Youth Ministry Communication Avenues – Part 1

There’s often a lot of chatter that goes on in the youth ministry blogosphere on communication avenues. How’s the best way to communicate with students? What about their parents? How can we make it easy for those within our church to share communications with those outside our church, such as when someone invites a friend to a retreat? This is one of those nuts ‘n bolts of youth ministry topics that I don’t like to think too much about. Unfortunately, we do need to think about our communication avenues, because the way we communicate not only affects who actually gets the message about what’s going on in our churches; it also creates an impression of who we are, whether or not that impression is an accurate one.

Know that I’m no guru on this topic. I usually need to ask for advice in this area, and when something goes right in terms of communication, it probably wasn’t me that did it. We are blessed to have an amazing administrator, Angie, that handles a lot of our communication stuff for our youth ministry, and I realize I am spoiled beyond belief because of this. I’m just a regular youth pastor who doesn’t also double as a Ninja web and digital design master. That being said, here are some principles I try to keep in mind when communicating:

You communicate by not communicating
Unclear and inconsistent communication sends the message–mostly to parents–that you don’t value other people’s time, and perhaps that you don’t even care whether they are involved. Youth workers can gain or lose a lot of credibility depending on how you well you communicate. Whatever avenues you choose, make sure they’re useful, and that you’re consistent with them.

Get information in the hands of parents in any way you can.
Communicating about events to students is tough sometimes because they don’t always pay attention. If parents know about what’s going on, they are more likely going to encourage their teenagers to be in involved. In addition, when parents know what’s going on in the youth ministry, they are more likely to be involved in their kids’ spiritual lives.

Communicate vision, not just events.
Don’t be afraid to give the “why” of the event as well as the “what.” Is a retreat designed for people who don’t yet know Jesus? Let students know so they can invite friends. Are you replacing a “fun” event for a service event? Make sure you let people know. Take the opportunity to let families know what the ministry is about as you let them know what’s going on.

Use several different avenues.
You’re more likely to get the word out if you use several different communication avenues. Don’t just rely on Facebook and hope that everyone is on there five times a day. I’ll touch on this more later this week when I share how we communicate in the youth ministry at our church.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Sure, there’s a d danger in communicating so much it could turn people off or make them check out whenever they see a text from you. But let’s be real: over-communicating is not something most youth workers are in danger of. So don’t be afraid to send out another reminder text, even though you just sent one a few days ago.

Make announcements fun!
I am just about the most boring announcement-giver on the face of the planet. Thankfully, a group of students in our high school group film an announcement video each Wednesday that we show on Sunday at our large group gathering. Students love it, and it’s far more effective than Math Camp Benjer. So, have some students do a video, get a “guest announcement reader” from outside your youth ministry to do them, or find another creative way. Fun = memorable.

Clear is better than cool.
Good communication doesn’t have to be professional. Just make sure you are clear about the details. Last semester, we had an amazing poster to highlight a concert we were going to as a group, but we forgot an important detail: the date of the concert! Do your best to be creative and fun, but don’t let the message get lost.

In part two I’ll share a bit about how we communicate with students and families at our church.

What tips would you add?

Update: Check out the follow-up post on our church’s communication avenues here.

The church calendar, liturgy, and knowing our roots

In 2009, when my family moved to Utah to serve at our current church, it was not just a changing of jobs and states; we moved to a different church tradition. In my first six years on staff as a youth worker, I was a lay youth director in two different Episcopal churches in Colorado. I am now a pastor at a Baptist church (although you’ll notice you won’t find “Baptist” in our name) where I serve as one of the student pastors. It was certainly a bit of a change. But as my mentor once put it, I’ve always been a closet Baptist, and for six of the years I served in the Episcopal Church, I attended a non-denominational-but-formerly-baptist seminary.

One thing my wife (who grew up in and whose parents are on staff at an Episcopal church) and I miss about our “Anglican roots” is the liturgy and an awareness of the church calendar. I’m thankful that in many evangelical circles, celebrating Advent and Lent is becoming more common. Last spring, our junior high pastor led an interactive Good Friday service for our church, and everyone loved it. In addition, we typically celebrate Advent and Lent in our junior and senior high ministries, although I have to confess we did not do it in our group this year.

I do wish that as Christians we had a better understanding of our Christian roots and traditions. Some, such as my Catholic and Anglican brothers and sisters, have a great understanding of these things, and I need to learn from them. There’s a rich history that can really deepen our understanding of who Jesus is and–in the case of Advent–what it really means that he came to Earth in human flesh, and how that relates to us as we await the Second Advent.

Is your church observing Advent this year? If so, how does that look in your ministry to youth? Are you one of those people (like my father-in-law) who refuses to take down your Christmas tree until January 6th?

By the way, if you’re looking for Advent resources and ideas, there are lots of good ones out there, including over at Rethinking Youth Ministry, which has some original stuff as well as links to other great resources as well.

Last day to claim free mp3 from NYWC

Just a reminder that today is the last day to get a free copy of Doug Fields’ talk on family and ministry from the NYWC. This isn’t a gimmick, and you don’t need to “like” me, “follow” me (I don’t like stalkers anyways; had one in high school, not a good thing) or sign up for email updates. Just let me know you want a copy by emailing me, sending me a Twitter message, or posting a comment here or on the original post. If I end up with a longer list than copies I have, I’ll do a drawing. Just make sure you let me know today! For all the info, check out the original post here.

Advent/Christmas Activity Idea: The Twelve Deeds of Christmas

I tutor at a local high school once a week, and Suzie, the teacher I work with, posted a great idea she does with her family for Advent/Christmas. I thought I’d share it with you:

Over twelve days (you can do this anytime during the Advent/Christmas season, but if your a stickler about the church calendar, you’ll do it December 25th-January 5th, the real twelve days of Christmas), do one act of service a day. It can be done as a individual, as a youth group, or as a family. Come up with twelve ideas of ways they can serve someone and write them on 3 x 5 note cards. The cards are then put in a box (you can decorate a gift box to put the cards in, if you’re into that kind of thing). Each morning, a card is drawn out, and each person in the family/youth group commits to doing that act at some point during the day. You can choose to debrief at the end of the day how their acts of service went, or they can vow to never talk about their acts in an effort to keep their left hand from knowing what their right is doing (Matthew 6:3).

There are several variations of this out there, but here’s a sample list:

1) Walk a friend’s dog
2) Write a thank-you note to someone from your past.
3) Make a card and send it to a friend for no reason.
4) Write a letter to a full-time missionary.
5) Give someone a sincere compliment, especially people who are overlooked, such as a boss, teacher, custodian. Make sure others hear it.
6) Donate something (books/toys, etc.) to a charity
7) Stay after work or school for a few minutes to help someone (co-worker, teacher, etc.) with a project or extra work.
8) Do a chore that you normally do not have to do without anyone knowing.
9) Treat a friend to a movie.
10) Hold the door for someone at a store and help them carry their stuff to their car.
11) Pay for someone’s coffee at a coffee shop.
12) Give a complement to every person you interact with during the day.

The list can be customized in many different ways. For instance, you might tie it in with a lesson on homelessness in your city and challenge your students to do twelve acts that serve the homeless in your community.

Enjoy your twelve deeds of Christmas!

Great Advent/Christmas Lesson Discussion Starter

Just pop this billboard up on the screen and let the discussion begin. Warning: be prepared (and willing) to engage in a great discussion on apologetics if you use it!

For related news stories on the billboard, which I believe first appeared in New York City, Google “you know it’s a myth.”

The First Youth Ministry Game in History

On December 10th, James Naismith’s original rules of basketball–which he penned in 1891–will go up for auction. As I was reading the story, it struck me that Naismith’s version of “Basket Ball” might very well be the first youth ministry game in recorded history. He created the game as a YMCA physical education instructor, at a time when the “C” in YMCA was emphasized. Like all great youth ministry ideas, the game was created at the eleventh hour just before a deadline. In addition, Naismith reported later that the young men who played the game did not show much interest at first and had a hard time keeping to the rules, including tackling one another, paving the way for other youth ministry games that would suffer the same fate.

So, until I find out otherwise via scrupulous and tireless research, I hereby declare that James Naismith created the first youth ministry game in early December 1891.  As always, I am open to being shown wrong, so please let me know if you discover an earlier youth ministry game.

Illustration Idea for Faith and Works (James 2:14-26), or What to Do With Leftover Halloween Candy

Halloween was this weekend, and my wife and I have a tradition of getting the really big candy bars to give out and attaching our church’s invitation/promotion postcard for our next sermon series (which happens to be “Hard Questions”). The candy bars are always a hit. My wife was quite pleased this year to hear some kids leaving saying, “This is the best house on the block!” She definitely has the gift of hospitality and didn’t mind a few repeat trick-or-treaters. We don’t know if the cards result in guests, but we hope at the very least they will couple generosity with God and will seek him more. Even if there are no practical gains, it’s fun to bless the kids who come to the door. And I do love messing with the teenagers who are too old to be trick-or-treating. It’s nice to know that ALL teenagers see me as a dork, not just the ones in our church.

This week, we had a lot of leftover huge candy bars at our house, which is not good for the health of anyone in our home (although our two-year-old daughter might try to convince you otherwise). This past Monday, I was scheduled to speak at our church’s Boy Scout troop on “Reverence.” I had been at a loss on how to teach a lesson on “Reverence” because I was never a Boy Scout.  So, I knew I was going to talk about what a genuine walk with Jesus looks like using James 2:14-26, but I wasn’t really happy about the ideas I had for making it “stick.” Then, my wife and I had a conversation before lunch about another idea, and I went quickly to work:

First, I opened up all of the leftover candy bars and M&Ms packages at the seams without ripping them. This took a lot of patience. I then emptied out the contents and put them in a Zip Loc bag for later.

I then folded up pieces of card stock about the size of a postcard (I actually used extra sermon postcards we had left over) and placed them in the empty candy wrappers make them look like a candy bar was inside (no card stock needed for the M&Ms, as you’ll see). I had to cut the card stock into different sizes that matched the size of the candy bars.

I may have eaten a few peanut M&Ms along the way, being my favorite and all.

My wife graciously picked up some raw, dried pinto beans at the store to put inside the wrappers in order to give them some weight.

We then sealed the wrappers (I used superglue, which worked really well). Here’s how the finished product looked:

At the beginning of my “talk” to the boys, I explained that our house had a lot of candy left over from Halloween. I started to eat a real Butterfinger candy bar in front of them, then asked if they wanted any. The result was an enthusiastic “YES!” from everyone.

I threw each Scout (we had about 16 there) a candy bar, and of course, they almost immediately knew they had been duped. I played dumb and asked how they could tell that the candy bars weren’t the real thing, because the OUTSIDE said they were candy bars, so doesn’t than mean that candy’s on the inside, no matter whay?  We then launched into talking about what genuine faith looks like, working from James 2:14-26.  Oh, I also brought out the real candy that I had taken out of the wrappers and shared with them.  It was a lot of fun!

The Seven Sins of Game Leading

A great video on how not to lead games from The Source For Youth Ministry:

Thanks for the video, Jonathan and team! By the way, if you’ve never checked out their website, it’s well worth your time to do so.

Five Truths of Youth Ministry (An Introduction)

There are a lot of youth ministry resources out there. When considering materials to purchase for a special series or for our small groups, I often feel overwhelmed with all the options there are out there. Just about every curriculum or program promises to transform lives or positively effect your average teenager’s relationship with Jesus. I recall one summer event that once boasted in its promotional material, “Over 90% of campers report growing closer to God!” The message I get is this: “Our special thing will change your students’ lives.”

That can’t be true, can it? Isn’t it God who transforms?

Now, perhaps I’m a bit jaded because of all the advertising that comes across my desk for youth ministry resources.
And God love those marketing folks, because they are just trying to get my attention and consider the particular resource or event they’re selling. And I’d be willing to bet that most of the companies really believe that they have a great product that will help me minister to those students I love so dearly. But when you mix all the advertising in there and tell me that FINALLY you’re providing (for a small price) the resource that will have a HUGE impact on my ministry, it turns me off a bit.

Why?

Because it feels so…superficial. It feels a bit too far away from the reasons I love youth ministry. And I keep getting this image of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple because people were there primarily to make a buck rather than to worship the one true God, and to help others worship Him as well. I’m not saying we’re there. But I am saying that I fear we are closer than we think.

Note that I say “we.” To not include myself would be to judge others and ignore my own sin. In fact, my main purpose for writing on this topic is to help me prayerfully walk through this issue in order to be a better pastor.

In thinking about this issue of commercialism and materialism within youth ministry (and in my own heart), I asked myself the question: So, what should it look like? My answer: I really don’t know. But I want to know. And I do think there are some things that we can be certain of in youth ministry, some good, solid truths to help us find some direction as we minster to and with youth. I’ll highlight five of those truths in the coming weeks, and I hope you’ll come along for the journey.

Other posts in this series:
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #1: Jesus Saves, Not Me
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #2: In America, Fewer Youth Are Attending Church
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #3: I’m a Sinner
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #4: Youth Leaders Should Be Missionaries
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #5: God Desires Faithfulness, Not Numbers