I love stats, I am not a huge sports fan but my ears perk up when I hear a conversation about who has the most homeruns, or the longest winning streak, a hole -in-one, and so on. I am not a basketball fan, but I loved watching Michael Jordan. I am not an avid football watching person but I love watching Devin Hester catch a punt and run it back. Golf bores me to death but there’s was something about Tiger Woods dominating in his prime. I am interested in watching what is trending and keeping up with stats.

Boxofficemojo is one of those websites I visit for the pure pleasure of movie stats. Their breakdowns are fascinating to me. Again, I am not a numbers guy. I just like seeing what is trending and what hits BIG. As I was looking over the “All Time Weekend Box Office Records” I noticed a dramatic drop in the months of September and October. There is no contest, all time the month before is double and the month after is triple the income. Hollywood calls these low attendance dips “Dump Months.” It got me thinking about “Dump Months” in youth ministry…

What month to month trends am I missing or ignoring in my cycle of youth ministry?
What events are not working?
Are they not working because they are bad ideas or do they fall in a bad cycle?

Here are a few example from our ministry.

  • We planned a fall retreat this year, but needed to switch the dates last minute because schools swooped in and added/switched homecoming to the same weekend we had reserved. If we kept that weekend, we would have had 3 students show up for camp.
  • Our Super Bowl party 2 years ago was jam packed. Last year we took a huge hit in attendance. So this year we decided to let small groups host parties in stead of having one large gathering. The Super Bowl was the same time, what changed? A school event (I forget, a play, or show choir, or something that made church just one more thing that week, and they said, “we can watch from home”).
  • In my context, no event seems to work in May. Concert, game night, laser tag, trampoline park, etc all fail in May. May is our main “Dump Month.”
  • Our midweek attendance would spike in September and October and fall March1st. Weird right? Not really, that is when baseball and spring plays would kick off. Our kids still love Jesus but they would be busy midweek.

If you are a strategic thinker you probably have your cycles figured out. But if you have been struggling with events and seasons maybe you should pause and look at your trends. Compare your average event attendance to your midweek or weekend attendance trends. What can you learn from what you see? One thing I learned is that in May we should not do an event. Instead we ramp up the quality of what we do at our midweek program. Sure, we always want to have an excellent midweek program but if I am not placing extra energy and budget in an event that month I will spend that midweek.

“For me, this was a lesson of working smarter, not harder.” – Scrooge McDuck


Our ministry once hosted a “Battle of the Bands” fundraiser that required a lot of work. Our team had to audition bands, price out food, order speakers and recruit volunteers. We put so much work into this event; however, we forgot one key component:


We had sent out an email, and made a few flyers; however, that was it. What was the response? Embarrassing. While a few people showed up, they were mostly friends and families of the band. It was a disaster.

Developing a communication strategy is a must in youth ministry and while it doesn’t seem like the most attractive responsibility, without it you can’t expect your ministry to grow. Developing a strategy for how you communicate means being intentional about what you say, how you say it and to whom. That means:

  1. Scheduling a Designated Time: Your communication efforts need your focus; therefore, give yourself allotted time to respond to emails and voicemails. Carve time to work on a message and schedule your social media posts ahead of time with software like Simply Youth Ministry Tools, Hootsuite and BufferDevelop a plan so you don’t rush and create a costly mistake.
  2. Understanding Your Mediums: Part of a communications strategy is understanding that people utilize different mediums. We are no longer in the days of emails and phone calls. Understanding the power of your platform by utilizing social media, texting and even your message is key to getting your point across. Pick a few resources that you feel most of your target audience uses and practice using them.
  3. Gaining Feedback: Get someone’s insight and feedback before you post something online, respond to an important email or deliver a message. The problem with electronic communication is that it can be difficult to read emotion and once it’s out there, IT’S OUT THERE. You never want to come off patronizing, sarcastic or offensive to your audience. So before you hit SEND, ask a friend to share their thoughts.
  4. Knowing Your Audience: Come off patronizing to parents and they won’t take you seriously. Speak over a teenager’s head and you’ll lose their engagement. Know your audience by spending time with them; however, do not try to be them. The best way to speak to any audience is to acknowledge when you are an expert and when you are not. People will appreciate your humility if they know it’s coming from sincerity.
  5. Repeat, Repeat and Repeating:You can’t say something only once and expect people to remember it. Repeat it, tweak it and then repeat it again. Utilize all the different mediums, and stagger it so that it doesn’t get lost in the noise.

If you communicate clearly and effectively you will be able to mobilize the next generation. Develop a strategy and make it a part of your daily responsibilities so that you are never wondering if you’ve been heard. To get one started takes a little bit of commitment; however, once you get going the possibilities are endless.

Which of these tips is the hardest one for you to embrace?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

tonyI’m excited to interview Tony Morgan, church strategist and author of the new book, Stuck in a Funk. Here is 5 questions with Tony, and you can get a copy of his new book on Amazon right now for $5. He’s helped lead several churches I follow closely and have been inspired by him (and his incredible blog) regularly. I respect this guy a lot, and am thankful for all of the great things God is doing through him. Enjoy our discussion!

1. Excited to read your new book, Stuck in a Funk, have you ever found yourself in one? You better believe it. It’s part of life. We face being stuck in our organizations, but we also face it in our personal lives. In both instances, I’ve personally found that sense of stuckness happening when the future vision is unclear or there isn’t a plan to see the vision accomplished. Then once I determine the next steps, I need the discipline and perseverance to work my plan. All of that gets easier when you’re doing life with people who embrace the same vision.

2. Are there specific signs you’re stuck in a funk? Sometimes I find myself there but unable to explain it or how I got there to others? I think being too comfortable is a sign. The funny thing is everyone else around us is pursuing comfort and happiness. Wouldn’t it be nice if a warning light popped on in our lives when we’re getting too comfortable? It’s those seasons when we began to trust too much in our own experiences and capacities. The ironic thing is that I typically experience the most joy when I take risks where I genuinely have to trust God for wisdom and strength.

51kWfnfFAzL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-49,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_3. This book is about churches who are stuck, but it seems like at it’s core it is about leaders that are that way. Yes? Ah… I tend to agree. I think leaders getting stuck is certainly one of the key reasons that organizations get stuck. Leaders need to go back to whatever it is was prompted them to become a leader in the church. They need to recapture that passion and purpose from God. But, just to be honest, it’s going to take a different vision, strategy and systems to get different results. Hope is not a strategy. And, that’s the challenge — leaders actually have to lead at some point.

4. What is the biggest obstacle to getting out of a ministry funk? Every church is unique. Because of that, the combination of contributing factors that lead to a church getting into a ministry funk are going to look different from church to church. That said, one common challenge is being inward-focused. Another is holding onto leadership approaches or structures that may have worked in the past, but don’t now. Another common issue is gaining a clear vision, but, more important, being intentional about the strategies and systems to see that vision become reality. To get to where you want to go tomorrow, you have to know what’s important right now. Just to be honest, sometimes we need an outside set of eyes to facilitate us through that process.

5. Many youth workers have big vision and have a harder time with systems can you explain an easy way to keep these connected to move forward? Yes, vision is important. You certainly need that. The big mistake pastors (including youth workers) make is that they just need to teach people the vision, and everything will take care of itself. Well I can have a vision for being a physically fit, but hearing someone teach about it isn’t going to cut it. It may change my thinking, but systems help shift behaviors. I need new disciplines. I need an exercise system. I need an eating healthy system. I need a buddy system to stay motivated. You get the point. There are many systems in any body, and, unless the systems are healthy, the body won’t be healthy whether we embrace the a vision for health or not.

Thanks so much, Tony!


“I’m a student, not a guru.” I love that quote from Derek Sivers’ book Anything You Want. Even after selling CD Baby, the largest seller of independent music on the web, for hundreds of millions of dollars, Sivers encourages his readers to disagree with the points in his book and to then share their points of view with him. Sivers models the leaders are learners lifestyle. Part 4 is called ‘Best Practices,’ but that’s only because “some really good ideas” isn’t nearly as marketable. So while I will share one strategy for developing a spiritual growth plan for students, understand it is just that: one strategy.

Do your homework

  • Pray for wisdom and clarity
  • Read what the Bible says about spiritual growth
  • Read what others say about spiritual growth

For a list of helpful books on the topic, click here. (appendix)

Plan with the end in mind
Part 3 in this series included a helpful definition of spiritual maturity, but it’s important to personalize yours. What does a spiritually mature student look like? Our ministry phrase “we want our graduates to not graduate from their faith” gives us a picture. We envision a college freshman, successfully navigating the temptations on campus while living with purpose and passion for Jesus. We considered what a student needs to know, feel, think, and do, and we described it in general terms under three broad categories of “knowing God,” “knowing themselves,” and “knowing their world.” Click here to download a copy. (appendix)

Put meat on those bones
Planning with the end in mind gives you a skeleton. It produces statements like “our students will know the Bible,” and “our students will pursue purity.” Those are great! But what does it look like? What do you actually want students to know, do, and feel? How do you want them to act? These questions helped us fill out our skeleton. Click here to download a copy. (appendix)

Build a roadmap to get there
Don’t stop! You’re close, but this next step is the second most important one to take. You know where you’re going, but how will you get there? My family will travel to Washington state to see family this summer, but we need to formulate a plan on how to get there. The same is true with discipleship. Telling a student you want him to love God more this year is a terrific goal, but what’s the plan? This step takes more time and plenty of scrap paper. It could be frustrating, but get it done. And if after a year you decide it’s not working the way you hoped, don’t worry, because that’s where the final step comes in.

Start over
This is the most important step to take. It’s a reminder that there is no formula that guarantees success. Even if you’re doing well this year and next, don’t assume it will continue the following year. Be a student, not a guru.

Most believe in the importance of student ministry, but few have a plan to do it well. Don’t worry about building the perfect plan, just build one and rebuild or redesign as you go. Making disciples is hard work, but it’s a high calling.

Gregg Farah is the Student Ministry Pastor at Shelter Rock Church on Long Island, NY. He’s excited to be back in student ministry after his 7-year journey as a church planter in New York City. Prior to his church planting days, Gregg served as youth pastor for 9 years in the suburbs of Seattle, WA and Orange County, CA. Be sure to visit his blog for much more, including a way to help finance his new line of books he is writing!

One of the most important administrative steps of any youth leader is the development of a yearly planner. Taking some time each spring/summer to plan out the next school year’s calendar (August – May) holds countless benefits for you, your students, your volunteers, and your church leadership.

Consider the value of strategically laying out a well-planned Ministry/School Year Calendar:

  • Communicates you value students’ busy lives.
  • Allows you to effectively communicate details with parents.
  • Helps you budget more accurately.
  • Provides opportunity to begin promoting events earlier.
  • Forces your hand to strategize various ministry events.
  • Reinforces your leadership ability to superiors.
  • Promotes better work/personal life balance (family appointments, out-of-town schedules, etc).

And yet, developing a Yearly Calendar is neglected by far too many youth leaders and pastors. For some, they don’t recognize the benefits because they’ve never experienced them. But for others, the process just seems too difficult… planning events 8-9 months in advance appears too daunting of a challenge. Be encouraged, many of your colleagues around the country are proving the challenge is not too difficult. And with the right system, you can accomplish it too.

I’ve used the exact same process every spring for the past 15 years to produce a calendar for the next school year. And I’ve found that the whole project can be accomplished in 5 completely achievable steps.

  1. Create an editable calendar document displaying each month of the upcoming school year with clearly labeled holidays. I recommend using a landscape-view displaying 2 months on each page. This allows room for a readable font, but still hangs nicely in your office without taking too much space. I also recommend using the Tables function in a simple word processor to create the template. This allows opportunity to insert text and a variety of shading opportunities. To get you started, here’s the template I’ve used for years (.doc / .pages). 
  2. Track down your local school’s district calendar typically located on their website. Import the important dates onto your calendar marking school vacation days with a consistent shade of gray (again, creating your calendar as a table in Word or Pages makes this shading simple). Be sure to label the first day of school, last day of school, vacation days, and testing weeks if applicable.
  3. Import your regular-occurring ministry calendar programs. Your ministry likely has a weekly/monthly schedule of events (think Sunday Mornings, Small Groups, Wednesday nights, Monthly Trainings, etc.). Begin populating your yearly planner by inserting them on your calendar template. Simply create the title, then copy (Ctrl-C) and paste (Ctrl-V) on to each appropriate day.
  4. Schedule/record any overnight trips for your youth ministry. Some of these overnight events occur on a yearly recurring basis. For example, my ministry goes on a weekend retreat every January and a week-long high school trip in July. Scheduling those on the calendar are easy – they occur every year at the same time. For the overnight trips that don’t recur yearly but you still plan to accomplish, your calendar template will help you select the most strategic week/weekend for each trip.
  5. Schedule the rest of your events for the ministry year. Your final step involves scheduling and recording everything else: outreach events, special parties, unique Sundays, and whole church festivities (just to name a few). This will, of course, be the most difficult of the five steps and will take the most amount of time and foresight. But take heart, with the first four steps completed, you’ll be surprised how quickly this last step flows. Once you can glance at the entire yearly planner in front of you, you’ll find the rest of your events almost schedule themselves.

Once completed, your calendar will quickly become one of the most important documents in your office as it helps provide clarity to your disciple-making strategy and decision-making process. But don’t leave it hanging on your bulletin board. Make sure it finds its way into the hands of your students, parents, and volunteers. You’ll be glad you did… and so will they.

Joshua Becker is a veteran youth pastor who has served churches in Wisconsin, Vermont, and Arizona. He blogs regularly at Becoming Minimalist where he encourages others to find more life by owning fewer possessions. You may also enjoy following him on Twitter.

Being in youth ministry for fifteen years now I have seen a lot of different youth group styles, philosophies, and I can tell you that haphazard is not a good style or philosophy. Having a strategy for your youth group needs to be a value, but not an idol. Strategy is important; it provides clear understanding of objectives and parameters around how they will be achieved.

It’s not the be all end all – but if done right, it will go a long way to creating a smoother process for yourself and your leaders. Here’s why:

Strategy breeds consistency: Having a standardized skeleton of how things are done is really disarming for students and leaders. When the program changes week in and week out and we stand at the front and encourage them to bring a friend, what are they bringing them to? When you have objectives and a somewhat strategic program, leaders know what to expect and students know what they are bringing their friends to. This simply requires that we commit to following through with whatever we decide will be our approach.

Strategy requires rationale: When we use a strategic approach, it requires that we have a reason for every element of the program and that if asked we can explain it to a parent or student. An example might be playing a secular song when the students are coming in as a means of disarming visitors who might be walking into a church for the first time. Why do we have worship? If didn’t have it, why not? Why do we play very few games? I am not sure its wise to have many elements of a youth night that have no reason or purpose.

Strategy is dynamic: It is vitally important that we be attentive to what God is doing in the midst of all of this. If students are encountering God in worship, it might be time to cut back the intro to increase the worship time. Maybe your group is not ready for a thirty-minute talk. Keep tabs on things and adjust as necessary.

Strategy is important … but not the most important thing. Doing good ministry, being attentive the needs of your students’ spiritual growth is key. Having a strategy is most helpful in taking the high level vision to an attainable and implementable set of actions for your leaders to work with.


This is such an exciting time of the year and if you have a lot of Youth Pastor friends on Facebook or Twitter, its so encouraging to read all the status updates and tweets leading up to the fall launch.

For our team, it’s been a fall of thorough and over the top intentionality with our students and potential students. Each week last year we collected information on every new student / guest and kept a record of it, and last week we called every student on our roster, every guest, every camp follow up we were given. It took a total of 12 man-hours to do, but the benefit was a 70% increase in attendance at our fall launch compared to last year. As much of a challenge as it is to call all those students I cannot say I am surprised at the outcome, since I know so many students just want to know that they are valued and wanted. A phone call is many times more powerful and meaningful than a text or FB, so if you have the resources to do it, I would encourage you to.

The other half of our strategy for this fall was to try and make it easier for our students to invite a friend out. I was trying to avoid an action packed promo video full of our best-of highlights, to me that would equate to a bait and switch leaving new comers disappointed that it wasn’t always crazy fun. We thought instead to do something that our high school students could post on Facebook, twitter etc, that was an invitation to our group. Its not a promo, not a best of, nor is it funny, but a sincere appeal to non-Christian students in our area to come be a part of what is happening. I am stoked about how it turned out, and I cannot wait to see what God is going to do with it.

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.

I’ve spent 12 years serving as a staff pastor at two different churches. Both experiences have been unique, positive, and challenging. I don’t plan on ever being a lead pastor, so I’ll spend my entire career serving on a staff rather than leading one.

If you are a staff pastor, no job is ever 100% secure. Things happen, economy has its ups and downs but there are four strategic things you can do to make yourself an indispensable staff pastor.

1. Find the most important objective your pastor wants to accomplish and put yourself in the middle of it.

–Volunteer to lead a task force to accomplish the objective.

–Be a good listener. For instance, if you hear frustration from him on why the church has a low retention rate for visitors, make note of it and take initiative to help craft a solution.

2. Make strategic connections for your pastor.

–Make sure these relationships are life-giving and not things that give him more work.

–Make sure they are strategic and contribute to accomplishing his present objectives or future dreams.

3. Bring more solutions than problems.

–When you see a problem, it’s tempting to let your pastor know right away about it. Instead, stop and brainstorm solutions. When you tell him the problem, offer several ideas to solve the problem. And when you offer your ideas, volunteer to be a part of the solutions.

4. Think team, not silo.

–Don’t always talk about your needs or your budget. Instead, offer to sacrifice for other team members or departments. Find ways you can show your ministry is not singular in focus but recognizes it’s part of the whole. For example, your youth leadership team can volunteer to do all the set-up for a children’s ministry event.

–Offer to evaluate other ministries. If you’re a respected youth pastor with good relationships with other staff members, volunteer to spend one Sunday a quarter going to the kids’ church and give tips on making it a better experience.

We don’t become indispensable by jockeying for power or claiming our rights, but by humbly and intentionally serving our pastor and our team.

Justin Lathrop is a youth worker and the founder of Help Staff Me. In January 2011 Help Staff Me and Vanderbloemen Search Group united in an effort to serve the church with all their staffing needs. Whether it is a Jr. High pastor or a Lead Pastor we are equipped to meet your staffing needs.