Books social media youth ministry

How to talk to parents about parenting

Over the past year or so I’ve had the opportunity to lead an hour-long seminars for parents. In fact, earlier this year partnered with Simply Youth Ministry & Marko to turn the content of my seminar into a book that comes out in a few weeks, A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media.

For me, this has meant going to churches and presenting content without knowing a thing about the context of the church. Sure, I can figure out some things just by driving around or overhearing small talk in the foyer.

The Youth Cartel youth ministry

Join us for Open Seattle

I’m getting really pumped for Open Seattle next week. If you live in the Pacific Northwest we’d love to have you. Yesterday, we extended the regular registration deadline until next Monday– so you can still get in for $25!

What’s Open Seattle?

Open is an experiment. It’s asking the the youth ministry world the question… “What would happen if we completely flipped the script on a youth ministry training event?

  • What if a national organization gave leadership to local organizers?
  • What if front-line youth workers were favored in speaker selection over those on the speaking circuit?
  • What if we took chances instead of playing it safe on the stuff we present?
  • What if The Youth Cartel didn’t have to fly its name out front, but instead lifted up the names of its partners?
  • What if none of the speakers got paid? What if I didn’t have to get paid to help organize it… I just did it for a fair share?
  • Speaking of money, what if a local YM charity was benefited financially?
  • Heck, what if we just posted the full event budget online for anyone to see?
  • Why not record everything and then share all the sessions with the community on a central website… so no matter where you live you can have access to training resources and the freshest ideas out there on the ground?
  • What if we perfected the thing and just kind of open-sourced THE WHOLE THING so we can help people who have been to one organize one themselves?
My hope for the answer to all of those questions is… I think that the best ideas will be given a voice. My hope is that when front-line youth workers get an opportunity to share what they know and even their big, crazy ideas with a group of people just like them… that it’ll spur on more ideas and spark new innovations with the net result that we’ll reach more teenagers with the Good News.

So yes, it’s an experimental thing. Originally there was a lot of risk. It was really hard to explain the overall concept to the first few partners– Jeff at SPU, Brian Aaby at YouthMark, Mark Moder at Youth Dynamics. But as we kept talking about it this idea really took off. They made the idea even better.

At this point in preparation– I’m not feeling this is as big a risk anymore. Actually, when I look at the people who are presenting and the folks who are coming I don’t see a lot of risk. Now I just see an awesome, affordable, innovative event. 

We’ve got two tracks of learning. One is training, it’s full of great stuff as a refresher for the paid person and covering a lot of bases for your volunteers. The second track is all about ideas. It’s got some stuff in there that’ll cause you to scratch your head or write stuff down or just plain want to wrestle the speaker at the after party.

For $25 You Get

  1. 16 sessions
  2. A free t-shirt
  3. The ability to say you were at the very first one of these. (We’ve got two more planned for this school year, one in Boston and one in Paris.)

In 2013-2014 we hope to add 6 more of these as we beta test the concept… 4 more in the United States, 1 more in Europe, and 1 Lord willing, in Canada.

I hope to see you next weekend on the campus of Seattle Pacific University. And if you can’t make it there, I hope to see you at an Open event soon.


How to buy a used car for way below Kelly Blue Book, Part 1

After a couple months of research we were finally able to purchase a great used minivan while getting a good deal from a reputable dealer.

General used car buying advice

Preface — Download the free Kelly Blue Book app for your phone. In order to beat the dealer in real time, you’ll want to have access to the data when you are shopping.

Goal— This plan is loading you up on leverage so that you can be in the offensive position when it comes down to negotiating price.

  1. Start with a class, not a specific make/model/year. In our case, we were looking for something that seated 7 people that was 3-7 years old. As you get deeper in the process it’ll help to know the basics about your class. Which car is most desirable in that class? Which is least desirable? What are the best features in that class for those years? On and on.
  2. Use and Yelp. Once you have #1 figured out, create two searches on AutoTrader and set them up to send you a daily email. Do one search for the cars you are most interested in within 25 miles. Do another search for the entire class within 75-100 miles. This will notify you when something you really like is close, so you can go over and take a look. But it’ll also give you an idea of what cars are going for in your class within your area. (Lots of dealers have several locations and move cars around so their lots look fresh.) Save the ones you like the most. This will make it simple to go back and compare, plus if you use it long enough you’ll see which cars in your class move the fastest and at what price. For Yelp, get to know the dealers reputation in your community before you see their striped tie on the lot… just type in the name of your city and “used car” and you’ll learn all sorts of things about the dealers who look awesome on AutoTrader.
  3. Avoid tent sales, sales events, and anything attached to the name “Giant” or “Super.” If you don’t believe me, leave your checkbook at home and go visit one. It’s every slimy sales guy/tactic at one place trying to out-sell the other slimy guys. From a strategy perspective this is how dealers move inventory quickly at higher-than-normal prices OR ridiculous financing. These events put the seller in the power position and you, the buyer, in the weaker position. Have you ever gotten a good deal at a carnival? I didn’t think so. 
  4. Sunday and after hours are your friend. In our area (San Diego, CA) most of the lots are closed on Sunday. And most lots are closed by 6 PM during the week. If you want to get a closer look at a car you might be interested and want to avoid the people in ties this is the best time to do it. Everything looks nice on AutoTrader. Just do a few recon missions to see who carries what and at what quality. Most smaller lots and a lot of big name dealers buys their cars at auction. Then they spend $1000 on them to spiffy them up at a nice profit. But a few of the name brand dealers keep the best trade-ins and then fill their lots with some auction stuff. Get a close-up look and you’ll spot the winners from losers right away.
  5. Keep the deal simple. You won’t be able to do the math in your head if you start talking about financing, trade-in value, etc. You only want to talk about “out the door” price. (Including all their fees, sales tax, etc.) So take care of your financing ahead of time, sell your car on Craigslist– just do whatever you need to do in order to simplify the deal to an “out the door” price.
  6. Buy at the end of the month. Salesperson paychecks and quotas are measured on the last day of the month. If you are walking onto a car lot knowing you can buy when you find the right car, knowing what you can spend, and are willing to negotiate, and willing to wait another few weeks if you need to– you have about as much leverage as you’re going to get in the last few days of the month.
  7. Don’t go alone. Typically, dealerships assign one salesperson to each buyer on the lot. So having two of you and one of them is a big, tactical advantage. When the salesperson starts showing you cars the second person can open up different doors and see the price or give you a quick opinion. I took my 8 year old son and he was perfect for this job. He and I worked out little looks and gestures for when it was time to move.
  8. Test drives are free. You ultimately won’t know what you like until you get behind the wheel. If a salesperson is douchie about it just walk off the lot. (Most require your drivers license. If they ask to run a credit check in order to test drive, it’s time to bounce.) It’s not like they really think you are going to buy a car without driving it. Test out if you like where the controls are, if things move like they are supposed to, if everything works, etc. Any reputable dealer is also fine with you taking the car to a mechanic to get it looked at. (Usually this is under $50)
  9. Don’t fall in love. If you’ve done your research you’ll know that your #1 – #5 choices are likely available at various lots. Until you sign on the dotted line you need to be prepared to walk away. In fact, walking away is your best leverage point. You have everything the salesperson wants, your money. And only you can decide when the sale makes sense.
  10. Character matters. Be willing to walk off a lot and miss out on your #1 choice if the dealership is shady. Even at the best dealerships, service is going to go down drastically from the moment you buy the car. So if you feel weird about the guy in the tie talking to you– know that he’s the nicest guy at the shop. If you don’t like him you’re really not going to like the service department or anyone else. There are thousands of dealers and millions of used cars available. Just trust me, if you feel weird… walk away.

In Part 2 of this series I’ll share our actual experience with getting a deal 22% below Kelly Blue Book price and nearly 50% cheaper than similar dealer list price for the exact same used minivan. 


I need your camping advice!

Next weekend the McLane family is going camping. (A non-digital adventure!) Specifically, we’re going to Idyllwild, CA for 3 days and 2 nights.

We need this

Summer 2011 has been the lost summer. Especially for me. Leaving YS and starting up 2 businesses meant that we didn’t take a vacation over the summer and I’m pretty much fried as a result. In the last 90 days I’ve worked 12+ hours probably about 75 of those days.

Our family is in desperate need of R&R– away from projects, school, and anything digital. Why? Because after next weekend the fall gets going like crazy with conferences, cool projects, youth group retreats, yada yada yada. If we don’t do this we won’t get a break until Thanksgiving.

Here’s the deal

Kristen and I were into backpacking before we had kids so we know the nuts & bolts stuff about setting up camp. But since we’ve had kids (10+ years) we’ve never gone camping without taking 40 middle/high school kids.

What we need is help with fun things to do with our kids while camping beyond the obvious stuff like hiking and s’mores and exploring the woods. We know we need to try geocaching…. but what else?

Leave me a comment with your favorite camping tip and help our family make some memories next weekend. 


How we got here is not how we get out of here

In 1995, I got a job running some machinery on nights and weekends for a large health care company. I was a college student and it was a perfect job for me.

  • It was boring and I could do my homework. 
  • I had free reign to the 29th floor of a Chicago skyscraper until 6:00 AM. 
  • It paid $15.00 per hour, as many hours as I wanted to work.

The people who trained me were meticulous is telling me “this is how things are done.” In truth, their system took a fairly simple task and made it really complicated. They spent most of their day waiting for something to load onto the computer or setting up the machinery.

And when I’d point out that if you did things in a different order, the whole process ran a lot faster, I was sharply told, “Don’t mess with the order. This is how we were trained to do it. This is how things are done.

And I did. Until they left. And then I did things my own way.

This went on for months. The day staff would do 10% of the work and in 5-6 hours I’d come in and knock out the other 90% using my own techniques. And the day staff started to hate me. They’d leave me “encouraging notes” all the time about how I was making them look bad.

One night, about 10 o’clock, the door of my room swung open unexpectedly. I was blasting the Newsboys, reading Hodge’s Systematic Theology, and the machine was running like a champ even though I was barely looking at it. To my horror I had missed that my bosses, bosses, bosses, boss– the VP of the department– had stayed really late to work. As she had heard my music and wanted to say goodbye before she left.

I stood up suddenly, convinced I was about to be fired for breaking like 6 rules.

Adam, I want to ask you some questions!” Crap. Dangit. How did I let this happen?

It turns out that she had actually left at five and come back just to see me. She explained to me that she heard in a meeting that I was somehow doing more, cheaper, and faster than other employees who had 10 years experience on me. And no one knew why… so she had come to figure it out.

By the time I was done explaining my process to her she had two questions for me:

  1. Could I teach other people how to do this?
  2. How soon could I start as the supervisor of that area?
That’s when I learned that “this is how things are done” wasn’t going to work for me as an adult.

This is how things are done.

As an idea guy, there are rarely more offensive words spoken.

In my mind, there are lots of ways to do everything and the way that you’ve always done them has lead you to the results that you know. So, if you have the absolute best results/product/organization on the planet, and it can’t possibly get any better than it is, yes… I suppose this is how you do it.

But for everything else– This is how you do it to get the results you already have. 

  • This is our service order
  • This is our product cycle
  • This is our traditional calendar
  • This is our fundraiser
  • On and on

This is how things are done” is fools gold. Because of the law of diminishing returns, “this is how things are done” will only lead you into doing less, earning less, and reaching less– instead of more.

What’s interesting about being around people who believe in this? They think that it leads to greater efficiency and better results. And when results aren’t what they’d hoped they would be it’s not the system that is broken, it’s that you didn’t do things the right way, in the right order, or with the right people.

You see, “this is how we do things” works. At least it does for  them.This is how things are done” is comfortable, predictable, and easy.

But as a long-term strategy? It only leads to failure. Long term, systemic failure.

Sadly, because the law of diminishing returns is gradual you don’t even recognize that your systems are, like the frog in the pot, killing you.

Until one day you wake up and realize:

  • My church is way smaller than it used to be even though we’re working harder.
  • Kids aren’t coming to my retreats anymore even though I’m promoting it like crazy.
  • I’m selling fewer cars than I need to in order to survive and prices have never been better.
  • I’m making far fewer widgets than I need to be in order to make a profit.
  • I can’t make payroll, much less a profit.

What’s the solution?

Start some new mantras. “How can we do more with less?

Create a culture that rewards soft innovation.

Ask your frontline workers.

Reward your frontliners and they’ll keep you on the bleeding edge.

REVOLT: The systems that got you here will not be the systems that lead you where you want to go.

youth ministry

Three Ways to Reach More Teenagers Starting this Fall

In your community less than 10% of 6-12th graders are a part of a youth ministry.

Photo by Martin Ringlein via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In most communities 2%-3% of eligible teenagers are involved on a good week. Ouch. Here’s a strategic reality check for you: Tweaking your mid-week program or plugging in a new communications tool or even working harder isn’t going to help you reach the next 10% of students in your community.

Simply put– what you are currently doing is only going to reach maybe 1%-2% more people next year. And if you believe, like I do, that a life with Jesus is better than a life without Jesus, this is a call to action more than a call to give up!

Have you read the book of Acts, lately? It’s the most dangerous book in the Bible! And yes, that’s possible today.

To reach more students you’re going to need to implement additional strategies. Don’t freak out. Launching additional strategies doesn’t mean you have to do more work. But it does mean that you might need to make some room and cast a wider vision for ministering to adolescents in your community.

Here are three ideas that you can start this Fall

Starting with resources you probably already have, these three start-ups will reach a different population than you currently can.

  1. Drop-in center – A drop-in center is a safe place for teenagers to hang out. If you have a youth room already.. or even better… a local business who allows you in, it is basically just having night hours a couple days per week and staffing it with volunteers. (Say, open from 8pm – 2 am, you know… when the students you need to reach are out and bored.) Allow local bands to come in and play. Have some occasional theme parties or movie nights. Offer beverages, snacks. Adults who staff it focus on building relationships, inviting those interested to check out Jesus in an exploratory study on who Jesus is. It can be a rough and tumble option. But definitely needed in most communities and a great way to expand your reach. If you have some bouncer looking adults in your church, they’d love this. Give to them and get out of the way. Tip: Tell your church kids it’s not for them.
  2. After-school program – This is especially helpful in reaching 5th-8th graders. I’m always surprised that more churches don’t offer after school stuff since churches usually really close to schools! You would be surprised how many middle schoolers are going home to empty houses and this provides an easy alternative. When they come, offer free time and a snack so they can unwind from the day. After that, offer a quick lesson on virtues or values or even hygiene…. Then flow into an hour of homework help. This might seem intimidating at first. But I guarantee that every church in the country has a retired teacher or someone who wants to run it, some stay-at-home moms to jump on board, and other folks who would love to pitch in because they love kids. If you break it into two roles, the free time and lesson crew and the homework helpers– it’s a lot easier to staff as one tends to intimidate the other type of person. Tip: You’d be surprised how much money is out there in federal grant money for this. You can probably do it with existing unused space and a grant to cover expenses.
  3. Partner with the school to provide mentors- Mentorship is the buzz word in youth ministry circles and educational circles. Meet with your principal before he leaves town for the summer and ask if you could help them get a mentorship program going pairing educated adults with students who need a little extra care. (Or support the one they already have.) Even if you just became the point person for the school’s mentorship program, you’d probably be the principal’s best friend for life. I’d bet my mother’s right arm that you can find 25 adults in your church willing to volunteer 2 hours per week mentoring a middle school or high school student. Chances are also good that if the school posted the opportunity you’d have an additional 25 volunteers come out of the woodwork, you’d hold one quick volunteer meeting, coordinate with the administration, and it would be off to the races. Tip: The key to any interaction with your local school is meeting with the principal and asking, “What are your needs? How can I get people to support your mission?” Coming to him and pitching a mentorship program might not be the best idea. But if it comes out that its a need of his, jump on it!
illustrations management

The Innovation Gap

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” ~ William Arthur Ward

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” ~ Steve Jobs

I don’t pretend to know what today’s problems are for you.

But this much I do know–

  • The best ideas comes from those on the front lines. That’s the great joy of innovation. Today’s heroes count their riches while tomorrows heroes work all night.
  • Avoiding failure is a failure in itself. The trick to creating new stuff is to fail fast. Risk isn’t the enemy, comfort is.
  • Celebrate every milestone. A step towards your ultimate goal is still a step forward. Plus, moving forward will gain you momentum.
  • Every person has a creative mind. Don’t sell anyone short. Rarely are the best things innovated alone. Your best idea might come from listening to another person talk about the same problem.
  • Look at your problem from every angle. The best putters in golf walk all the way around their shot.
hmm... thoughts

Do Good Ideas

Last night I was riding my bike home and my head was full of ideas. I actually pulled over, whipped out my iPhone, and jotted 3 of them down so I wouldn’t lose them.

That lead me to post on Twitter: “I really wish I had 4-5 people to sit around with regularly and share ideas. I could actually meet almost every day.

That tweet launched a conversation about if such a group was really plausible.

Here’s what I’m thinking. This is completely open for discussion. So leave a comment if you have ideas or feedback.

And yes, I’m pretty serious about this.

Good ideas cohort

  • It’d be a group of people who care about investing in an idea enough to see it through.
  • It’d need to be a group of people somehow vocationally tied to youth ministry, but the ideas shared wouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with youth ministry.
  • There’d be a $500 buy-in per person, so everyone would have a dog in the fight. (We’d hold the money in an escrow account.)
  • Annually, we’d fund one idea with our seed money. Other than that no one would profit from the cohort.
  • Everyone in the group would sign a non-disclosure agreement as well as some sort of an agreement that ideas shared would belong to the person presenting them.
  • Everyone would get the opportunity to share their idea (quickly) each time we met. If nothing less, this cohort would teach you how to pitch an idea for action.
  • We’d commit to a one-year cohort for the purpose of sharing ideas, learning from one another, etc. If the group wanted to keep going beyond that, it’d be up to them. (But they’d have to put up $500 annually)
  • We’d have something like a private Ning group to regularly share concepts, ideas.
  • We’d meet quarterly online via some form of video conference.
  • We’d meet annually for 2 days somewhere. Location would depend on the people in the group.
  • This would be an all-for-one and one-for-all type of thing. No one would have more power in the group than another.
  • Ideally this would be entrepreneurial. The idea of somehow donating the money to a charity doesn’t give me a lot of energy. Instead, I’d like to see the measurement of the idea be “what’s the best idea” as opposed to some other measurement.
  • Seems like 10 people would be about the maximum per cohort. But I can see doing an East Coast and West Coast version.
  • The reality is that $5000 (group of 10) isn’t a lot of money. But it could be the seed money an idea needs to get going. And who knows from there?
  • Ultimately, this would be informal enough to be fun yet formal enough that everyone would agree to take it seriously.

Good ideas friend group

As I thought about this more. I like the idea of the cohort a ton. But I would also love to have a group of Southern California friends to get together with much more often in a way more informal way. To maybe share ideas, bounce around solutions to complex problems facing the church today, and generally just be friends brought together by a common thread of wanting to see change happening and perhaps having one slice of the pie at their disposal to see change happen.

Thoughts? Ideas? Refinements? Just crazy enough to be for you?

youth ministry

Beg, Borrow, and Steal our Retreat!

That’s the goal of our high school ministries Winter retreat.

I’m not talking about a cash neutral event to the youth budget. I’m talking about… we’ve got no money so we need to do this retreat for free. We don’t have budget money and our students literally have no cash to offset expenses.

Here’s what we’re trying to do:

Create a memorable, kinetic, outside-of-our-neighborhood, experience with our high school group. We need this retreat. It’ll be good for the students and it’ll be good for the group.

Here’s how we’re going to do it

Beg: I’m not too proud to beg. Especially when it comes to the faith development of the students in our ministry. Fortunately, when it came to location, I didn’t even have to beg. I just asked a Kingdom-minded friend if we could crash his youth building for 30 hours. When I visited Danny Long earlier this fall and saw his facilities (about 30 minutes from City Heights, but far enough into East County to feel completely separate from the urban environment.) I asked if it might be a possibility to use his building for a retreat. Without flinching he was happy to do it.

Next up, Kathy (our youth pastor) asked her cousin to lead worship. Done. Teaching? I’m pretty sure we’ll split those duties. Now we’re out begging for folks to pick up the tab on our Costco run for food for the retreat.

All that’s left is to beg off some programming elements. One of the tricks I learned from retreat-guru Lars Rood [author of an upcoming YS book on doing ministry for cost-neutral or free] was to not skimp on experience. So we are officially on the lookout to bring something to this retreat that our students from City Heights completely unexpected. (Horseback riding, sledding, paintball, or something along those lines.)

Borrow: We’re going to borrow ideas. Darn near all of them. Why spend all the time thinking up stuff when we can take things people are already offering for free and tweak them to work in our ministry/ From activity ideas to theme to kitchen appliances.

Steal: OK, we’re not going to steal anything. But we are stealing victory from the enemy by doing something we can’t afford for free. We might not be a resource rich ministry, but we are a resourceful group who aren’t ashamed to rely on the Kingdom.

Have you ever done a ministry event like this? If so, leave a comment and share your idea. [So I can steal it.]

Church Leadership Good News

10 Ways Your Church Can Be Good News to Public Schools

I have a fervent belief that if we want to reach a post-Christian society, we have to be Good News before someone will listen to Good News.

I asked some teachers, “How could a local church be Good News to your public school?” Here are 10 of their ideas.

  1. Create a team that participates at every school board meeting. Your presence at meetings, without bringing forward issues, will communicate to the decision makers that your church cares.
  2. Sponsor a community-wide clean-up day during the Fall and Spring semester. If you lead the charge, other churches and community organizations will join forces.
  3. Ask teachers to post individual classroom needs on Donors Choose, and then ask church members to help fund things that will go directly to the classroom.
  4. Set-up a tutoring program that meets in your building after school. (Example) You don’t have to be a certified teacher to help kids with math, science, and reading homework.
  5. Ask your congregation to strategically send their children to public schools. Resist the temptation to home school or send children to a private school. Instead, ask the congregation to invest that time and money into their children’s individual classrooms.
  6. Schools are often lacking volunteers for events. Meet with the principal early in the Fall and find out which events need help.
  7. Have the church cover any expenses for background checks or medical tests related to volunteering in schools. Sometimes the smallest obstacle becomes the biggest excuse!
  8. Once a month, provide treats to the school staff. Every school has a teachers lounge and every employee of the school will appreciate if you provide a bagels or a healthy lunch snack. (Don’t just bless the teachers, bring enough for everyone!) Trust me, this will make even the most hardcore staff smile.
  9. Many districts have cut spending on arts and music. Have your worship leader work with local administrators to set-up workshops, after school, or any opportunity for children to get exposure to art and music.
  10. Find out what projects are important at a school and help provide the supplies. If they have a garden, make sure they have tools. If they are allowing children to paint murals, make sure they have the paint they want.

Want to get started? Pick one and let me know how it goes!

These are my ideas. What are yours?

Many of these ideas came from classroom teachers. Special thanks to Erin, Annie, and Paul for speaking into this post.