congregation. This has got to change, especially in youth ministry.

Why? One simple reason–it leads to volunteer burnout. You will undoubtedly weaken your ministry if your best volunteers are carrying the weight of the work. A weakened youth ministry is a disservice to the students that are currently in the program and to those students that have not yet stepped foot into your building.

As you think about your own ministry, here are some ways to reverse or avoid falling into this principle:

1. Don’t over program. The more programs you have the more they are going to need staff, leaders & volunteers.

2. Clearly communicate your ministry’s vision. Make sure every volunteer, student & parent knows the vision. If you want to know if you’re communicating the vision, ask them. If they don’t know, you’re not communicating it clearly.

3. Organize yourself. If you’re not organized, neither will your ministry. People will notice this right away. Disorganization can appear that you aren’t taking this seriously and then neither will they.

4. Reward your volunteers, often. Rewarding volunteers regularly is cheaper than hiring staff (you can tell that to the senior pastor)

5. You do the hard stuff. Don’t pass on the responsibilities that you don’t want to do or have time for to the volunteers (see number 3).

If you or your ministry is experiencing the Pareto Principle, we’d love to hear how you’ve overcome or dealt with this issue.

Kevin Cooper serves in student ministries at Meadow Park Church in Columbus, OH. Find his lifestream mini-blog at http://kevincooperblog.com

Loved reading Perry Noble’s post about serving in his youth ministry this morning (a senior pastor from SC) – he’s figured out one of the most amazing joys of youth ministry – when you serve students, you grow so much yourself. I feel it myself, I see it in my team – and small groups leaders tell it to me every week. Here’s a clip of his full post, head over there for the rest:

About three or four months ago I really felt the Lord impressing upon me that I really needed to spend more time investing in our teenagers here at NewSpring Church…which was weird for me because I feel that we have a pretty incredible youth ministry going on and the last thing they needed was me getting in the way.

So…I fought this urge for a while until it became so strong that I was just about to bust.

What came out of me praying through this was God leading me and Lucretia to spend this next school year pouring our lives into 12 or so students (juniors and seniors) that are currently involved in the youth ministry here at NewSpring.

I met with some of our youth staff here at the Anderson campus and asked them to prayerfully select this crew…and they put together a team of teens that have so much potential that it blows my mind.

And ‘Cretia and I are FULLY INVESTING in the lives of these young men and women. I meet with them at least once a month for the purpose of seeing what Jesus is doing in their lives…and asnwering any questions that they have came up with in regards to Scripture, the church, leadership and life in general.


In the 6 Roles of a Small Group Leader, I listed the 6 primary functions of our team of volunteer leaders that care for students in our life groups. Here’s a little more on the first and most important role of all in my opinion, the spiritual leader:

WALK WITH GOD: Active in your faith and a growing believer
We expect small group leaders to be spending time with God, praying and modeling the spiritual disciplines. We give plenty of grace for the ups and downs of walking with Christ, but expect leadership to be growing on their own. Most importantly we desire hearts that are sensitive to God’s leading and Spirit.

IN COMMUNITY YOURSELF: Pursuing healthy, godly friendships and relationships
Just like we challenge students to join a small group – it would make sense that we value this as adults as well. We realize this is an additional commitment and possibly another night out of the week, but modeling community is critical as a growing adult.

MODEL: Actively pursuing accountability in your life
The small group leader has to have healthy accountablity in their life – the student small group is not the place for adult accountability and confession.

FAITHFUL: Attend a regular church service
Church attendance is also important in the life of a small group leader. We are part of our church and want to be connected to the vision and direction of our senior pastor. At the same time, we realize that small groups are a pouring out, and we need to be continually filled up as well – church plays a role there for sure.


Networking can be difficult in our already, way too busy lives. But there are many of us who see youth ministry networks as an important way to re-energize, fellowship, and unity. Networking happens to be a passion of mine so I thought I would share with you six things that are important to think about when starting or maintaining a youth ministry network in your community.

1) Focus on soul care: When youth pastors get together we tend to create things, this happens naturally. However we often forget that part of why we network is to recharge, and encourage each other. So many youth workers are on all the time, let meeting together be focused on relaxing, praying and laughing together, not busting out our schedules for a collaborative event.

2) Tell stories: Veterans and rookies, we have all had that one time, great ministry blunder. It’s important for us to remember where we came from, but also share success and encourage one another with stories of student’s whose lives have been changed. Be careful not to let it become a senior pastor or parent bashing session. It’s important to be honest, but it is equally important to respect people and those who are in authority over us.

3) Be intentional about time together: Get creative with the meeting place, or what activities you do together; being respectful of people’s time of course.

4) Split responsibilities: Don’t let one person handle everything. Besides, shared responsibility keeps the network from dying when that one person leaves (the number one reason I hear networks collapse).

5) Commit to each other: A network doesn’t work very well when there is no one to “network” with. Be consistent with meeting times and be realistic about how often you meet.

6) (Last but not least) Food: Good fellowship revolves around good food! Take turns providing it or see if a local coffee shop will donate food and beverage for everyone (the worst they could say is no).

Jonas Knudsen is a youth worker who loves students and blogs at Raising Ebenezer. If you want to write up a guest post for next weekend, submit your article this week.

How many times have you heard this from a member or your congregation, “When I was in youth group, we did (fill in the blank). You should try to do that.”? When that person said that to you, did you slap them in the face and say, “Wake up!”? I’m just kidding about the slap in the face, but not kidding about the “wake up” comment. I couldn’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and tried to tell me that I should model our current youth ministry program after their youth group 20-30 years ago. I am sure you have had similar experiences.

What I feel that people fail to realize is that the tactics youth ministers used 20-30 years ago are probably not very effective in reaching today’s youth. A perfect example for this is the newspaper industry. Just recently the Denver Rocky Mountain Post and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had to close business while the Philadelphia Inquirer just declared bankruptcy. How could this happen? These are big newspapers in big markets! What could have caused these newspapers to struggle this much?

What happened was that times changed and more and more people were getting their [the newspapers] information for free off of their website. Why would anyone buy a newspaper when they can get the exact same information for free!?! We have become a digital world and less people are buying papers. Because less people are buying papers, ad agencies are spending less to promote in newspapers. Ad revenue is the money flow that all newspapers need. These newspapers (and probably more to come) have failed to adapt to the change in the world thinking and have paid the price for it.

The Washington Times, however, have taken a radical approach to this change. For starters, they stopped producing a Saturday newspaper in order to save money. Then, on March 24th, 2009, they hired Thomas Culligan to serve a new position called “Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer”. In a statement, the Washington Times said, “Mr. Culligan will lead the Times’ advertising and marking departments as the company carries out an ‘aggressive transformation’ from a printed product to a multimedia company serving customers in the local, national and global markets.”[1][1] The Washington Times was proactive in responding to the change in how people are receiving information. With this hire and change in approach, did the Washington Times sacrifice their core values and mission? NO! They simply changed their approach at reaching their audience.

How does this relate to assessing where your students are at?

It relates because just like newspapers, youth ministry needs to be think of adaption. The way we adapt is through evaluation. We live in a post-modern world. If we are still doing ministry the same way our youth ministers and pastors did when we were young, we have failed! Now, don’t get me wrong. You can still have the same goals such as community building and outreach. Those are good goals that can stand the test of time. But, if you approach community building and outreach the same youth ministers did in the 70s or 80s, we are missing our potential. Most importantly, students are missing out because we are failing to reach the teens of today.

That is why it is important to know your students. What is the make up of your students? Are they churched or unchurched? Are they public, private or home schooled? Where are they at with Christ? Do they have a relationship with Christ? If not, how are you going to reach them for Christ? Do you have any leader students? What do are their interests? These are just a few questions you can be asking yourself about your students. By answering them, you are beginning to understand who they are and what makes them tick. Once you understand your students better, you can start reaching them for Christ in a more effective way.

Understanding your students will help be more effective in organizing your gatherings. For example, if you decide to start doing expository teaching, but your youth are not spiritually mature to handle that depth, then you will not be as effective in reaching them. A topical teaching approach would be better. In the same way, this applies to how you organize your meetings. If you decide, without knowing where you youth are at first, that you want to be outreach focused in which you organize your meeting times with all fun and games, then conclude with a brief message, yet fail to have anything for strong believers to go deeper, you may might not be adequately addressing the needs of your youth to take that next step in Christ. Whatever your situation is, in order to move forward and producing real fruit, it is always best if you know where your students are at first!

Once you have identified who they are, you can begin to set up a strategy for reaching them. A few years ago, I took a hard look at my ministry. Out of that time of assessment and evaluation, I discovered that I was not reaching my students where they were and taking them to that next level. In some ways it was very difficult to realize that we were not being as effective as we could be. But, out of that time came a new strategy for the program (we will talk about developing a strategic plan in my next post). Out of your time of student assessment, may come a time of re-strategizing. Or, it may just confirm what you are doing is reaching your students for Christ.

As you begin to look at understanding your students and possibly re-strategize how you reach them, I want to encourage you to talk to your Senior Pastor (or Senior Director) about what you are processing and learning about your students. I have found that, when you are thinking about taking a shift in where your program is headed, it is best to make sure your Supervisor knows what is going on and why are thinking about this. Then, they know what is going on and can help you process further. Also, this helps because if someone complains about things, your Supervisor will already know what is going on and can be supportive, rather than caught off guard.

I want to be clear here. This is not an evaluation where you are looking at your mission statement and focus on being purposeful (we will talk about that in our next post). This is an assessment of the progress you are making at reaching students in this post-modern world. You can have the best purposes out there, but if you do not understand your students or the students you are trying to reach, your purposes will fail. Whether you are new to your ministry position or have been there for a few years, it is always good to take an honest, regular assessment of where you are at in reaching students for Christ.

The key to this assessment is deciding how you judge success. For each ministry it will be different. It could be having the most students go to summer camp so they can hear about Christ and be changed. For others it could be having a solid and growing small group ministry. It does not matter what you are striving to be — that is between you and God. It only matters how you judge your success. Once you are able to determine how you will judge your success, you can begin the process of knowing just how effective you are in reaching students for Christ.

By understanding your audience and setting realistic goals to encourage them in their relationship with Christ, you have a way to adequately judge your success and be more effective at taking them to the next level in Christ. Let’s not have our program die off, like some of the newspapers out there, because we fail to adapt our program to these post-modern teens. We can be more effective. It begins with taking an assessment of who they are.


1. Begin to assess your students. Print out (or write out) every student in your program. Then, begin to write down notes about who they are. Where are they with Christ? What are their life interests? How is their home life? You may not know all the details about each student, so ask your volunteer leaders to help you (make it a leaders meeting time in which you are critically looking at these students).

2. After you assess who they are, start looking at how you are doing ministry. Is your ministry effectively reaching these students for Christ? If not, how can you begin to change and adapt?

Tom Pounder is the youth pastor at Cedar Run Community Church in Virginia and blogs at Not a Mega Church?

As I’m writing this, I’m seriously wondering if youth ministry is even worth it. I’m normally not a negative person at all, but why try to put on a fake face? We are making a change in our student ministry this week (VERY minor, might I add) that might cost us a lot of students. And instead of changing to grow, we might be changing to rebuild… have you ever wondered if it’s worth it, too?

I mean, if this church hired you to be the vision caster for the students, why are so many parents arguing with you? You would think you’ve been there long enough for them to trust you. After they had seen their students grow like never before, you would hope they’ve got the idea that God is using you to change the students in a huge way. It seems like no matter how hard you try to communicate it, parent’s can’t get it in their heads that you’re not a social director and that you want more for their students than, “enough Jesus to make them come back after their wild college years” .. ugh!

So after being verbally accused, not trusted, and hurt time and time again why bother? Why give so much of yourself to people who it seems like only keep a count of the wrong things that you do? When it seems like nothing ever completely sinks into a student’s head, and they let you down every time you think they’ve figured it out finally. Why keep on trying? Wouldn’t being a Senior Pastor be a lot easier?

Because God called us all to this! This wasn’t cruel punishment for not obeying our parents or being mean to our youth pastors as we grew up. God knows that students need someone who will take a stand in their life and teach them that surviving life isn’t good enough. God knew that you would be strong enough to stand against a lot of people who are happy with the way things are and be able to lead the example for students to not be happy with the status quo. And however hurt, however annoyed, however helpless you feel please know that you’re making an eternal impact in God’s Kingdom forever.

Pray every day that God will use you to transform the passion that people have for “tradition” and “the way we’ve always done it” into a passion for eternity. A passion for the people far from God, a passion for justice, a passion for love and mercy. And one day, it’s going to sink in. Students are going to figure it out. Parents will finally realize what you’re there for. And we’ll shake hell at it’s core like never before. Hang in there. Keep loving God, keep loving students, keep loving parents, keep praying hard, and keep pushing for more than what the much of the “Church” says is acceptable.

You’re not alone. God is bigger!

Danny Eiler is the youth pastor at The Springs Church in Ringgold, GA. You can read more about what’s on his mind at his blog www.dannyeiler.com.

Talking to a youth worker this week about where to start with a total “do-over” of their youth ministry. The paid youth worker left, and they’re about to basically start over from scratch. As we talked it reminded me of when I first transitioned a ministry toward the purposes. Here’s where I would start – find 5 key volunteers, each who are passionate about a purpose:

EVANGELISM DIRECTOR – I want someone on the team who will passionately seek out after the students who aren’t in our church yet. A volunteer who will lead our ministry’s heartbeat for the lost, and always remind us of who Jesus came to save. This person loves that Jesus came for the world and wants to bring the world inside your church. I love these people, but a quick warning: they usually shake up some senior pastors.

FELLOWSHIP DIRECTOR – I want someone on the team who cares most about fellowship. In our setting, someone who is all about small groups. Someone who bleeds connecting, someone who has experienced community and knows that for students to make it they need to get inside it. A person who will encourage and train our leaders to help students open up and get the gunk of life out on the table.

DISCIPLESHIP DIRECTOR – I want someone on the team who cares deeply about helping students grow on their own. Someone who wants to teach Bible lessons beyond the weekend, someone who wants to find or create resources to help get students into the Word.

MINISTRY DIRECTOR – I want someone on the team who lives to help get students to serve. Who wants to take students that are gifted and help them use their talents for God. Who sees needs and sees the solution in students. Someone who constantly asks, “why isn’t a student doing that?”

WORSHIP DIRECTOR – I want someone on the team that cares deeply about celebrating God’s presence. The person has to think much bigger than music, and create an experience and environment where people who visit feel it, are moved and can’t wait come back.

These people by default will not get along – and your role as a leader is to orchestrate them together. Everyone must work in concert – so that your students will live out biblical purposes in their lives. If you’re the leader, start building this team today.