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

How much is “enough?”

I go to church on Friday night, volunteer in the high school ministry on Sunday morning, and help lead a high school small group on Wednesday night.

That is enough. When I hear an announcement for something else I could do, or somewhere else they need help, or even something else I would really enjoy doing– I have learned to resist. I am doing enough at church. (If I’m being honest, I’m actually doing one thing too much.)

Hierarchy of serving

I know this is hard for my friends who work in churches. They have spots to fill and they feel like a failure if they can’t fill them. But there is a very real hierarchy of service we all need to bend our lives around.

  1. Serve your family, however that is defined for you. In my life, my kids are in their primary years of faith formation. The Shema dangles inches above my head. There is no mistaking it. My primary ministry right now is my kids, it needs to be my kids, and relying on the church– even expecting them to cater to my kids– is on the edge of sinful selfishness.
  2. Serve your neighbors, there is no other way to love them as yourselves. Jesus’ words couldn’t be more simple. Love God with everything you’ve got, love your neighbor as yourself.
  3. Serve your church, it’s a good thing. The New Testament talks a lot about community life, and Paul talks several times about the various roles of people in the body of Christ. And we certainly get a lot of joy out of serving the greater needs of the church.

For where I am at in my life, with three young kids and two fledgling small businesses, that leaves me with just a handful of non-work, non-running-around-like-a-chicken-with-my-head-cut-off hours to serve. For the sake of simplicity we’ll say that is 10 hours per week.

Within the hierarchy of serving for my stage of life that looks like this.

  1. Family – 70%
  2. Neighbors – 20%
  3. Church – 10%

When I try to do more at church… it’s not like I get more than 10 hours per week. It’s that other areas of my life lose those hours. I sleep less, I rest less, I go to my kids school less, I lean on the fence talking to my neighbors less. And it means that less of what I need to get done, gets done.

It’s OK to tell your church leaders the truth. If you are doing enough and it wouldn’t be wise to take on more… don’t. (And don’t feel guilty about saying no.) There is no shame in doing enough! [Which is why it’s called, “Enough.”]

And if you’re a church leader with spots to fill and no one seems to have the time to fill them, kill some things guilt-free. I know that sounds harsh, but if you’re people are already doing enough… why try to burn them out? Maybe this will even lead you to re-evaluate the priority what you’re doing?

The Disconnect

Here’s an observation from going from a church staff person to a volunteer lay leader. There’s a big assumption differentiation. As a paid staffer I constantly had this feeling that people were on the sidelines and largely uninvolved. “If only I could get them in the game, this church could really do some big things for the Kingdom.” But sitting on the other side of that coin I see the opposite to be largely true. People are very, very involved in stuff at the church and lots of other places. They are exhausted! They are doing too much. It’s not so much that they aren’t doing things for the Kingdom. It’s that their definition of Kingdom is bigger than your church.

Categories
NYWC

The Volunteer

I’m a big fan of this video. I think it turned out great. And I think its a great compliment to the first one we released a couple weeks back.

The most loudest people in youth ministry tend to be the people who do it as a profession. But I think we’d all agree that the ones making the vast majority of the impact in youth ministry are volunteers. Hats off to them!

Categories
Church Leadership youth ministry

The Youth Ministry Gap

mind_the_gapAfter 18 months of working at Youth Specialties and interacting with youth workers around the United States (and everywhere else) it’s finally sunken in: There are two different things called “youth ministry” with a major gap in the middle.

Professional vocational youth ministry: When I talk about youth ministry this is often my default. These are youth ministries and youth ministry leaders who have formal education, continued training, experience, and live their whole lives thinking about youth ministry. When you talk to them about youth ministry they think of models, books, authors, speakers, ministry ideas, successful programs, historical viewpoints, on and on.

This youth ministry is pretty sophisticated. Like any profession people fall into schools of thought. They have models for doing youth ministry. They have personally written and can defend philosophies of youth ministry. They run programs which implement their well thought out and defended philosophy of ministry. They train volunteers to be proteges for their school of thought. They have opinions about whether a certain models is getting stronger or dying.

For the 20% or so of youth workers in America in this category those nuances matter to them. They are on the leading edge of thinking about Youth Ministry 3.0.

My Church Youth Ministry: They just want to know how to minister to the kids in their church. When they e-mail me or call our customer service line they don’t want to talk philosophy or are even aware that there are different ways of doing youth ministry. They are calling because they have 15 seventh graders in their Sunday School class and they need a curriculum that will work for them. When you ask them about what they are trying to do with the group… you’ll hear the dead air or the exhale and then they’ll say, “We’re Methodist, what works for Methodists seventh graders?

They don’t know or care about philosophies of ministry. They don’t know or care about ministry models. They haven’t heard of Saddleback or Willow Creek. They go to First United Methodist Church of Middletown– that’s it. They may know that some churches have full-time youth workers but they don’t really care. They have a full-time job outside the church. They have a kid in high school. And the pastor thought they were pretty loving towards teens and asked them to minister to their kids friends. They give of themselves to invest in the kids in their church and that’s amazingly awesome.

ChasmFor the 80% or so of youth workers in America who fit this category, youth ministry is pretty matter-of-fact. There are kids who show up on Sunday morning or Wednesday night and they do what they can to minister to them.

Minding the gap: There are not big steps in between the two groups of youth workers. It’s a gap with a chasm, not a ladder to the next or even a bridge.

It is literally two different things we call youth ministry in America. They all care about the kids in their church. One group is purely interested in the kids in their church. While the other also cares a lot about the greater profession of youth ministry.

Categories
Church Leadership

3 Positive Effects of Recession on the Church

3-positive-of-recession

Nearly every day I encounter someone who tells me their churches budget was cut, people at their church are about to lose their jobs, or otherwise their church is encountering hard financial times.

That’s not purely a bad thing. Here are three positive things that a lack of money bring to a church.

1. A gut check for the staff. If you’ve worked in a church you know that there are people who are on staff because they are absolutely convinced God wants them there and there are people who are there because its a job. When budgets get slashed, programs get cut, and necessary and unnecessary stuff gets trimmed to cut costs… each staff member has to examine herself and ask, “Why am I here? Do I really want to be here?” Some will double down their efforts and some will check out. Both are positive for the church going forward.

2. A gut church for the parishoners. Along the same lines the people who attend the church have to face the same choice. When their beloved program is dismantled because of a lack of funding they have to ask themselves, “Am I here for that program, or am I here because this is where God wants me?” When they see a staff member lose benefits or their job or even their house, they re-examine their financial priorites automatically. “Am I being faithful to God with my money? Am I being a good steward of what I earn?” This is a positive outcome!

3. A gut check for the dreamers. I can’t help but think of the mid-2000’s boom in church growth. With the last coughs of the Field of Dreams model [If you build it, they will come… and give!] of church growth, congregations built massive additions, added satellite campuses, and even reached out to buy up struggling churches. For the most part this was done during good times and using credit. Now those churches see double digit decreases in giving and are stuck in a catch-22 scenario. Admit they were wrong to buy on credit and sell property or trim programs and staff to try to ride out the dip. This is a positive outcome for the church, even if it means they go bankrupt. The healthy and faithful congregations will make it. The ones who depended on their own talents will fail.

A bonus positive: A side effect of the extended recession is that I am seeing a massive wave of volunteerism in the church. As churches trim their budgets and people in the pews realize that they need to step up, the church as a whole is seeing an increase in volunteers in key church leadership positions.