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!  


My blogging process

Photo by m-c via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Posting something almost daily at is a challenge. So I thought it’d be fun to write about that process. Perhaps this will provide an insight into my daily life or maybe it’ll even help someone figure out a new process for them?

Three main sources of my daily post

  1. I wake up and have something on my mind to write about.
  2. Pre-planned posts.
  3. Rants.

Typically, I write in the morning. I leave for work at 8:00 AM and I often start writing at about 6:30 AM. Most days I am literally pressing the publish button, hopping in the shower, and dashing off to work!

1. For stuff I write in the morning.
These are my journal posts. They tend to ramble more. These are also posts that I mostly write because I have to or the thought will take over my day. It’s hard to explain that, but I think I’ve disciplined myself to wake up thinking about something. There’s definitely a spiritual discipline side to it as well. I’m going on 6 years of daily public blogging… so it’s probably as much a habit as a discipline. But I really dig getting up early to write. And the pressure of having to finish by a certain time helps. (Donald Miller has a great post about using a timer to blog)

2. For stuff I pre-plan.
I’m a doodler. And if you’ve spent time with me you’ve probably seen me listen to something, or finish a conversation, and pull out my iPhone to take notes. (I also carry a notebook for this and use Post-its for the same purpose.) I use Evernote to organize that mess into a list. I have one ever-edited note called “blog posts” which is simply a list of things I want to blog about at some point. Some of those items on the list have partial posts that match… these are things I doodle while in meetings, sitting in church, on the trolley, or in a plane. Some of them are just main ideas, some of them are fully edited posts, and some are pictures of things I’ve doodled in my notebook.

Sidenote: Almost every morning I look at that list and decide do I want to write about something on the list or something on my mind? If I chose to write something on my list instead of what is on my mind, I always make sure to capture a couple sentences of that thing have on my mind for a later post.

3. Rants
Rants are a healthy part of the blogger diet. The part of ranting that I’ve tried to eliminate from my blogging diet is the immediate rant. (That’s blogger junk food!) I used to allow something to fire me up and then I’d write a scathing response. Bam, done. My new self-imposed rule is that I don’t publish a rant right away. Instead, I prefer to allow it to sit in Evernote for a while and add it to my list of things to blog about. Then, when I’ve had some time to reflect, I can decide when to publish the rant as well as how I want to edit it. Some of my most popular posts of all time started as rants, fermented, and got re-edited to something else. But a good rant is fun and I let ’em fly on occasion.

Other types of posts

There are a couple of genres of blog posts I didn’t include here. These are my more spontaneous posts. Book reviews, family updates, and video posts. There’s not much pre-planning or  deep thought that goes into them. Which is why I typically publish them on weekends or when I’m on the road. And the truth about those posts is that they are more meaningful to me than they are to the reader.

Church Leadership

Getting Started in Investing, part one


I’d like to let my youth ministry friends in on a dirty little secret. While pay has dramatically improved for youth workers in the past two decades the most consistent reason people leave youth ministry once they reach their mid 30s and above is mounting financial pressure. In other words, there are some glass ceilings on the personal income side of things that will eventually cause you to look for higher paying work in the church or not in the church if you don’t plan ahead. Plan ahead and you relieve the pressure bit by bit. Don’t plan ahead and that pressure builds and leads to a catastrophic failure.

Here is a short list of those pressures:

– Housing expenses skyrocket: That rental gets old, doesn’t it? Buying a house can be great when you land in the same place for 10 years or more. But buy and sell a house a couple of times when you change jobs and you’ll quickly see that’s a bad strategy for financial security.

– Retirement savings becomes important: Most churches either don’t offer a retirement plan for their associate staff or it is extremely inadequate. Even if you are in a denomination that pays into a pension fund… getting ordained in order to get vested in that fund can be more costly than the pension you’d earn in the long run! (And with many mainline denominations tanking financially, you really need to wonder if that money will be there in 30 years.)

– Kids get more expensive as time goes on: When you first have babies you think diapers and formula is a blow to your budget. Just wait! Eventually those kids will need braces, outgrow clothes every two weeks, want to go to camp, need a car of their own, and gulp… want to go to college.

– Medical insurance won’t cover it all: Again, when you are young and/or first married this doesn’t seem important. But with premiums soaring churches are cutting back on benefits. So as you age into needing good insurance chances are your church is increasing co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses.

– Pressure to keep up with your peers: There’s only so long you want to live like college kids. Eventually, you are going to want grown up furniture, go on nice vacations, and have a little extra something here and there. I don’t mean that you’ll get more materialistic as time goes on… but you just get sick of scrounging.

If you do nothing, eventually these pressures will leave you with no other option but to leave the ministry. You can do everything right in the 9-5 activity of working at your church. But if you don’t have a plan to address these mounting pressures, it will sneak up on you and the pressure will grow so intense that you may have no other option but to leave the job you love for a job that pays better. If the choice is lose your family or lose your ministry you will chose lose your ministry 100% of the time, right?

My goal for this series is to encourage those in youth ministry– you don’t have to bail out!

If you want to join along I will help you with a few basic strategies that will lessen these pressures. My hope is to help you stay in youth ministry longer. While things like soul care and youth ministry strategy are super important for staying in it for the long haul… I’m going to help you deal with the dirty little money secret that could eventually knock you out of ministry.

Part two: Dealing with debt and savings

Part three: COLA-  and I don’t mean Pepsi or Coke.

Part four: 401ks, IRAs, 529 and other numbers that are important

Part five: Outside income opportunities

hmm... thoughts

Digging out and shaking off

Calendar shows April 15, taxes due

Digging through paperwork and trying to find missing reciepts for tax time exposed that there was one big area of my life that I had just ignored for 6-7 months: The move’s impact on our finances.

We did fine through the move. We’re doing fine now. And like I’ve mentioned before, we’re taking all the right steps to be in great shape into the future. That’s not the point of this post at all.

The point of this post is simple –– there are areas of your life that you simply have to take control. You can’t ignore stuff and hope that it’ll be alright. Nor can you just pretend that it will all go away if you just put it into a nice little pile. In our case, we were fortunate and when I finally did open the vault everything will be just fine when about 5 checks clear the bank. But it could have been a lot worse.

The same is true for a lot of things in life. I’ve had a longstanding weakness of avoiding things I didn’t want to deal with and foolishly hoping that they would just fix themselves. I’ve even tried to outsmart myself and those around me by over-doing some areas while completely ignore others.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one who does this.

– People ignore a project at work and try to distract their failure with success in another area at work.

– Men tend to focus on work to avoid family issues. (Sorry for the generalization there)

– We keep our schedules too full to avoid dealing with our walk with God.

– We focus our ministry around a big event or a mission trip to distract from a larger problem we don’t want to deal with.

– Kids will pay attention to the TV so they can pretend you didn’t tell them to clean their rooms.

– High school kids will join a club or even get a job to avoid going to a youth group they are bored with.

dog_shake_waterThe thing is, Tax Day is coming. The things that we avoid will eventually need to be addressed. It doesn’t matter how much we ignore areas of our life which make us uncomfortable… eventually we’ll just have to deal with them. And it is way better to deal with those things today than it will be tommorow. That’s where accountability comes in. We all need people in our life who lovingly help us draw boundaries. When we were kids we had those people built in as parents, teachers, and church leaders helped keep us on track.

Adults need to find people in their lives whom they are willing to allow to go there and ask the hard questions. “Adam, what is it that you’re avoiding?” What a tremendous question for self-reflection!

If you find yourself concentrating too much on one area of your life to avoid another… my only advice comes from my dog. Shake it off.

hmm... thoughts

Planning for Entropy

entropy exampleA key component to the second law of thermodynamics is entropy.

Entropy is the scientific principle that all systems will eventually go from order to disorder. Entropy allows mathematics to explain dissipation within a system boundary. In the first law of thermodynamics, energy is never lost in a macrosystem. But in a microsystem, entropy explains why stuff breaks down. The classic example of entropy is a glass of ice water. Water, a system where water is in a mixed state of solid and liquid, is constantly system boundariesbreaking down. Entropy explains that eventually the glass of ice water will break down. The ice will melt into the water because of the heat energy outside of the glass or the liquid will freeze because of the lack of heat. But entropy will not allow the glass of ice water system to stay the same.

In short, entropy is one of the variables that explains that stuff (a system) breaks over time. Pressure, stress, strain, temperature… all are variables. It’s why cars don’t last forever. It’s why toys eventually break. It’s why today’s superfast computer will be slow in three years. If you are a scientist designing a closed system… a car or a medicine or anything scientific you have to plan for entropy… that system will break down over time. If a scientist has no plan for entropy in his system he has failed on a professional level.

But what about entropy in social organizations? Does social entropy exist within systems?