Summer Idea Lab

 —  June 11, 2012 — 5 Comments

Summer is a great time to try new things…and that’s what we’re doing! Here are a few things we’re kicking off in this next season that might inspire you to try something new as well. Share what you’re excited about in the comments, too!

Worship Together Weekends
Starting in July we’re going to cancel our “youth group” services and worship as a whole church—young and old. Our pastor is going to do his best to address students in his message, and the various other service elements are going to be designed to include or at least acknowledge the whole church worshiping as one.

We’re so excited about this change in our church, because in our setting it doesn’t happen naturally. Chances are your church could use a little “inter-generational kick in the pants,” too. Summer is a great time to something a try.

Youth Ministry Instagram Account
We just created an Instagram account for our student ministry—fun pictures taken on the spot at summer events or up at camp will instantly be shared with parents and other students. We’ll have them dropped onto our Facebook page as well. A simple, fun way to instantly connect with people who aren’t on the trip or waiting for word back home.

Prayer Walk at High Schools
This past weekend our student leaders organized a prayer walk at the main high schools represented in our youth group. The idea was simple but effective—kind of like a “See You at the Pole” but we didn’t want to wait until the fall. So we met at the flagpole, prayed together and then walked through the campus (empty since it was on a weekend) and prayed for the students, teachers, and staff that are represented in each area you walk. Football field: Pray for the athletes.

Walk by the school office? Pray for the principal, etc. Then after about a half hour everyone met up for food at a local fast-food joint, too. So fun! In the summer, you could pick the most convenient day of the week for your group.

So there are a few ideas from us—look for a handful more tomorrow as well! What new ideas are you most excited about this summer?

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.

Coaching Your Volunteers

 —  October 25, 2011 — 1 Comment

Ah, the fall. High School Football. You can see your breath. You’re eating overpriced nachos from the under-staffed school booster club concession stand. There’s nothing better than the crack of the football helmets hitting together. The cheerleaders in the background, the coach barking commands to his team. The team listens then works together in perfect unison to score a touchdown.

The difference between the picture we just painted and your role as a youth worker? You’re not in the stands in the youth ministry game, my friend. You are a coach. Here are some thoughts about coaching your volunteer team in the seasons ahead.

PRESEASON (late summer)
A coach in this season is focused on making sure his team is ready to perform at the highest level. Training and conditioning are the key. Preparation is essential for success on the field. In your ministry pre-season (July/August) make sure your team is trained and ready for the challenges of the season ahead.

INSEASON (school year)
A coach in this season is focused on winning games. Watching game films, evaluation and adjustments are key here. A youth ministry coach needs to constantly be evaluating services, programs and people to make sure each are working effectively. You can make changes at this point, but they have to be the right ones because the game is on the line.

OFFSEASON (summer)
This season is hardly “off” right? We recently looked back on this past summer and it felt busier than another other season this past year. So forgive us where the analogy breaks down a bit — but a coach in the off season becomes a strategist. They change up the playbook. They toss out what wasn’t working and experiment with something new. They take advantage of the lull and focus on recruiting new talent for their team. They plan ahead and make sure they are ready for when the team is assembled in the preseason once again.

Go get ‘em, coach!

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.

Last summer was incredible so this summer we’re hoping to build on what we learned and have another great break. Here is a little insight behind what HSM has planned for this summer. If you haven’t seen the calendar and list of events yet, you can check it out here:

All about relationships
The summer is all about hanging with students. We embrace the beauty of time off from school and the different pace around the church office. Summer = relational ministry goldmine.

Free, free, free
Summer camp is the signature event to kickoff the summer and the only one that costs money – after that every event is totally free. In the past we have had events that each charge admission, and over time these add up to frustrated parents and limiting participation.

Low prep time
The events on the summer calendar are meant to be low-prep time events. They are basically excuses to do relational ministry. Prep for Free Coke Friday? Grab some frisbees and a cooler of Gatorade. Done!

Regular recurring events
Want to remember the summer schedule? Every event happens 7 times this summer. 7 Midweeks, 7 Free Coke Fridays, 7 Bagels & Bibles. If you come to one, you can figure out the schedule for the summer. If you’re free on a Friday, you know what we’re up to that day.

Lots of Bible time
One of the big emphasis of our summer is plenty of time in the Word. One of the advantages of no small groups and no high school classes is that we have blocks of time and regular opportunities to pull off our own classes fr spiritual growth.

What should we try next summer that is working for you?


Phil is back again this week with great learnings about how to budget for an upcoming youth event like summer camp, a retreat or help pull off a student leadership conference. Reading over the list, I can assure you these are born straight out of some experiences in the past year – it’d do you well to look it over to help you develop skills with numbers. Here’s a few of them, worth the trip to get the rest:

11. Think about whether you need to make a scouting trip before the event. You may need to factor in money for this as well.

12. Do your research. If you are thinking about providing a “takeaway” at your event (perhaps a water bottle or wristband with the theme Bible verse printed on it) then figure out a realistic cost, don’t just guess.

13. Look for fixed cost items (rather than costs related to group size). If you can find items or activities that are a fixed cost this will help you as once you reach your target number, additional registrants will be bonus.

14. Factor in leader/volunteer cost. If you cover the cost of volunteers at your event, make sure you factor that in early.

15. A large event needs a buffer of 5-10% of the total budget. This will hurt to add but it will hurt you more if you don’t. If it’s the first time you’ve run this event or the first time at a new venue make your buffer ~10%, if you’ve done it before you might get away with ~5%.


This is Hope Schoen — the latest addition to the HSM team! Hope just came aboard through Saddleback’s 2-year internship program. She was a volunteer at summer camp and a recent graduate of Biola University – we’re so excited to have her on the team!

Do you know someone who is looking for a year or two of concentrated, in the trenches youth ministry experience? I’ve got one open spot on the HSM team right now, send them my way!


We’re making some little name shifts in our youth ministry these days – moving away from calling events by catchy, cool names and calling them by far less cute but very clear names.

Over and over again it feels obvious that insider names are nice for the core kids, but completely alienating for outsiders and confusing for people who bounce in and out. If you’re using a cool name for your youth event, plan on explaining it to parents and new students. If you’re using a Greek word for your small groups, your effort to please your hermeneutics professor will be lost on a 13-year old incoming freshman.

Clear wins every time. Here’s a few examples of what I’m talking about:

HSM Summer Camp
We used to call our summer camp by the destination camp we were attending, so we would call it Hume Lake or Camp Ojai. I love the traditions, but think it requires explanation to adults and clarity when a student shares their testimony about what happened there. Why not just call it camp? So now we call it HSM Summer Camp, enabling us to be very clear about what it is and less about the actual location. It also allows us to change camps without losing momentum or rebranding.

HSM Winter Retreat
This one had a great name originally – Chi Alpha (which means Christ First or Christs’ Ambassadors) – but honestly it wasn’t working in our culture. The students that attended last year loved the event, but when talking about it they would inevitably call it a “spiritual growth retreat” or “discipleship retreat” – so why didn’t we? Now that I think about it – even “discipleship” might not be clear, maybe we should even be considering a more student-friendly and clear word like “grow.”

We’re simply called HSM
I know that “the high school ministry at Saddleback Church” or “HSM” isn’t the sexiest name on the block. I hear of youth group names like IGNITE, maXimum or Warriors of L.I.G.H.T. and I think how boring ours sounds. But the clarity is worth it. Even within our own church, and I love our college ministry (Crave) and junior high ministry (Wildside), but they have to be constantly explained to outsiders.

So that’s what I’m thinking, and where we’re moving these days. Anyone agree/disagree? I’d LOVE to be convinced of the value in creating brand and identities with creative and unique names for groups and events.


Weekend Teaching Series: LAUNCH: Ready for Re-Entry (week 4 of 5)
Sermon in a Sentence: Launching into a successful school year requires dedication, investment and using the gifts God has given you for Him.
Service Length: 79 minutes
Main passage: Luke 5:1-11

Understandable Message: This week we had the final summer guest speaker teach our entry-level program. David Hughes grew up in the ministry and has become a long-time volunteer and most recently a seminary student. He did a great job introducing himself to our students and challenging them to follow Jesus’ call on their life. He focused on Jesus calling the disciples, causes their boats to overflow with fish and them leaving everything to follow Him. In some ways our lives become a cycle of faithfulness – God entrusts us with more, and we find joy when we use everything in our lives for God.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: We had a text poll from as well as a simple Race This! game featuring Spaceships – we divided up the crowd into 3 sections and the winning section got a candy shower. We haven’t used Race This! much in high school, but it definitely worked with the crowd and tied in nicely to the theme. We sprinkled in a few announcements and a fun video promoting the Shake It! greeting ministry, too.

Music Playlist: My Heart (Paramore cover), Awesome God, The Stand

Favorite Moment: This was a bittersweet weekend – we said goodbye to a couple of great members of our HSM team. Becka finished up her 2-year internship this week and has been an absolute star the whole time. Robby was asked by Pastor Rick to head up a new campus in Huntington Beach that will launch this Christmas. VERY proud of both of them, and VERY hard to see them go. Shoot.

Up Next: LAUNCH series finale [Fall Back to School Kickoff]

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.