Categories
youth ministry

5 tips for engaging students on a Sunday morning

Newsflash. It can sometimes be difficult to connect with a teenager at church.

Our culture does a lot to communicate to us that teenagers and adults shouldn’t engage with one another. As adults we think, “What could I have in common with a 14 year old?” And teenagers assume that adults don’t really want to be with them. So when thinking about engaging with a teenager at church or youth group you have to start with the understanding that there is naturally a gap or divide to be crossed. You’re going to have to fight past some stuff to really get there.

And frankly, I need to know that the 2-3 hours per week I volunteer with the youth group make a difference. If that time isn’t going to be valuable than I’d much rather invest that time at home than at church.

Getting past “Hi” and the craptastic world of small talk involves some skill. Here’s 5 tips for getting past small talk and helping you really engage with the teenagers at your church.

  1. Take the first step. In my life I’m used to people taking the first step to begin a conversation. But most teenagers, even the most outgoing ones, assume that you don’t really want to talk with them, so you’ll have to take the first step. So push past the awkwardness of initiating a conversation and just go for it. An easy in is always, “Tell me about your week.” Then make sure you listen, not just for an in to talk about your week, but really listen.
  2. Don’t play 20 questions. When taking the initiative to start a conversation it feels easy to play 20 questions. My rule of thumb is that I don’t want to ever get one-word answers so I tend to kick off a conversation with something open-ended. You’re looking for paragraph responses, you want to know what they think, and you want to make sure they know you are someone who really wants to talk to them.
  3. Don’t beat around the bush. About 10 years ago I had a volunteer in my ministry who taught me just to skip small talk altogether. He had this warm, strong way of putting his arm around a guy and saying, “Talk to me about your devos this week, whatcha reading?” I promise you, the reason half the guys in our group read the Bible was because they knew that question was coming and that Jeff really cared about the answer. So skip the small talk about sports, the weather, and TV shows and just get to the point. You want to make a difference and they want you to make a difference— small talk is a sell out.
  4. Go for the heart, share your heart. When we’re engaging with God’s kids at church we need to remember that God cares more about our heart than our feet. We are all going to make mistakes and part of being an adolescent involves trying to figure out who you are. Don’t make the mistake of talking to students about merely what they do. Make sure to drill into who they are when they are doing stuff. And share your heart. You don’t have to relate everything to when you were a teenager, relate what they are saying to your daily life. It’s OK to share your heart… they want to see that you are real and really can relate to them.
  5. Level the playing field. Some of this is body language and some of it is how we position ourselves in conversation. I always want to be at eye level with students. If they are sitting, I sit. If they are sitting on the pavement eating pizza, I pop a squat next to them. The same is true in conversation. They know that in society you are more powerful than they are… culture tells them that. It’s your job to communicate in word and deed that you seem them through God’s eyes… we are all human, we all have the same needs for Jesus, we all have things we are working through and big questions. I’ve found when I level the playing field I go deep, but when I fall into hierarchical habits all of my relationships with students default back to small talk.

What are tips you use for engaging with the teenagers at your church? Share your ideas in the comments. 

Categories
Church Leadership

Outsmarting Your Opponent

Rocky Long is crazy. Yesterday, he told reporters that as head coach of the San Diego State football team he is planning on always onside kicking and always going for it on 4th down.

Rocky Long is genius. By telling his opponents he is not going to traditionally kick the ball off and not planning to punt on 4th down, they have to prepare for that potential even if he has no intention of doing it.

This is Rocky Long’s Moneyball moment. After 40 years as a head coach he has a wild idea and he’s toying with the gamble. He sees something that his opponents don’t. And he’s convinced that this could give him the competitive advantage over more talented teams that he needs.

He told the Union-Times:

And yes, Long — who apparently hasn’t yet tried it all in his 40 years of coaching — is serious about this. “It makes sense,” he said, seeming almost giddy in talking about the possibilities. “Additional plays would allow you to score a lot more points,” he said. “It also puts a whole lot of pressure on the defense.” source

As a season ticket holder I know that this announcement is influenced by his personnel and not just a crazy idea he woke up with. He lost 4 of his most crucial players to the NFL and wasn’t able to replace them with players of equal/higher quality. (QB, RB, MLB, Punter) Additionally, they are one year away from entering the Big East where he will likely have a competitive disadvantage every single week of conference play. He’s interested in a gimmick because he is desperate to give his team any sort of advantage. And just the threat of this makes other teams prepare for it.

That said, the person he’s learning this philosophy from is pretty successful with it.

The possibly not-so-mad professor of this “punting-is-for-wimps” practice is Kevin Kelley, the head coach of a small private school, the Pulaski Academy, in Little Rock, Ark. In nine years, Kelley’s teams have posted a 104-19 record, winning three state titles. Last season, Pulaski went 14-0 and averaged 51 points per game. source

It’s crazy. But it might just be crazy enough to work.

What’s your competitive advantage?

In ministry, the head coach of the other team is Satan. And he’s been doing some winning lately, hasn’t he? Sick of him winning yet? He has more resources than you. He’s got great recruiters. He’s actually smarter and more experienced than you. You are losing, not because you’re a bad person, but because you’ve been outsmarted.

My prayer is that you’re ticked off about this. My hope is that you’re tired of losing. And my eye glimmers with the possibility that maybe you are ready to start playing with the team you have and not the team you wish you have.

Maybe it’s time to try that idea you’ve always wanted to try but thought was too risky? Maybe it’s time to look around and discover something that’s way outside of the box but is totally working? And maybe it’s time you took a 48 hour retreat and figured something out?

Categories
youth ministry

The 48 Hour Self-Retreat – How to plan your Fall 2012 Ministry Strategy

It’s August 1st. 

For most youth ministries things really kick off in 30 days. That means in the next 30 days you need a publishable Fall calendar, you need to check in with all of your volunteers to make sure they are coming back, and you need to host a volunteer training meeting as well as schedule a parents meeting.

Plus, you have all your normal day-to-day work. And you still have summer ministry stuff going.

The Vortex of Doom

Remember that feeling you had in May? The one that looked at what you were doing through a critical, tired eye? The one that said… “Gosh, this was pretty good but we can do a lot better.” The one that resolved to make 2012-2013 better?

Remember how you were relieved to have made it through your annual review unscathed? You left that meeting with a sinking feeling that you probably bought another year before people start demanding “results.”

And now you’re here. You have taken the time to evaluate the past year. You’ve taken a little time away from normality to get some perspective.

And now there is a lot of temptation in your busyness to just do what you did last year with a few minor revisions and hope for different results.

I call that the Vortex of Doom. The Vortex of Doom is that rushed feeling you feel right now, anxiety whispering in your ear… “You won’t be ready in time!” The Vortex has gravitational pull to “just get stuff done” and results in you not doing your very best.

The Promise

If you give into the Vortex of Doom every August and plan to do what you did last year, just a little bit different and just a little bit better, than don’t be surprised when you get to May 2013 and you:

a. Feel worse than you did in May 2012…

b. Get fired because you delivered the same results yet again…

I promise you this. If you take 48 hours and re-evaluate your 2012-2013 plan right now… you’ll be thankful all year.

If you do last years strategy with only minor changes you will not see a different result. Why? Because a bad strategy, wonderfully executed and fully funded, is still a bad strategy. Doing it again this year, with gusto, won’t change things. Investing in your past will never lead to your future.

You work with teenagers… change has to be in your DNA to survive.

The 48 Hour Self-Retreat

Here’s one of my little secrets. While it’s really hard to get my team away for a planning retreat, it’s actually pretty simple to identify 2 full days of planning for myself. Then I can schedule some meetings with key leaders as part of my retreat, say have coffee or have them over for dinner, and they are participating in the planning retreat without even leaving home. (Or knowing they are on your retreat. BAM!)

Tasks for the 48 Hour Self-Retreat

  1. Prayer. Spend an hour or so each day in silent prayer. I’ve found it useful to spend the first 30 minutes just listening and slowing down. Next, I like to spend the first day praying for all of my leaders and students. The second day is spent asking God for wisdom.
  2. Celebrate the victories. I’ve found it really useful to spend an hour or two celebrating what God has done in the previous year. What were wins? Who were the people impacted?
  3. Make some resolutions. What big things need to change? Maybe it’s your target demographic. Maybe it’s what students learn? I can’t answer that for you.
  4. Two-fold research. First, spend 2 hours doing a basic ethnography at 2 different places. Do observation, take notes, etc. (Here’s a link to how to do that.)
  5. Meet with 2-3 key volunteers to ideate. I like to get this to a point of asking, “What if” and “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” statements.
  6. Meet with 2-3 key student leaders to ideate. Same as above. Depending on your set-up you might even do t his with those adult leaders. A dinner is a good way to accomplish that.
  7. Meet with 2-3 “fringe students” to listen, dream, ideate. I actually like to meet with a couple groups of them. Those in the church who should be involved somehow but aren’t. And those truly on the fringe, maybe have visited a couple of times and you see at school, but aren’t engaged at all. Take them out for a coke or go to Dairy Queen… something simple like that works wonders.
  8. Spend a couple hours compiling all of this data, identifying the top 5 learnings. Do this before lunch on the second day.
  9. Have a “So now what” session. Go into a room with a big white board, chalk board, or butcher block paper and just start brainstorming ideas. Look at your data and your learnings and start saying… “So now what?” If you can gather your team for this, awesome. But seriously… this is one of the most critical parts of the process, otherwise you just learned a bunch of stuff but haven’t done anything with it.
  10. Identify 1 measurable difference for the coming school year. It’s not that you are only doing one new thing… it’s that you want to everyone to be able to clearly identify what that 1 thing is and recognize it when they see it. For example, last school year the ministry I volunteer with wanted to dramatically increase the “I know you” factor. So we changed a whole bunch of things so that the group interacted more, hung out more, and got to know one another. At the end of the school year we could all point to that and say.. “Yep, that’s way better.”

So, how did it go? I’d love to hear how your 48-hour retreat went!