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.

Mission trips are the best! Unless they end up being the worst. We have made more than our fair share of mistakes over the years. Here’s a little list of fantastic mission trip mistakes you need to avoid…that we didn’t:

• Drinking the water. Never drink the water.

• Getting to the ticket counter about to leave for a trip to Africa and having a student whose passport was about to expire so the ticket lady wouldn’t let him on the plan. He joined us 24 hours later after literally walking his passport renewal through the renewal office.

• My (Josh) wife accidentally knocked a sink off the wall while shaving her leg. Cut herself so deeply she needed stitches.

• Did I (Josh) mention my wife was a nurse and stitched it up herself?

• When the host Pastor says, “You MIGHT preach tomorrow”, actually believing it is only a possibility! “might preach” means “will preach”.

• Leaving a student behind at a truck stop.

• Allowing a student who I (Josh) knew shouldn’t be on the trip on the trip. And had to send them home early. Saw it coming, but didn’t have the guts to disciple/coach him beforehand.

• Offering to split the money with everyone who shows up to the fundraiser. Next time, say, “to everyone who shows up AND WORKS at the fundraiser.”

• The water. Seriously, don’t.

• Wait, we’re out of money already? It is day 2!

• Driving the church bus (Kurt) down a highly crowded one way street in Tijuana, Mexico.

• Getting pulled over by local police for driving the church bus down a highly crowded one way street in Tijuana, Mexico

• Handing out a schedule of activities to the students. This only causes mass confusion when (not if) the schedule changes!

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made on a mission trip?

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.

If you started to wonder this week … yes, God is still at your youth group.

God’s Spirit isn’t done quite yet in your church and in your life — even if it feels like it sometimes. I’m just about to cross 2,000 youth services I’ve played some part in — and I’m so grateful to know that God is working even when……

  • ProPresenter crashes in the middle of your message and at the worst possible moment
  • Your worship lyrics are riddled with misspeellings (<– I left that one in for you)
  • That funny game left a permanent stain in the old sanctuary carpet
  • You thought for sure the movie clip didn’t have THAT word in it
  • You were outnumbered at an event when your volunteers flaked out
  • There is a distinct odor in the church van that may never come out
  • Your small group was so out of control you feel the need to offer to repaint the host home’s family room
  • The tears from that student after your message … were because her boyfriend just broke up with her
  • The sermon you thought would be a homerun was a bunt at best

If it all goes wrong, if your talk tanks, if you feel that your youth ministry isn’t working … rest assured: It isn’t working. But God is.

God loves to show up when we’re down. He seems to specialize in being very present when He seems so absent. He’s there … He’s changing your students one botched program at a time. When your mission trip has an epic fail or your small group has a night (or several nights) of endless blunders … know that God is up to something big and your best attempts to stop him won’t work. He is working in spite of you, to see your students transformed.


I remember it like it was yesterday, a youth night like no other. The church foyer was filled with students, many ripe with excitement and others ripe with body odor. There was much anticipation about a game that was rumored to be played that night and for weeks leading up to it snippets of what could be were flying around the group. The students arrived in clothes that “could get dirty” and the girls were obviously not as excited as the boys. As the students filed into the gym, lights low seeing two bases made of cardboard boxes sat at opposing ends of the gym ready for a siege.

The excitement was pierced when the youth intern pulled the trigger on the Mega-phone and bellowed into the mic “ITS TIME TO PLAY TROUT-A-PULT”. As you can imagine, the high fiving amongst the guys began nearly immediately as did the steady stream of sudden and severe ailments that our young ladies began to experience that would not allow them to participate. The teams were divided and the rules explained.

The Premise: Using a water balloon launcher, each team was given several large rainbow trout that they would use to launch at the other teams base. Each team would alternate shots and the first team to knock down the other teams base was victorious. Seemed logical, they throw fish around at Pike Place Market in Seattle every day and nothing seems to go wrong there.

MISTAKE #1: The water balloon launcher was rated for 200 yards of distance, which would not be a problem except that our gym is only 50 yards long.

MISTAKE #2: Hours earlier when the new intern went to buy the fish. He chose to save the Church some money (an honorable move) and bought frozen fish instead of fresh as they were on sale and much cheaper. This would not have been a big deal, that is if he did not elect to defrost the shrink-wrapped fish in a sink of hot water.

The Outcome: The game ended as fast as it started, as the first fish was loaded up into the launcher and the very excited boys leaned back as hard as they could to ensure that the fish would travel far enough. As the guy on the trigger let go, it all went completely wrong. First, the sling shot attempted to propel the fish 4 times farther than the gym was long. It left the launcher at incredible speeds, and is it did, the speed exposed the other mistake that was made. Defrosting a fish in hot water does more than defrost, it cooks the fish, the result being that instead of one cohesive fish unit flying at light speed across the gym, it was now thousands of smaller pieces.

As what remained of the once mighty trout approached the other side of the gym, pieces peppered the opposing team, landing in student’s hair, on their clothes, and in their mouths causing them to scramble for their lives. The bulk of the fish missed the students, but instead hit the wall behind them, which would not have been a problem had it not lodged into the church’s air intake vent on the wall. The fish smell lingered for nearly a week throughout the church, and the Trout-A-Pult will be go down as the worst game we ever played.

Moral of the Story: There are many great reasons that custodial staff may never like the youth ministry and this is one of them, but its stories like this that will live on in infamy among our students and leaders. It may have been a disaster, but no one got hurt and the memories will last a lifetime and eight years later the story still gets told around campfires and youth ministry conventions. Students don’t care if the game goes as planned, they just want to have fun doing it and it can be the disaster games that are the most fun, youth ministry isn’t always serious and being ridiculous can be a good thing from time to time.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.