This week we’re going to focus on some of the best practices of youth ministry nationwide and hope that it generates some helpful conversation as you agree, disagree or have no opinion either way! Right up front we want to let you know that there is no PERFECT way to do youth ministry; our hope is that you prayerfully consider your context and determine what would and wouldn’t work in the ministry you lead.

BEST PRACTICE: Dividing up junior high and high school students.
There is simply too much difference between a 12-year-old 7th grader and an 18-year-old graduating senior—specifically, the developmental differences. Plus, on a practical note, keeping them separate gives the junior highers something to look forward to. Having said all that, there are some incredible opportunities when you keep these groups together. The older students can disciple and model what younger students can become over the next few years.

QUESTIONS:
• Do you have separate ministries for junior and senior high?
• Why or why not?
• What are other pros and cons of dividing up these age groups?
• What would happen if you made the switch?

BEST PRACTICE: Small groups being the primary method of discipleship and fellowship.
Most youth groups meet once a week for a large-group time of celebration, fun, and worship; and then either as part of that gathering, or at another time during the week, divide up into small groups for fellowship and discipleship. The overwhelming model has been for groups to work through a curriculum and also share life and Christian community together.

QUESTIONS:
• Does your church have small groups, Sunday school, or just large group times?
• Why have you chosen this strategy?
• What is the weakness of this model?
• Sunday school used to be invincible; now it has largely been replaced by small groups. What’s next?

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.

This week we’re focusing on leadership—specifically, the upside-down concept that to be a great leader you have to be a great follower. Yesterday we looked at Follow-Up and Following the Leader—here are two more.

Follow Jesus
We didn’t start with this one yesterday because it may have felt cliché to lead with this one—but it is the most important “following” out of all of them…hands down. Following Jesus can be easily faked, but the person who genuinely follows Jesus shines with an authenticity that is easily recognized. Be that person! If you want to be a truly great leader, make sure you follow the Leader.

Practical ways to get better at following Jesus: Find a resource that will help you spend time with Jesus every day. Download the YouVersion Bible app and pick a reading plan—be sure to set a reminder each day to give you a nudge in you haven’t marked it completed by noon.

Block out a little time for prayer before your lunch hour each day. Spend a month and only read the red letters in the gospels. Being more familiar with the ways of Jesus might actually help you follow him more closely!

Follow a mentor
Don’t risk doing youth ministry alone. You need a person who has been there before who can share wisdom with you from the journey. It doesn’t need to be someone in the exact same profession, but someone who can relate to your calling and shares some of the same passions. All great leaders have great mentors, if you want to be great be humble enough to learn from someone else today.

Practical ways to get better at following a mentor: Find a network in your area where you can gather and talk shop. Search online for a veteran youth minister in your area to help coach you. Find blogs, books, and resources that will help mentor you and push your development. Identify somebody in your congregation, from any profession, that you respect and ask them if they’d join you for coffee once in a while.

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.



This week we’re focusing on leadership—and conveniently each of the principles we’re sharing this month start with the letter “F.” Why, you ask? No reason, really.

Follow-Up
A parent mentions something to you in passing right before you walk on stage to give announcements. Later that afternoon, as you are dozing off on the couch while watching football, you suddenly, vaguely, remember something about a concerned parent. You have no recollection of what the parent wanted, or the level of concern in her voice. You shrug it off and decide that if it was something serious, she’ll be sure to track you down. Great leaders have ability and willingness to follow up when others would shrug it off; to take action steps others would have long forgotten. If you want to be a strong leader, accept nothing less than excellent follow-up to each interaction.

Practical ways to get better at following up: Flag emails that need your action. Always start with that folder first to knock some of those out right away. Get good at leaving yourself quick voice memos on your phone you can track down later. Use a Moleskin (real paper—gasp!) or the Stickies app to help you jot down quick thoughts you need to follow-up on later.

Follow the Leader
You serve Jesus…and the pastor He has called to lead your church. Too often youth workers get frustrated by their position on the church staff totem pole (somewhere below the janitor). God has called you to a church and he has called you to serve those “above you.” Until things change, you are to serve and honor them. Breaking the unity of the church is a rookie mistake—veteran leaders with longevity know how to follow the leader…even if it’s the church janitor.

Practical ways to get better at following the leader: Ask them out for lunch one day this week to help build your relational storehouse. Make sure your interactions go beyond crisis management or only meeting when problems arise. Send a thank you card or note to your leader. Appreciate the real weight of those leading your whole church.

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.

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.



This week Kurt and I are going after a youth ministry fail in our lives in the past season of ministry, and sharing what we learned from the incident. You got to revel in Kurt’s mistake yesterday—here’s mine:

I was teaching a few weeks ago in youth group and during the talk we had a disruptive student. It was a little disruption at first, but a few minutes later we had a full-blown problem on our hands. A student was making all sorts of comments and noises from his seat—students were staring, whispering, and generally completely distracted by the situation. We found out later the teenager has a special medical need and didn’t have any control over what was coming out of his mouth. But the point is our team didn’t know what to do…so no one did anything.

FAIL: We weren’t ready to handle this situation. I’m left on stage trying to teach while this disruption is occurring and everyone is frozen or in a silent panic trying to figure out what to do.

LEARNING: The next week we put into place a simple 4-step process for dealing with disruptions during youth group:

1) The speaker never addresses the situation. Whoever is on stage models grace and pretends like nothing is going on. Motor through.

2) Don’t wait. Will someone else jump in? Let’s just take the “wait and see” approach to see if it gets worse. No…take action when any disruption occurs. From the giggles in the back of the room, to a full on meltdown, do something; don’t just stand there.

3) Take it outside. Ask the student to step outside of the room with you as discreetly as possible. Usually a knowing look or a fierce glare from a youth leader corrects poor behavior. When those don’t work, invite them to the exit for a talk.

4) Investigate what to do from there. Could this situation be fixed by simply reseating the person? What discipline is needed to correct this behavior? Handle each situation with incredible amounts of care and grace but balance firmness.

General rule of thumb: don’t let one ruin it for all. Where have you failed and what have you learned recently?

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. Tomorrow look for a special guest post on ministering to a student with special needs that will be helpful to unpack that area for ministry as well. In hindsight it would have been wise to use another student as an example in this post. #FAIL

Big Picture Ministry

Josh Griffin —  November 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

Youth workers need to have a holistic view of ministry—stay too focused on today and it can be hard to remember where you were headed. But if you’re always looking ahead, you risk not handling today well. Here are a few thoughts that may help you tackle today AND tomorrow effectively.

Right In Front Of You:
This Week
What needs to be accomplished right away this week? Go practical instead of tactical; make a “to do list” or use an app to help guide your time and projects with due dates this week. The “This Week” stuff is the nitty-gritty tasks you simply must accomplish. Put your head down, and work through the list you made at the beginning of your week.

The Small Picture:
The Next Season Ahead
 – This is where you move from the day-to-day tasks and make sure you’re tracking on the big-picture details of what’s next. This is making sure the discipleship retreat camp deposit is in the mail, but not necessarily programming the event itself. This is making sure you have a speaker lined up, but not necessarily knowing the menu that’s planned. [Side note: ALWAYS know what is on the menu. Words I (Josh) live by!]

The Big Picture:
This Coming Year
 – Occasionally, throughout the year, find some time to make sure the big-picture vision is in place. Check the pulse of your leaders; look back on goals you set from the year before; work through your vision statements and learnings from a recent book or seminar. Determine what’s broken and what’s doing well, lay out strategies to address the weak points in your discipleship process. This is a mix of practical (calendar planning) and tactical (is what we have planned truly helping us to accomplish our vision?).

The Lifetime Achievement:
Your Legacy
 – This is the biggest picture of all: what you will leave with your church when you leave, or the legacy you leave behind when God decides your time here is done. Don’t text and drive or it may be sooner rather than later. Too many youth workers live in the day-to-day world and never take a step back every few years and really wrestle with your calling again and see what God may be up to.

Consider planning your week with an appropriate amount of time given to each of these categories. Focus on the tasks of the week, be familiar with the season ahead, make sure you know where you are headed and every once in a while, and wrestle with your legacy for good measure, too.

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.



One of our favorite quotes among our Pastoral staff is, “Leaders are learners—when you stop learning you stop leading.” These words have become commonplace in our church culture, but they’ve never been more true. As leaders, we have to be hungry to learn and willing to humble ourselves to someone else’s wisdom and experience.

So what makes somebody “teachable”?

Someone Who Asks Curious, Thoughtful Questions
Somebody who is curious and asks lots of good questions is hungry to learn. They are processing the information that has been provided, and now they’re seeking clarification for an even deeper understanding. They KNOW they need to learn and use the answers to those questions to propel themselves forward. If you want to show someone you’re listening, learning and leading, ask great questions.

Of the two, this one is easy. Obviously some folks are more inquisitive, and better at asking questions, but almost everybody enjoys learning life lessons and having teachable moments that they initiated!

Someone Who Is Humble Enough To Let Others In
It isn’t easy, but a truly teachable person allows others to speak into their life through exhortation, encouragement, correction, and coaching…even when they aren’t asking for it!

This one…is tough. To be open to correction you didn’t know you needed. To be coached in areas you thought you had already mastered. To be pushed in directions you don’t think you want (or need) to go. To learn from people who don’t know as much as you do. For instance, Josh knows almost nothing compared to me (Kurt…and apparently I didn’t write the “pride” article the other day), but I am shocked at how much I learn from him when I open myself up to his wisdom.

Chances are the older, more experienced, more educated and more “successful” you are, the less teachable you are, too. While this is natural, it doesn’t make sense. In the fast-paced, ever-changing world of ministry leaders simply can’t afford to quit learning. What I’ve discovered about so many of my youth ministry friends…and about myself…is that while we’re quick to ask questions and learn stuff we WANT to learn, we’re sometimes a little slower to become truly teachable.

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.

When you prep your talk, think about three audiences in your youth group. It doesn’t matter if they’re all actually in the room or not, thinking about them will prepare you for when they are.

As you look to an application of your talk, consider these three people in the crowd:

The “So What?” Student
When you’re working on your talk, be sure to address the non-believing or seeking students in the audience. Share the Gospel with them. Invite them into a relationship with Christ, or at least back to hear more about the Jesus you spoke about tonight.

Invite them to process what they’ve heard and let them know you’d be happy to address any questions or concerns they might have as they think about whether what you’ve shared is relevant to their world.

The “So-So” Student
Don’t forget about the lukewarm or apathetic student in your group either. As you turn toward application think of steps big and small that they could take to get back on track. Gently nudge them toward Jesus and invite them to a closer relationship with Him.

The “Sold-Out” Student
In every youth group you’ve got students who are on the right path—compliment them for the way that they’re following the teachings in the message you just gave. Ask them to celebrate what God is doing in that area. Challenge them to stay on the right path and continue their faithfulness to Christ.

Are we missing anyone else? Who else is out there in the group you should think about as a communicator?

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.