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



My wife is in the middle of taking her longest trip ever since we started to have kids. All told she’ll be gone a grand total of 18 days. Last February when I was in Kenya I called her excitedly and shared with her what I was experiencing and said, “You HAVE to get here as soon as possible.Little did we know was that in 5 short months she would be calling me from the same place that conversation took place.

So, I’m taking 100+ hours of stored up vacation time and doing some Dad Minus Mom Plus Four (I should try to get a TV show – the only problem is that we have a good marriage) while she’s away. Here’s a little glimpse into my world, now just 8 days in:

  • 5 loads of laundry
  • 167 miles driven in the minivan
  • 13 Instant Streaming kids titles on Netflix
  • 3 DVD rentals
  • 2 free family fun movies at Regal
  • 1 trip to the beach
  • 7 trips to the pool
  • 1 small investment in a backyard water-propelled Buzz Lightyear flying spaceship
  • 11 runs of the dishwasher
  • 4 trips to the store
  • 4 runs to the park
  • 1 run back to the park to pick up forgotten sandals
  • 1 nap
  • 9 boxes of sugar cereal
  • $38 in fruit (something to tell mom about when she calls from Africa)
  • 5 gallons of milk
  • 6 fast food stops (1 Taco Bell, 1 Del Taco, 2 McDonald’s, 1 Chipotle, 1 Chick-Fil-A)
  • 1 meal from a neighbor who felt sorry for the kids eating habits

And these numbers, along with me being far outside my normal routine and duties, has led to a couple of observations as well:

  • My youngest son produces about 1/2 of the laundry.
  • My daughter produces almost the other half.
  • My 2 oldest sons produce curiously little laundry. Especially in the undergarment department.
  • Cookie Crisp isn’t quite as good as you remember as a kid.
  • Potty training sounds awesome in a Twitter, tough in real life.
  • We devour an entire box of cereal and nearly a gallon of milk at breakfast.
  • All that laundry, not a single sock.
  • The washer and dryer should be in sync, instead of the washer ending 6 minutes first.
  • I hate Play Doh.


Weekend Teaching Series: LAUNCH: Ready for Re-Entry (week 1 of 5, series premiere)
Sermon in a Sentence: Getting ready to go back to school starts with a check of your heart and forming habits that will get you through the year.
Service Length: 70 minutes

Understandable Message: This weekend I asked Ryanne Witt to teach while I was away at a wedding. She’s been on the HSM team longer than me and been at the church literally forever (even came through HSM), and works as the coordinator of our volunteer team. She plays a great role in training, coaching and caring for them and this is one of only a couple times she’s spoken at our entry-level program. She made it look effortless and was completely comfortable, even though I know the time, preparation and prayer that she put into it as well. I have long-realized the importance of multiple voices to our students, and loved having her teach this weekend. The message centered on loving God and preparing our hearts for what God was going to teach us in the year ahead. She had a GREAT application – that as of today we’re 30 days from school starting, and how it takes 28 days to form a habit. She encouraged students to choose a spiritual discipline (and suggested 1 of 6 choices on the back of the outline/program) that would help them be ready for re-entry.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: The program was super simple – there was a simple opening element of fun that involved a target, a water balloon slingshot and Fun Size candy bars. Simple and clean summer program getting the students to think about LAUNCH. The collective groan of students when we started talking about going back to school was awesome, too.

Music Playlist: The Time Has Come, How He Loves, You Hold Me Now, Let My Words Be Few, So I Look to You

Favorite Moment: Two this week – 1) Ryanne teaching was awesome, and 2) one of our volunteers made some simple “rockets” to use as stage decoration – when the countdown hit “zero” they launched one of them by pulling a string and it flew into the air. Hilarious.

Up Next: LAUNCH week 2

As I work with the adult volunteers, I continually am trying to teach and model a relationship-building concept that I call the “30 second and 3 minute conversations.” Allow me to explain the thinking behind the 30-second and 3-minute conversation concept – it helps us go after the feeling of genuine warmth and community when the ratio is at best 1 adult to 10 students.

In order for each youth to be personally greeted and engaged, it’s absolutely imperative that our adult volunteers are extremely intentional about our conversations with the youth. The adults are simply unable to engage in long conversations with each youth on Wednesday Nights, so we’ve put into practice the 30-second and 3-minute conversation concept.

When each youth walks into the church, they are greeted and engaged with at least one 30-second conversation. This 30-second conversation is designed to be an open-ended conversation with the youth. The adults ask questions like, “How is your week going?” or “How has your summer been?” or “What have you been doing for fun lately?” The questions are designed to let the youth talk about themselves and give the adults the opportunity to learn about the youth.

The 3-minute conversation is essentially taking the time to learn one story about the youth. The conversation may be longer or shorter than 3-minutes and that’s okay. The intent is to learn one story so that our adults can begin developing a relationship with our youth.

The final piece of this concept is this. If during the course of the 30-second and the 3-minute conversations the adult discovers that a longer conversation needs to take place, the next step is to invite and engage the youth in a Coke or Coffee date sometime later in the week. This allows the adult to continue to engage the other youth that are attending and allows the youth to be valued outside of the Wednesday Night worship experience.

If your adult volunteers can grasp this concept, then I believe meaningful relationships between the adults and youth can be developed. What do you think about the 30-second and 3-minute conversation concept? Would this work in your youth ministry?

John Howell is the utility pastor for Celebrate Church in Sioux Falls, SD which is a fancy way of saying that he does a little bit of everything, including working with and training adult volunteers in their youth ministry. Check out more of his stuff at

The HSM Staff

 —  July 13, 2010 — 3 Comments

From time to time people ask who are the paid staff behind HSM – and to be honest, we’ve been in some transition over the past seasons of ministry so the answer would vary from year to year. But in case you were wondering who did what and how we’re structured, here’s some insight:

High School Pastor (full-time) – that’s my job! I cast vision, handle conflict, lead the team, teach and direct the ministry. The buck stops with me, so if something goes wrong – it’s on me. It might be the best job in the world, I sure love it, despite the massive challenges. The rest of the team is organzationally flat, and I report to Kurt, the Student Ministries Pastor.

My assistant/team admin Associate (29 hrs/wk)Alaina just came on the team last week and functions primarily in a support role to my job as well as helping the team with admin tasks.

Volunteer Coordinator (full-time)Ryanne is an incredible minister to our adults who serve students. She works diligently interviewing, training, encouragement and care. She is our first impression to adults, and pastors them well.

Service/Ministry Coordinator (full-time) - AC is also brand new to the team – he’ll be responsible for all of our service projects in the community and helping get students into ministry. He’ll also work with our guys small groups to help make sure they are cared for.

Events/Missions Coordinator (full-time) - Phil cranks out any event we have planned. The dude is a administrative genius, and his top speed blasts by most people. He plans Summer Camp, missions trips, events and activities.

Life Groups Coordinator (full-time)Jessica has been with us just over a year and has a huge heart for our small groups effort. She works hard to make sure volunteers are the right fit, helps manage curriculum and makes sure things move smoothy in the puzzle that is small groups.

We also currently have 2 open full-time spots on the team – we just lost Jake (program, 2nd in command) to be the campus pastor at Saddleback Irvine, and in September we’re losing Robby (pastoral care) to be another campus pastor. In addition to this paid team, we’ve also got 3 amazing 2-year interns and 3 summer interns that function as full-on staff people as well – all of them are brilliant and work 40-50 hours a week and own significant parts of our high school ministry.


I’m in the last few rounds of edits on my next book, 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders (coming this summer from Group). It is due this week to the editor – so far so good, been having a blast writing new training material, mining old blog posts, and asking a few friends to contribute to some sidebar insight as well. I just finished up an early section essentially bringing small group leaders up to speed on the type of students they’ll be ministering to. Thought it might be helpful to you or to pass along to the team – enjoy:

Thanks for jumping in and being a small group leader! Your service to God’s work will not go unnoticed. So what exactly are we dealing with here?

The typical student is quickly adopting the lifestyle of their parents — fast and furious. In our student ministry we recently asked students what the number one issue was in their lives — they answered, “dealing with stress.” They are thinking about college earlier than ever before with an already packed schedule. Not a minute passes without them being bombarded with twisted messages of sexuality from reality shows or musical acts, driving them to think a lot about the opposite sex.

Typical students live and die by their cell phones — their thumbs can text faster than you can type. Social networking is important — they’re online most hours a day looking at screens. Their worldview is being shaped by people who advocate tolerance but shut down most expressions of faith. They are very interested in the being spiritual but not necessarily Christianity. They are searching frantically for acceptance and consistency.

And that’s where you come in.

[ ] If you are young … things aren’t much different than when you were in school but be careful not to be overconfident in your ability to relate to them.

[ ] If you are old … things might feel very different from when you grew up and you might be intimidated by that prospect or feel out of touch.

Here’s what hasn’t changed; no matter your age coming into this, students still need love, acceptance and care. They desire to be known and need to be pointed to Jesus. Hear this: you are the hope. You are the small group leader. You are their guide to navigating this crazy world we live in. And you can do it.


The NEXT Offering

 —  March 31, 2010 — 1 Comment

Next month, Saddleback Student Ministries will participate in a church-wide giving campaign. We talked at length about how we could get students involved, and landed on an idea we read a while ago in Group Magazine. It was from a youth worker who gave out 144 envelopes, each numbered from 1-144. When kids took an envelope, you raised/gave an offering that matched the number on your envelope. In the end you actually raise thousands of dollars!

We’re going to take that same idea and use it starting next month – we’re numbering a bunch of envelopes (and rebranding the student version of the giving campaign NEXT! instead of the “Decade of Destiny” offering) and asking students to take one and bring it back a few weeks later with their offering.

I’ll let you know how it goes!


click here for the full-size cover

Just saw the upcoming cover for Group Magazine, I don’t think I’m supposed to share it, but thought it was really slick so enjoy. If you don’t subscribe, it is one of 6 magazines I read every month, and content from MTDB appears in it every month. Good stuff! JG