Funny Stuff Marketing Video Clip

Evian Roller Babies

OK, clever and cute. But does it make you want to buy water?

HT to John Daly

Church Leadership Culture management Marketing

Free vs. Paid Content in the Church


Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a raging battle going on about the concept of free vs. paid content on the internet. Big names in media like Rupert Murdoch have drawn the line in the sand– they are going to make people pay for news content. Others have embraced the Google model of an advertising-based system of free content. Last week Seth Godin took the debate to a new level. He is firmly in the free camp while Malcolm is in the the paid camp. Of course, most of Seth’s income comes from consulting, speaking, and book proceeds– so Seth may be in the free camp for some things, but his paycheck comes from paid content too.

Inside the church the same debate has just begun. And all of these questions lead back to the same two central questions that newspapers are wrestling with, “Since creating content isn’t free, who is going to pay?” “In a world of free content, where is the ethical line?

Two Sides to the Content Coin

1. Gospel-oriented content should be freely available. As someone who has successfully started an internet business in the last five years I know the power of free. Ask Tim Schmoyer. Ask Ryan Nielsen. Nothing draws traffic to a youth ministry website quite like free. In the youth ministry world there is an expectation of free content. There is a righteous indignation when you question the ethics of free, too. No one cares that it costs me thousands of dollars to create, host, and market “free” content. There is a general consensus that stuff about youth ministry should be free and you shouldn’t expect anything in return for free lessons, videos, music, etc. “Don’t ask me to click on an ad. Don’t ask me to sign up for a newsletter. I need something free because I don’t have budget to buy stuff.” I’ve gotten nasty emails from folks who insist that all content about ministry should be free. These same people often are in paid ministry. So they want to get paid for using someone’s free content. Talk about wanting your cake and eating it too! Sheesh.

2. Gospel-oriented content should cost something. Of course, the ironic thing about the free thing is that the people who think ministry content should be free want to get paid by their churches, ministries, or non-profits. If I told you that you shouldn’t get paid for being a youth pastor you’d get angry with me! There is a certain immaturity to the free thing. At the end of the day there is no such thing as free content on the internet. Someone sits down to write something, they save it as a PDF, they post it on a website, and they offer it for free to anyone who wants to download it. It seems free when it isn’t. That computer cost you something. The education that powered your thoughts cost you something. The time you spent creating it… was it for work you were being paid for at the church? If so, does that content even belong to you? If it was your free time, isn’t that time worth something? If you don’t think your time is worth something why should I use your stuff? When you posted it somewhere on the web, who paid for that server space? If it’s on a well-known site, who is paying for the building of that site/brand? Who is paying for maintaining it? If you added graphics to the content, who paid for that? If you had someone proofread it, who paid for that persons work? That doesn’t seem free to me.

There is no such thing as “free” content, even Gospel-oriented content, so people should expect to pay something for the works they use. The real question is, “Who should pay?” In the old media world the user was expected to pay for the content. You subscribed to a newspaper to get the content and the profit in the model came from advertising. You wanted a book so you went to a bookstore and bought it. In the 1980s and 1990s most of us in ministry would have thought it immoral to copy books and give them to friends, copy cassette tapes and give them to students, etc. But now there is an expectation that advertising will somehow pay for all the content I want/need. That’s the new media age. Free to me, let advertisers foot the bill. Wouldn’t it be funny to see a pastors salary supported by advertising? He’d preach in an outfit that resembled a Nascar driver’s suit! It’s always funny to think about real world applications of stuff we do on the internet everyday, isn’t it?

Digital media has created an ethics dilemna for people in ministry, hasn’t it? There seems to be a feeling that the parable of the talents can’t possibly relate to actual money. People who advocate for free content will concede… “It’s OK to break even, just don’t get rich!” So if content cost me $500 to produce a lesson… why is it wrong to want to return $1000? (Like the parable) Don’t you remember the parable… Jesus called the man who just broke even a wicked and lazy servant. What then would Jesus say to people who intend to invest $500 in content and give it away? Super wicked and super lazy?

We would never walk up to an auto mechanic and expect him to change our oil for free simply because we are in ministry. We would never go to the dentist and insist that he give us free dental. We would never go to the grocery store and expect the grocer to pay for the pastors food. And yet we have no problem with this when it comes to Gospel-oriented content. Something is out of whack, isn’t it?

As with all things that seem to leave us in a quandry– I am wondering if there is a 3rd way. Is there a way that is both ethically satisfying and free? Is there a way that is both affordable for ministry folks and pays for itself?

Chime in. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If you’re in the paid camp– speak up! If you think everything should be free, give me a counter-punch.

Church Leadership management Marketing

Back to the Garage


Last night I was listening to the latest episode of This American Life about origin stories of new industries and companies. Many well known companies have a myth that they started in a garage. Even if it really isn’t true, people want to believe that their company was created by someone with a crazy idea who invested her last $2000 on an idea and got started in their garage. For some companies, like Hewlett-Packard and Apple, there is truth to it and the garage has become a corporate icon for innovation. In the case of Google, they have tried to capture that feeling so much that in 2006 they actually purchased the garage which housed their offices for a few months in the early days.

It made me think of the virtual garage in which YMX was built. A few friends sat around in an AIM chat room one night and envisioned a new place for youth workers to hang out. That night the idea went from light bulb to a URL and was a big moment. Just 2-3 weeks later I pulled an all-nighter when we opened the site and in 12 hours went from idea to profit. For me, that was an iconic experience I will look back on for the rest of my life.

It made me think of garage start-ups right now. I thought of Bob Carter who started The Pod Drop in his basement. In just three years he has taken his small iPod repair business from his basement to franchises. I thought of Derek Johnson who started Tatango. In just 2 years he has taken his idea of a group texting service from his parents basement to hundreds of thousands of customers. We don’t need to think of the garage story think it couldn’t happen today. Today’s economy has forced the brightest minds on the planet from the board room to the garage. Out of this recession will come the next great innovations that shape the next 30 years. The question isn’t if it will happen. The question is, “Will I take my idea and run with it or will I end up working for the person who took his idea and ran with it?

More importantly it made me think about the fact that for most people– there is never a garage. There may be dreams of a time when you are passionate about a new idea– about thumbing your nose at the man and going on your own— but for lack of something [money, time, guts] it never happens. Most of us, even leaders of great organizations, never get to be a part of it in the beginning. The garage is merely a legend. We get hired some time well after the good ‘ole days of wheeling, dealing, and turning heads. If you got hired today by Apple or Hewlett-Packard you would never be allowed the freedom to truly innovate in a garage to try to make something happen as it’s simply too complicated now. You have to make payroll, you have to mitigate loss, you have to protect the brand, you have to guarantee the shareholders a return, etc. Certainly these jobs require leadership, but a type of leadership that knows how to innovate in mature ecosystems.

My challenge for you is simple. Whether you a leader for a government agency, school district, church, non-profit, or even a small business– my challenge is the same. Spend some time in the garage. Ask big questions. Thumb your nose at the status quo a little. (Even the status quo for excellence you created.)

Starter questions:

If we were to start a church today in this community, knowing what we know now, what would it look like? Where would we meet? What programs would solve the most systemic problems in our community? How could we manifest the Gospel best? What behavior would we thumb our noses at? Who would be the most crucial people to invest in? Who would we not care if we pissed off? Who is the most unreached people group in our town?

This doesn’t have to be about a church, does it? Make your own questions for what you are passionate about and go to the garage.

Are you ready? 1-2-3 GO!

Church Leadership management Marketing news item

Don’t Promise, Deliver

gm-logoIf you live in the United States, you are the proud owner of the second largest pool of retirees next to the federal government. And as a bonus you also get a small and dying breed of cars formally known as General Motors. We just spent over $80 billion to bailout a company that is only worth $7.3 billion. You can walk onto a dealers lot right now and participate in the largest liquidation of assets in the history of the world.

And we still haven’t fixed the one thing that forced them into the red in the first place: 500,000 retirees.

General Motors is the classic case of over promising.

Over-promise #1: I remember talking to a GM executive about the business model as he gave me a tour of their Warren Tech Center. I asked him how often a customer was supposed to buy a new car according to the company? His answer made my jaw drop. They built their business model on the assumption that you would buy a brand new car every 3 years. No wonder their cars sucked! They only expected you to own it 36 months. No wonder they failed! No one in their right mind could afford to buy a brand new car every 3 years. They were absolutely lying to themselves. Their competitors built cars that lasted 10 years or more. Honda and Toyota owners hit 100,000 miles and knew that their cars will easily make 200,000 miles. Meanwhile, GM was building cars that were meant to be traded in at 36,000 miles.

Over-promise #2: In the mid-1980s, when Toyota and Honda made it big in the United States market, GM was stupid to continue the retirement program. There was simply no way that they could afford to continue the program… but they lied to their employees and sold them the lie that if they took care of GM, GM would take care of them for life. The smart thing to do back then would have been to convert the program to 401k and make no promises of retiree health care. Instead, they oversold a promise they couldn’t keep. Worse yet, to deal with payroll issues they started early retirement programs which meant people in their mid-50s were walking away from GM with a “guaranteed” pension and health care. There are currently tens of thousands of people in the United States who have now been retired from GM longer than they worked for GM. No company can bear that burden. Companies struggle just to pay benefits for current employees… How did they think they could insure 500,000 non-wage earning retirees?

My point isn’t really about GM, it’s about over-promising. Here are some ill-effects of over-promising.

usedcarsalesman– Advertising becomes useless. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on ads as people won’t believe you anymore.You can’t hype up a product launch or an event that you’ve oversold forever. When you don’t deliver you are just reminding customers how much you betrayed them.

– Your word becomes useless. When you break promise after promise, soon people won’t trust that your on their side. They will see that you only want their money and you don’t care about them.

– Your product becomes a joke. I was in a meeting yesterday about search engines and someone used the word Yahooeveryone laughed. Yahoo has become a dinosaur of a search engine. The only thing memorable about Yahoo is that stupid song, Yaaahhoooooo. You can’t advertise and promise a web service, you can only deliver. This is the #1 reason you can’t trust to be any good. If it was so good why are they spending $100,000,000 to advertise it?

Shifting gears: The evangelical church has become a classic example of the over-promise. Part of the church becoming more about programs and business models is that it has fallen into the trap of needing marketing and advertising like the business models they copies. The result is a lot of over-promising. “Come to the marriage retreat, it’ll fundamentally change your marriage.” or “Sign up for our next church production, it’ll be awesome.” or “Bring your friends to the revival and they will get saved.” In a world where the awesome is so readily available churches do nothing but give away trust when they advertise promises they can’t deliver. I’ve seen church events marketed like they were going to be on par with Disney or Broadway or Oprah and deliver like a trip to the town carnival, a middle school play, or a cable access show. At the end of the day the church spent more effort marketing the event, production, or program than they did making the program awesome. It is a sick cycle that is killing thousands of churches.

The better way: Wouldn’t it be refreshing if churches just delivered? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they didn’t sell themselves but just helped people? What if they invested in training their volunteers and staff so much that the church didn’t need to make promises, that their programs and ministries truly worked to change lives? You wouldn’t need to advertise a life-changing marriage retreat… because results would advertise themselves. You wouldn’t need to hold a revival because every church service, small group, and youth group meeting would see people come to know Jesus. You wouldn’t need to hire a killer band and create a worship experience because people were authentically worship Jesus. The best advertising a church could ever invest in is a changed life.

If you are a church leader I want to challenge you to think about your programs. Think about how you talk about them. Think about how you market them. And remember:

Don’t promise, deliver.

Don’t hype, deliver.

Don’t sell, deliver.

Don’t measure, deliver.

Don’t sub-contract, deliver.

Don’t advertise, deliver.

In a low trust, high expectation world the best way to succeed is to undersell and deliver.

Church Leadership management Marketing

Leading to the edges

ruler-edgeEntrepreneurs get this. Start-up businesses get this. New franchises get this. Church planters get this. But no one in an older business, church, franchise, or industry can comprehend this.

You have grown your audience as much within what you are doing today as you will ever grow it. You primary demographic already knows about you and has decided whether to be a customer or not. They have decided whether to become a student in your college or not. They have decided whether or not your to attend your church.

People largely make decisions on your project, widget, consumable, or institution in an instant. Five seconds or less. (Test it yourself, watch TV commercials. How soon until you decide if you are buying that product? I thought so.) Spending more money to advertise the same thing over and over again is just a waste of money. This is why Super Bowl commercials can be deal makers or deal breakers for companies you’ve never heard of.

This is why marketers dump millions of dollars onto the airwaves and see little return on their investment. This is why church marketing sucks. Once you can identify who your audience is… your best possibility for growth then shifts to customer service and care. Can I keep the customers I have? Can I provide them such an amazing service that they tell their friends that they have to go there, be there, or be your customer?

Growth comes as you lead your organization towards the edges. When you help your church or college find a new demographic, there is growth. When you design a new product that changes the game for an old industry, there is growth. When you serve a need that everyone wants but no one offers, there is growth.

What’s the first step in determining how to find my edge?

Spend time and discover where you are failing. Spend time finding out where everyone in your industry fails. Spend time finding out what churches in your area aren’t doing.

Hint: Studying successful companies, institutions, churches, or whatever will only lead you away from growth and into their market. Learn from their best practices, for sure, but don’t study them to copy them. Their edge won’t ever be your edge.

Current Affairs Funny Stuff hmm... thoughts Marketing news item

PETA Rebrands Fish as Sea Kittens

Yes, PETA is trying to rebrand fish as sea kittens. You can’t make this stuff up! It seems that kids game sites have gotten so out-of-hand that one of the kookiest of leftist bunches decided they needed one too. What’s next, (Uh, that seems to be a movie site in Japan or something!)

Here are some sea kittens we made.

I kid you not. Paul wanted to be a Tuna because they taste so good. I have to admit, I like some tuna sea kitten just as much as I like Tuna fish.

Culture Marketing Politics

The Obama Marketing Vice-Grip

Now that we’re a bit removed from the elections the picture is getting more clear to see how exactly Obama won roughly 70% of the electoral college. While I’m sure there are tons of political types on television who will take the politics of it apart, I thought I’d offer some observations of the campaign from a marketing perspective.

#1 Obama’s website was an amazing expression of web 2.0. There were tons of places to leave comments and get involved. You could create an account at and even get lists of people to call! McCain’s site tried to catch up but, like Hillary Clinton’s failed site before him, it was too little too late. I said over and over again that the candidate with the best website would get to move to the White House, do you believe me now?

#2 “Change” as a campaign slogan. Obama told supporters, “We’re going to bring change” [inclusive language] and that left McCain with the only marketing response available, “this is what I’m going to do.” [singular language] A “we” message is always more appealing than a singular “me” message.

#3 A better chant. From the onset of Obama’s campaign tens of thousands of people chanted “Yes we can!” at rallies. I was shocked to hear it for the first time at the RNC and doubly shocked to hear “drill baby drill” as the chant of the Republican party rallies. It’s as if they didn’t care about voters in the middle or swing voters at all. “Drill baby drill” is offensive on a lot of levels and a horrible marketing slogan!

#4 Obama got on the right side of attack ads. It’s not that Obama didn’t have nasty ads, it’s that he took the defensive stance of “that’s all they have is negative campaigning” first. So every time the McCain’s marketing campaign put out an attack on Obama, the Democrats had already put the defense in the head of their people watching the ads. “That’s all McCain has left… negative ads.” This is not just good politics it’s good marketing!

#5 The pendulum was swinging to the left hard favoring Obama. I think the person who could distance himself from George W. Bush the most (from a marketing perspective, that is.) faired the best. The pendulum of American politics had swung super far to the right with GW Bush to the point that it was just going to swing hard to the left. In the process, on election night you saw some traditional Republican states go to the Democrats. There was no way to market a conservative agenda in this election, which was more evidence that Palin was the wrong candidate for VP. McCain would have done better, from a marketing perspective, with a more liberal VP pick. Going to the right of himself was a bad marketing move… conservative religious voters were already locked in.

#6 Rock star status. Let’s face it… Obama’s ability to draw massive crowds had a huge impact from beginning to end. The McCain campaign drew small crowds of mostly white supporters to their rallies. This was never more clear that at the party conventions. Games sprung up on Twitter to find the minority at the RNC. Again it was the popular “yes we can” vs. the small “I have the experience.” Tough on marketing for mass appeal.

#7 We vs. Me. I’ve alluded to this a couple of times but it deserves more attention. Obama would say “we can bring change to Washington” a lot and McCain often said “I know how to change Washington.” Which is more appealing? Which is easier to market? I’d like to know how I can be a part of changing our nation much more than I’d like to support a single person, claiming to be a maverick, who claims to know how to change Washington. It was a marketing trap McCain couldn’t get out of!

#8 The Fey/Palin connection. Unlike some other people, I think Tina Fey actually helped Palin from a marketing perspective. When you looked at the polls it was clear McCain would lose several weeks ago, from an electoral college perspective. In making fun of Palin I think Saturday Night Live actually created a hit out of a dud. I have no doubt that there will be a hockey mom on tour with Women of Faith soon.

#9 Bad color choices. I don’t mean race. I mean the colors of the campaign merchandise, websites, emails, etc. McCain’s stuff looked very presidential and reminded voters of the incumbent Bush. Go back and look at some of Obama campaign stuff and you’ll see how he used colors to distinguish his campaign from it’s “blue” heritage. In their minds blue = President Bush = bad. McCain’s Indiana State flag rip-off just reminded your sub-conscious how much he looked and talked like Bush. Bad marketing move there. The flipside is that once Obama hit the homestretch and it was clear he would win the election… nearly everything he did was using Presidential colors. His acceptence speach was one penguin away from being a White House event.

What about you? Where did you think Obama or McCain did a good or bad job from a marketing perspective?

Note: I originally wrote this to publish on November 6th. But it was clear most folks weren’t ready to think abstractly about the elections just yet… are you ready now?

Church Leadership Marketing Web/Tech

What’s up with “that church?”

I’ve had several people ask me about the church in Romeo, so here’s a quick update. I know a bunch of people who go there read my blog… so please feel free to fill in the blanks by leaving a comment.

Did the church close? Nope, they just changed their name.

Do they still have services? Yes, Sunday’s most likely. But I don’t know what time.

Are they in the same location? Yep. I understand they took down the sign and now it just says “Stoneridge.” That’s where it is. It’s not a community center (that I know of) nor the offices for a new subdivision development. It’s still at 32 & Campground in Romeo. Same church, new name.

Do they have a website? I can’t find one if they do. I see the old website is gone which is probably why people are asking me if they went out of business. So apparently is their new website. Welcome!

Are they the same people? I think the point was that they wanted new people. So they figured if they changed the name the other people wouldn’t see the sign and new people would think they were going to the park and accidentally go to church there. Poof! OK, actually… it’s the same leadership team and I would guess that most of the same people go there.

Do I like the new name? Yeah, it’s way better than “First Baptist Church.” Here’s a secret… that was the first “baptist” church I ever attended.

What’s the name mean? Once upon a time [circa 1992], in that very location, a mountain range crested along Campground Road. As you reached 32 miles north of the center of that range a massive ridge line of large stones fell off to the west as far as the eye could see. Hence the most historically accurate name for 32 Mile & Campground is “Stoneridge.”

I also feel it is sociologically accurate for a community with an alleged marijuana problem to have the word “stoner” in it. (Yes, they have munchies between services.)

Any other thoughts on Stoneridge? I’m secretly jealous that I worked there for 5 years with a church name handicap and then I leave and they instantly solve the biggest problem in reaching the community.

My biggest thought on Stoneridge is that I can’t remember the name half the time. So for Kristen and I it has become an ongoing joke. OK, so it’s just me telling the joke and once I saw Kristen snicker about it.

– Stonemeadow

– Stonevalley

– Stonepoint

– Stonecreek

– Stonemountain

– Stonecrater

– Stoneorchard

– Stonedbaptist

– Stonefalls

– Stoneriver

– Stonelake

– Stoneapple

– Stonetech

– Stone- did you hear they had a mechanical bull last night?

– Stonetemplepilots Memorial

Do you think the church is screwed up and secretly that’s why you left? OK, just between you and me. If it means that people come to Jesus, I hope they do whatever it takes. (Swing dancing, roller coasters, bar & grill, gas station, bookstore, start a parachute club, whatever!) Here’s a revolutionary concept… the church is there to reach the community and equip the redeemed to reach the community. With 3-4% of North Macomb residents currently attending a church I’m just glad they are trying to do something, anything, to bring light to a very dark place.

If I have said anything inaccurate, please feel free to leave a comment.

Church Leadership family Marketing

Finding a church home: We think we’ve found it

For the first time in our adult life Kristen and I have had the chance to find a church with a tabula rosa. Well, that’s a sensationalist way to look at it since we’ve made the choice before but it was always complicated because it was both a church decision and an employment decision. And at least once (Oroville) we worked at a church we wouldn’t have attended if they had not paid us.

For the past several weeks we’ve been researching, praying, talking, and visiting churches. An interesting part of our search is that we’ve been able to accelerate it because of the internets. (And the Google, as President Bush calls it) Being a web dude, I instantly recognized that there was a correlation between how much I liked a church’s website and how much I liked their church. It may seem like an odd thing to compare to… but a good church has a good website because they recognize it as a powerful representation of their community. Plus, we were able to week out a lot of places simply by listening to the sermons online. You can tell a lot about a church by their messages. Anyway, just a random observation.

When we set out on this process we were evaluating churches based on a few criteria. (non-negotiables)

#1 Teaches biblical truth

#2 Kids are important

#3 Expectation that we’ll get involved, but respects that this may take time

#4 Practically passionate about the community we live in

#5 Values its people, all of ’em

Enter Harbor Church Mid City. Last Sunday we visited and yesterday Kristen and I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the lead guy, Stephen and his wife Bradford. When Kristen and I went last week we were blown away by the spirit of this church. Sure, empirically speaking it hits all 5 of the things we want in a church… but let’s face the fact that connecting to a church is an emotional experience. And church last week felt like home. (And it helped that this was a big celebration service and vision casting day.)

What makes Harbor different from a lot of places we evaluated is its unique design. In the DNA of the church is a desire to reach neighborhoods with the Gospel. This isn’t just a Gospel of words but also a Gospel of social change, mercy, and justice to restore what’s broken eternally and today. Stephen explained that the goal of Harbor (it’s part of a team church planting effort) is to launch about 100 churches in the San Diego/Tijuana area over the next 20 years. In church growth models, they are a multi-site strategy “big church of little communities” idea. So all over the area are linked bodies part of a larger church with the hope of adding a lot more little communities in neighborhoods as opposed to growing one regional monster campus.

I have to be honest… the big vision for San Diego is interesting but we really just care about our neighborhood! And we witnessed first hand that practically living out. We’ve heard a lot of churches say they want to be diverse but few actually pull it off. As we look around our neighborhood we recognize that these working class folks represent tons of cultures, races, dreams, and hardships. And it was refreshing to see that translated on Sunday morning.

This is a church who loves kids. As Stephen and I chatted we talked about reaching the lost kids of the community more than we talked about discipling our own. For Kristen and I this echos our hearts. As much as we value a strong children’s program we long to see the two-fold model of evangelism/discipleship lived out in our family from an early age. We recognize that if we want our kids to catch a vision for reaching their peers they need to see mom & dad modeling that behavior. The very fact that the church meets on a school campus and has several active outreaches/ministries/supports within that same campus tells us a lot about the heart of the people. You can’t help thinking about the school’s kids as you worship in their building!

The church values its people, all of them. One thing that I really like is the strong sense of mission. Like the best missions the core of Harbor craddles the reality that indigenous people are best at reaching their people. So rather than “the experts” the staff seem to position themselves as the enablers. Stephen described this as being a coach rather than a player. And as you think about that analogy you recognize that the coach is powerless in determining the outcome of the game. (Not to devalue life by calling it a game.) Instead, being the coach empowers the people to be the players and also clearly communicates that the mission can only be accomplished when the players play. In most cases, the coach was/is a great player who may feel as it is easier to “do it myself” in order to guarantee a win. But a coach willingly allows others to learn their position and represent the team to the measure of thier ability to play. To hear the leadership describe themselves as a coach rather than a player is powerful in our decision.

All that to say, we think we’ve found it. As Kristen and I left we were entirely comfortable in telling the kids that this is the place. In the weeks and months to come we’ll gradually get more into the lifeblood of what’s going on. But for now we’re happy to begin the process of making friends.

A couple other random things I like about Harbor:

– Structurally, they have a central office which does all the admin stuff. This leaves the ministry staff to do ministry and not worry about details like a bulletin or paying bills.

– They’ve partnered/joined forces with World Impact to reach the neighborhood. It’s always a good sign when you see an organization attracting other Christian organizations staff members to attend.

– They dig student ministry. As it fits, I am looking forward to getting involved with students again. I’m not going to wiggle my way into this… but if they want me to help I’ll gladly jump in.

– Kristen is jazzed about some things they are doing… but really got excited to hear them talking about a babysitting co-op!

– I like the words “incarnational living” and “community development.”

– Stephen and Bradford like college football. I think it’s a sign.

Church Leadership Marketing

Lies of Youth Ministry, Part One

Boys and girls in youth ministry we’ve got some problems. We in youth ministry, as a tribe, believe some lies about who we are, what we’re about, and how we should be reaching students. Let’s address these and move forward to fix them, OK?

#1 Your ministry is “successful” if you have 10% of Sunday morning attendance. My entire youth ministry career has been wrapped up in the local church so I can state this from experience. But let’s bear in mind historical perspective to understand this lie before we can look at a solution. The current version of Youth Ministry is really a reaction to the success of early parachurch ministries. Back in the late 1940s modern youth ministry was born when Youth for Christ hired Billy Graham to lead crusades to reach teenagers… and boy did that work! YFC’s crusades scratched a cultural itch since teens had been left out of the local church with the emergence of adolescence. (Adolescence is only about 120 years old!) As a strong middle class was born out of post-WWII days adolescent teen culture blossomed and the church was seen as irrelevant to teens. Gradually, in the early 1960s the American church responded in a big way to numerical victories of parachurch ministries. Churches were tired of seeing all of the students go to YoungLife and Youth for Christ… so they started hiring those organization’s staff to run programs in local churches.

It was a great concept, but from the very beginning youth ministry was seen by church leadership as a way to hold onto church kids and maybe, just maybe, reach new families. This fixed a problem parachurches had without truly addressing the church issue that created the parachurch need in the first place… no place for non-believers to be ministered to.

The truth is that local churches royally ruined what the parachurches were doing. To even call what most churches do “youth ministry” is demeaning to its evangelistic heritage. Instead of youth pastors being hired to reach a high school they were hired to grow/maintain a local church. (In fact, I’ve talked to countless youth pastors who were fired for trying to reach lost students!) The lie is that a good youth ministry is about growing a church. In most cases, a youth pastor’s job is so limited and focused on the church that it’s really not about reaching lost kids at all. (Appropriate lip service is always about evangelism!) I’ve actually sat in youth ministry networks and listened to youth pastors sound satisfied that they are reaching 50-60 students with their ministry. The target isn’t a percentage of butts in seats on Sunday morning! Reaching 50 students while 1950 have never heard the gospel is a gross failure.

True success comes when you reach and disciple brand new people for Jesus Christ! The first lie points to the fact that church-based youth ministry largely lies to itself and calls itself a success when it reaches less than 1% of students in a community. Is it the individual youth pastor’s fault? Absolutely not. It’s a design flaw worth addressing. The truly successful youth ministries in this country focus on the lost in their schools and could care less what percentage of saved church kids come to their programs.

Questions for youth workers: Do you agree with my use of the term “lie?” If so, what are some ideas for fixing this in your context? If you don’t agree, I still love you. But I’d like to hear your push back.

Lie #2 It’s about discipleship

Lie #3 You have to have a youth pastor