One of the key roles of a youth worker is speaking to teenagers. For some this is a gift that comes naturally—lots of youth workers are gifted speakers, while others have had to learn how to communicate effectively to an audience. Regardless of your skill level, these tips will either affirm what you’re already doing or help you push forward in your skills on stage.

Find Your Preferred Outline Style
Everyone has a preferred style of notes—I (Kurt) prefer a simple student outline with a few speaker notes written in the margin. I (Josh) prefer a fully written out manuscript when speaking to teenagers. Experiment with both and you’ll quickly find what works best for you and gives you the most comfort on stage.

TIP: Kurt’s style allows for more spontaneity, while Josh’s ensures what is meant to be said actually gets said!

Practice It Once or Twice By Yourself
Prepare your lesson early enough to provide time to run over the talk out loud as if you were giving it live on stage. Work on your delivery, and add new thoughts and ideas to your outline as you progress through the run-through. So often great lines, dramatic pauses, or a fresh idea come through when you’re practicing. Too often what looks good on paper doesn’t work verbally, so get the kinks out before you’re in front of your students. I (Josh) have made this a non-negotiable part of my lesson prep. Kurt, on the other hand…well, the results speak for themselves!

Ruthlessly Debrief Your Talk
There’s nothing more vulnerable than walking off stage and allowing someone to critique your message…BUT, it’s a key component of improving your delivery. Fight through the pride and let your volunteers, a key leader, or your spouse (man oh man are our spouses honest with us) help you get better each week.

You’ll improve greatly if you open yourself up for honest feedback. The truth of the matter is this: People are critiquing you anyway; why not give them permission to share their observations!

So there are a few ideas to help you teaching teens. Add one in the comments!

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 month we’re introducing a new series here on the Simply Youth Ministry Today newsletter. It is called Top 3 and we’re kicking off this week with our Top 3 epic youth ministry fails. Thought you would like that one!

1) Every so often we play a video clip as part of the message and in one particularly tragic service we played the video clip a team member had made for me (Josh). Like an idiot I hadn’t previewed the clip from Tommy Boy and the very last sentence of the excerpt involved a joke about the size of the guys…sailboat. Needless to say, it would go on to be one of my most epic fails of all time. I ended the message with, “It sure has been great being your pastor.” Hahahah!

2) I (Kurt) was a 22-year-old rookie junior high pastor on my way to a youth group New Year’s Eve party with a carload of kids. I happened to have surf racks on my car and one of the 8th grade boys happened to be highly adventurous…which turned out to be a bad combination. I pulled over, strapped the student into my surf racks, and proceeded to drive 5 miles through town to the party. Luckily it was before the days of cell phones, Instagram, and every move being instantaneously captured. Other than a fairly harsh tongue lashing from the high school pastor (why do they always think they’re so much more spiritual?), there was no damage done.

3) To make a long story short: I (Kurt) was on staff at Saddleback for one month when I accidentally left a student in the stadium after an Arena Football League game. I counted…just not accurately.

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.



How do you reach the students who come in, don’t say a word, sit by themselves and leave as quickly and as silently as they entered?

Every ministry has students like these – here are a few ways to “go after them” and invite them to be a part of the ministry:

No on sits alone.
When you talk to your student leaders, make sure they know that “no one sits alone.” Determine that when someone visits for the first time (or the 21st time) they’re going to feel welcome. Prepare them with some basic questions to get the conversation going, and cast the vision time and time again: No one sits alone!

Consider adding a short greeting time.
We’ve recently added in a short greeting time (we stole the idea from big church), and have seen it work wonders. Put your core students on notice that everyone gets greeted, smiled at, and touched in some way. Adding a greeting time is a short and somewhat artificial taste of community, but it’s a chance to break down the walls of the wallflowers.

Add discussion questions to your program.
If you’re looking to build community in your youth service, what about inviting students to discuss the message right there in their row or at their table? If you’ve got a great volunteer in the room, make sure he/she ison the lookout to get everyone involved in the discussion, too.

Invite someone out for a Coke each week.
Ask God to direct you to the right student he wants you to give special attention to this week. When he points you to the right student, invite them out for a Coke and use the time to pour into them one-on-one. Most students who feel like losers or are lonely will find little help at a large group program, but would come alive across the table at Taco Bell.

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.

Hopefully yesterday you took some time to think about the tightrope of ministry and how challenging each step of the journey can be. So what are some practical ways you can do youth ministry life well? Glad you asked! Here are 4 ways we try to put into practice ourselves:

1) Talk through the calendar before you go public with it.
One of the biggest learnings we’ve had related to this topic is making sure you clear your ministry calendar with your family calendar first. This will save you a ton of headaches as you navigate little league, board meetings, and that pesky thing called your anniversary. The 24 hours it takes to complete this step are critical to success in youth ministry life. Trust us, we’ve surprised our spouses (and still do occasionally…mostly because Kurt springs stuff on Josh) enough to put this one right up front.

2) Establish some (mostly) non-negotiable family boundaries.
What night is your date night? How many nights of the week out are okay doing church stuff? When is the best time for the family to be all together? There has to be grace and flexibility on a regular basis, but stack hands on what are the non-negotiables and create some boundaries for yourself in ministry. If you skip this step, you’re going to say “yes” to everything and “no” to your family. Done that, too. Argh.

3) Build a team and empower them to help carry the load.
Youth ministry is bigger than one person—if it’s all about you, prepare for burnout and ego deflation. You can hang on for a while, but while you hang on, you’ll also bottle-neck growth in your ministry and other leaders. So why not build margin in your youth ministry life by surrounding yourself with capable people and empowering them to carry significant parts of the load?

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.



What I’m Learning

 —  September 5, 2012 — Leave a comment

Occasionally Kurt and I take the time to take on “the 3” and this week our topic is what we are each learning right now about ourselves and ministry. I’ve picked out things I’ve learned in the past…or I think I’ve learned them in the past because it seems like all three of these are old and new at the same time. Here’s what I’m learning this week:

1: Jesus is still changing lives!
I loved taking to students this weekend at church—seeing them move from seekers to the saved…watching them move from atheist to at-least-curious. Jesus is changing lives every week in your ministry. You might not see it, but it is happening. Teenagers are being drawn to Christ, and what you’re doing matters for the kingdom. It seems like every time I get frustrated with ministry, or wonder if it’s worth it, God shows me that he’s still in the business of saving people.

2: Camp works!
Holy smokes…camp was incredible this summer! I love that summer camp still works—despite the roadblocks of summer sports and summer school. Camp works!

3: Your capacity has to grow with your ministry.
I’ve had the realization recently that the people around me who have stuck it out in our church have increased their capacity every year. Not just work production, but their hearts have grown larger and their relational skills have increased. As your ministry grows, you need to as well—so here at the end of summer it begs a great question: How are you growing in productivity—working smarter not harder?

How are you leveraging new technology or ideas to reach more, and be more effective? And secondly, how are you growing spiritually—are you growing closer to Christ as your serve him?

What are you learning here at the end of 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.

How We Do What We Do

 —  August 29, 2012 — 3 Comments

It will come as no surprise to most of you that we have a very specific strategy concerning our approach to youth ministry. While your paradigm/process/strategy/purpose (call it whatever the heck you want) may look different than ours, having an easily articulated method to your madness is worth considering. Our youth ministry is centered around three simple “arenas” we think are ultra important in teenagers lives. Right now all of our youth ministry programs fit into one of these three arenas, each with a very specific purpose:

LARGE GROUP: We want to EXPOSE students to Christ, his kingdom and the 5 Purposes.

PRIMARY PROGRAM: Weekend Worship Services
Our weekend services are designed to give students a taste of what the church is all about and an entry-level chance to be exposed to the teachings of Jesus. All students are welcome, and the message is designed to have applications for seekers and the sold out. The services have a high level of student involvement with adults only in the most critical roles (teaching, etc). This is our most visible program to the public and also the most visible to the pastoral leadership of the church as well.

SMALL GROUP: We want students to EXPERIENCE Christ, his kingdom and the 5 Purposes with others.

PRIMARY PROGRAM: Life Groups
Our small group program meets during the week (on Tuesday or Wednesday nights) and divides up the large group into groups of 8-10 students. Groups are ideally made up of teenagers in the same grade, gender and geography enabling them to form a strong community through their high school years. Every group has an adult leader who leads the discussion and teaches a curriculum that’s separate from the large group program. Our goal is that a student goes beyond simple exposure to Christ but will begin to experience discipleship, ministry, and community.

INDIVIDUAL LIFE: Ultimately, we hope students will EXPRESS Christ, his kingdom and the 5 Purposes through their lifestyle.

PRIMARY PROGRAM(S): Grow booth, missions trips, events, serve projects
Basically in this arena we have a ton of options that students can choose as an individual. They’ve been exposed to Christ at the entry-level program, they experience Christ in a small group—now they have the chance to express or live out their faith in a myriad of choices presented to them at this level. We offer lots of Serve opportunities and resources to help students grow, and a few key events/camps throughout the year as well.

What does your process look like? Share it in the comments!

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.



“Sticky Faith” is making waves in the youth ministry world, so we thought today we would interview Kara Powell, the person behind the movement, and get a little insight into what churches can do to help teens develop a “sticky” faith.

K&J: Explain where the Sticky Faith concept originated.

Kara: Actually, it originated in the mind and heart of a youth leader who was a Fuller student. As a youth pastor, she noticed how many youth group students from her church drifted from their faith after high school graduation. The Fuller Youth Institute worked with her to do an initial pilot study of just the students from her church, which raised provocative questions about the long-term trajectory of youth group graduates. From there, thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment, we were able to broaden our research team of Fuller students and faculty to study 500 students over a period of six years to try to figure out what leaders, parents, and churches could do to build faith that lasts.

K&J: What are some concrete examples of some first steps a church can take to get sticky?

Kara: As we’ve tracked with churches throughout the country, there seem to be three primary first steps that parallel our major research findings. First, leaders are trying to make sure that they are teaching what we call the “Sticky Gospel” of grace instead of the “gospel of sin management” (to quote Dallas Willard) of behaviors. So Sticky Faith begins with making sure that students know that their faith doesn’t revolve around behaviors, but rather an ongoing experience of God’s unconditional love for them. One of the messages our team is trying to spread to young people (including my own children) is that Jesus is bigger than any mistake.

While the first step focuses on the core of our faith, the second and third steps are more about relationships. We’ve seen that young people who are involved in inter-generational relationships and worship tend to have more mature faith in both high school and college. It’s been exciting to see churches take steps toward inter-generational relationships—ranging from periodically cancelling their youth group on Sundays so that young people are involved in one big worship service to specialized mentoring for high school seniors.

The final and third step relates to partnering with parents. So many parents are what we call “Dry Cleaner Parents” who think they can drop their kids off at church all dirty at 9 am on Sunday and pick them up 90 minutes later, with the youth or children’s ministry team doing the cleaning. That’s a far cry from the type of partnership between parents and churches that is best for Sticky Faith. So a big part of our research involves how to support and equip parents with ideas ranging from more training to involving parents more in youth ministry events and programs.

K&J: Are there tools and resources to help youth workers grow in this area?

Kara: Thanks to funding from amazing donors and foundations, we at the Fuller Youth Institute have been able to develop a host of practical resources, which can be accessed at stickyfaith.org. The Sticky Faith books and our Sticky Faith Cohorts have been two of the most powerful forces for change, and we also have a host of free resources available on our Web site.

K&J: What are a few other sites/books you would recommend to help students keep their faith after high school?

Kara: We are big fans of the reThink/Orange group led by Reggie Joiner and his team. Their “Orange” philosophy in which the “yellow” that is the light of Christ in the church combines with the “red” that is the heart of love in the family closely parallels our own research. We highly recommend their work, as well as the College Transition Initiative hosted by Walt Mueller, Derek Melleby, and the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding.

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.

How many times have you planned your lesson on a Saturday night while also trying to watch SNL? How often do you pray for red lights on the way to mid-week so the Holy Spirit can “lead you” to come up with something to talk about once you get there (as if the Holy Spirit can’t lead you a few days ahead of time!)? If you’re like Josh, this has happened more than a few times, and if you’re like Kurt, it has happened WAY more than a few times.

We all know that few things are less sexy than planning out a teaching calendar. We also know that few things are more important. But where do you start? Today we want to share with you ONE strategy for creating a teaching calendar. There are lots of approaches…but here’s one of the ways we do it ourselves.

CONSIDER TEACHING IN “THIRDS”
We like to break our teaching into three primary categories: Christian Education, Life Skills, and Felt Need. We try to spend approximately one-third of our teaching calendar in each category. We don’t cling to the schedule, but use it as a loose guideline.

CONSIDER TEACHING IN SERIES
We try to teach each topic in a 3-week series format. The primary reason is simply because it’s tough to cover a subject in one 30-minute lesson. A series-driven calendar allows you to take a longer, more expansive look at the topic on hand.

CONSIDER THE HOLIDAYS AND TIMELY EVENTS
As you prepare your calendar, and as you pencil in the various series at the various times, pay close attention to where Holidays fall and plan the right series at the right time. Consider timely events such as back-to-school season, New Year, and the Prom to help spark creative and timely lessons.

You’ve probably heard (and agree with) the mantra that goes something like this: “Your students will never remember your lesson…but they will remember your relationship with them.” And while that’s almost universally true, lets not make the mistake of using that as an excuse for poor planning when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Have some tips for planning a teaching calendar? Share them in the comments!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.