Church Leadership youth ministry

Two positive trends in youth ministry

I’m on the tail end of a one week tour of the East Coast. (Catching up with youth workers; talking about PlanetWisdomYS Palooza, and all things youth ministry.)

One of the things I like to do when I meet with youth workers around the country, whether individually or in a group setting, is ask the same two questions. I frame the question differently depending on the group. But these are the two questions I’m asking and comparing answers to others to see if I can sniff a trend.

  1. What is a new problem you are facing in your own youth group in the past 12 months?
  2. What are you doing that is making a difference?

For question #2 I am continuing to hear the same things all over. While I heard these in 2009 and 2010– it wasn’t emerging quite as strongly as a trend until this trip.

For me, it’s very exciting because the two trends that I’m seeing are actually quite healthy and sustainable.

First trend: Bigger churches (Congregations of 1000+) are continuing to see their youth ministries grow numerically. They are reaching more and more students. (Largely unchurched) And their ministry is asking hard questions which shape how they minister to students, parents, and train their teams. The lead youth worker at these churches are typically highly experienced, highly trained, and exceptional at both leading staff teams and replicating themselves to maximize impact & set-up long-term impact.

Second trend: Smaller churches (Congregations of  >500) are ditching models altogether and approaching their ministry from a more missiological perspective. They are saying things like, “We still meet on Wednesday night, of course, but I have a small group of guys who get together every week to visit a homeless shelter. My students won’t bring a friend to Wednesday night– but they are bringing 2-3 to that.” Even if they aren’t articulating it in words quite yet, they are saying that the traditional ministry model they grew up on is fading in effectiveness. As such, they are adapting by maintaing status quo while finding new ways to reach students while meeting a real need in the community. I’d label this a shift from meeting felt needs to meeting obvious needs. Meeting actual needs is leading to growth and they are forming their ministry around those areas of growth… which look very different in every community.

The hallmark of both big & small of these are the same— their spending, dollar per student, is quite low. Bigger churches have staff spread over large numbers; smaller churches lost their paid staff due to the economy and are adapting their ministry to a much cheaper model.

The uncomfortable middle

The pain seems to be in the middle. What I label “medium-sized churches” of 500ish-1000ish are all over the place. Some are fine while some are in crisis mode. I can imagine that their dollar per student ratio is high enough where they are feeling a big pinch. They seem to be feeling a lot of pressure as their midweek program isn’t doing as well, (a hallmark of a smaller church) they are too large to invest their time finding a pocket of mission that would likely lead to new students coming into the fold, and they don’t have the money to go to a staff-size that might take them into that big church team model which would likely put them into growth, as well. This is the size church where I’m seeing lots of people lose their paid staff jobs. This is also the size church I’m hearing that the leaders (church wide) are shifting to a model like their favorite megachurch.

Quick disclaimer: I’m not a sociologist. (But I did stay at a Comfort Inn last night.) And I don’t have hard data for things I’m writing here. [This is my blog…] These are notable things I’m learning by talking to youth workers around the United States. Feel free to engage with them, but don’t assume that I’ve got data to back this up or that this is some sort of scientific process. I’m labeling a trend as something that just keeps coming up without my prompting.

Social Action

10 Simple Ways to Change the World in 2011

You don’t have to be the President of the United States, Bill Gates, or Bono to change the world. Here are 10 simple things you can do to help make the planet a better place to live in 2011 and beyond.

  1. Become a mentor or tutor to an at-risk youth. Every community has students who need help. For just a couple hours per week you can make a huge difference.
  2. Shop local. Skip the big box retail stores/restaurants for local establishments. While you might not get the best prices or the widest selection, you are investing in the future of your community.
  3. Start a garden. Even if it is just a square foot garden on your apartments balcony. Everything you grow and eat makes a big difference.
  4. Loan some cash to a small business owner using Kiva. Starting at just $25, supporting small business owners in developing countries is literally giving freedom from oppression.
  5. Buy a share in a Community Supporter Agriculture farm. (CSA) Redirect some of your grocery bill directly to the farmer by buying a share. You’ll get farm fresh fruits and vegetables and you’ll help ensure that local farmers stay in business. Shocker: Our grocery bill actually went DOWN in 2010. CSA’s are in every state, find one here.
  6. Get to know your neighbors. This is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your neighborhood is a safe, friendly place to live and raise your family. Start with the basics– name, how long have the lived here, where did they grow up, what do they do for a living. Then sit back and be amazed.
  7. Pick a local board and attend their monthly meeting. Most people only go to city council, zoning board, or school board meetings when they are mad. Choose a board of locally elected officials and go to their monthly meeting, just to learn the issues facing your community. It’s amazing the voice you will gain just by showing up.
  8. Convert one week of vacation to a week of service. Naysayers call this a twisted form of tourism. That’s all they are– naysayers. If your heart is to serve, you can give a week of service in nearly any place around the world. I’ve learned from experience that this is the most rewarding/relaxing type of vacation available.
  9. Step down to allow someone else to step up. If you hold a position of leadership, maybe this is a good year to intentionally raise a new leader while you still stay involved. I think you’ll find that this is what it really means to be a leader.
  10. Support local middle school and high school sports. You don’t have to give money! Just show up and cheer for your local team.
Church Leadership management

Success Secret: Serve Your Way to the Top

Photo by Kris Haamer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21:17-19

The path to success in life, ministry, relationships, career, and darn near everything else is paved with service. (Gasp, probably pain and suffering, too!)

I’m sorry it has to be that way. It’s not my fault that this is true. Blame the other Adam.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Genesis 3:17-19

Back to the John passage. Did you notice what Jesus said Peter had to do to show that he loved Jesus? Feed my sheep. That’s grunt work. That’s work without honor. That’s work that isn’t sexy. That’s not the cover of a magazine or leads to a book deal or getting invited to speak at a conference.

Feeding sheep means arguing with stubborn animals all day. Feeding sheep means you get bit. Feeding sheep means that you step in doo-doo. Feeding sheep means you occasionally have to scare off a predator.

And yet…

On Peter, the one Jesus told to grunt it out by feeding sheep, Jesus also said “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

If you are into church history you know Peter was a key leader in the early church. While he wasn’t perfect he indeed fed Jesus’ lamb from that moment until the moment he was nailed to a Roman cross himself. He served his way to the top of church leadership.

Note: My list of verses above is just the beginning. There are lots. And there are many good books which can give an exhaustive word study. But the point is clear, Jesus flipped the script on how to be a leader.

Universal path to success in any organization

Photo by Christian Paul via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Do you want to know how you lead people and change any organization?

People ask me all the time: What’s the secret?

You serve. You grunt it out. You get bit. You are faithful to the task you’ve been given. You master that task. You own that task. You serve that task. Just like a shepherd you keep your head up on the task in any circumstance. Just like a shepherd you always keep an eye on where you are leading the next day. You take responsibility. You take the compliments and the criticisms to heart.

Ultimately, you meet the needs of the sheep. You serve the owner. You put the rights of the owner above the rights of yourself. You keep the abuse in mind but you don’t let that own you. In doing that you win hearts and earn influence from the top to the bottom.

It’s not magic. It’s not a secret. It’s taught in the Bible!

Note: Church staff– you have rights. See this post, Labor Day Remembrance for Youth Workers.

Alternate path to success in any organization

Photo by Vearl Brown via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s not going to be popular to mention this, but it is worth mentioning. There is another path to success. One that is faster in accession. And one that is definitely easier. But it’s not as the servant-leader.

It’s as the lion.

In truth, many of the most successful “leaders” in the world are not servant-leaders. (The Christian world is, sadly, filled with lions.)

They didn’t get to their position in life by serving their way to the top.

They got there by brute force.

And they keep it when they kill, destroy, and intimidate day-to-day.

They travel in packs which devour prey.

We kind of turn our noses up at this style of leadership. But it is entirely functional. What’s more interesting is that plenty of people are drawn to this style of leadership. It’s quite popular in the Evangelical world!

(There’s a third animal-styled leader. That’s the hyena. He mocks and steals his way to the top. But that’s for another day)

The heart makes the difference

What’s different between servant leadership and lion leadership?

  • The weakness of lion leadership: The pride knows no loyalty. You only have power so long as you can keep it. One day, another member of the pride will take leadership from you.
  • The strength of servant leadership: Loyalty runs thick and deep. When you have served your way to the top, people will be loyal to you, even to a fault.

Choose to serve

Let’s be obvious. Each day, those of us in leadership, must make a rational choice. Do we want to serve or do we want to use our muscle to create a pride?

My advice, while it might not be the fastest way to get things done, ultimately Jesus asks us to choose to serve.