Recently I realized that if I am expecting excellence from someone … they need to have the tools to get there.

In youth ministry that isn’t always easy or sometimes possible – often we make do with ministry hand-me-downs and meet in youth rooms made from the old converted sanctuary. But when you expect excellence from your people, make sure you’ve done your best to equip them.

  • Want great small group leaders? Make sure your training is thorough and complete. Include supplemental trainings via email or video when you see a gap in their preparedness.
  • Want to develop some great teachers? Invite them into your prep process and allow them to be a part of the debrief and evaluation process afterward.
  • Want to raise up the next youth pastor in your church? Give him/her the books and resources to read and a place to dialogue what they are learning.
  • Want great videos? Make sure your volunteer has access to a great camera and a fast machine to edit on.

Too often we just expect people to be great … without ever doing the hard work of clearing the path to greatness. You can’t ask them to create the world without giving them a paintbrush. This week look for some places where you have expectations that aren’t being met and see if there is a gap in helping someone realistically get there.

JG

The beauty of leading a small group is getting to see it grow throughout the years.  But, getting started can be rough especially if you have that one kid who talks and talks and talks.  At first you like him or her because they take care of the awkward silence.  You think, “Awesome, I have someone participating and I don’t have to do all the talking.”

Then, you begin to notice that they are the ONLY student talking, which prevents the other ones from chiming in.  You also begin to notice your patience wear thin because not only do they answer every question but they begin to talk for what seems like hours.  You are tempted to yell, “SHUT UP!” but common sense tells you that wouldn’t go over well.  You don’t want to lose the group; yet, avoid embarrassing the teen.  What do you do?

Meet Beforehand – Grab them before small group and be honest with them.  Let them know you appreciate their sharing; however, you want to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak.  Be prepared because they might feel a little insulted by your confrontation.  Telling them to listen more and speak less might sound like they don’t have anything wise to contribute; therefore, make a plan to follow up after group.

Sit Next To Them – By sitting next to the talkers you are able to give them physical cues if they are talking too much.  Placing a hand on their shoulder is a subtle way of interrupting them.  You can also whisper to them encouragement if they are getting anxious by letting others speak.

Assign Questions – Talkers talk because they either feel like they always have something to contribute or they are afraid of silence.  To give them an out to their urges and fears assign questions to the rest of the group.  Instead of having anyone chime in, give the first response to someone specific.

Follow Up – Either right after the group or the next day meet up with the talker to reflect on their behavior.  Affirm them with what they did well; ask them their opinion and then address where improvement is necessary.  Because the group is fresh on everyone’s mind, you can point to specific examples of when they listened and when they dominated the conversation.

Some people will be talkers for life; however, the more the group gets to know them the pressure won’t fall on you to give others a chance to speak.  The more you check-in and communicate with the talker the less you’ll have to take the steps mentioned above.  Just be persistent with reaching out and leading the group.  Again, small group dynamics is a growing process.

How do you deal with talkers?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.



Thought we would take a quick look this week at ways to communicate with students—ways that are Hot or Not. Here’s our take; feel free to offer your opinion in the comments as well:

HOT: Facebook
This is where our money is at right now—the highlight of the tools we’re using to communicate with students. The only downside is that a youth ministry page requires constant updates and management to really be effective. And there’s a desire to spend time on our OWN pages instead of building up the church site. Facebook is where it’s at, so get on board to get it mastered just in time for your students to move on to something else.

NOTE: Our junior high ministry uses Facebook, but not as strategically as high school. We walk a fine line due to the reality that Facebook has age restrictions, but most junior highers are still there.

NOT: Email
When you’re communicating to parents, email is as hot as can be. The older people get the more possessive/stagnant they become with technology. Students on the other hand are quick to jump on what is next, usually before adults have even heard of it. If you are emailing students and it is working, realize that it is a miracle of God and won’t last very long. Email is out.

HOT: Texting
Probably right up there with Facebook is texting—it comes in two flavors: individual and mass, and both work incredibly well. Use a service like Simply Text or Duffled to build a list of everyone, and don’t discount the power of a personal text from their small group leader or youth pastor. Texting is where it is at right now for sure.

NOT: Paper
You’ve gotten very good at Publisher 2003. I get it. You like clip art and flyers made on the church photocopier. We do too, but those days have past. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

HOT: Facebook event pages
Different from your main Facebook page are the event pages you create for service projects, mission trips, or special events. These are usually syncing with many students’ phones now, so you get calendar reminders as well as triggers built into to social media. A classic win-win-win situation.

HOT: Calendars
Calendars, if they make it home, have a tremendous return. Put a magnet on the back and you might get on the refrigerator for 2-3 months!

NOT: mass postcards in the mail
The shelf life is just too short for a postcard for a series and the cost is typically prohibitive, too. I love these and am sad to see them already fading out, but unless you’ve got cash to spare or a cheap printer to crank them out this one is dropping quickly.

HOT: individualized postcards from small group leaders
This one will never go out of style. Try it out this week: Pick up some postage-paid postcards and scribble out a few handwritten notes this week and see if it works. Or just trust us…no technology will ever replace the power of a handwritten note!

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.

Youth workers work hard, and I have so much respect for the ones that run two different nights for Junior Highs and High School students. In many ways its a necessary part of ministry as running a program for sixth grade to twelfth grade is challenging if not impossible to effectively engage students in such a diverse age range. We felt that same challenge in our group but did not have the resources to go to a multi-gather format. So after much thought and prayer we decided to completely overhaul our youth night to help alleviate many of the challenges we had been seeing in years past. So here is what we did, why we did it, what is working and what needs tweaking 8 months in.

Why did we change things?

For the past few years we have been facing real challenge of students making the leap from our kids program to high school. They were going from being the big fish in the pond to feeling like minnows in our student ministry and the intimidation was a big factor. Our youth night has been Thursday nights from 7:30-9:30 for 10 years now and for some parents of younger students this is a deal breaker, it was too late for their kids and up until this point our response was simply sorry.We also recognized like many of you, that resources were finite at the church and running a two night program would be a strain on our volunteers, worship teams, and myself and my family. The group was out-growing our facility and having 25 small groups trying to find a place to connect and focus was getting more and more difficult. Changes needed to happen, we needed to split the groups but going to two nights just wasn’t going to work, so here is what we did:

The Good: We are now 8 months in and things are going really well and here are a few of the highlights:

  • Early start time for Jr’s has meant that there is much less fear of coming to Youth. Young students arrive with their peers and when they join the older students for Worship they come in a wave of junior high energy.
  • Early end time has made grade six and seven parents more willing to send their kids and those students bring friends.
  • Two teaching times means that we can talk about issues differently and at a level that is challenging to both groups and has us no longer teaching to the middle or losing the young students with a high school level sermon
  • Having a game for the junior high students gets their energy out and means that we don’t have to have a game during the main session all the time which the high school students appreciate.
  • Running small groups at two separate times it allows us to effectively double the usable space in the building by using the rooms twice.
  • The High School-only hang out time before has matured that time and our high school students are showing up earlier and earlier each week just to connect.
  • We have added a half time position to cover off the Jr High coordinating but have maintained the same worship teams, volunteers and our costs have not changed either.
  • Grade 6 is a flex year where families can try youth and if it its too much their students can stay in kidsmin for one more year. Its a safety net that was never there before and it works.
  • Students now will attend youth group on the same night for 7 years and it makes it easier to prioritize instead of switching between Jr/Sr High night.

The Challenges: It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing but we have learned a lot this year:

  • Having such a concise and regimented schedule means that anything that runs long, or a technical glitch and keep the train from hitting the stations on time which can be challenging for people like me.
  • Our 30 minute worship set can keep us from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and while early in the year we were quite rigid about the schedule, we have learned to be attentive and embrace moments that may extend the worship time and cut into small groups.
  • Grade 8′s are funny. The outline has grade 8 being a flex year and this year our grade 8′s are old for their age and dealing with challenging issues so having them with grade 6′s is not something they always want to do. We moved them up after spring break to High School for which they were thankful.
  • Having two leaders meetings has proven challenging and the frequency and quality of the preservice meet ups has diminished throughout the year
  • Writing two versions of the same sermon or two unique talks has been more work than we bargained for, but we have finally found a groove in that department.
  • Parents with students in both groups were vocal about the annoyance of coming to the church twice but with us offering activities before and after those concerns have diminished.

I am so thankful that we chose to do it this way and would make the same choice again to do it.Have you tried something similar? Do you have a question about it? Post a comment and lets chat about it! 

GS – Twitter 



A youth worker sent me an email with a question about preparing for growth in their ministry as they were seeing larger classes in their children’s ministry heading their way – it looks like their ministry is on a path to double soon. Here’s part of how I replied to him, thought it may be helpful to you as well:

Infrastructure is absolutely key. I would definitely start building a team of leaders with all your energy. You might be tempted to think adding more programs but I think people and systems are the best choice.

Adding a position
Getting another staff person, even part-time, is a crap shoot. Flirt with it in your mind, but in my experience that is usually where it stays. Typically leadership waits to see results and staffs late, or staffs intentionall what is hurting instead of what is building. Ironic, but want to be real with you so you don’t get your hopes up. I do think it is time to ask for help before it is too late. And either way, start pouring in to your leaders and building a team of people, paid or not.

Core Leaders
Start a core team of people who are totally on board with the vision of your ministry and love and follow you. These are the people you’ll do life with and know the best. You need to trust them. They will trust you. You need to eat together, laugh together and develop some inside jokes and memories as soon as possible.

More Leaders
Next, I’d work on developing as many additional leaders as I could. Get your small groups/life groups super small next year, so they can scale and grow with more students as they start entering the ministry. If each group has 4 students, you could easily give them 6 the next year and 8 the year after. So make them all super small right now and get the rookies some experience and get ready with an infrastructure for growth.

Systems
This is where you can prepare for growth as well – make sure that all of your systems are ready to scale as well.  Take a look at your communications tools, your curriculum, your web presence, your parent ministry – all of these systems need to be able to scale up to double/triple their size. If not, you need to ditch the tool now before it dies under the strain of growth. Take care of these things now and adding students is a breeze.Wait and it will crush you and slow your momentum to a crawl.

Other random stuff/links to consider:

JG

Hey everyone from NYWC 2011!

Thanks for making our youth ministry workshop on small group leaders so fun this weekend — I enjoyed meeting many of you and here are the links from the 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leader trainings I promised you this weekend:

JG



Live Curriculum Video

 —  September 27, 2011 — 1 Comment

We’re about to kickoff the Life Group year – training is tonight and tomorrow night!

This year we’re continuing to use the fantastic LIVE curriculum for our high school small group lessons each week. LIVE comes with a powerful web tool to help us communicate with our volunteer team and scales easily to add new groups and leaders. It is what we use every week of the small group year and we love it. Check it out in the video above and read more over on Simply Youth Ministry, too.

JG


Couldn’t be more excited to see that 4 resources of mine made it into the best-seller list from Simply Youth Ministry this year. I think I’m most proud of 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders with Doug Fields, and The Way I’m Wired with Katie Brazelton. If you’ve used any resources we created this year – thank you so much – I hope they’ve been helpful!

JG