What Susan Boyle Can Teach us about Youth Ministry…

susan-boyle-pic-smA few weeks ago, this lady from my home country was all over the media with her performance on ‘Britains Got Talent’. Today, once again I was watching this show on itv.com and got to see her make it to the final of this competition. 

The premise behind the show is similar to American Idol, except people with all kinds of talent, (including singers like Susan), can perform to win a large sum of money and perform at the ‘Royal Variety Performance’ in front of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. 

As I watched again this evening I was struck by a common theme that seems to be running through this show in the last couple of seasons. Here it is: 

Take an individual who clearly does not LOOK like they ‘have what it takes’ and certainly does not look like ‘star material’.  Stand them in front of the ruthless Simon Cowell and a judgemental audience waiting to heckle… Then, with the eyes rolling and the their hands on their ‘elimination buzzers’,  the judges let them begin… This is when this average, ordinary, unexceptional looking individual blows the roof off the house with an incredible performance… and the whole world looks on amazed… Soon, before you can say, “tea and crumpets”, she is on Oprah, Anderson Cooper and Larry King…

In many ways, I believe the producers of the show amplify much of the circumstances to create drama and a greater storyline. Nonetheless, why is this such a great storyline? Why do the producers play to the audiences need to see the unexceptional lady do an unimaginable performance?

Is it because this storyline is written on our hearts that has been played out again and again since God created the earth? Is it because each person was made for greater things, and that God is able to do the unimaginable in our lives? In fact, is it because we all sense that we are designed to “immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine” when the God of this universe shows up in our lives? 

Moses, the disciples, even Jesus himself, were the underdogs who were judged and written off before they had a chance… They were the ones who were marked for elimination at the first opportunity… yet, as we know, God is the God of extraordinary…

So, with all of this said, what does this have to do with Youth Ministry you may ask? Good question, let me explain:  

You see, the students we work with, live in a world full of eliminations… For some, it is: Broken marriages or tough parents, school, friends… maybe the church? They might not look the part or have it altogether yet,… they live in a world of rolling eyes and hecklers. Many of them don’t need a judge or an elimination buzzer since they have their own low expectations of themselves. Even students who come from great families, face struggles and challenges in our world today. Many of them don’t fit the mold of your typical leader or typical world changer, but isn’t it students like this who God loves to use? 

Here’s the most important part for those of us who are in youth ministry… It is our job to allow them to learn about the people God used for His purposes and let them know that God is able use them too… for extraordinary! It is our job to help them move from glimpsing a dream to living the dream God has for them. It is our job to create a ‘stage’ for them to shine and discover their unique gifts and abilities and see how they can be used in this incredible playground called earth. It is our job to help them believe in God and to embrace this truth: He believes in them more than anyone else! It is our job to equip, empower and encourage them to become so much more than the world could ever give them… Make sense? 

Check out Susan Boyle’s Video over at youtube, (currently close to 60 million viewers): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

Phil <><

Communicating with Parents Revisited

bullhorn300x200Following up from last weeks post on promo to students in the Fall, here is a reworked post from a while back. We have made a few changes since then in the way to connect with parents: 

It’s not the first thing that most of us youthworkers think about when we are in youth ministry, but it is likely to become something that we struggle with if we don’t think about it: Communicating with parents… 

I can’t tell you how many mistakes and misunderstandings I have made in the past, (some recent too).  But, I can tell you that I have learned that communicating with parents is essential. When I do this, it makes a huge difference for me. It makes a huge diference for families.

Here’s a list of easy ways I stay in touch with parents. They take some setting up, but are imperative for effective youth ministry!

1) Website: Up to date website with calendar and events page. We also have a parent page and a parent FAQ page too. 

2) Emails: We have all our students complete a connections card which has parent emails etc. We send out an email about special events and updates about once every two weeks. (Too many emails will be ignored by most parents). 

3) Newsletter: An emailed newsletter, (printed and on our website) through PARENTLINK that Group Publishing puts together. (It has facts and info for parents as well as parent tips and has space for your calendar and events too. You can also customize with your logo and change it up yourself). This has proved to be a great resource and only costs $99 for the year! Worth every penny!!! I have a parent put this together and email it out…

4) Events Co-ordinators: I am intentional about recruiting parents to be my event planners. Right now I have two parents who book our events and email out the info to parents. I also make them the contact person for the event since a parent will likely think about the details I might normally miss. 

5) Text Messages (Especially with a Swine Flu Outbreak): I finally gave into using text messages, but recently I realized the HUGE value in having such a service for parents and students in ministry: Three local high schools got shut down recently for confirmed H1N1 flu and we had got word at around noon the day our large group program meets. Having the ability to contact everyone to cancel our program using texts was huge for us. We use the service that Simply Youth Ministry provide. There are lots of other options out there too, this one works best for us. 

Some of these ideas to take some energy putting into place, but in the end they are well worth it. 

Have any easy ideas that you want to share? Feel free to comment. I would love to steal a great idea or two!

Promo for the Fall

These last two weeks I have been looking and planning for the Fall, (yes call me crazy or call me British – I like to plan this far out). In addition, I got an email this week from a good youth ministry friend who was asking how I promote events for the Fall etc. Here is his question: 

hey. i’m working through some modifications for next fall, and one of the things I’m looking at a lot is publicity & communication with parents and students. I looked at your blog on stuff for parents, but was curious how you publicize stuff to your students. handouts? mailings? facebook? emails? a little of everything? just curious? 

I am sure that there are some much more innovative ways out there, but the following are what work for our ministry right now mainly because they are simple, sustainable and effective. We employ all these ways to promo for events and series kick offs. One way cannot work on it’s own. I find that many ‘hits’ work to get the message out there: 

mission_impossible_postcard_front11) Series Kick Off Postcards (2 weeks before): For our Fall Kick-Off series (and our January kick off), we send out some pretty awesome 5 x 7 postcards to every student on our mailing list, (we are very intentional in getting all their info). The postcards have been designed in one of two ways: First, I have a friend who is a graphic designer and he currently designs our stuff for free, (awesome I know). Second, some of the curriculum’s out there (like SYM and XP3) offer postcards and graphics you can customize yourself. However, I prefer to make it our own. This postcard, ‘Mission Impossible’ started out life as ‘Impossible for God’ from Simply Youth Ministry.

2) Facebook Group /Event Invite (10 days before): Probably the most effective current way to invite students to events and kick offs. We promo our facebook group quite a bit, but we also have many of our students who forward the invite to their friends. 

3) Text Messages (1 week and then again 1 day before): We have many of our students (and parents) signed up for this. I currently used Simply Youth Ministry’s text service (which is basically txtsignal.com). I love using this and I find that many students will text me back with questions, so it become quite interactive… 

4) Emails (10 days before): Again, we are very intentional about getting emails and contact info. Although email is an ‘old mode’ of communication for students, I find that a number of them still use email quite a bit. They might not check it regularly, so get the info out well in advance. 

5) Blog and Video Announcements (updated two weeks before): Rather than having a traditional website for our student ministry, we have a wordpress blog that we can update and change quickly and easily. It also allows us to upload video announcements which create much more interest than usual. I use my flip camera for quick updates, and I have a great leader who is awesome and creating good ‘trailers’

That’s what we do. Like I said… simple, sustainable and effective. If you have some good ideas, I would love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment. 

Phil <><


Tips for New and Transitioning Youth Workers

Here’s an interview I did with Tim Schmoyer at the National Youth Ministry Conference back in February. I am constantly having to refocus and remind myself how to keep ministry sustainable, simple and effective. Maybe this is a good reminder for you too? 

Tim is a great youth worker has an incredible youth ministry blog with loads of tips, ideas, resources, interviews, videos… the whole enchilada! Check it out at www.lifeinstudentministry.com


What I am Learning.

So, as many of you know who follow this blog, I am part of a church plant in Southeast Michigan, (well, does 6 years old still class as a church plant)? At Easter we had our first service in our first full time facility that we now own. Up until now, we have rented facilities, used homes and the youth program when I arrived here met in basements. Now that we have our own place, you would think it would be all plain sailing now? Right? Yes… and no. Here’s 10 things I have been learning…

1) Less Set up / Tear Down? Getting in a building does not necessarily mean less ‘set up and tear down’ every time we meet for our large program. Prior to being here, we rented a facility for youth ministry and we had to set up and tear down every week. Now, we still have the same situation. We do not have our own youth space and this means we still have work hard before and after the program. 

2) Students Love the Place! Our place looks great and does look like your typical church. Students feel greater ownership and love the place and feel. 

3) Students say they bring more Friends! A number of students have told us that they feel it is easier to bring their friends to. When I ask why, they explain that it’s almost like inviting friends to ‘their place’. Before, it was like inviting friends to someone else’s place.

4) It’s Easy to be too Laid Back! I have noticed that many of my leaders took their foot of the gas a little when we arrived here. It’s almost, like “this will be easier, now we can relax”. 

5) Laid Back = Falling Over! We were all a little too laid back about getting in here and we fell a couple of times and we have had a lot of bumps in the road. 

6) Falling Over is a good path sometimes! Falling over and tripping up a little has been an important part of our journey. I love the fact that I am surrounded by leaders who are always looking to learn and get back up when things don’t go to plan. 

7) SWINE FLU changes Everything! Yes, we had to close our youth program down one Sunday after we got word that some students in the local high school were infected with H1N1 virus. I did not want to over react, however, it was important to send a clear message to parents that safety and health is a top priority for us. 

8) I have a LONGER JOB DESCRIPTION! Now that I am in the office more, I end up doing more stuff outside my youth ministry description. I usually preach every couple of months and work on a lot of communication stuff for the church, but recently I have become: Removal man, IT help desk, Cleaner, Handy Man… just to name a few. However , it’s important to say that I love doing this. There are some people who are throwing down a lot more than me. We are a team and it’s important to get stuff done… 

9) I love my British office! I got to paint and decorate my own place. The flavor and feel is British! I have a lot of stuff from my home country in there! 

10) WOW, we have grown!!!! We have increased attendance by about 25% in the first month. Now, we have had Easter and mothers day, but we have seen so many new people, first time commitments to Christ and so many more people have got plugged into ministry. AND, at the end of the day… this is what it is about. 

There, you go, that is what I am learning. Sorry for the blog drought… It has been a busy season!

Phil <><

Creative design from the South

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