This summer we took some risks and planned a summer calendar for our high school youth group that looked pretty different than years past. I think for the most part it paid off – here are some of the new ideas (for us) and the results:

Summer camp moved to the beginning of the summer
This was the biggest game-changer for us – for years we’ve let camp be the “end of summer event” that catapulted us into Fall Kickoff and the new school year. I blogged about the Benefits of Early Summer Camp, not in an effort to justify the move but to make sure we took advantage of the strategy behind the move. Camp now kicks off the summer, and gives us momentum in a typical downtime for youth groups. COST: $299

Midweek Bible Study replaces small groups
For the longest time our small groups (now Life Groups) have met only during the school year. But this year we decided to have a discipleship/worship/fellowship gathering call WE(MID)EK all summer long. The consistency was a win – students knew that every Tuesday night we gathered to sing, pray, learn and connect. And yes, I realize that Tuesday isn’t midweek but it was the last day available. Cost: FREE

Bible study just for girls
This year one of the ideas was to have a Bible study just for girls – not necessarily on girl’s issues (it was actually an Old Testament character study) but so girls could learn together away from the distractions of the boys. Bagels & Bibles was a great 8-week success – and the guys want one next summer, too! Donuts & Dudes, here we come! Cost: FREE

Fun and relational time every Friday
Every Friday we spent 2 hours at the park, and 2 hours at The Refinery hanging out and playing games. Athletic kids loved the outdoor games, and everyone loved the cold Cokes at lunch. Great opportunity to bring friends or have a surprisingly deep conversation. Cost: FREE

Lots of guest speakers over the summer at the weekend worship service
This summer I did a significant amount of teaching when our freshman we’re incoming, then turned it over to other voices in our youth ministry team. This past weekend, two volunteers spoke, which was incredible. It gave me a chance to go on vacation and for our students to hear from different personalities, styles and backgrounds. COST: FREE

Two service projects, no mission trips
This summer we didn’t go on any mission trips – saving that for our Spring trips to Kenya and Spring Break trip to New Mexico. But our students were involved in service projects in the community, we did a Pancake Breakfast for a needy area and helped pull off Operation: Backpack. COST: FREE


I was reading Terrace’s blog recently and also came across a slightly older post from Matt Cleaver talking about the must-read books for youth workers. And while this isn’t necessarily a definitive list by any means, I thought it might be interesting to post the books that have had the most shaping effect on my youth ministry philosophy and vision.

Purpose Driven Church – Rick Warren
This is the book that opened my eyes to church as it could be. Sitting at a summer camp in upstate New York, I read and imagined church in a whole new way. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission bonded together to reveal biblical purpose for the church. Life-changing read.

Handbook on Counseling Youth – Josh McDowell
An oldie, but a goodie. This book was a gift to me early in youth ministry career – and just this past week I gave copies of it to my team. Tons of topics, great questions, Scripture and counseling help for real issues. I hope the book gets a makeover soon and will include more help for newer issues that are gripping teenagers.

Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry – Doug Fields
The first of two great books from Doug Fields that made me into the youth worker I am today. Probably time for me to read it again – just solid reminders to help you start right.

Purpose Driven Youth Ministry – Doug Fields
The definitive book on youth ministry. It will get you thinking, challenge that thinking, and push your thinking toward a biblical model for success and health. So much of what we do in HSM still resonates directly from this foundation. I’ve had multiple copies, all dog-eared, underlined and worn. The best of the list.

Sustainable Youth Ministry – Mark DeVries
Maybe the 3rd best book written about youth ministry. A more recent title to make the list, I love the clarity and direction it provides youth workers in what it takes to survive the calling in the long run. Good, good, stuff.

The Heart of a Great Pastor – H.B. London
This book arrived at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable and ready to quit. The idea of “blooming where you’re planted” hit me that God called me to the place I was serving at, not to be looking for what was next or greener on the other side of the fence.

The Dip – Seth Godin
The Dip is a little book all about the phenomenon where after initial success there is a dip before an even larger gain. Fighting through the Dip or knowing when it is time to give up is crucial in youth ministry.

Linchpin – Seth Godin
A brand new book that is gripping me right now. The idea that God created you as an artist and an individual for His work – that you aren’t just a mindless cog in a wheel within the church. Takes a bit of translating since it is a business book, but worth it!

Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath
If you’re a communicator, you’ll want to know how to have your messages stick. I also loved Speaking to Teenagers, but this non-youth ministry specific book really stuck with me, too.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni
Working in a larger church now I’m focusing on more team-based learnings, this book is one of the best. Told in his now trademarked business fable style, the book will walk you through the most common traps that trip up teams.

How about you? Read any life-changing books lately?


Got a few emails and comments asking about vacation time for youth workers. I had mentioned in an earlier post that I am in the middle of taking 100 hours of vacation this month to be Mr. Mom as my wife enjoys an overseas mission trip to Africa. I’ve already posted about The Vacations We Take Each Year, and here are a few additional thoughts and ideas about vacation time:

  • VACATION TIME: We accumulate vacation time each work week at our church. Depending on how long you’ve served at the church, the faster you accumulate time off. For the typical employee you get two weeks of vacation, so roughly 1.6 hours per week worked (80 hours a year). You can “bank” up to two years of your annual amount of vacation time.
  • COMP TIME: Officially, there is no such thing as “comp time” at Saddleback. You’re expected to work 50 hours a week, and if you work more it doesn’t matter. Obviously, that makes things like camps or retreats a bit unrealistic, but such is life. As a supervisor myself, I may choose to me more lenient on my team and offer lighter schedules and be keenly aware of the temperature of my team. I don’t always get it right, but I try to be the understanding youth ministry boss that I haven’t always been privileged to have throughout my youth ministry career.
  • FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE: Forward-thinking companies like Netflix realize that in some environments work hours are messy and don’t fit into traditional banking hours. That comp time is impossible to track, and that people who don’t turn it off are better when they take longer more ambiguous stretches of time off. Interesting article in the Wall St. Journal – but don’t expect your church to understand this concept. I would make a guess that the person who is in charge of your office/work culture probably is a bit more traditional/straight-laced to take this big of a risk from the norm.
  • SPIRITUAL RETREAT DAY: Occasionally I’ll give my team a spiritual retreat day, an 8-hour day that are focused completely on personal spiritual development of their heart and to reconnect with God. We work hard, and the biggest shame of working hard would be to not work alongside with the Spirit’s leading. So no busy work or email is allowed, and everyone is asked to send a paragraph report on what God said to them. I should do this more often, if for my own heart than anything else.
  • CAMPS ARE NOT VACATION: Camps and retreats NEVER count as vacation. I read an “out of office” reply last week from a youth worker at camp and it said they were “on vacation” – don’t affirm that terrible stereotype that because you are away you are NOT on vacation. If this is present in your church culture, it is a fight worth fighting in my opinion.
  • CONFERENCE ALLOWANCE: Conferences also do not count as vacation time – our church gives me a couple days of free personal development time as well. I’ve worked in and heard of many others that wrap vacation/conferences into one to save money or because it does use vacation time. In this economy a raise is unlikely anyhow, so perhaps make the ask for a couple paid days away to grow in your expertise.
  • WHEN TO FIT IN VACATION: Late summer works best for me to take vacation time – the summer calendar starts to wain and the fall kickoff isn’t quite here yet. I like to think of it as the calm before the storm. Actually, I’m writing this post in the calm of some time away right now. Feels good. I should do this more often.
  • WHAT ABOUT YOUTH GROUP WHEN I’M AWAY: When I’m on vacation, I give the platform away to trusted voices and voices I want to develop. This block that I’m gone right now I’m having a few experienced and inexperienced voices in front of our students, I’m excited because this weekend a volunteer and his small group are teaching.

How does your church do vacation time? When was the last time you were on vacation? Any tips or tricks to share with the MTDB community?


August is here – summer programs are winding down and school is about to begin. Scratch that – for more than half the country, kids are already in classes this week! You’re heading toward the Fall kickoff of your youth ministry, and thinking about what’s next. I posted When to Buy Youth Ministry Resources last August, but thought something tangible with solid suggestions for the fall might be a good idea as well. Here are the questions I’m asking with a couple weeks to go before our official kickoff:

1. Is your youth ministry service ready to go?
Take the time to lay out the fall teaching calendar. Create or purchase a teaching series that is compelling and make it easy for your students to bring their non-believing friends. The start of the school year is one of the most opportune times for Friendship Evangelism. Then think about the atmosphere that first-time student will walk into – are a few crowd games or a cell phone poll the way to go? Is the room setup ideally for what you’re trying to accomplish? Do you have a way to contact students during the week? How can you give your youth group a jolt of fresh energy this Fall? Suggestions: 2nd Greatest Story Every Told, Heart of a Champion, Awaken Your Creativity

2. Are your small group leaders and volunteers trained?
Capitalize on the fall to get some good reading into the hands of your leaders or good material into your hands for training meetings. Suggestions: Youth Worker Training on the Go, Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry, Connect

3. What are you reading for your personal development?
You meant to read a few good books over the summer – and honestly, they’re still in the bottom of your backpack. Take them out and get cracking! If you’re looking for a good book Terrace had a good list for young influencers and Kurt’s new book The 9 Best Practices of Youth Ministry looks challenging. My favorite book this summer was Linchpin. Pick up a book for your own development. Suggestions: Tribes, Switch, Steering Through Chaos, Crazy Love, The Next Generation Leader

4. What is it time to launch?
For us we’re talking about helping hurting students, so we’re concentrating on our pastoral care program for teenagers who are at risk. You’ve got the pulse of your student ministry – what is it time to launch? Or maybe what is it time to re-launch? Maybe it is time to stop something, so this January you can breath new life into it? Suggestions: The Landing, Help! I’m a Student Leader, LeaderTreks



I’ve enjoyed Marko’s post on the now-infamous USA Today article on the decline of youth ministry as we know it. Here’s a clip of the original editorial content that has spurred on some interesting reactions by youth pastors around the country:

“Bye-bye church. We’re busy.” That’s the message teens are giving churches today.

Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.

“Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” says Barna president David Kinnaman.

“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ “

I think they’re are quite a few potentially valid responses and perspectives to this article:

  • Our youth ministry numbers are up. The whole thing is bogus!
  • Our youth ministry numbers are down. I have a valid excuse when the elders pin me down next time!
  • Really? Facebook is the reason students don’t do to church anymore? Wow.
  • Yes! What can youth ministry do to become relevant again?
  • What’s wrong with a little pizza every now and then?
  • What are we doing to go after lost sheep?
  • Are camps truly a thing of the past?
  • How is your youth ministry known/positioned in your community?
  • So go the adults, so go the youth ministry.
  • What can we do to streamline our youth ministry to fit into the busyness?
  • USA Today’s readership is down, so they’re dragging everyone else down with them.
  • If the students are on Facebook, are we?
  • Does Barna know what they’re talking about anymore?

So … let’s hear what you think. What’s your response after you read the whole article on USA Today?


Loved this post over on Junior High Ministry, some good stuff about how to stay energized and get filled back up after pouring out ministering to students. Here’s a clip, worth heading over there (and more importantly putting some of it into practice) for the read:

* Get rid of the monster: If I have something non-fun or conflict oriented that I must do, I do it within the first hour of being in my office. I get rid of that big, looming monster so I can move on to more life-giving things.

* Administer the positive pep-talk: As I am going over the mission trip contributions or editing my summer camp manual, I say to myself (usually out loud) “This is all for the kids! Because you’re doing this, it’s going to be a better experience for the kids!” It may sound cheesy, but it works for me– I remind myself that it all blesses the kids in the end.

* Get out of the office: Many of us could be busy in our offices for days at a time– it takes being intentional to break out of that administrative grind and be with kids. As I look at my weeks, I make sure there are multiple one-on-ones with students, football games, musicals or lunches in school cafeterias. Even if it’s just a couple hours away, it refreshes my spirit and enables me to do the stuff that doesn’t.


Recently sat down and carved out the sermons and series for our weekend entry-level services this fall. Here’s the next batch of where HSM is headed, starting with the wrap up of our end of summer back to school series:

LAUNCH: Ready for Re-entry: Relationships
LAUNCH: Ready for Re-entry: Stress & Schedule [Fall Kickoff Weekend]
Happily Ever After: Intro Weekend
Happily Ever After: Girls

Happily Ever After: Guys
Serve Weekend / Ministry Fair
NEXT (church-wide campaign)

NEXT (offering weekend)
Thanksgiving 1-off

Christmas Series
Christmas Series
Christmas Series
Combined with adult services for Christmas

Combined with adult services for New Year
Best Year Ever
3D: Decision
3D: Devotion
3D: Defeat


Another few episodes of Fruity Tales – some videos from summer camp!