youth ministry

Is your strategy as big as your vision?

Our vision is to provide high quality, age-appropriate experiences which invite every student in our community to experience the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This could be the vision statement of any youth ministry team in the country. Like you, I’ve seen vision statements like this in youth ministry literature, on youth group websites, and even painted on the walls of youth rooms for years.

The problem is that they have a vision (mandate) to reach 4,000 students in their community but a strategy which scales to reach a lot less. The result of this strategy vs. vision mismatch is frustration-induced angst. No one strategy can reach 4,000 teenagers in a community!

We all know youth workers who have quit or been fired. And one of the reasons? They failed to focus on something they could actually succeed at. A lack of measurable results makes it easy to quit any job. (Or get fired!)

You could work 32 hours per day 8 days per week and not make a serious dent in that vision– it’s too big. Simply put, the vision is not right-sized for the strategy. (Most youth ministries employ a single strategy system– a youth group model.)

Compare that vision to the vision of the local public school system– which likely reaches 90%+ of teenagers in your community. They might have a similarly large vision/mandate. But it takes hundreds of full-time, professionally licensed employees and anywhere from $6000 to $9000 per student to enact a strategy that reaches nearly 90%+ of the students in your community.

There’s no youth ministry in America that employs enough people to reach 4,000 students built on the youth group model. It simply falls apart at a certain size.

Youth workers rightly have a burden to help students walk with Jesus and introduce others to Jesus for the first time. But we need to shrink our vision to something we can actually handle strategically instead of aiming at everything and hitting nearly nothing. 

To get more effective you need to shrink your vision to a realistic size that your strategy can actually accomplish. Then, if you start to nail that, you can expand your vision a little bit bigger. (Better yet, discover new strategies altogether to reach different types of students.)

Sometimes to grow you’ve got to shrink. 

Photo credit: Gary Jungling via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Christian Living

Do I have a vision problem?

visionless: it is my claim that this is the most attractive but most insidious yeast undermining religious communities. Vision has a devious way of focusing our attention outside of ourselves to some lofty external goal, rather than keeping ourselves committed to love and service in the community, then as a result beyond the immediate community by the outpouring of the overflow. Jesus’ vision, if it could be said he had any vision at all, was to die… to hand himself over to the authorities, etc. Any other vision than the vision to be willing to die is one that decides who can play and who cannot for the longevity of the vision and it’s crafters. It defines the shape and nature of the community and the people within it, often with violence against the natural goodness and innate spirituality of its people. It is vision that eventually and inevitably changes an institution into stone.


Lately, I’ve been chewing on David Hayward’s work on becoming visionless. (His book on the subject)

In so many ways this concept deeply resonates with my experience. And in so many ways it deeply offends my experience.

On the one hand, my own words would argue that if you don’t have a clearly defined vision for yourself you’ll be paralyzed by your inability to say no to good/bad things that come your way. Vision permits lazer-like focus.

On the other hand, I’m haunted by the reality that often times I’m saying no to things that are close to me, forsaking the organic opportunity for one cultivated in alignment with my vision.

In my mind vision allows me to filter. That’s why David’s words are annoying me so much. Who am I to try to put a filter on what God puts right before me? Who am I to forsake the organic for the cultivated? 

Question: What would your life look like if you were to reorientate yourself around Hayward’s words above. (Put aside your ability to disagree with him, just imagine what your life would be like if this were true and it became a guide. How would yourlife change?)

Video Clip

Uncommon Ideals

Maybe it’s because I have a deep connection to the cold, dark sea and waves crashing on the shore? But I was totally infatuated with the filmmakers vision for this piece. My only wish is that there had been more surfing shots!

youth ministry

Over-communicate with your leaders

Want to avoid confusion with your team? Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

I define a leader as someone who takes people somewhere they would otherwise not go on their own.

All-too-often, as I look back on my life in leadership, my tendency is always to get a mile ahead of my team because I have under-communicated the basics with them.

Why are we doing this? What’s our intent? What do we want to get out of this experience? Who are we targeting with our ministry? Why are you serving? How can we accomplish our goals? When is the best time to do this? On and on.

Every once in a while I’d get this feedback: “I know you have a reason for everything we do, and you’ve given us all the information about what we are doing, but I am not understanding why/how this is going to happen.” When I was young in leadership I somehow too this as a compliment. But now I see it for what it is… a weakness I need to address.

When my team lacks focus and drive to execute the vision– That’s my fault not theirs. I tend to communicate the vision too little and the share details too much. In the moment, the logistical details seem more important than the over-arching vision. But in the end, you need both.

You will have leaders who are OK knowing stuff as they go. But to really take a ministry somewhere you need to execute along the way to accomplish the vision.

3 Ways I combat my tendency to under-communicate

  1. Give people the big picture often. Before each ministry cycles starts, (school year, calendar year, however your church does it) schedule a meeting with key leaders to go over the plan. When I do this I present a white paper for the year as well as the teaching calendar, event calendar, and a description of a discipled person. In other words, I start with the end in mind and show my team how we’re going to get there together. In youth ministry, at about the same time, I host a parents meeting and go over the same information… plus some other stuff like cost of events, permission slips, etc.
  2. Put your pedagogical statement out there. It feels cheesy to think about, and I totally stole it from Doug Field’s youth ministry classic, “Purpose-driven Youth Ministry,” but I think it’s useful to put the purpose for a ministry, in writing, on everything you do. Even better, when I am teaching a lesson and there is a handout for leaders, I also like to give them a quick sentence about what we are teaching. “The main idea of tonight’s lesson is that students will learn ______.” This puts your leaders on the inside, thinking of your teaching strategy right alongside of you, and values their intelligence/abilities.
  3. Get stuff to people early. This is the one I wrestle with the most because you’ll always have some people who feel like they need every detail when you can only provide the big picture. Such as, I have volunteers who want small group questions 1-2 weeks in advance so they can think about it in advance. The problem is that I can’t give that because I rarely actually work on the talk until 24-48 hours before I teach it. But I can tell them the passage and the main idea of the lesson. And usually, that’s enough. The same is true for events and trips. I need to give them the information early enough where they can rearrange their schedule and jump on board to help. If I forget, or am lacking, in that then I should expect them to bail on me.
Church Leadership family management

You need clarity and focus

Paul’s teacher has been on us for a few months to get his eyes checked out. She’d tell us, “He squints to see the board” or “He says he has to sit up front. I think he needs glasses.

I assumed, just like his big sister, that he’d need glasses eventually. Everyone in my family wears glasses. It’s an inevitability for McLane’s.

Until recently, he never complained about not being able to see well. When we asked him to read a sign or move back from the TV he’d just roll his eyes. In truth, there are a number of behavior issues we are dealing with, so we thought this stubbornness about sitting near the TV was just part of his personality.

It all made sense when I took him to Lenscrafters on Saturday. He was very excited and talkative about the appointment. As we waited for the doctor to see him, he was a nervous kind of chipper that we rarely see.

Then he did the pre-screening. He seemed to instantly shut down. There were four machines with simple tasks. In each of them he was excited to do it. But in each of them when the doctor asked him questions he just didn’t answer.

Uh oh, this isn’t going well.” I sent Kristen a text.

When the pre-screening was over I asked him why he didn’t answer any of the questions. “She was trying to trick me. I never saw anything like she was saying I should. I’m not going to answer and get an answer wrong, I only like correct answers.

That’s when I started to worry. It hit me. It’s not that he wasn’t trying. It’s that he had just failed all four of the pre-screening tests. Had we somehow missed something all along? Does my son have a vision problem?

My mind raced to connect the dots.

Then we went into the big room. The one with the hydraulic chair and big eyeglass contraption. The chair was on one wall and the chart with all the letters was on the other.

Paul, there are no wrong answers. This isn’t an eye test. We’re just seeing how we can help you see better. Is that OK?” He shook his head affirmatively.

She explained what all of the instruments were in the room– so he wouldn’t be surprised by anything. (My heart was pumping a million miles per hour!)

Paul, can you tell me if you see any letter on the wall right in front of you?

Letters? All I see is a white wall.”

She pulled a pen from her pocket and held it about 2 feet from his face.

Can you read the letters on this pen?

Of course I can, duh!” He was starting to have fun.

Within a few minutes she started dialing her contraption to discover the right lenses which would help Paul.

She flashed the first set in front of his face.

Ha! Ha! Now I see the poster on the wall. You weren’t tricking me.

On and on this went. Within a few minutes he was able to read the smallest letters on the chart with ease. First with one eye, then the other.

Finally, she made some measurements and pulled out two lenses from desk. Just as she was putting them in front of his eyes she said, “OK Paul, tell me what you can see now?

His face lit up. He quickly started looking around the room. “Wow! I can see everything.”

A smile was plastered on his face like one I’d rarely seen.

I beamed at his discovery.

The doctor turned to me and said, “Your son is profoundly nearsighted. But he doesn’t have a vision problem. He has a clarity and focus problem. Glasses are going to change everything.

That was a lightbulb moment for me. My mind started to race at all the times I’d taken him to sporting events or movies and he’d turned to me and said, “Can we leave? This is boring.” Or all of the blank stares when we pointed out historic sites. Or why he burned through quarter after quarter looking at New York City through those big binoculars. Or why he hated playing catch with me in the backyard. Or why riding his bike had always seemed so scary. On and on– the dots began to connect.

How many of the behavior problems that we pull our hair out over are tied to this one simple thing… He couldn’t see?

We will soon find out.

The hour between ordering his glasses and picking them up might have been the longest 60 minutes of his life. We wondered the mall aimlessly. And about every 2 minutes he’d ask… “How much longer?

Finally, the time came and the lab technician called his name. As he put the glasses on his face and the technician made adjustments to the frames, I could see his eyes shooting all over. He was reading and discovering everything in the room. It was a brand new world!

As we left the store he grabbed my arm. “Dad, look at those clouds!

What the moral of the story?

There’s a lot of talk in leadership circles about having strong vision. But vision without clarity and focus on purpose will lead you, your organization, and your teams to become near-sighted.

It’s one thing to have big vision. It’s another thing to back that up with clarity and focus.

hmm... thoughts

When Dreamer, When?

In the cold dark morning of my day my soul cries for new days, new songs, new delights.

I wonder where the dreamers are dreaming this morning.

My heart weeps in disdain for a time and place lost. It lives in my sleep; it dies in my schedule. Such a place feels real but the left side of my cranium conquers the right with alarms beckoning.

This new day is not dedicated to dream, but to task.

Yet in moments of stolen shadows, my mind reveals a new day. A new alarm buzzes between my ears calling me to create, basking in the presence of a bee hive of something so fantastic words cannot capture.

I wonder where actors practice their craft.

I wonder where champions train.

I wonder where the beat of the poets rhyme comes from.

It is at that founts source I want to drink.

It is at that 7-11 my coffee cup wants refilled.

I wonder if there is still a place in peoples hearts to imagine new days? New life? New aspirations of inspirations beyond awe.

Or am I alone in my tears of anticipation?

I long to cry at creative expressions so wondrous, like dolphins dancing to their own song before your eyes on a lonely walk of solitude.

I long for moments where awe seems a ridiculous expression in light of my eyes observation and ears hearing.

Are those moments now lost?

I see days lost milling with friends pondering in circles of delightful giggles as words create paradigms faster than people with pens can write books about them or lawyers can lay claim to who’s words are whose.

In anxious tension I envision manifestos so delightful that poets scribe them in a loss for expression.

People sleep in their seats collected in rounds, as if at the circus, because they fear they will miss the next moment.

Where do I find such a place. Where is moment so thick with creation that hunger pains and mortgages are checked against the register of the moment and forgotten?

Where is the place where pedigree is placed behind the streaming flowing waterfall of ingenuity, it’s bars of acceptance overpowered by respect for the moment.

Where is the place patent laws and egos vanish for the sake of the moment?

Where is the place that time is irrelevant in the measurement of my day?

That’s my Zion. That’s my Jerusalem. That’s my city of dreams.

That’s my alarm.

Am I awake now? Or am I dreaming when I call it wake and alive when I am dreaming.

Where is this place?

Take me there.

hmm... thoughts

Funding the Dream


Like any person who comes up with a lot of ideas… I’m used to getting shot down. The pill of reality I swallow every day is that only about 1 in 20 of my ideas are worth seeing to fruition. Thankfully, God has put people with the gift of discernment in my path so I don’t go insane.

Knowing that– I know this phrase to be true: A vision unfunded is merely a dream.

A lot of people in my life are learning that their vision is merely a dream. Tough economic times mean that their ministry, their business, their job, or even their early retirement dreams are now unfunded. Grandiose plans usurped by a new need for freelance or part-time work. The people they trusted/hoped/prayed to fund their vision disappointed them.

Kristen and I are chosing which visions to fund and its hard! We have to look inside ourselves and ask which are dreams (the big house, living abroad) and which are visions worth funding. (our local church, building short/long term savings) Hard choices which reveal what’s really important. As you think of that with a wider lens of millions of people doing the same thing you see why the people in my life are struggling when families like ours our choosing one vision over another. It’s painful to witness.

What does this all mean? I don’t know for sure. But I do know that even when the funding isn’t there vision, dreams, and big ideas are still worth having. The world won’t change without visionaries and dreamers. Even unfunded ones.

Church Leadership Culture

How do we get to Youth Ministry 3.0?

t_9780310668664I’ve been wrestling with the concepts of Marko’s book, Youth Ministry 3.0 for a long time. Actually, before I worked a YS I had been going through a prolonged set of discussions at Romeo saying in a thousand different ways… What I’m doing isn’t working anymore.

The problem was simple. I was trained and experienced at how to do youth ministry a certain way. The entire ministry was built around a youth group night of games, worship, small groups, and a talk. I had seen it work and do incredible things! Even in Romeo we had seen this ministry model draw 40+ students to a church of 120. Lives were changed, kids were discipled, volunteers loved it, on and on. We ran that thing and worked that model like a well-oiled machine. I was well-versed in all the terminology of all the other well-oiled youth ministry systems and had written tons comparing and contrasting the strength of one model over the other. But in the last few years the model tanked. Kids stopped coming. The whole thing became kind of toxic. Instead of re-arranging their schedule to make in on Wednesday night all of a sudden kids were trying to find things to do on  Wednesday night so they could politely bow out. Frustration mounted and I kept saying, “What I’m doing isn’t working anymore.

The crazy thing was my reaction to a YM 2.0 model. My response was always, even to the last day, “I know this works, something is just missing, that’s all.” I would tweak things here, re-emphasize this or that. It was never that the concept was broken. The problem was always either the kids not getting the vision of the model or my model not having the funding/support it needed to succeed. It never really dawned on me that my solution to fixing things was to kill the model and search for a better way to minister to students. My reaction was always to just work harder and to keep trying.

Pray more, blame the parents. Pray more, blame the money. Pray more, blame myself. Pray more, blame the kids busyness. In the end I was royally frustrated and a little angry at God that He had me in a place where I couldn’t fix things.

But as Marko’s book shows, there is a massive shift from what he calls “Youth Ministry 2.0” built around programs and models, towards “Youth Ministry 3.0” where the programmatic approach is, probably though not necessarily, foregone for a draw towards ministries built around affinity. (A super over-simplified analysis, right there!)

My wrestling point right now is pretty simple… how do I help ministries kill what has worked for a generation and open their eyes to a way to reach this generation. My experience in YM 2.0 environments is that they’d be happy running an un-attended YM 2.0 model if that means they don’t have to change things. Youth workers may not like the sacred cows of big church but they have certainly built some sacred cows themselves. (Remember the fury over my articles, “I Kissed Retreats Goodbye?“)

From a national perspective I’m seeing one trend that is scaring me and I don’t want it to be the solution: Killing youth ministry budgets, staffs, and programs. Please tell me that we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bath water? Simply because a model isn’t working doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t minister to adolescents!

What is a more productive outcome than that?

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

Two Kinds of Medium Sized Church People

Here are some more thoughts on the medium-sized church crisis. My post the other day attracted a fair amount of comments and attention… and I was pretty frustrated that people jump to the issue of money.

I only think that the money problems of current are bringing the Medium-sized church crisis to the forefront. At the end of the day I’m meeting two types of churchoers. Once you cut past the nice fluff they say about their churches and preacher they are really either small church people or megachurch people.

What does this mean for medium-sized church? My experience in medium-sized churches is that there is a tension between these two types of people. One is resistant of anything “small church” so stuff that is appealing to the small church is annoying to them and visa versa. Eventually, misguided and unaccepted tension results in hurt feelings, bitterness, disappointment, and a range of other typical medium-church angst.

And that angst is why I’m saying the medium church is in crisis… Eventually, church leaders must chose to lead their church one direction or the other: Lead towards smaller environments or toward becoming a megachurch. The cultural division is causing this squeeze. The financial crisis merely accelerates the trend.

A Personal Example

In Romeo, we mislabeled these cultural issues as a “personal preference issue” instead of a cultural issue. Big mistake! Our small church folks didn’t mind if the worship team wasn’t professional sounding or if the church basement was a bit too homey for potlucks. Small church people find those things endearing… maybe even spiritual.

Meanwhile, the megachurch people wanted everything to be like the megachurch they used to go to and they wanted the church to become. Everything was compared to the megachurch down the road or the stuff they saw on TV or enjoyed at a conference or read about online. To the megachurch people, the failure of the small church people to realize all that Romeo could become was an abomination… a spiritual failure at worse and a lack of vision at best.

See… this isn’t about money at all. Maybe I’ll be called a heretic for this? But, I will tell you what 10 years of church ministry has taught me about giving. Giving has 0% to do with what people are taught from the Bible and 100% to do with whether or not they feel that their money will further a cause they believe in. People are just sophisticated like that. They see right through the pleas for cash to your motivation. When motivations converge they give. When they disagree they give somewhere else. Christians are extremely generous… but they won’t give to a church simply because they go there.

Next, let’s talk about money. I’ve only hinted at it, lets hit it straight away next time.

Then, I want to talk about the superiority of small church and megachurch missions in our culture. This is the core reason for the crisis.

hmm... thoughts

Grace vs. Karma

Without karma, how do you get stuff done in the church?

Yesterday’s message got me thinking about the mistake many people, even church people, make in regards to grace. Here’s what those two terms mean and why they are opposites.

Grace is receiving unmerited favor. In other words, you get what you don’t deserve.

Karma is the effects of your past deeds is your future experience. In other words, you get what you pay for.

The Karma Conspiracy. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most people in ministry believe in grace but practice and perpetuate karma in their ministry. Not all, but nearly all.

1. I missed my kids soccer game because I was preparing for my message on Sunday.

2. Come be a part of God’s vision and serve at the spaghetti dinner.

3. Partner with God in the vision of our church by tithing.

4. Join a small group this fall and be a part of what we’re doing.

Now, you’ll see those statements and not see the karma connection. Since I’ve been guilty of all four of those let me translate into what most (nearly all) pastors are thinking when they say these things.

1. If I work hard good things will happen in my church.

2. I am capitalizing on your false belief that working in the church will merit favor in order to fill a job roster.

3. I am exploiting on your belief that if you give to God He will give more back to you.

4. By asking you to do something you don’t want to do, I am perpetuating your false belief in karma with the hope that you’ll discover grace.

See, this is a tricky thing. And I don’t think any pastor does it intentionally. Yet I think that karma is so engrained in our culture that we perpetuate it unknowingly.

Question: How do we stop this? How do we allow grace, true unmerited favor from God, to permeate everything we do in ministry and in life?

Hint: I think both the problem and the solution are found here.