youth ministry

How to Keep Your Youth Ministry Job

Spring firing season has begun.

The end of the school year is a dangerous time to be in youth ministry. With the program year winding down it is prime time for church leadership to make a decision on whether to keep their youth worker for another school year.

Hint: If you get invited to an unscheduled meeting with the elders in the next few weeks, you’re getting fired. I’m sorry. (Er “forced to resign” which is the same thing but makes the elders feel better about it.)

I have several friends who are going through this right now. And it really sucks. 

Here’s two things you need to nail to keep your youth ministry job

  1. Measurables. Oh sure, we talk about the importance of relational ministry. But don’t kid yourself… it’s about numbers. If you want to get paid to do youth ministry (a pay check is a number, by the way) than you better deliver something everyone agrees is measurable and communicate that measurable well. This might be your career, but to a church leader the youth ministry program is just another mouth to feed. (It’s an expenditure.) They want to look at the financial investment they are making and see the results. You’d be wise to start the ministry year communicating clearly defined desired outcomes with  measurables and then preparing a presentation in February/March to show what you’ve done to meet those desired outcomes as well as the measurable impact. Flow charts, graphs, and case studies. If you think I’m being ridiculous… go talk to someone who works at a non-church charity, they have staff people whose sole job is to keep the funding coming by creating desired outcomes and presenting measurables to donors. At the end of the day the only way leadership will continue funding your ministry is to constantly prove it’s working.
  2. Donor relations. Earlier this week I wrote a post called Skin in the Game. As a church staff person you need to know that those who attend the church, especially those for 10+ years, have a lot more skin in the game than you do. Don’t buy the lie that the staff have the most skin in the game at a church… it’s just not true. You are an employee hired to do #1, you are not an owner. I could point you to dozens of friends who have learned this the hard way. They thought being friendly with all the leaders or doing really important, hard work meant that they were safe. Or they thought that if they simply cared a lot and gave everything they had to it that their career would be fine. And then they got invited to a meeting and asked to resign. Spiritually, the owners might be “under your authority” but that doesn’t mean they won’t fire you. I don’t care if you’re the best youth pastor in America. If you don’t deliver on #1 above you’re in big trouble. In professional sports terms, they are the owners and you are the coaches. You job is to win and attract “fans” aka potential owners. If you’re aren’t delivering results than your job is hanging purely by your ability to manage donor relations. Manage those relationships well and you can probably hang on until you deliver on #1. But mismanaging those relationships makes a board decision to fire you a whole lot easier. (Hint: It’s not always the board who are the people you need on your side. Make sure you’re managing the right relationships.)

When I talk to friends in youth ministry who have just been let go, those are the two things it always comes down to. Measurables and donor relations. (aka “politics.”) You might disagree with me on that, and you can probably point to a case where that wasn’t true. But let me reassure you… nail those two things and you are eliminating 90% of the reasons my friends have gotten fired.

Maybe this post is too matter of fact for you? Trust me. I’m only sharing to prevent your pain. I know that I’ve taken something so personal, so much a part of you, and so much a part of your faith and narrowed it down to two bullet points for how you can keep going. I know it seems simpleton and I don’t really get your context. But you just need to know the truth. Don’t be naive. We are all capable of getting fired. Manage these two things well and all the other things you love about your job can continue. Mismanage them and you’re in for a world of hurt. It might not be this Spring, but your Spring is coming.

UPDATE: Brian Berry has a continuation of this post on his blog. Go check it out.

Tip: Get canned? Check out our free job board over at The Youth Cartel.


5 Things to Do With a Brand New WordPress Site

So, you want to get started in blogging? Awesome. If your intended audience is over the age of 18 you are going to want to use WordPress. (Under 18? Use Tumblr.) Also, if you are just getting started I’d recommend spending the first 12 months of blogging on a blog. You’ll have way less flexibility but spend way more time actually writing than fiddling with your site settings. Don’t spend money until you know you like blogging.

It starts with a foundation: If you are going the self-hosted route, I am currently recommending Hostgator’s baby plan. I put all my non-commerce clients there and have never had a problem with uptime or customer service. 100% recommend them.

Now, assuming you have your site all set-up. Here are the first 5 things I do with a brand new site.

  1. Get rid of stuff. In the upper right hand corner you’ll see a tab called “Screen Options.” Play with that on the dashboard and the post page. That will get lots of distracting, confusing options out of the way. If my client is a total newbie, I also install a plugin which actually disables everything they’ll never need called Selfish Fresh Start.
  2. Buy a theme. Yeah, I could spend hours looking for a free theme that will work. But I’m kind of over that. These days I’m buying very nice themes at Themeforest. Pick a popular one, one with lots of sales, you won’t go wrong.
  3. Get your free Google juice. Google juice is a weird term which implies that if you do things right, Google will bring search traffic to you. Set your site up on Google Webmaster tools so you can tell Google your new site is there and how frequently you update posts. It’ll look intimidating when you go there, but all you really need to do are the basic settings. Next, set up Feedburner to handle your RSS feed. It’s takes a couple of minutes but will pay dividends down the road. (Don’t worry about the other search engines. Google is 90%+ of all of my sites search referrals.)
  4. Add some plugins. Here’s what I add to all of my sites. I actually have these in a folder on my computer and just upload them all in bulk when setting up a new site. Google XML Sitemaps, (You’ll need this for #3) Jetpack, Askimet, (Comes installed automatically) Login Logo, Password Protected, and Gravity Forms. (Premium – Contact Form 7 is a decent, free alternative)
  5. Set-up 2 basic pages. Every blog should have these 2 pages. A Contact page (see the 2 form plugins above) and an About page. Why? Because as people come to your blog they might want to know more about you and / or might want to contact you. I look at a lot of blogs and you’d be surprised how hard it is to figure out how to contact the blogger or even to find a full name or where a person lives. Why write if people can’t connect with you? I don’t get it.
Full disclosure: There are 3 affiliate links in this post. Hostgator, Themeforest, and Gravity Forms. All are products I use every day. If you buy something after clicking on my links I will make a couple bucks. Upside? I’m giving you free advice.
social media Weblogs

Just Write

So, you want to blog? And you’d like to build a following. Great. I’m here to help.

Here’s a quick reality check:

  • Success has nothing to do with a fancy blog design.
  • Success has nothing to do with learning the latest SEO tricks.
  • Success has nothing to do with finding advertisers to fund you.

So save your money. And don’t waste your brain cells.

Success as a blogger is so much simpler than that.

Just start writing. That’s 99% of the battle. Write, write, and write some more.

Success will find you when you are satisfied with who you are and how you write.

Start at the beginning

Chances are, as a reader of my blog, you’ve read something I’ve written and thought… “I could have said that, just better. I am smarter and a better writer than Adam McLane.” And you might be.

So what is the difference between you and I? Experience.

Go ahead and look at a tab on the right sidebar called, Archives. Then drop down all the way to the beginning. Go all the way back to May 2004 and read a few posts. I was horrible. But I was consistent, I was trying, and I was listening. And over time I wrote less about things that were interesting to only me and more about things that might be interesting to both me and you.

2004 was my beginning. Next, skip up to 2006, then 2008, then 2010. You’ll see a progression. I got better. I’d like to think that the progression continues.

If you are starting, just write. It doesn’t even matter what you write. Or if anyone reads it. Just write and write and write. You’ll figure it out.

You don’t have a reputation to protect

The biggest block to most people getting going (and later, to you growing) is a fear of embarrassment. Get over yourself. Stop it. You aren’t famous and you don’t have a reputation to protect. And if you can’t stop worrying about your reputation… write under a pen name and don’t tell anyone you are doing it. All that matters is that you start writing.

I wrote for two years on a blogger account not tied to my name directly. Then for the next two years I wrote on a Typepad blog… I didn’t move to until I’d been at it for a few years. I didn’t have a reputation to protect. But I probably thought I did.

Don’t make an announcement

I think letting people know that you are going to start blogging is the worst thing you can possibly do. Telling people seems to mount pressure. Pressure to perform steals the joy of expressing yourself. And once the joy is gone– you will convince yourself that you don’t have time or that it isn’t a priority.

Just write. Don’t promote. Forget about Twitter or Facebook or anything else. Just write. If it’s good, people will find it.

Measure the right things

I’m 7 years into this. I measure some pretty sophisticated things. If you are just starting out the only thing worth measuring is, “Did I write today?” Get a year into it… then add to that, “What kinds of posts draw comments?” Once you have enough confidence… then worry about things like, “What’s my niche`, who is my audience, and is my blog growing?

But for now… just write.

Church Leadership

5 Ways to Fight Loneliness in Leadership

It’s lonely at the top.

For those who work in the church, we all know it. Those who make it for the long haul either succumb to a lifetime of loneliness and don’t have any real friends or we learn to adapt and find deep connection outside the walls of the church.

But loneliness doesn’t have to be a part of the job. You really can have deep friendships and be in full-time ministry.

Acquaintance vs. Friendship

The first few years I worked at churches I confused church members hospitality with true friendship. Sure, I really enjoyed being close with people in the church… but at the end of the day (and certainly in retrospect when you step away from a church) a lot of those people I thought were my friends turned out to be just positional acquaintances. As soon as I stopped being their Pastor Adam they stopped wanting to hang out. Once I stopped investing in their kids there were no more invitations to dinner, golf, and BBQs.

Of course, we have been able to transition a few of those church acquaintances into true lifelong friendship. (For which we’re totally thankful!) But I think getting there took some time and wisdom.

A spouse helps but doesn’t really count

Kristen is my best friend. That goes without saying. But Kristen could never fill the void I needed in ministry as a friend and confidant. When I meet with people young in ministry, I often see them putting their spouse in the friend category. Of course, your spouse will help you curb loneliness! But don’t forget your spouse needs to find true friendship outside of you, as well.

So, what works?

Here are five things that helped me get past loneliness and find some healthy friendship while in church leadership.

  1. Find a ministry network locally. Believe it or not, there are people just like you in your own community! Joining a network is a great way to meet people. Go a couple of times, see who you connect with, then take the first step and take that one person out to lunch.
  2. Join a sports club or league. I don’t mean a church league either. Join a league and get outside of your church social circle. Get to know contractors and realtors and other normal people.
  3. Connect with long-time friends intentionally. Some of my best friends in ministry, I only see once or twice per year. The few days we spend together per year are awesome and fill up our tanks. Going to the same conference really helps. But even meeting up for a weekend somewhere goes a long way.
  4. Ignore other leaders who live unhealthy lives. For whatever reason, church ministry attracts workaholics. Looking through job postings at YS I can’t believe how many of them will admit that they want someone to work more than 40 hours per week. Don’t work at those ministries. Go home on time. Make wise use of your ministry time and you’ll have tons of time for real friendship. Never forget that its Jesus’ job to grow the church.
  5. Take the first step! I think I spent over a year completely lonely and out of my mind crazy because I was waiting for fellow ministry people in my community to come find me. It’s not going to happen. The assumption is always going to be that you are busy and your life is full of relationships until you step out first.
Church Leadership management maturity Social Action

Innovating with an established ecosystem

Photo by fmgbain via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Starting a new organization is an entirely different task than innovating to change an existing organization.

Both are hard. But changing and existing organization is way harder.

For most of my career I’ve been in turnaround roles. Kristen and I have a little joke… My entire adult work life has seemed like one roller coaster ride after another.

Click, click, click, click… up we climb.

Click, click, click, click. My heart races.

Wait for it. Wait for it… Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Arms up. Screaming bloody murder. Thinking of the Tom Petty song, Free Falling.

Down the big hill we go.

Over and over again I’m left to help try to innovate our way out of the mess.

And, so far, I’ve been pretty successful at it by most people’s judgement.

How does one innovate within an existing ecosystem?

  1. Become Switzerland. There are political factions within any organization. If you want to get stuff done you need to be neither and empathetic both sides at the same time.
  2. Spike the football. When you do something that everyone is happy with its OK to just look into the camera and say, “Thank you very much. Woohoo! Hi mom!” I’ve seen a lot of people fail in an organization because they were afraid to take the credit for their own ideas doing well. Don’t be an idiot. It’s OK to be the guy to do good stuff. Spike the football.
  3. Own the data. Existing organizations are horrible at owning their data. I like to look at the results of a long-standing program that has had no results and say, “30 years of VBS and not a single new family? Why didn’t we just light that $300,000 on fire? At least we would have had a good BBQ.” When people are tied to tradition or the way they’ve always done things, sometimes you need to be the person with the frying pan who hits them in the head. Helping people in leadership own the data is the catalyst to getting stuff done in an existing organization.
  4. Be creative. Face it. A fist full of money and a fat belly has never created a single good idea. Have you seen Bing? No budget, no time, no research, shot in the dark… that’s when good stuff happens. That’s when the best ideas pop into your head. Creativity and innovation come out of suffering and frustration. These are your friends and allies, not your enemies.
  5. Opportunistic eyes. I keep a list of ideas I’ve got on ice. Then, when I’m in a meeting and everyone is scratching their heads looking for something new, bam… I’m pull out my concept. If I ran around screaming about every idea I had all the time I’d look like a mad scientist.

What are some ways you’ve learned to innovate within an existing ecosystem?

social media

5 Free Business Tips for Facebook Pages


How do I use Facebook to enhance my company, church, organization, or club?

As a person who utilizes Facebook in the repetoir of how I make my living, I get this question a lot. With hundreds of millions of Facebook users out there, and huge growth in the adult demographic, it makes sense for people to shift marketing efforts to Facebook. The trick is doing it without looking like an idiot.

What do you recommend? Here are my  5 things with Facebook. It’ll be the best marketing you can do in the next 1 hour, trust me. Just like anything else… nail the basics and everything else is just gravy.

Preamble: You need a page, not a group. If you only have a group right now… go create a page. Facebook is not investing in making the group experience better. All of their efforts for businesses are focused on pages.

1. Secure your URL. Once your page has 100 fans, you can go to and secure a unique URL. This will help you on a lot of fronts. First, it’s easy to remember. Tell people, “Like our product? Become a fan on Facebook at” I’m seeing this everywhere! I was at a golf course a couple weeks back that had a fan page. Hotels have it. Designers have it. Even dive bars have fan pages. Second, this helps your company on the Google front as well. It’ll make it easier for people looking for you and your products to find you… not your competitor. If you are a company that has brands/products it’s a good idea to also add a fan page for your top products.

2. Add FBML. With the page application FBML, you’ll be able to build a landing page for your fans. Here’s an example of mine from Youth Specialties. Here’s another one from Coke. FBML allows you to design HTML code and drop it into your page as a tab. Then in the page settings you can select which tab is the default landing page. With both the Coke and YS pages you see that it introduces the brand and products pretty strongly, right away. If you aren’t a web guru, I’d still add FBML and have your web designer pimp it out. (Or send me $500 and I’ll do it for you.)

3. Embed video or audio. Up until recently, Facebook has not allowed applications like FBML to embed stuff. It basically stripped out <embed> and <script> tags in the coding. But if your brand has some great audio/video that you think could help you sell your products, here’s a little hack.

Bear in mind you need to host these files on your own host, but that’s cheap and easy enough.

For video, you can embed FLV files using this code: <fb:flv src="Flash_Video_URL" height="###" width="###"/>

For audio, you can embed MP3 files using this code: <fb:mp3 src="URL HERE" height="###" width="###" artist="artist" title="title" album="picture"/>

That may not be a beginners option, but if you can pull it off it looks fantastic!

4. Connect your company website/blog to your Facebook page. If your website was designed in the last 3-4 years it probably has RSS feeds. It’s simple and easy to import an RSS feed from your website onto your page. Here’s the link.

5. Add your Facebook page Fan Box to your company website or blog. Complete the circle. You are sending your content to Facebook, allow your customers to see your precense on Facebook from your website.

That’s it. Those are the basics. Nail those 5 things down and you are off to a good start. In fact, I wouldn’t add much else to a Facebook page. Just make sure to update your status from time to time.

hmm... thoughts

Butt Call Etiquette


As someone with an “A” name I get a fair number of butt calls. What is a butt call? A butt call happens when someone forgets to lock the keypad on their phone and unintentionally calls someone when the phone is placed into a pocket, jacket, purse, or the like. Since “Adam” happens to land as the first contact on a lot of people’s phones I tend to get a lot of these.

It’s happened three times in the past 24 hours. I find it comes and goes. Typically, it’ll happen with the same person in a string… especially when someone gets a new phone.

Most often I screen my calls. (Especially if someone is a notorious butt caller. You know who you are.) So this means I end up with lengthy and fun voice mail. They sound a lot like testimony tapes from an FBI wiretap. Muffled, unclear, scratchy. They sound a lot like the Watergate tapes. Almost all of the time I listen for about 5 seconds and then delete it. But lately I’ve been thinking it would be fun to remix them or mash them up into a dance mix.

What is the proper etiquette when you discover you have butt called someone?

1. Ignore the problem. It really isn’t a big deal. People like me are used to it. Think of me as your accountability partner.

2. Apologize. If you know you were probably talking mad crap about the person when you butt called them, you might want to clean up that mess. Chances are they have saved that message.

3. Fix the problem. Every single cell phone has a screen lock. Get used to using it. Check your cell phone bill. If your pocket has been calling the same person 4-5 times per day you can fix this problem by modifying your behavior. Make the first contact on your phone “911” and I guarantee you’ll get used to using the screen lock by the time the paramedics leave your house for the third false alarm.

4. Talk louder. If your purse is going to call me, speak up for crying out loud so I can mock you better! If you are in your car and you want to crank up some REO Speedwagon while your pocket calls someone… you’ve got to make it more entertaining. Sing loudly in your car.

Church Leadership

Some advice for a newbie

This morning I got a Facebook message from a brand new youth pastor. 2.5 weeks on the job, he asks “What advice can you give me?” Here’s my response:

I just hope you’ve got “My First 2 years in YM.” Seriously, that’ll save your tosh.

Some advice for the newbie.

Just focus on what’s most important and try to limit the rest. (Build relationships with kids, avoid meetings) Don’t be an office rat. Buy lots and lots of kids cokes and ice cream.

Wear a cup when you play paintball. Talk the church into a once per year permission slip. Make friends with the janitor. Tell the pastor you like his sermons.

Find out what you suck at and find a volunteer to do that for you. Get to know the parents. Order one large pizza for every 5 kids. Only do fundraisers that return 100% profit or more.

Keep your hobbies. Don’t try to dress like your students. Always say yes when an elder asks you to go to lunch. Use all of your vacation time. You love all types of music.

Get a Netflix account. Create a 12 month teaching cycle to impress your boss with. Always make eye contact. Make an appointment with the high school principal and repeat after me, “I have 4-5 hours per week to volunteer, how can I serve the school?” Ask kids about their walk with Jesus. Let all your calls after 5 PM go to voice mail.

Just focus on what’s most important and try to limit the rest.