Thank You, YMX

Yesterday, we we went public with a decision to end Youth Ministry Exchange after about 5 years.

For the last couple of years it has been trickling and trickling… and so we figured, “Why not just have a celebration of life and let it pass now instead of letting it go from 200 members per day, to 100, to 20 (where it’s at now) to 10, to 5?”

I’m thankful for YMX and the hundreds of core people who made it a vibrant community. 200,000+ posts— yowsers! While there were a couple thousand members– there were 100-200 regulars who made it not just a forum, but a forum community.

Five years ago, about this time of year, I started to get an inkling of an idea that I wanted to create a new home for the defunct YS forums. There was a core group of about 20 youth workers who did an AOL group chat just about every night. And when YS closed their forums about 5 other forum sites popped up as substitutes… but none of them were run very well.

I talked to Kristen about it and she was kind of meh about the concept. “You don’t really know much about that kind of thing. And you really don’t know much about running an internet company.” Both were completely true but I took that as a blessing! Then, a few weeks later, I brought up the idea with Todd Porter after he visited our church. He got really excited– which added energy to the idea.

So, mid-November 2005, I put together a private chat with 5 people I thought were strategically the right ones to talk about this idea. That discussion generated even more energy. And in early December 2005, we were open for business.

I spent $72 to start the company. And the first 24 hours we made over $250. It was awesome!

As time went on, the company went about 1,000 directions as I tried various initiatives. Business plan? Um, I didn’t have one! How could I? I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with it.

From 2005 to 2008 we continued to grow… this was really the peak for YMX. We published a lot of user-generated content, we pushed out a regular newsletter, we had a podcast, the forums were vibrant, and some of our satellite sites were doing pretty well.

In truth, I had no idea what was next. I was learning a lot about business along the way but I wasn’t sure I knew how to navigate YMX past a new hurdle. Subscriptions were declining, interest in the web content was skyrocketing, and the site was struggling to pay the bills.

Thankfully, in June 2008, Youth Specialties stepped in and ended all the angst. They bought most of the web properties and hired me to come help them figure out how to bring some of the flavor of YMX to YS.

About the same time Facebook took off. Then Twitter took off. And forum communities hardly seemed to be the wave of the future that they once were. We infused some serious marketing efforts into YMX as part of YS. But it was obvious that masses of youth workers were going to flock to Facebook and Twitter while the decrease of interest in YMX continued to decline.

Certainly, there are those who think that the forums could have prevailed if I had focused more attention on them. I don’t value my presence there quite that much. I only had 4,000 of the 200,000 posts. Hardcore forumites know full well that in the last year or so I’ve largely turned the reigns over to Patti Gibbons and the rest of the moderator team. It just wasn’t humanly possible to do the work I needed to do at YS while maintaining things day-to-day at YMX. I heard the grumbles but couldn’t really do much about it. I think if those people saw the world from my vantage point they would have invested energy in the same places I did.

It was a two-way street… I was doing the best I could in my new role. And the moderator team did a great job ministering to the forums.

So, long-story short, we went public with the decision yesterday. It was a bit more sad than I expected. It truly felt like the end of an era.

It was a good era and one I’ll be fond of forever.

Weblogs YMX

Best of 2005

Note: I’m on vacation this week. My family has a rule for daddy– It’s not a vacation if daddy brings a computer. Each day this week I’m highlighting my favorite post from the archives. These are oldies but goodies.

Check Out YMX!

Hey, a buddy of mine and I launched a website lately for youth workers to connect up. This is filling the forum void left behind since YS closed their forums back in June.

Anyway, check it out at


This changed everything. As I look back on the last several years, no event changed my life more than creating Youth Ministry Exchange.

For years the youth ministry world was pretty self-contained. There were a limited number of players and it seemed impossible to get your foot in the door anywhere.

So we created a new door.

Within a month we created massive traffic for our new business. We had some sense that what we were creating was important– but the truth is we had no idea what we were doing. We were even afraid to call it a business. We didn’t have any of the legal stuff done. We never had a business plan. We never spent $1 on marketing. And the two original owners have STILL never met. 3.5 years later I was sitting in an office at Zondervan signing paperwork and waiting for a bank transfer as we sold Youth Ministry Exchange, LLC to Youth Specialties. It’s mind boggling.

How in the world does a guy go from being a no-name youth pastor at a church of 150 to shaking hands and receiving a check from the CEO of a major publishing company in 3.5 years? Simple: Looking at closed doors and building an open one to walk through.

Investing $72 in an idea changed my life.

Want my advice? If you have an idea that you are absolutely passionate about… do it. Do it now. The idea and the opportunity are never going to get better than they are today. But invest less than $100. If it’s a good idea it won’t make a difference if you invest $100 trying it out or $100,000. (Donald Trump may be good, but that guy has led his company into bankruptcy three times! Never finance an idea with debt. Pure and simple.)


6 Questions for Those Starting a Business

Grand Opening
Photo by whizchickenonabun via flickr (Creative Commons)

The Great Recession of 2009 has created a new breed of entrepreneur– the I-don’t-have-a-job-but-I-was-once-successful-in-business-and I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life-since-I-can’t-find-a-good-paying-job-that-satisfies-me-quite-like-my-old-job-did-entrepreneur.

What’s interesting about this group is that they have great ideas, limited capital, and a mixed bag of preparedness for starting a business. Honestly, that’s a perfect combination!

Tunnel Vision
Photo by rcameraw via flickr (Creative Commons)

The bad part is that since they don’t have jobs, they need this thing to take off instantly and provide for their families before their unemployment benefits run out.

I have a fundamental belief that people are at their best when up against that type of adversity. But while that kind of desperation can create tremendous energy to succeed– I’ve found that it can also lead to dangerous tunnel vision.

So here are my 6 Questions for Those Starting a Business as a result of getting laid off by the Great Recession of 2009.

  1. How little capital will you need to start generating positive revenue initially? In other words, how little can you invest to start making money with your idea now?
  2. What will you do to acquire customers outside of your sphere of influence? Your biggest weakness is thinking you have the contact base to maintain a business beyond 180 days– if you had that strong of a contact base one of them would have hired you by now. How will you grow your sphere beyond yourself in the first 30, 60, 90 days?
  3. Who are the gatekeepers to your success? Who are the power brokers in your niche and what do you need from them in order to succeed in this space?
  4. Have you defined the boundaries of your niche? What safeguards have you put I’m place to keep you in your niche?
  5. Is the product or service dependent or repeat business? If a repeat business, how will you manage customer relationships beyond the transaction?
  6. Is this a product or service that you need? If you don’t need it what makes you think it will keep you up at night making it awesome or that it will motivate others to evangelize your product?

What makes me qualified to ask these questions? In 2005 I started Youth Ministry Exchange with a small group of friends. We turned a profit on the first day and had positive cash flow every quarter until we were acquired by Youth Specialties in June 2008. In other words, I’ve done exactly what this breed of entrepreneur is attempting.


My new column at YMX

In December I was looking for some column ideas for a new weekly thing I’m doing for Youth Ministry Exchange. After a ton of discussion, brainstorming, and banging our head against the wall, Patti and I settled on the idea that I would write a weekly column called, Be Strong.

So far, I’m pretty happy with it. Here are the first three. Let me know what you think.

Start Small

Roll With the Punches

Disappoint Someone


Weekly Column Ideas

Over at Youth Ministry Exchange I’m going to be starting a weekly column. The question is, what should I write about?

I don’t think it should be just general youth ministry stuff. Let’s face the fact that right now I don’t have a lot of up-to-the-moment experience that is going to be useful.

For a long time I’ve wanted to do a “Dear Adam” kind of thing where people sent me ministry-related questions and I had fun replying to them. Kind of like Dear Abby for pastors.

I could do something on adolescent trends. I could do technology stuff. I could do interviews with ministry people.

But mostly I want to know what you think it should be? Please share your ideas in the comments. My hope is to write a few of these between now and the end of the year so the column can begin the first week of January.

hmm... thoughts YMX

YMX Acquired by YS

Today, at 4:47 PM EST it was official. My mouth has been shut for weeks since I couldn’t talk to anyone outside of my family about the deal with YS. But it is now done and I couldn’t be happier. YMX partnering with YS is, in my opinion, the perfect place for YMX to fit into the youth ministry landscape. As Marko said, it’s only natural.

We’ve truly enjoyed being the independent source of youth ministry stuff. And we hope to continue on with that flavor.

There are a hundred reasons I am excited about this deal. The most obvious thing to be excited about is that I get to run YMX as part of my new job with YS. How cool is that? I’m also jazzed about the massive door of opportunity that was just swung open to us from the YS/Zondervan family. There are too many cool things to talk about with this. For now…

Here’s the press release

And here are the FAQs we posted in the forums about “what happens next” for YMX/YS.

How will this effect the way I use YMX?
One of the coolest parts of this is that the YMX community will mostly stay the same. The same people will be running it and Youth Specialties is taking a very hands off approach to YMX. YMX will benefit mostly from access to tons of resources to grow the site in a way that helps fulfill the community’s long-term vision.

Will this effect the way the forums operate currently?
Yes. Eventually, the forums will shift from a subscription based forum to a free forum. In other words, there will no longer be “premium level” areas of the site which require payment to utilize. The terms of service, the community accountability, the emphasis on self-moderation, will all continue.

Will the forum community be under a new and/or revised terms of service?
Not right now. If the terms of service ever change we will contact you to let you know.

What about the privacy issues? I thought the forums were secure and now they will be open to anyone?
We share your concerns. Starting in January 2008, YMX changed the method of registering new members so that new members have to provide personal information that is verified before we allow new members to access the forums. We will continue to utilize this option as a way to prevent trolling and keep the community safe. This meets the same need in protecting your privacy on the forums fulfilled.

Will the forums be indexed on search engines?
No. Since the forums require a registration to see anything, the search bots are prevented from searching forum content. This is not changing.

Will the forums be managed by different people and/or different moderators?
YMX, including the forums, will continue to operate as we always have.

I am a charter/premium subscriber, what does that mean for me?
Most of our premium/charter subscribers have been with us a long time. You guys are awesome and we thank you for your support. We will soon contact you to offer you a store credit with Youth Specialties. If that doesn’t work for you, please contact

Will the Oasis still be available?
Absolutely. The private Oasis area of the forums will still be available upon request, with a team of caring, youth ministry-understanding people to listen, pray, and confidentially walk with youth workers through tough or tricky situations. In fact, we hope to bring even more hope and help through the people being part of YS makes available to us all.

Does this mean that you won’t be accepting and publishing user-generated content?
Not at all! Actually the opposite. As a property of Youth Specialties we will be increasing the frequency of content for the community. While you may see some new authors on the site, we’d love to continue to work with new and emerging authors.

How much money were Patti and Adam given to make this happen?
We can’t answer that at this time. Adam and Patti are currently on the Youth Specialties jet on their way to FerrariWorld in Roma, ciao!

Will YMX still be appearing at the conventions to promote the community?
Yes. Look for us at all the National Youth Workers Conventions this fall.

What about Raising Lazarus and the community’s desire to help hurting youth workers?
Raising Lazarus has always been a separate entity of Youth Ministry Exchange, LLC. YMX will continue its partnership with Raising Lazarus to offer practical support for those who need help. In addition, with more time dedicated to running YMX, Adam and Patti will be more available to help.

Will the site continue to place ads?
Yes. The site will largely operate as it has.

Does this mean that YMX will only promote resources that are Youth Specialties products?
No. The site will largely operate as it has. If we review a resource or report on a news item, we will include a disclosure stating that our our parent company is Youth Specialties when it is relevant. This is similar to the way you see reporting on mainstream media.

Doesn’t YMX own other sites? Are those part of this deal as well?
Yes, YMX will continue to operate the blog ad network, Youth Ministry Tips, Youth Ministry Pro, and just like we are today.

Your thoughts?

Marketing YMX

Youth Ministry Ad Network

youth ministry ad networkMaybe you’ve noticed that there is a small block of ads on the right side of my blog. What is that all about?

Patti & I have been thinking of a very focused, very profitable (for both advertisers/bloggers) niche` ad network for youth pastors for a long time.

Essentially, our goal with it is to connect the best youth ministry bloggers with the best youth ministry advertisers. Its a natural fit… but it needed someone to be the conduit. That’s where YMX stepped in.  For the last two years we’ve built relationships with many of the best companies in youth ministry and we’ve done “direct sales” of ads since the beginning. In other words, we’ve had our own internal ad network for a couple years… so creating another separate network was a natural fit for us.

Next step. From there it was all about finding the right people and letting people know about it. From January 1st-March 31st we ran a pilot program. When that went well, we decided to keep it going… and here we are!

Why is it different? Unlike the two most common forms of online advertising (Pay per click [google ads] and Pay per action [affiliate links]) our bloggers are guaranteed payment just for displaying the ads. That isn’t altogether unique… but our payment structure is! The ad network only makes 20% of the revenue… whereas the accepted standard is 50%. That means we’re passing almost all the money onto our youth ministry bloggers. They are happy. Our advertisers our happy. It’s a cool thing.


3 Teen Pregnancy Resources

Time Magazine Teen PregnancyEvery once in a while we get a great string of synergy at Youth Ministry Exchange and we really hit it out of the ballpark with solid resources.

Today we released 3 different resources on teen pregnancy.

Big props to Amy for putting all this together. She’s mucho good at what she does.

I am continually in awe of what God is doing with YMX. The other day I had the opportunity to talk to a “real publisher” about YMX and publishing and starting a business and all kinds of things. As I look back at the quality of things that we are able to produce with no money, no staff, no offices, and no backing from a major publishing house… it is clearly a God-ordained movement. It really is youth ministry people encouraging and uplifting one another and sometimes I sit back and just go… whoa, this is cool.

hmm... thoughts

What a day!

I was having a good day. Really, my new toy arrived and the installation has gone very smooth. I had a good day at work and got a lot done.

Then I got totally flattered by a post over on the MailChimp blog. (MailChimp is the third party email handler we use for the YMX newsletter)

Not that they don’t use technology. Youth Ministry Exchange is taking full advantage of a bunch of MailChimp features to spread the word. Here are some things that impressed me:

* They built an archive of all their past newsletters here. It’s a page they host on their website, then they use MailChimp’s Archive Generator to embed that list. It gets automatically updated whenever they send out a new issue. Learn more about MailChimp Archive Generators
* They’ve created their own signup form, then pass the data over to MailChimp (insteading of using our default, hosted signup form). Our signup box designer is pretty nice, but it’s always nicer when you host your own.
* On their signup form, they’re using MailChimp’s Interest Groups feature, which allow subscribers to sign up to receive only specific types of content. Learn more about MailChimp Interest Groups…
* They’re using MailChimp’s HTML email designer, and they’ve really customized their newsletter design to fit their brand. The content in their newsletters is actually useful! Tips, free downloads, and commentary. Nice.
* In their newsletters, they link to their blog, and to an RSS feed. More ways to keep your members updated.

Wow. A Christian ministry getting mentioned as using a lot of technology. I love that.

Weblogs YMX

The YMX blog

For a few weeks now (eternity in my library of ideas) Patti and I have talked about having a YMX blog so that our blogs weren’t quite so clogged up with stuff about the company and/or youth ministry stuff for others.

It’s not that we don’t love youth ministry or youth workers coming to our site, it’s that beyond our friends people aren’t getting a central location for all of our youth ministry stuff. Also, we need to feature bloggers from YMX more regularly and we really didn’t have a place to do this on YMX outside of the forums. (Right now, only half our traffic goes to the forums so that was out.)

So, the YMX blog was born last week. It’s got a fancy look that I love and we’ve got a growing list of writers to go along with all the collaboration we do all around the sites.

Three quick things about the YMX blog:
1. It’s all original content. We’re not recycling stuff we’ve already posted on our personal blogs or stuff that is making the rounds of blogs.
2. It’s all about youth ministry. No personal musings allowed.
3. It’s informal. We’ve got standard on the main site for polished content… we’re relaxing that on the blog.