There was a lot of change in youth ministry in 2010-2011. Especially among resource companies. I think, looking back, history will show that this period of time birthed the next wave of youth ministry stuff, new organizations and ideas got built from the ground up to shake loose from the past.
As we were getting going at the Cartel I started to get to know the guys at another start-up, youthministry360. Over the past few years I’ve chatted off and on about ministry stuff with YM360 co-founders Andy and Les. We have a pretty simple business relationship where each company sells a few of the others products in our stores, stuff like that. But we’ve also hit it off because we share some of the same growing pains that all start-ups go through.
Recently– cough, late last night on my way back from Cedar Rapids, IA— I asked Les Bradford a few questions about what they are up to.
Adam – You guys started up at about the same time as The Youth Cartel, so what’s your genesis story? How did you guys get started at YM360?
Les – Both Andy (co-founder) and I have a deep desire to see teenagers grow deeper in their faith. And we love helping the incredible men and women who are pouring out their lives in the local church for the sake of teenagers knowing Jesus. We knew starting ym360 was what God was calling us to do, but didn’t know how it would all work out with us leaving jobs behind, needing resources to get started and everything that comes with starting an organization. We also had growing families and all that comes with that. At the end of the day, the Lord provided everything we needed. It wasn’t easy, but as we look back we know ym360 is still around because he’s been faithful to what he’s called us to. Of course, we’ve worked our tails off too and God has graciously honored that. We are coming up on 5 years having left our former organization to start developing ym360.
Adam – As we’ve talked, I know that both of us have made some good moves and some moves that sounded like a great idea at the time. What’s something you guys have learned that might be transferable to our friends in youth ministry?
Les – Know your stuff and don’t over-extend yourself. Early on we found our resources being distributed to lots of Christian bookstores. In our world, this meant tons of inventory and additional risks that we just weren’t ready for. We quickly saw it was not going to be a good move for us. It sounded like an awesome idea to be in every Christian bookstore in the country, but it became a serious threat to us because of the strain it would’ve put on ym360 being such a young under-resourced organization. We knew then we would have opportunities for ym360 that may not always be the best thing. Focusing on our core (direct to youth worker) and not getting too far out in front of ourselves was a valuable lesson learned.
Adam – One thing that sticks out to me about YM360’s product line is that it’s not just well written stuff, it’s really well thought out when it comes to layout and design. Where did you guys pick up this aesthetic?
Les – We’ve had the privilege of working in Christian Publishing for 15+ combined years now. Through those years we’ve never stopped tweaking and adapting along the way. We’ve been able to learn from things that work well and things that don’t work so well. We’ve tried really hard to listen to those using our resources and implement what we learn from them. Our designers are also top notch. We surround ourselves with incredibly talented folks and let them do their thing. Youth workers are also writing and creating our resources with us, so that helps too!
Adam – I noticed recently on Instagram that you guys pulled all of your product shipping in-house. Why did you decide to do that?
Les – We have always outsourced this. But as our shipments continue to grow we wanted to touch every single package with a little love and care. The act of seeing a package that’s going to a youth worker who orders frequently from us and throw in a hand written letter or a little gift of some sort is something we love to do. Or the first-time order who gets a surprise in their package is fun too. Plus, we needed to centralize this part of our operation due to some exciting things coming up in the future. Overall, a little culture and a little future planning was the driving factors.
Adam – What’s one thing that you are doing right now that you wish more people knew about?
Les – ym360. It’s so hard to get constant/frequent impressions in the youth ministry “marketplace” if you will. There are thousands more youth workers and churches that have never heard of ym360 than there are that have. Being such a young organization we know that’s par for the course and all that. At the same time, we’re blown away by the number of churches we’ve been able to serve in such a short period of time and a grateful for the impact our resources have had on teenagers all over the globe. More specifically, our ongoing curriculum lines that are designed to be used week in and week out are really incredible and we’d love more folks to know about them: currently, The Jesus Studies, the elements curriculum, and The Thread (new 52-lesson curriculum launching in Aug. 2015).
Adam– I hear from a lot of people who are thinking about starting up a ministry or company of their own. What’s one bit of non-obvious advice you could share?
Les – Sleep is overrated. You’ll find that you can really get by with a lot less than you thought. Kind of kidding. To answer your question . . . I recently saw a quote that said “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” This stuff is hard work. The things we’ve learned in the “doing” have been worth the ride altogether. Surround yourself with good people on your journey: from partners, to a mentor, to your family and all in between. Never be on an island. As success comes, you’ll be better for it and it’s better shared with others.