Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    FOLLOW-UP: Great Youth Ministry Idea - Gumball Ministry

    Not too long ago we posted a great idea for using an old gumball machine in your youth ministry as a mission and outreach tool.  We challenged someone to put the idea to the test and we recently heard from Allison Yankey from First UMC in Auburn, Indiana:

    Just thought I would send along a picture.  I preached on Romans 15.1-7 on Sunday and talked about how we are not to spend our lives pleasing ourselves but rather to reorient ourselves so that we are setting ourselves aside, seeking God, and serving others.  I concluded with John 3.30: “He [God] must increase, I must decrease” and encouraged the congregation to take the opportunity to be inspired by putting in their 25 cents to get a gumball and an idea for a random act of kindness.  I ended up with over 100 different ideas.  The machine was full before our services began, and I think so far it has been a success.  Thanks for the great idea!
    But wait. There's more. Check out this adaptation of the idea which involves filling the machine with "seedbombs" that can be used to beautify urban areas through an act of guerrilla gardening. Environmentalism as an act of mission? Absolutely!


    Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

    No, we aren't going to be streaming live video or starting our own podcast (not yet, anyway!). 

    But, we are taking Rethinking Youth Ministry live this fall (October 29-30) for a weekend event at the Rickman Conference Center in Jefferson City, Missouri.  This Friday-Saturday retreat, sponsored by the Missouri School of Religion, will be an opportunity to meet with this blog's authors, Jacob and Brian, along with other youth ministry colleagues in an intimate setting, surrounded by the great outdoors and a chance to get some sabbath after the rush of the start of the school year.  The main content for the retreat will be a series of interactive workshops focusing on many of the topics we touch on every week here at Rethinking Youth Ministry:  mission, worship, community building, creative prayer, volunteers, Bible study, and more, all while rethinking the current paradigms for youth ministry and offering some new ways forward.  You can find out more and register online here or check out a pdf flyer for the event here.  We'd love to meet some of you in person and hope you can join us.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010


    I've come across several great suggestions lately about using the summer to get your youth out of the church building and meeting somewhere in public for a change of scenery but perhaps also for a chance to engage their faith out in the regular surroundings of daily life.  Christopher at the Marathon Youth Ministry blog has a particularly catchy name for his approach to this idea, calling it Church at Chipotle:

    One might ask, "Chris where does this idea come from?"  Well, it's really due to alliteration.  Say it, "Church at Chipotle." Doesn't it sound good?  

    Christopher shares that this approach to summer ministry can be a way to keep your regular youth connected, to create an opportunity for inviting new youth, and to help the teens learn something new. You can read more about his approach here in the appropriately titled post "Anticipating the Burrito."

    -- Brian

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Women in Youth Ministry Profile

    As part of our continuing series of profiles of women serving in youth ministry, we visit with Terrin Ramsey, a youth pastor serving at Cross Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  She has been involved in youth ministry for four years, and has been officially a youth pastor for almost one year. Terrin has been married for three years to her "awesome husband, Brett.  We don't have any children yet, but have become 'those people' who treat their pet like a child.  He's a 1 year old tabby named Thor."  Terrin is the author of the blog Adventures in Youth Ministry.

    What do you find most enjoyable about your ministry with youth in the Church?

    I love to see students grow. I love to see them have “aha” moments in their lives where they finally get what it means to serve Jesus with their whole existence. I love to see them develop their gifts and talents and to see them discover how to use them to glorify God. I’ve been around some of our youth long enough to say “don’t you remember when you were in middle school four years ago? I thought you were the most annoying person in the universe... My how you’ve grown since then!”  There are not many opportunities in life to pour into students, and I am so blessed to do it every single day!
    I also love working with my volunteer team. They are an absolute riot! Ministry would definitely not be the same without that dedicated group of people!
    What do you find most challenging about your ministry with youth in the Church?
    Sideways energy. If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, it is basically the problem of being “busy” versus being “productive.” In ministry, a lot of people want your attention, want you to buy their latest product, to use their curriculum, to program things a certain way, to host this special event, to invest more time in person A. If you are not intentional about what it is your ministry is trying to achieve, if you’re not 100% sure what God wants you to pursue in ministry, everything will become sideways energy and your attention will be spread over a maze of chaos. It’s taken me a few years to come to this place and to develop a simple plan for ministry that cannot easily be derailed. Even within the realm of my gifts and talents, I often have to come back to the place where I ask myself, “Why do I come to work every day and do this again? Is this moving us forward?” Even in the context of good things, I have to remember that the Apostle Paul taught that everything is permissible, but not beneficial. So whenever I feel tempted to stray from our plan for ministry, I come back to the vision: “Why do we do what we do the way we do it?”

    What shifts or changes would you like to see in youth ministry in the next decade? 
    It really bothers me that the position of Youth Pastor is seen as “the farm team” for the big league job of Senior Pastor. How is it possible that so many eager and excited young pastors can only want to succeed in youth ministry to leverage themselves for a more powerful position? I’d love to see more youth pastors stay in youth ministry and create a more stable environment for students to grow in!

    What would you say to women who are considering a call to ministry with youth? Are there particular challenges or advantages to being a woman in this area of ministry?
    All of the cliches about youth ministry being a “boy job” are absolutely true. You will receive a lot of flack from parents, students, church members and members of the community. But you don’t work for them. You work for God. If He is calling you in that direction, work hard, listen to His voice, and let the results speak for themselves!
    (Would you or someone you know be a good person to profile for this ongoing series?  Contact us!)

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010


    YMtoday offers up a clearinghouse of creative (and free!) youth ministry ideas shared from a cross section of youth ministry blogs, as well as original articles and essays, plus an online bookstore of all sorts of youth ministry resources.  Their main page is a gateway to practical youth ministry activities in such areas as Bible studies, discussion starters, games, icebreakers, and teambuilding activities. Other sections include ideas for training volunteers and for providing for your own "soul care."  Rethinking Youth Ministry is a contributor to this site. You can see a list of all our articles here.

    5 Keys to Staying Effective in Your Youth Ministry Job

    Maybe you've heard the statistic (which is perhaps mythical) that most youth ministers only stick with a position for 3-5 years. Whether or not this is true, the fact is some youth pastors don't even keep a position for six months because they fail to do a few simple things. 

    Not to be too crass about it, but in this economic climate few of us want to risk losing our ministry positions.  Of course, there are more important reasons for wanting to be effective in ministry than simply just keeping our jobs. My first youth ministry position some twenty years ago began as a temporary opportunity to help out my church: "Would you be our interim youth minister for six months while we search for a permenant person?"  I agreed...and eleven years later I was still there as the youth pastor.  Though I definitely made some mistakes along the way (and narrowly avoided being fired in my first year) I learned a few things about what makes for effective church-based youth ministry:

    1) Communicate - Tell others what you are doing. How many of us in youth ministry get so caught up in programming activities that we forget to make sure that others know what we are up to?  Communicating what we are doing ensures some accountablilty on our end and helps to create a core group of advocates for the youth ministry. Who do we need to "keep in the loop" regarding our ministry efforts/challenges/successes? Start with your senior pastor, parents, other youth volunteers, and the church board. Share with them the upcoming calendar of events, post articles in the church newsletter or even publish your own youth ministry newsletter.  Keep things updated on your church website and Facebook pages. Even if the board doesn't request a monthly youth report, submit one anyway.  If your senior pastor doesn't ask to meet with you on a regular basis, ask to meet with her. And call a parents' meeting at least twice a year.  

    2) DiversifyMake your presence known in the church beyond just your work with the youth. Though some congregations may want to relegate you only to tasks specifically related to youth ministry,  it will only benefit your youth to see you involved in the wider ministry of the church. So, you might request to be involved with the outreach team, teach a children's Christian education class, attend/teach a small group adult Bible study, join the choir, or serve as a regular leader in worship.

    3) ShareDon't keep the youth all to yourself. Get the youth involved with other adults and ministries within the church.  Doing so helps to create the understanding that, though you oversee the youth ministry efforts, care of the youth is the responsibility and privilege of the entire congregation.  Encourage adults outside of your regular volunteer team to help out with a youth event, provide a meal, or come lead a program.  Encourage your youth to join church committees or help with worship planning.  Look for opportunities to create intergenerational experiences to bring the youth and the other adults in the church together for study, fellowship, and worship. 

    4) ConnectGet involved with other churches and ministries outside your church.  My early years in ministry were really helped when I started developing partnerships with other nearby churches, planning events together, visiting each other's churches, and finding colleagues in these fellow youth workers.  

    5) Focus - Don't get distracted by the need to entertain. Your calling to ministry isn't to juggle fire and be a stand-up comic so that your students don't get bored. Focus on the real work of helping teens explore their faith story, asks questions, open up their lives to moments of worship, and get their hands dirty by engaging in real outreach and mission.  When these elements become the focus of your ministry, rather than planning the next paintball outing or giant party, you will help your congregation see both the value of your ministry and the true value of the church's ministry with youth.

    -- Brian

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    The Future of the Church?

    ABC News recently ran an interesting interview with some of the younger leaders in the Evangelical Church.  You can watch the whole interview here.   The Q blog comments:

    When asked what issues this generation cares about, no panelist initially mentioned a traditional hot button issue, such as abortion or gay marriage. They did mention, however, other pressing issues such as educational reform, poverty, healthcare, violent human conflict, genocide, AIDS, and climate change. According to the panelists, many issues define this generation—not just a few.

    Could there be a new day ahead for the Church, when we are known much less for who/what we are against but rather what we are for


    Thursday, June 10, 2010


    Summertime is the perfect opportunity to switch it up a little at youth group. I always enjoy what we call the “Fishbowl” activity. 

    The game is simple. There are two chairs placed opposite of one another in the middle of the room. One chair is labeled “For” and the other chair is labeled “Against.” Between the two chairs, place an empty fishbowl containing a variety of different words, phrases, or questions written on small slips of paper.

    The different pieces of paper might have the following written on them: Do we really need war? Is it possible to be a vegetarian? Should the phrase “In God we trust be on our money?” Should church always be on a Sunday morning? Every story in the Bible is factually true. Peace.

    Initially, choose a volunteer to sit in each chair. But, when the volunteer is tired of “arguing” for their side, all they have to do is raise their hand and someone else will come in and take their spot. Encourage your youth to think about their responses from a theological perspective.

    Then, just for fun, make the sign of a fish on one of the slips of paper and let someone take home the tank and an actual goldfish—we gave away one goldfish that lived for almost three years (pretty incredible, I think).

    When considering what to write, don’t be afraid to choose ideas and concepts that will challenge your youth. Remember that in ministry we aren’t always looking for confirmation. Sometimes, if we truly seek to follow Jesus, we might also be seeking confrontation.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2010

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Who Will You Follow?

    Challenge your teens to consider all the "voices" that attempt to influence their lives with this simple community-building activity.

    With summer approaching, many youth ministries see less of their youth over the next several months.  Some youth will even be going away for good to college or elsewhere.  This simple activity can lead into a thoughtful discussion on all the influences teens encounter and how they discern which "voices" to listen to in the journey of life.  

    Divide youth into pairs or small groups of 3 or 4.  Set up a simple obstacle course, ideally outside in a grassy area.  The goal is for one member of the team to walk blindfolded from one end of the field to the other through the course (but it's not a race!)  The teammates are allowed to give the blindfolded member verbal directions but are not allowed on the obstacle course itself. Of course, this probably entails the group having to shout orders at their teammate. As it would be total chaos if everyone is shouting "Go right! Go left!", encourage teams to come up with a code.  Perhaps they use the words "red and green" in place of "right and left" or they use one animal sound for right, one for straight ahead, one for left, and so on.  The challenge for the blindfolded team member will be to to discern his or her team members' directions amidst all the other voices.  

    When finished, debrief by asking youth what was challenging about the situation, what helped them succeed, and how this might be like real life.  How is this like trying to stay focused on the message of Jesus in the roar of noise from our secular culture?  How do we stay focused on the most helpful "voices?"

    10 More Ways to Get Teens Talking

    We expect by now you've used up the previous ten ideas we suggested for encouraging teens to talk about their thoughts, so we present ten more ways to make certain the next time you ask a question you aren't met with silence and the chirping of crickets

    1) Container of Inquiry - Better known as a box of questions.  Prior to your next discussion, share the topic with your youth and invite them to write down their anonymous questions and put them in the box. Use these questions to help lead the discussion.

    2) Pyramid Power - Divide into small groups and give each group 10 note cards.  Each note card should have a different statement related to the topic, representing different points of view or ideas. Invite groups to rank the comments in a pyramid shape by putting the statement they think is most important at the top, the next two most important statements under the first one, the next three most important under those, and create the bottom of the pyramid with the remaining four. Invite the whole group to compare and contrast their choices.

    3) Skit - Sometimes it's easier to talk if you are reflecting on someone else's ideas/actions/behavior than your own. Write a simple two person conversation that helps to illustrate your theme or topic. Invite two youth to act out the scene and encourage the group to share their reactions to the characters and situation presented.  For added effect, leave the skit open-ended (cliff-hanger style) and invite youth to provide their own endings.

    4) Take a stand - place statements around the room identifying various positions on the topic (I used this approach once by posting different ideas defining the nature of the bible: history, myth, written by God, written by humans, etc).  Read each statement and then ask youth to stand next to the one that best fits their point of view (or, alternately, the one that least fits their point of view) and discuss with others who made the same choice. Finally, have each group choose a spokesperson to report their thoughts back to the larger group.

    5) Reflective listening - Sometimes teens are reluctant to share their thoughts because they don't think anyone really listens to them. With this technique, two youth sit facing each other. One person shares a thought or opinion on the topic. The other person simply listens, and then responds with "I hear you saying..." and tries to reflect back in their own words what the partner has just said. The partner can then either affirm or correct the "reflection." Then the other person gets to speak and the process continues.

    6) "I" Statements -  Rather than inviting all sorts of unfounded assertions or opinions stated as fact, challenge your youth to own their thoughts using "I" messages. Every time a participant speaks, he or she must begin by using the pronoun "I" and make the statement only from his or her own point of view ("I think this is wrong because" or "I feel differently about that because").

    7) Unfinished Sentences - Sit in a circle and introduce the topic with a series of unfinished statements, allowing each person an opportunity to finish the statement themselves. Examples might include: "I think the biggest challenge for teens today is..." or "The one thing I would change about the Church is...."

    8) Hot seat - Sit in a circle and have two people sit in the middle facing one another. Invite them to begin sharing back and forth their thoughts on the topic.  No one in the outer circle is allowed to speak -- only listen. If someone in the circle does have something to say, he or she must tap one of the center people on the shoulder and take their place in the center. 

    9) Snowball - Begin by inviting teens to sit in pairs to discuss the topic or scripture text. After a few minutes, have each pair join up with another pair and continue the discussion, comparing notes on their original conversations. Next, have groups of four join other groups of four and continue, with each team looking for common ideas or themes in their various conversations.  Potentially, you could continue this pattern until you have two big groups which finally come back together as one big group.

    10) Speech Bubbles - Make copies of a photo or two related to your topic (or not!) from magazines and challenge youth to cut out speech bubbles from white paper, glue them on the image and fill in the bubbles with what the people might be thinking or saying about your topic. Of course, this visual-spatial activity is really just a way to get your own youth reflecting on what they think about the topic!  When finished, have each person share and take note of how differently each student approached the project.

    Any other suggestions?

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    Does Your Youth Ministry Ever Welcome Criticism?


    Sometimes criticism, even if it is negative, can tell you that you are on the right track in your ministry.

    I was digging through some old photos the other day and was surprised to find this image from the very first church I worked for many years ago and some of the first youth I'd been blessed to serve. The photo was taken at the end of a 30 Hour Famine event.  We'd spent time the night before creating banners out of sheets and spray paint as a way to raise awareness about hunger and homelessness. The youth decided the best way to display the banners was to attach them together and hang them right off the front of the church building, facing the busy street (of course, I was the lucky person who had to crawl around on the roof in order to hang the thing!).  

    If you look closely, you'll see that the bottom panel quotes the scripture text "I was hungry and you fed me."  The middle panel reads "How can we ignore the homeless everyday but worship a homeless man on Sunday?" Looks pretty cool, right?  A great way to share the Christian witness, right?  Well, not everyone saw it that way.  On Monday morning the phone calls from the neighbors and from the businesses across the street starting ringing in the church office.  "It's offensive," one caller insisted. "Jesus was NOT a homeless person" (as if there were something intrinsically shameful/unclean about being homeless). Others found the banners to be too "political," perhaps believing that homelessness was not an issue of systemic injustice but more a matter of personal choice or failing. 

    As a young youth minister, I was a little worried how my senior pastor -- my boss! -- was going to take all this. His response:  "Sometimes a little criticism like this tells you you're doing something right.  You all have obviously pushed some buttons in these folks.  Maybe it will make them think a little!"

    I think maybe I've forgotten that too often over the years. Yes, sometimes a little criticism is good, even if it isn't constructive. It might just tells us that we are not playing it too safe in our ministries.  It might just tells us that we are pushing the boundaries and sharing a message that is more radical than the one the world offers. 

    What about you?  Have you happily received some criticism in your work with youth?  Have you experienced some push back when trying to share the radical message of Christ with your youth?

    -- Brian

    Youth Ministry Question of the Day: Mixed-Age Groups?

    I was recently asked what I think about mixing middle school and high school youth together for youth ministry activities.  What are the pros and cons of mixed-age groups? 

    I've served in ministries that tossed all youth together into one happy fellowship and others that kept them separate as much as possible.  Sometimes, particularly with small ministries, keeping all the youth together ensures a critical mass.  In larger ministries, splitting the groups helps to maintain a sense of intimacy and may keep the more reticent or introverted youth from feeling swallowed up by the crowd. 

    What about programmatic reasons for separating youth by age? There may be times when the subject matter you are discussing is too mature for younger youth. Relatedly, you may want to approach a Bible study at more depth with older teens while keeping it a little more active for younger teens. Teaching in age segregated groups can make it easier to address the particular learning needs of your youth.

    But one final thought:  If we make it a regular practice of simply using age as the way in which we group our youth, are we perhaps encouraging the same attitudes in the Church that often results in the segregation of teens and adults -- a practice that insulates and isolates youth from seeing the reality of the whole Church?  I wonder that the best of approach is not to have any hard-and-fast rule in this area -- separate youth by age when it seems appropriate, but also find many opportunities to bring them together, to let older youth mentor the younger teens, and to let the younger teens inspire the older youth with their enthusiasm. 

    But what do I know?  What have been your experiences with mixed-age groups?  What advice would you offer to your fellow youth workers?