youth ministry

My Favorite High School Graduation Speeches

Enjoy these five minutes of nerd fame. 

Those five minutes when the smartest kid in the school demands to be listened to.

Let’s start off with the basics…

Let’s take it to the next level though, OK?

This kid has a future… in stand up. 

If in doubt appeal to what’s hot!

Gotta toss in the selfie, right? (4:25)

Good speech, she rushed it though.

Slow it down next time homegirl.

Ready for some nerd-introspection?

Something tells me this isn’t the last time he used this object lesson. Something tells me the dude with the guitar gets more dates than the valedictorian.

Blame Canada

And just in case you thought only Americans gave funny graduation speeches, here’s Canada. Homeboy puts on a clinic. He solidly roast of every teacher in Prince Edward County, then does shout outs to every graduate, and even a nice little thought at the end. Something for the grandmas in the house.

Taking it to the next level

Future youth pastor???

What’ve better than the very solid photobomb by the state of California? The finish. Strong! 

Mic Drop – Whole ‘Notha Level

Another future youth pastor… Pastor Mo’Dollas

Pretty sure the first half of her speech was approved. Second half, freestyle. And clearly the camera operator been drinking.

Is that dancing at a Christian high school? I’m not sure if the administration is just that cool or if they had no idea it was going to go like that. Either way, props to them.

I suspect I’ll see Mo’Dollas performing at a student evangelism conference soon.

9781942145097cover-squareShameless Plug Time

Looking for a graduation gift for the teenager in your life? Check out The Amazing Next by Brock Morgan over at our store or Amazon. (Bulk orders at our store are great… order like 8 of them and we toss in free shipping.)


youth ministry

Youth Group isn’t THE Answer

By now, everyone has heard about the latest Pew Research.

Last Fall, I stood up at The Summit and presented complimentary data.

“Youth Group” Reaches Few

Programmatic “youth group” reaches 5%-10% of any given student population.

But, in many churches, youth group is accepted as 100% of what the church formally does to reach teenagers.Anything else that happens is ancillary, at best, sometimes viewed as competing with the “real” youth ministry at the church.

40+ Years of Data on Youth Group Returns

While the youth ministry tribe generally refuses to do so, you can look at 40+ years of youth group data and come to an educated conclusion– youth group, in it’s current iteration, will continue reaching fewer and fewer teenagers.

After generations of investment… investment largely backed by good will and not data… most reasonable people have come to accept that youth group, as we know it today, isn’t going to reach a theologically appropriate number of middle and high schoolers going forward.

The answer to reaching more teenagers can’t be “Just keep going, go harder, be faithful and this strategy will work eventually.

Less Money, Not More

I feel like the town crier on this. I guarantee you that thousands of people will look at new data from Pew and try to use the data as a justification that their youth group needs more investment. We need better facilities, we need another staff member, we need a new stage or a band or lights or whatever.


Since the 1980’s the church in America has invested billions and billions of (tax free) dollars to rapidly expand facilities and staff at local churches.

And what’s the result? We’re reaching fewer than ever. Why? That’s for smarter people to debate, I’m sure there are lots f reasons, the video above outlines a couple of things I think.

S2P4 Adam McLane.007

But I do know that when the U.S. church is compared to places in the developing world where the church is growing that there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of money spent and the number of people reached: The more money you spend on buildings and staff, the less people you reach.

To Americans this seems counter-intuitive, but this is the trend nonetheless. 

U.S. churches have near limitless resources and reach fewer and fewer people.

Many places around the world have no or almost no financial resources and reach more people.

That’s not an indictment on the people doing the ministry. That’s not an indictment on the effort. But it is an indictment on the one-size-fits-all approach.

It. doesn’t. work.

It. never. worked.

Stop. the. insanity.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Don’t mis-read this. I am saying that we need to give up on youth group as the solution to ministering to teenagers at your church.

Absolutely. We need to deal with the fact that youth group is A solution. It’s not THE solution.

Youth group pretty effectively reaches 5%-10% of the communities teenagers. Let’s keep doing it, let’s keep making it better. (Obviously, so much of what I do on a day-to-day basis resources youth group’s around the country.)

I am not saying get rid of youth group or youth ministry is dying or whatever.

But we need to shift our priorities. 

Schedule a meeting today and start thinking about how you can activate the adults in your church who already have a natural connection to teenagers outside of youth group to minister to teenagers. Create something that isn’t an invitation to come to a room, sing some songs, listen to a talk, etc. 90% to 95% of teenagers in your community have heard about it and rejected it.

Create something that doesn’t require a staff or a facility.

Create something that any adult can do to minister to a single teenager on their block.

Unleash 100 ideas.

Try something different.


Track your data.

Make decision based on data, not emotions.

Pretty please with sugar on top.

I double dog dare you.

I’m begging you.

Try something else.

You aren’t the problem, you’re the solution.

Allow it. Encourage it. Champion it. Celebrate it.

And then come tell us about it. 

youth ministry

Toward a Bigger We

Last fall I had the pleasure of presenting at our event, The Summit.

Here’s the basis of what I’m arguing in this video: Our definition of youth ministry is too small. We (youth workers) make the mistake of thinking that we are the experts, that we “own” ministry to adolescents. This counters a realistic strategy for reaching a theologically appropriate proportion of the adolescent population, counters a core Protestant doctrine, (Priesthood of All Believers) and denies the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of adults currently ministering to adolescents in the places that God has them already.

Youth group is AN answer. It’s not THE answer. 


Friday is For Friends youth ministry

5 Weeks Until Open Grand Rapids

Ah… winter.

A quick scan of social media reveals that folks living in Michigan, Northern Indiana, and the Chicago area are completely sick of winter.

The supreme irony of our living in San Diego is that we’re Midwesterners who love a good midwest winter. We’d get 6 inches of snow and Kristen was ecstatic about shoveling the driveway. I absolutely loved giving people a hard time about canceling things because it was cold or a bit icy.

So, a year ago, I scheduled our very first Open Grand Rapids right in the middle of winter. On purpose! My hope was that people would have a little cabin fever and look forward to something to get out of the house for on a cold Saturday.

Welp, um… I was wrong. The weather was a bit of a sucker punch and we had a very hard time getting people to come out.

Year one was great: But year two will be a lot better!

This year’s Open Grand Rapids is March 28th (SPRING!) on the campus of Cornerstone University. If you aren’t familiar with the format we have a great line-up of presenters presenting on real-life stuff from all over the region. Instead of the “big national organization” bringing in a group of ringers to offer big-box-version youth ministry training without local context, we recruit local youth ministry experts to offer training to fellow workers doing youth ministry right in that same context. So don’t expect polish or production or anything fancy about Open Grand Rapids. But do expect a very full, very high quality day of youth ministry training for just $25. (No one gets paid and most of the money gets donated back to a local organization & the local organizer team.)

The kicker? What our presenters lack in the experience of doing the same seminar dozens of times per year, they more than make up for in real-life experience. 

What has became so evident at our 3rd Open Boston a couple weeks ago is that with a little bit of experience, some feedback/coaching, that the quality of training is just as good as any I’ve seen.

So that’s the scoop on Open Grand Rapids. I hope to see you there.

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Throwback Thursday youth ministry

Shrinking the Job

I first learned this lesson as a young pastor. But it applies to me today just the same.

In 2002 I left my job in Chicago, moved my family across the country, and started a job as the youth pastor in a small community in Northern California.

The first week was spent cleaning out my office, trying to figure out which key opened what, and a pile of introductory conversations with people from the church.

But the next Monday morning, with my first Sunday under my belt, I remember coming into the office early– before anyone else– and sitting behind my desk to reality: I had no idea what to do. 

Literally, I didn’t know where to start. Outside of a Sunday school class and a roster of kids who had gone on the last mission trip, there wasn’t a program.

So I pulled out the job description.

It was full of ridiculous statements like, “Oversee an outreach program for teenagers in the community to begin a personal relationship with Jesus.” And, “Oversee the discipleship of teenagers in the church.” And, “Create opportunities for evangelism and discipleship among all students.

I sat there, staring at this document, expecting it to magically tell me what to do.

Then I pulled out my Bible and read a bit. Then I pulled out the roster of mission trip kids, I spent some time praying for each of those students.

It wasn’t even 8:00 AM on my first real day in the office. I made coffee. And I began to doodle ideas on a piece of paper. 

Coming from the business world… once the coffee sank in… I came up with a plan. I’ll spend the next 30 days doing an assessment of all the people, resources, identify opportunities, explore what opportunities for networking exist, and establish some baseline stuff that this youth ministry will do. (Regular meetings, events, etc.) I catalogued everything. I interviewed and met with everyone. I took lots of notes. And a month later I presented a report and plan to the elders…. which, of course, they hated.

A Common Problem

As time has gone on I’ve realized that I am not alone in this problem. Organizations hire highly trained, highly motivated, highly talented people. And then they leave them in an office with a job description, a budget, and offer very little supervision while heaping on ridiculous expectations.

Many leadership jobs are nebulous. The hopes and goals heaped on them are not realistic. You can’t hire a person from another culture, give them a $29,000 salary and a $6,000 budget and expect them to walk into an empty office and come up with a plan to reach 3,000 teenagers in less than a year.

But, when looking at the job description and listening to the leaders– that’s what is expected.

The problem is the job is too big. And the person trying to do these god-sized roles? They either quit, get fired, or burn out in a couple years.

The Solution is Shrinking the Job

What I learned over a painful season in 2002 has guided me to today. The fact of the matter is my job today is even more nebulous than that youth ministry job in 2002.

If you’re going to avoid burnout, if you’re going to sleep at night, if you’re going to know when your work day is done… you have two choices.

  1. Stop caring and just let it fly
  2. Shrink the job

I recommend option #2. 

What isn’t the realistic goal?

Shrinking your job starts with setting realistic goals.

There was no way I was able to create a program to reach every teenager in my small town, but I could create a goal that every involved student in my ministry would be equipped to reach one of their friends. That’s something I can measure and that’s something I can find a resource to help me with. 

There was no way I could disciple every teenager in our church. But I could assess and label every teenager who regularly attended the church. (My simple categories: Uninvolved, involved, core) And I could make sure that every involved teenager was paired with an adult who was trained to lead a small group. And I could make sure that every uninvolved teenager was invited to become more involved. That’s something realistic.

Likewise, we could assess the spiritual growth of each involved teenager by setting up some basic benchmarks. That was simple, measurable, and realistic.

What aren’t you measuring?

Once you’ve established some goals you get a good idea of what you can measure. More importantly, you know what not to measure.

Regularly, people would come to me with something they were hoping to see happen in our youth ministry. “Wouldn’t it be great if students helped with VBS?” Yeah, sure. But it wasn’t something I’d measure to mean anything. You didn’t have to be involved, uninvolved, or even a Christian to help lead games or be a warm-body at the craft table necessarily.

I find that if I don’t know what I’m supposed to measure I kind of either don’t measure anything or I try to measure too many things, putting weight on things that don’t really matter.

Today, I certainly have things that I measure and can judge the success or failure of something. But people ask me all the time for things that they think I ought to be measuring that I have no idea about. Why? Because I’m not measuring everything. 

Everything is too big.

What’s outside of your control?

The last thing that helps me shrink my job is to define some things that are out of my control.

For instance, I can’t control someone’s response. I can control how I delivered the message. I can control what was delivered, when it was delivered, how many times a person has heard about it…. but I can’t make them respond.

To think I can manipulate a person’s response is idolatry.

The primary task of the youth worker is faithfulness, not response. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job and He doesn’t work for you on your agenda it’s the other way around.

The net effect is when I try to control what’s outside of my control, I get frustrated.

That’s why I can look at things, which other people might measure a failure, and see the win. I’m measuring things within my control and relinquishing responsibility for things outside of my control.

That shrinks my nebulous job into something more manageable and human.

Question: What are ways you’ve shrunk your job? 

Monday Motivation youth ministry

Keep Youth Ministry Weird

Youth ministry is weird. 

When planning a worship service for adults you’d never think, “We need a big group game to get people laughing.” Or, “Let’s have a sleep over right here in the church.

A little too weird for most adults. But awesome for 8th graders.

It’s pretty rare that adults will show up an hour before church just to skateboard in the parking lot or hang out with their friends. I’ve been in some fun adult small groups, but we’ve never gone to a trampoline park together. Teenagers don’t donate old couches for adults to sit in on a Sunday morning. And, as sorry as I am to say it’s true, it’s pretty tough to get 25 adults to show up to help clean up the neighborhood.

Silly games, fun nights, mission trips, service projects, t-shirts, bad pizza, over-the-top songs, all-nighters, pointless road trips, winter retreats, just-cos-movie nights, helping at VBS, camp flings… all of these are staples of youth ministry.

Youth ministry is weird because weird is what works with teenagers.

If you aren’t a little bit weird you’re a lot-a-bit creepy.

Tune Out the Tamers

To me, one of the scariest things going on in youth ministry right now is the desire to tame it. People are so worried about youth ministry being a one-eared Mickey Mouse (not fitting organizationally) that they put a saddle on their youth group and break it.

  • People start to see youth ministry as a great way to market to families instead of a great way to reach teenagers who need Jesus.
  • People worry so much about integrating with kids ministry and young adult ministry that there aren’t really any non-church kids to even worry about integrating… we’re integrating people who were going to integrate anyways. 
  • People preach the Gospel of safety and political correctness more than they preach the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

If you tame it you’ll lose it. If it’s boring the only people who will come are the students whose parents make them come.

If you finish a night of youth ministry and you didn’t have at least one point of the night where you weren’t sure if it was going to work or if you were going to lose control… you need to tune out some tamers in your life.

Youth ministry, at it’s best, is weird. 

Deal with the phone calls.

Explain it in staff meeting.

Get your volunteer team to back you up.

And keep your youth ministry weird, baby. 

Photo credit: Zorbs by Ian Southwell via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Throwback Thursday youth ministry

The Truth About Screens


I had an article featured as the cover story for Group Magazine’s January/February 2015 edition entitled, The Truth About Screens.

Little old me. The cover story in the biggest magazine in youth ministry? 

That’s cool, especially when you consider…

  • I got a C+ in AP English in high school.
  • I got a B in both semesters of college English classes required for my major.
  • When I started this blog I had 1 reader… me.
  • Even now, 10+ years later, a normal day on the blog is 2,000-3,000 readers.

I’m small time. 

So, while life really is going 10,000 miles per hour, I do want (and need) to stop for a bit and dwell on this. It is an accomplishment and I’m proud of it.

And I’m very appreciative to Rick Lawrence and the folks at Group Mag for the opportunity to write anything for them, much less a feature. I’m working hard to get published in a new and bigger venues.

So it feels good. It shows that the daily grind, in the long run, still works.

Did you read the article? What did you agree or disagree with? I’m looking to improve my writing, what could I have done better? 

youth ministry

Welcome to Dystopia

Welcome to Dystopia

I made this video because I’m sick of the narrative.

In the United States, the media portrays that we believe teenagers are incapable. They are a sub-human species guided by whims, under the influence of violent video games, and likely to drop their pants to take a selfie of their genitals at any moment. Teenagers are the butt of the joke. They hate their families. They take advice from rap music. And, more than anything, you can’t trust them.

That is until a teenager does something extraordinary. Then the media flips. They they are hyper-capable superhumans. They climb Mount Everest. They sail around the world. They raise millions. They launch a political revolution. They win a fistful of gold medals in the Olympics.

I made this video for two reasons:

  1. Teenagers are fully human. They are not superhuman, they are not sub-human. They are just regular old humans.
  2. The Dystopian Narrative is not new. Parents freak out about social media apps the same way their parents freaked out about cell phones or having a TV in your room or playing video games, the same way their grandparents freaked out about them talking on the telephone or listening to Rock-n-Roll. It’s the same exact narrative with a new object of scorn.

As a youth worker and as a parent, it saddens me that we live in a society that allows our young to be portrayed this way.

While I live in Dystopia, as a parent and youth worker, I long for something better and more whole.

I’m sick of it.

It’s time to call it out for what it is – A narrative designed to destroy perceptions of our children.

I’m sick of it.

It reveals the depravity of ourselves more than the depravity of our young.

youth ministry

Spectacle: Making things go boom in youth group

At last month’s Summit, Chanon Ross (Director of the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Seminary) talked about the concept of spectacle as it relates to adolescent culture, literature, and ultimately faith development.

Spectacle isn’t something I’d really thought about before Chanon’s talk. I won’t steal his thunder, you can watch it for yourself.

Of course, I had heard the word “spectacle.” And when he used the example of the power of spectacle in Roman culture I was very familiar with the concept from my latin classes back in high school. (Yeah, I was that kind of nerd in high school.) But I’d never really thought about the value of spectacle in our culture, specifically it’s importance to adolescence. But really… now I’m seeing it all over. 

“OMG. Did you see _____?”

When I think about the things that have really exploded in the past few years I see spectacle. Remember KONY 2012? That was kind of ridiculous. It had an unbelievable “Did you see ____?” factor. But even on a smaller scale, spend any time on a middle or high school campus and you’ll hear the latest spectacle. “Did you see what ___ did? Check it out… here’s the video.

Popular YouTube videos, something on TV, a concert everyone has to go to, a fight after school, Homecoming, break ups, the new video game, on and on. It never really ends.

Youth Group as Spectacle

When I think about the times in my youth ministry where things exploded there was spectacle.

  • Some of our best “gotta be there” times came when we went through our gross out phase. I think we had a high school student puke 5-6 weeks in a row playing a stage game. I’m not really saying that I’d do that again– long live the 1990s– but dang, you had to be there to see it.
  • At multiple points the “gotta be there” factor was through the roof because one student came to faith and absolutely lit their campus on fire with the Good News, literally telling anyone who would listen.
  • One thing Brian does really well at Encounter is fostering a little spectacle on his retreats. I mean, they basically sent a water heater to space this year in the desert. Of course high school guys want to go next year… you can always make something go boom a little bigger.

I’m not saying you’ve got to get kids to puke on stage to get them to show up or blow things up in the desert or preach your face off until someone important on campus gets on fire for Jesus. If I’m completely honest, so many of those times where things just EXPLODED, and we had amazing responses to something we did… they were spectacle… but we didn’t really know what we were doing. It was kind of accidentally spectacular. (You know, the Holy Spirit, and all.)

But what I’m saying is that there’s something to spectacle in youth group. If things are flat, if there’s no “gotta be there” factor, then– quite frankly– I’m not so sure students are going to show up and they definitely aren’t going to be quick to drag their friends.

The counterpoint: If you heard my talk at The Summit I pointed out that entertainment has a depreciating return over the long haul. And it’s totally true. The problem of spectacle is that you have to ramp it up. Just like Rome had to go from one gladiator fight per day to one per week to… within a few decades… needing HUNDREDS of gladiators to draw a crowd… spectacle is a short-term motivator.

It’s not the answer. But sometimes a little spectacle goes a long, long way. 

youth ministry

3 Practical Investments in Women in Youth Ministry

Sometimes we do things at The Youth Cartel which are revolutionary… which really shouldn’t be all that revolutionary. This is the case with some of the stuff we’re doing right now for the women in youth ministry tribe.

Here’s three things we’ve done which act as practical investments. But this isn’t a brag. It’s an invitation. Join us.

  1. 9780991005048-cover-1000BOOK: Earlier this fall we released a great book by Gina Abbas, A Woman in Youth Ministry. Sure, the book has a bunch of practical stuff for women who are currently in youth ministry. But what I loved about Gina’s book is that she tells her story, the real story, of her life as a full-time youth pastor at a variety of churches. I think the book is important for both men and women to read. I think it’d be incredible to read as a church staff… the things that Gina talks about transcend gender while also putting words on negative things the church is doing to hold women back in leadership.
  2. THE PLATFORM: Last month, at The Summit, half of the people on stage were women. Thinking back to 2002, at my first big youth ministry event, I started asking… Where are the women? (The same could be said for ethnic and theological diversity.) And over the years I’ve heard the excuses among the various events I’ve been part of planning. (That’s all they are, excuses. I won’t even validate the logic by listing them.) This year we set all of the excuses aside and got it done. And you know what we learned? It was awesome that people didn’t make a big deal out of it. The content of the event was excellent and that’s all that mattered.
  3. GATHERING THE TRIBE: This April we’re hosting a gathering of the tribe at the Women in Youth Ministry Campference. Even though Marko and I aren’t going we’re fully supportive of it and obviously investing our resources to make sure it happens. Our Director of Coaching, April Diaz is part of a team collaborating to plan it… and based on what I see I think it’s going to be a great time of fun, encouragement, and practical help.

So that’s what we’re up to. It’s not everything we can do, but I’m proud of the effort we’re able to make as a small start-up. I’d love to hear what other organizations and churches are doing. And, if you’re looking for practical investments you can make we’d love to have you jump in and support these three things above.