One of my favorite things to do is meet up with other youth pastors. I walk away from each meeting feeling challenged, encouraged, and/or inspired. I recently got to meet with an awesome youth pastor named Jon from a church that is doing some pretty incredible things with campus outreach. Over some coffee, we talked about what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we’re going to. I walked away with a ton of really great ideas and (hopefully) he walked away with one or two. Here is a little of what I shared about our campus outreach projects:

Sticky-Note the Girl’s Restroom: At the beginning of the school year, some of our student leaders put encouraging sticky notes on every student’s locker and we were blown away by how well it went over. One of our student leaders was inspired by the success of the project and started planning another that was aimed at girls. So she rounded up some friends and put encouraging notes all over the girls’ restrooms at her school. The notes had encouraging Bible verses on them as well as affirmations like “you are beautiful,” “you are precious,” and “you are loved.” It was such a great and easy way to do ministry for girls.

Janitor Breakfast: When we were looking at different people groups that we could be serving on campus, we almost forgot about the janitorial staff. They are some of the most unnoticed/unappreciated people on the campus, so our leaders wanted to make sure that they knew they were seen and loved. Our leaders are planning to get to school before the janitorial staff so that they could serve them a fresh, warm breakfast and spend some quality time with them. I am a huge fan of projects like these because it has students serving and ministering to adults! We are currently making our way through the office approval system (fingers crossed)!

Trash Pick Up: A great way to keep Christian club meetings fresh at school is to mix them up. Most of the time, Christian clubs will sit, eat their lunch, listen to someone talk, and leave. Sometimes that works great, but Jesus called us to do more than just that. We are encouraging our school club leaders to put their club members to work. One of the lunchtime serving opportunities that we came up with was trash pick-up. If you haven’t seen a post-lunch high school campus recently, let me tell you, they are a warzone. Picking up trash not only helps put a dent in the litter problem, but it also makes a huge statement. Let’s face it, litter patrol isn’t a glamorous job and any student that does it is instantly going to be set apart, providing them with incredible opportunities! If a student gets asked why they are picking up trash, than they are getting an awesome opportunity about their love for Jesus and their love for their school!

How is your ministry doing with campus outreach? What ideas can you share about how to do ministry on campuses?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

This week we’re focusing on student leaders. If you are creating a student leadership program in your group, here’s a quick punch list with some basic ideas of what to avoid and what to include instead:kurt

DON’T only ask the shiny students to join.
Too often the leadership of a youth group is made up of the “chosen ones”—the shiny kids who show up at everything or squeak the loudest. Instead, consider that one kid who is so close, yet so far away. What about the student who is totally on the outside, looking in? Instead of just obvious leaders, think outside the expected and see what happens.

DON’T let your meetings pull them out another night of the week.
Often times, being part of the student leadership program requires an extra night out every week. The result is that many students miss out on it because they can’t give up another night. Instead, consider meeting on an occasional basis unattached to core programs (like youth group) so your students can be focused. We prefer once a month for a few hours, which gives us plenty of time with them but without an ongoing weekly commitment.

DON’T be afraid to give them big stuff.
Student leaders need to be challenged. The quickest way to disillusion these key teenagers is to be unprepared for your time together or waste their time with piddly projects. Instead, give them the teaching calendar. Let them plan services. Challenge them to come up with next quarter’s youth group calendar. Let them run wild.

DON’T be the only voice challenging them.
Many youth workers see the student leadership program as their chance to really “pour into” their students. While this may be true, you are robbing them if you insist you’re the only/best leadership voice they are hearing.

Instead, bring in an outside speaker every so often—the manager of the local Chick-Fil-A would be great (you might get some free food out of it, too) or even go on a field trip with your core students to a local business or spread them out to visit a few churches and report back about their experience.

What other student leadership DON’Ts would you share?

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.



Like most ministries out there, we have been struggling with cliques. Our “core” students, student leaders included, have not done a great job about being inclusive with our lesser known/new students. At our last Student Leadership meeting, we decided to address the situation head on. The response was incredible! I know that this is sometimes a hard issue to confront in a way that is impactful, so I thought I would share what we did that made our meeting so special!

We started with a short testimony from one of our adult volunteers. She said that she went to her youth group and felt totally alone even though she was in a room full of people and how she wanted so badly for someone just to come up to her and say hi. She asked if anyone could relate to her story and one by one, students in our student leadership program started telling their own stories of how they used to feel unwelcome at church. They told us how badly they wanted to be known and seen. It was such a powerful way to start the discussion because the problem became real and personal.

We followed that by telling our students that God wants to use them to make students feel welcomed and loved in the church. The idea was inspired by an interview I saw with Taylor Swift. In it, the interviewer asked if Taylor ever thought of the millions of girls that she is influencing everyday. Taylor responded that it would be irresponsible for her not to be aware of the influence that she has because she can make use of it for good. That is what we communicated to our student leaders. We wanted them to recognize that the Lord has given them influence. It is a gift from God and it would be irresponsible (or a waste) to not use what He has given them.

So we challenged them to make a difference. We told them we didn’t want them to focus on destroying the reputation of cliques at our church; we wanted them to focus on reaching out and showing the love of Christ to other people. Breaking down cliques can be an outcome of our ministry, but it isn’t the point. We told them that we want them to be on the look out before, during, and after service for students that seem disconnected. It could be one student by themselves, or a small group of students that don’t seem to know anyone else. They were challenged to never be with more than one other student leader as they make these outreach efforts. They were also challenged to go to another youth ministry alone and see what it feels like to be that new student.

I think it is so important to end it with their feedback. Some of our students who used to feel left out gave us some great insight on what we can be doing to make students feel welcomed and loved. Other students shared tips on how to built intentional relationships with new students. We closed out with prayer and hugs. It was awesome!

How have you approached students with this topic? What have you done to make it “work?”

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

I believe that the most effective student leadership programs (and ministries in general) are the ones that empower their students. And I mean, actually empower them. In youth ministry, empowerment is rooted in the belief that students can actually make a difference in their church, community, school, and even the world!

If we were to ask ourselves if we believe in students, believe that that they could change the world, most of us would say yes. However, if some of us were to really think about it, that might not be fully true. I think we might sometimes say yes out of habit or because we feel like we are supposed to, but the real answer lies in the actions of our ministry. We can say we believe in our students all we want, but if our ministry isn’t empowering students, than we might need to reevaluate our answer. For some, their ministry used to be powered by a belief in students but, somewhere along the way, empowerment got lost in the shuffle. For others, empowerment might not have ever been a main priority in their ministry. But if we want to see students serving their church and community, we need to make it a priority.

One of the first steps in getting a student to serve is getting them to believe in themselves, and we can’t expect students to do that if we don’t believe in them first. We need to believe that God has called and equipped the ENTIRE church to serve. Each of us has been gifted for ministry, even our students. Our student leadership programs, and our ministries as a whole, needs to communicate this belief. Where are we taking a chance on students? While it is awesome to let students pass out pens and bulletins at the beginning of service, we need to be providing significant opportunities. Sometimes this means letting go of a certain aspect of your ministry and allowing a student to own it. If you have a student that wants to be a pastor and has the gift of communication, let them speak at a weekend service. If you have a student that has a heart for the elderly and the gift of leadership, let them start and lead a elderly care ministry. At the end of the day, God believes in our students and our ministry needs to reflect that.

Does your ministry communicate to students your belief in them? Does it empower them?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.



We start each student leadership meeting with what we call, “celebrations”. Celebrations, a tradition inspired by our weekly staff meetings, is a time where our student leadership team reflects on the things that God has done in the weeks since we last met. Students will share things like a great conversation they had with a classmate, a powerful moment they had at the small group they lead, a story from an event they threw at their school, or even them getting into a college! This is one of my favorite parts of our meetings because we are able to slow down, take a breath, and acknowledge all of the great things the Lord has done through our team. Through this reflection, the Lord continues to work and helps us build a great community and teaches us some really great leadership lessons.

Community Building. Through celebrations, students are able to identify with each other; they see that they aren’t alone in the trenches and that they have a community that is there to support them with their projects, ministries, or events.  For example, Delaney shared that the Jr. High small group she leads finally opened up to each other. McKenna (who is also leading a Jr. High small group) revealed that she was having trouble getting her girls to be open and honest and asked for help. One by one, other students who lead small groups began to share advice and things that they had been learning. It was awesome to see a community instantly built through one student sharing about what God did in her small group.

Leadership Training. Celebrations are also an awesome way to teach applicable leadership lessons. I love this because we get the opportunity to teach on more than the book we are going through or the podcast that we listened to. For example, Lauren shared that the event she threw at her school was a huge success. She went on to admit that she was really scared at first and almost backed out completely. She shared that she knew God was calling her to lead the event but she felt like she wasn’t the right person for the job. But then she remembered the story of Moses and that God provided for him each step of the way, and that God was glorified through Moses’ weaknesses. Boom! A student just taught an incredible leadership lesson that anyone can identify with!

Our “celebrations” have really grown us as a team. I think a lot of the success comes from how organic it is. We get to learn and get closer together without a structured lesson or game. It just feels like a group of friends laughing together, supporting each other, and loving each other. A total win!

What activities is your ministry doing to build up your student leadership team?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

A few weeks ago some of our student leaders created a ministry called “Encourage” who’s goal was very simply … to encourage other students. One of their first projects was leaving thank you notes on the office door of people who worked at the church. It is always nice to get thanked for serving and it was a great start. Their next project was MUCH bigger – putting sticky notes with a message of encouragement on the lockers of everyone in their high school. Some of the messages:

  • You can do it!
  • Thanks for being you
  • You matter
  • You are awesome
  • Smile!
  • Have a great day!
  • Try your hardest
  • You put the kind in mankind

And while the challenge was huge, they did it! And it sent ripples through the school and even the administration noticed the project and loved it. Not sure where the encourage ministry goes from here, but sure do love them thinking creatively and helping others be encouraged.

JG

PS: How cool is this followup picture (edited to remove IDs) a couple of weeks later?



Applications for our student leadership program are opening up again in a few weeks and it has me reflecting on what I look for in a student leader. Over the past week, I decided that I want our student leaders to be a leader third. Before they can be a student leader, they need to be a Christ follower first and a servant second:

1. Christ Follower
Student leaders are the ones that make things happen. But one of the first things I tell student leaders is, “this isn’t ASB.” I think it is important to make the point that they aren’t planning events and running ministries just for fun, they are doing it to help fulfill the purposes of the Church. A leader of a ministry isn’t like the leader of a club. A leader of a ministry is the spiritual leader of a group of people. In order to have a team that can be spiritual leaders of your ministry, you need to have a team of students that are pursuing the Lord. Before you say yes to putting a student in your leadership program, make sure you know what is happening in their spiritual life. Ask them questions about their relationship with the Lord, what their quiet times look like, where they are being challenged, etc. Dig deep. Don’t be afraid to talk to a spiritual leader in a student’s life or even a parent!

2. Servant
Is this student serving already? One of the mistakes that I have made is overlooking this on some applicants. In my mind, I thought, “I can help motivate them to start serving.” But that isn’t something you should have to say about a student leader. Student leaders are the ones that are already serving in your ministry. Sometimes this means saying no to popular students in your youth group. When I took a closer look at our “core” students, I found that most of them weren’t serving. Saying no to students like this might be tough, but it is a perfect opportunity to really challenge them and take them to the next level. Do be on the look out for students that are serving on ministry teams, showing up to serve projects, staying after events to clean-up, or just students that are servants in your ministry.

When I look for students that have leadership potential, I look for those two things. The more I develop our program, the harder I get on student leadership applicants. Don’t be afraid to say a few no’s. Letting in students that aren’t ready can make your program ineffective, or worse, harmful to your ministry. Saying no to some students is okay. It is healthy for your program and it is helpful to grow the student that needs to grow.

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

As some of you know, this Wednesday was the annual event, See You at the Pole. SYATP (See You at the Pole) is a national day of prayer, where students come to school early to pray and worship together at their flagpole. Our ministry made a huge push for it this year and it turned out to be a huge win! I would promote SYATP to any youth group and here are a few reasons why:

-Unification. This event is geared towards uniting the Body of Christ at a school. One of the responsibilities of the student leader in charge of SYATP is to promote this event to all of the Christian clubs and organizations at the school. I think that when there are more than one Christian club at a school, there can be a rivalry that develops, but events like these, if done right, shatters this and helps them realize that they both have the same goal, to be a light and serve at their school. It is also fun to go and meet and build relationships with students and youth pastors from the area… you can never have too many friends!

-Long Term Results. While SYATP is a totally awesome program, it is only once a year. What we wanted to see happen was a fire sparked in the campus’ heart. We wanted this to inspire the Body at their school to love and serve their school in a way that they haven’t before. What was cool was seeing students posting their ideas on how to keep things like this going. There have already been talks of a campus prayer walk at one of our schools!

-Leadership Experience. SYATP is a completely student lead activity, which I LOVE. The cool thing is that the SYATP website (syatp.com) sets students up for success. It has a checklist of all of the things you need to do/think about when you are planning the event at your school. One of the cool things about this event is that it is a success/fail opportunity. One key element of growing leaders is giving them the freedom to fail. As their pastor, we are willing to help if they ask, but we can’t waste these unique opportunities to build up leaders. Failure doesn’t always mean the event is a complete disaster; failure can look like weak programming, bad promotion, poor team communication, etc. We just need to be there to help them learn from their mistakes so that the experience wasn’t in vain.

I am a huge believer in See You at the Pole and I hope that it is something that you at least look into for the schools in your area! Do you have a story from a See You at the Pole event?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.