Monthly Archives: April 2009

Being Strategic: Vision Statements

Every company, sports organization and magazine in the world has a vision/mission statement. But, what is it really? Why is it good for you to have a vision/mission statement? Developing a vision statement is important to have for at least 2 reasons.

For starters, it is important to have this statement because it will end up being your guiding light. It is what all your decisions will be based on. It gives you freedom to say yes and the ability no – which might be one of the hardest things for a youth leader to do. When a decision needs to be made, you can always check it against your vision statement to see if the 2 line up. If they do, it makes your decision easier. But, if they do not, it is an easy “no” answer.

The vision statement we have at Cedar Run is “Cedar Run’s Student Ministry seeks to develop relationships with students so that Christ can make an eternal impact in their lives.” In this statement, I put a main emphasis on leaders building relationships with students. The leaders are not just building relationships but spurring the students on towards Christ. Therefore, everything that the leaders and I do is based on building relationships and leading students into deeper relationships with Christ.

In his book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins helped me process my vision statement. He introduced the Hedgehog Concept. I cannot begin to do justice to Jim’s concept so I encourage you to read his book as it is a great read. But, the Hedgehog Concept is basically “simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or a concept that unifies and guides everything” (p. 91 – “Good to Great”). This concept is more than a vision statement, but your vision statement needs to coincide with this concept. It includes your passions and what you, as a Church, can strive to be the best at.

For example, at Cedar Run, we developed our Hedgehog Concept when we created our vision statement. We decided we were not going to strive to have the best “youth room” with all the coolest gadgets and games. Nor were we going to have the best camping ministry where we draw tons of students to camp each year. What I honestly felt we, at Cedar Run, could be the best at would be developing relationships with students and taking them deeper in Christ. That is what I was passionate about and what I wanted us to be known for, what I wanted us to be best at. So, if you ever come to visit our program (anyone is welcome to come), you will see that we don’t’ have the best games or the best room. We don’t have the best youth band (but a very good one) or best powerpoint presentations. But, what we are great at is building and developing relationship with students so that Christ will make an eternal impact on their lives.

Secondly, having a vision statement is good to have because it shows others that you have a plan. A few years ago, as I was searching for a part time Middle School Intern, I revealed to our search committee what our vision statement was. In that committee was a woman who had children in our program and was very involved. When she heard the vision statement, she said, “I didn’t know you had that.” I was surprised but it became clear to me that we have not made our statement known to others. The leaders knew it and I knew it, but no one else did. She went home told her husband. The next Sunday she came up to me and said that she always thought the youth program was all about fun and craziness. She didn’t know we actually had a plan! The same will be true of your program unless you make it known! Because we work with “Youth” and most Youth Pastors are young, we are stereotyped into the young crowd. People assume you are naïve and do not know the anything. So, unless you make it known, you leave people the opportunity to make assumptions about you and our program. Therefore, MAKE IT KNOWN! Put it on your website, your newsletters and anything else you send out to parents.

What is it that you want your program to be about? What are you passionate about? What can your church be known for and be the best at? Also, how are you going to accomplish your vision statement? How will our program and curriculum look based on our vision for this group? That is where the fun begins. We’ll continue to talk about other strategic moves you can make in other posts to come.

But, before we get into other strategic moves, TAKE A MINUTE and either…

  1. Examine your vision statement, if you have one. Is it your guiding light? Is it made known to others or are they free to assume you do not have a plan?
  2. Create a vision statement if you do not have one. Remember the Hedgehog Concept – what are you passionate about and what can you be the best at. Let that drive your thinking. Spend time praying and listen for God to guide you.
  3. Pick up Jim Collin’s “Good to Great” book. It had a huge impact on my ministry and can help you as well.

If you want thoughts or want help on your vision statement, feel free to email me at


  • Jim Collin’s “Good to Great”

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Quality, Not Quantity

“I can’t believe that just happened!” “I can’t believe you all just did that!” Have you ever heard students say that at one of your youth events? I hope you have. When your students express this, they have just experienced the “wow factor”. The Wow Factor is anything (an event, skit or happening) that leaves your students saying, “WOW!” and completely amazed at what they just experienced.

Fun, social events have been apart of youth ministry ever since I can remember. The reasons why Youth Pastors do these events are for a variety of reasons. It could be to build community within the youth group or to reach out to new students or something entirely different. Whatever the case may be, these events normally draw a lot of students because they are fun and usually non-threatening.

In today’s culture, there is not much that our youth have not seen or experienced. Whether it is something they saw on YouTube or MTV, they are exposed to so much. But, as much as they have been exposed to, very rarely will they expect to be wowed, inspired or thrilled like that at a church. After all, what happens on those videos or shows should never happen at Church, right? Yes, but not entirely. This is where a great and awesome opportunity lies for youth ministry.

When I started out in youth ministry, I felt that I had to have as many fun, social events as possible. Whether it was going bowling, playing laser tag, water parks or fun day trips into Washington DC, I felt that the more activities we did the better it was for our program. If we could do more “fun” events, more people would come and want to come to our church on Sundays. Boy, was I wrong! No matter how many times we went bowling or played paintball, there just seemed to be something missing. No matter what we did or how often we did these fun events, we weren’t drawing as many students as I thought we should.

That is when I realized I had the wrong approach to events. Instead of doing more events, I had to do less. Instead of doing the standard events, I had to become more creative. I began to completely change my philosophy of event planning.

The Question We Ask

In evaluating why we, at Cedar Run, do events and how we do them, a friend asked me this question, “What makes this event Cedar Run?” For example, bowling. Anyone can go bowling. But, what makes this bowling outing a Cedar Run event? How are we going to separate ourselves from what everyone else is doing? As I mentioned earlier, there is not much that our students have not experienced. Our youth can go bowling anytime. What are we going to do and offer that makes Cedar Run’s bowling outing different and more appealing to them?

Asking this question made me reflect on Christ and his ministry. No matter where he was or what he was doing, people were always drawn to him. He had that “it” quality about him. Other people were teaching about God as well, but whenever Christ came around, people knew that something great was going to be spoken or that something awesome was going to happen. In the same way, there has to be that “it” quality about our events. There has to be a separation between our events and the events of others.

One example at Cedar Run is our Super Bowl Bash. Most youth programs have a Super Bowl Party. But, ours is a bit different. Our Super Bowl Bash has grown in popularity each year because it is not just another Super Bowl Party. Anyone can watch the Super Bowl with friends. But, what we offer is something for everyone, even those who aren’t football fans. Some of the things we offer are:

  • A free event
  • Tons of food – home made by parents
  • A variety of games such as board games for quiet and reserved students and video games for energetic middle school boys – remember, something for everyone.
  • A root beer keg

Now, these may not seem like “WOW” type features to this event. But, what makes this event distinctly Cedar Run and a “WOW” event is our Half-Time show. Now, in all honesty, we stumbled upon the Half-Time show because of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. Before them, we used to watch the nationally televised musicians perform during this time. But that wardrobe mal-function inspired us to look differently at this time. That is when we came up with our very own Half-Time Show.

Our Half-Time Show consists of two components: fun and serious. For the fun, we go all out and have mixers, games and raffles. This time is all led by our Program Team (volunteer leaders and students) that works hard at creating a “WOW” effect. They want to create an experience that the students have never experienced before. They are very creative and have a lot of fun with it. Each year, the fun component gets better and better as the students have a great time. To see a clip of a video they did for our half-time show, look at this video.

But, the fun component is secondary to our serious time. During this time, we take a few minutes and share about our Church and what we are about. Then, we have a few students share about how Christ has made an impact in their life. Our Super Bowl Bash is an outreach event, so we want to leave students not only feeling that this was a great event because of the fun they had, but also that this wowed them because they saw how Christ could change their life. For some of these students, this may be the only opportunity they have to hear about Christ. It is our hope that after they leave the church on Super Bowl Sunday they will be encouraged to come to Church so they can hear more about Christ and his potential impact on their lives.

Quality, Not Quantity

As I began to ask the question as what makes each event a Cedar Run event, I made another discovery. We have started to do less fun events. This wasn’t because I was getting lazy and didn’t want to do them anymore. Rather, I found out that by increasing the QUALITY of the events, the QUANTITY went down. Our leaders would take that extra step to make the event that we were doing special. Whether it was a video, surprise raffle of an iPod or an impromptu dance party, it became clear that we wanted to do better events. Therefore, we put more time and energy in doing a few excellent events rather than trying to come up with monthly events that are just ordinary events.

The students have really responded to this. We also discovered that even though the number of events we did decreased, the number of students who started coming started to increase dramatically. Again, anyone can go bowling or watch the Super Bowl, but when we started taking that extra step, Cedar Run events became more than just other events. It is known now that when Cedar Run does an event, something special (or crazy) is going to happen. They have become “Can’t Miss” events.

We do other events throughout the year and as long as we are taking that extra step and glorifying God with our creativeness, God has truly blessed us and provided us a clear avenue to reach teens for Christ. He can do the same for you as well.


  1. Make a list of all the events you are doing. Write down the purpose of each event and estimate the number of students who come out to those events.
  2. Based on your list, are there events that need to be eliminated because they lack a clear purpose or strong attendance? What events can be modified to make this event distinctive to your church or ministry?
  3. Incorporate your leaders and some key students and begin to plan out some WOW events.

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Being on Guard

In my last post, “Staying Connected”, I highlighted the benefits of being connected in the digital, mobile world.  I still believe it is very importance for us to be connected.  HOWEVER, in Sunday’s Washington Post, I was reminded that for every good thing to help us minister better, there are pitfalls and opportunities for Satan to mess with us and prevent us from being as effective as we need to be.

Please take a minute to read this article.  It actually involves an Assistant Principle at the local High School in my town.  Even thought it involves an Assistant Principle (not a person in ministry), I couldn’t help but think that this could be any of us!

I hope you can take time to read this article as it cause me to make sure I am on Guard.

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Staying Connected

Can you picture your first computer? What did it look like and what could you do on it? Do you remember the first time you connected to the internet? How long did it take you to go from page to page? Can you picture your first cell phone? What did it look like and what were its capabilities? How about the first time you sent an email, how weird was that? When was the first time you tried a digital camera?

The world has changed so much since our first computers, cell phones and the first time we got on the web or sent an email. Our desktop computers have turned into small, thin laptops. Our clunky, gray screened cell phones have turned into mini-computers that have many different functions. The internet has gone from a slow, fun thing to do to a must have information mega-tool. We have gone from having tons of pictures in albums to storing them on CDs and on the internet. Technology has changed so much of how we function today. We have become a digital, mobile world where people are doing all sorts of things in the palms of their hands. The question is, are you connected to it?

Why does a youth pastor have to be connected digitally? For starters, this is a great way to stay connected with teens. In a recent article, it stated that “advertisers are clamoring to reach teens in digital environments because that’s where they’re spending much of their time–either online, with cell phones or playing video games.” Take a quick look around your youth program. How many of your students are on facebook, have a smartphone where they are texting, checking email, surfing the web, taking pictures and sending them to their friends or are tweeting something or another. Today’s youth are connected to the digital world. It is a primary source of communication for them and a perfect opportunity for you to stay connected to them.

Secondly, as a relational based ministry, we need to be out with students. But, at the same time, we have to be in the office doing administrative work, planning and answering calls and/or emails. By being mobile and connected digitally, you can be with students while also being able to receive important emails or calls as needed. I know Youth Pastors are not CEOs of huge companies where their immediate response is vital, but I do believe it is important to be able to be reached at any time.

Now, there are always exceptions to the rule. My friend Robbie Pruitt, the Youth Pastor at the Church of Epiphany in Herndon, VA, DOES NOT have a cell phone. In his overly exaggerated and entirely too long of a list of reasons why, he does have some solid reasons. For instance, he said that by not having a cell phone it causes him to plan ahead better and it allows him to be with people rather than always having a phone ring when he is spending time in a meeting with others. He also said that he has an office and phone line and he checks his voicemails and his email regularly. These are all very good reasons why not to have a cell phone.

However, the fact that Robbie does not have a cell phone does not mean that he is not connected. He carries his laptop around everywhere and prefers email. He also stays connected to his youth and others through his blogs (one of them is My Two Mites – and facebook. Even thought Robbie does not own a cell phone does not mean that he is not connected. The point is that we live in a mobile, connected world. If we are not connected in some form or another, then we are missing opportunities to engage people in today’s world.

How can you be digital/mobile? Here are just a few ways you can become digital:

  • Start a Facebook account, if you haven’t already (MySpace is out). This social network is free and is great, not only to connect with students but also your friends and other Youth Pastors
  • Get a Smartphone (or at least text messaging and email ability)
  • Use a Laptop
  • Take more digital pictures and videos and post them online so everyone can see them. Facebook is great for this.

I know it is easy to say that you need all these things in order to be digital and work in a mobile world. The fact is, as Robbie has pointed out, you do not need all these items, but I do believe that you do need some of them to stay engaged in the culture. The bigger question is how can you afford all these things, especially working at a smaller church/organization with a limited budget from your youth program? I have never worked with a budget of more than $15,000 before and I know that you can these supplies. It may just take a little creativeness on your part.

Here are some ways you can creatively stay connected with a limited budget.

  • Find out exactly what your budget is and where you are spending money. See if there may be wasteful spending and if any funds can be reallocated into different, more necessary areas.
  • Post a Needs List at your church. There may be business men/women who have an older model laptop or phone they can give you. Or, they may have a new one that they want to give you. A few years ago a parent called me up to see if I needed a brand new PDA that he had just gotten. I did not need it, but another Staff member at our office did so he gave it to her. People are generous and want to give, especially when there is a need. However, if we never let anyone know our needs, we may never find out exactly how generous they can be.
  • Write a Needs Proposal to your Church Leadership about these specific needs. If your church/ministry wants you to be with students, this is a perfect way to reach them and stay connected to administrative needs at the same time. You may not have enough money to get all these things from your youth budget, but the Church should have office and administrative money they could pull from. My suggestion is to not get greedy and try to get the most expensive MacBook Pro or a $300 smartphone with the most applications. As you examine your needs, you will be able identify what devices you need to be successful. Then, you can formally go before your Church Leadership, Board or Elders to make a proposal for these items. The key here is to outline exactly why you need these items.

As you get engaged with these items to help you be more efficient and reach more students, I want to issue a word of caution on being connected. Having these products is great because you are connected all the time. In the same way, it can also be a bad thing that you are connected all the time. For example, in Exodus 20:8-10a, God says, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” Just because we are connected, does not mean that we have to have technology physically connected to us all the time. When it is your day off, take a day off. Don’t answer your phone, check your email or even facebook. When we do this, we are working and not keeping the Sabbath as God commands us to.

Secondly, as Robbie mentioned, when we are too connected all the time, we can lose sight of important relationships. For instance, nothing drives my wife crazier when I get home at night than when I answer text messages, phone calls or emails. She feels that even thought I am physically home, in all reality, I am not because I am checking these things. As good as technology is for us to be connected to others, take time to rest, re-energize and focus on those closest to you. Do not become a slave to technology.


  1. Take an inventory of your digital, mobile needs. What do you currently have and what do you need?
  2. Start researching what Mobile devices you need to get. What are their functions and prices.
  3. Get connected!

Like this, hate this or have thoughts on this, post a comment.



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Partner with Other Ministries and Churches

In 1984, John Lasseter left his job at Disney animation and formed a company with George Lucas as apart of Lucasfilm, LTD. In 1986, Steve Jobs, of Apple Computer fame, bought this department from Lucasfilm and created an independent company called Pixar. Over the course of the next few years, Pixar released many short films at Siggraph, winning many awards. They also made commercials with companies such as Tropicana and Listerine. Then, in 1991, Pixar teamed up with Disney to form 3 feature length films and a partnership was formed that eventually led to Disney buying Pixar in 2006.

One of the main reasons why John left Disney for Pixar was because of the computer animation. Computer animation was an up and coming development in animation and since Disney was not going to be part of the early form of computer animation, John went to Pixar where he developed tons of commercials, short stories and movies. Over the course of the next decade, Pixar ended up putting together such great blockbusters as Cars, Toy Story 1 & 2 and Monsters, Inc. In the meantime, Disney did not have a blockbuster animation hit since The Lion King in 1994. Pixar produced better stories accompanied with better animation. Because of this, Disney ultimately choose to buy out Pixar and thus, John Lasseter returned to Disney, now serving as the Chief Creative Officer.

In many ways, the Pixar/Disney story is similar to the Para-church/Church story. Disney represents churches and Pixar represents Para-church ministries. Para-church ministries are started for a variety of reasons. They could have wanted to be interdenominational to reach more people, or maybe they wanted creative freedom than what a Church allows or simply wanted to focus on a specific purpose. Whatever the reason was for starting it, para-church ministries were not started to compete with Churches.

Young Life, like many other great para-church organizations was designed to be an aid and to assist the Church. Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, started out as an Associate Pastor in Texas. His Senior Pastor gave him the charge to go out and reach unchurched teens in hopes to bring them to the Church. Out of that mission and assignment, Young Life was formed. Despite this intent, I have heard of so many Youth Pastors who are threatened by Young Life or feel that they are “stealing” their students away. This kind of mindset is what I believe is a key hindrance between Para-churches and Churches having healthy, working relationships together. When we allow this mindset to take hold, God’s kingdom suffers because we fight against each other rather than with each other.

When I first got to Cedar Run, I had just come off an over 4-year employment with Young Life. Although I left Young Life, it was not for any negative reason. Now, as a Youth Pastor of a small – medium sized church, I knew I needed some help in reaching students for Christ. Therefore, when Mike Miller became the Area Director of Young Life in my area, I set up a time to meet with him. Mike and I knew each other from my time with Young Life and I had a lot of respect for him, even thought he regularly beat me at Frisbee golf during our 3 week Young Life training. Out of that first conversation with him, I realized that I wanted to form a partnership with him. Over the past 4 years, we have partnered on leadership training, ministering to students with disabilities and now we are preparing to do a Discipleship day for our students together. It has been a great partnership.

Partnering with other churches is just as important as partnering with other ministries.

Have you ever gotten an invite from another Church for a special event and wonder, “Don’t they know I’m a Youth Pastor, too. Why would you invite me to something at your church?” Maybe it is just me, but I have wondered this many times before as I get those fliers in my church mailbox. However, I quickly correct myself as I realize just why these churches are doing this. It is because they wanted me to take advantage of something they were doing. They did not want to “steal” my students away. They simply want me to be apart of it so that you could use it as a tool for my ministry and students. As Youth Pastors and Ministers at small – medium sized churches or organizations, we have to take advantage of these opportunities.

Just like with para-church ministries, there are too many times when we feel that we can not work with other churches. I know it is easier for churches in the same denomination to work together and unite for trips and activities. But, is it really a mortal sin for a Methodist youth group to be associated with a Baptist one? Why is that? What if we don’t have other churches in our denomination close enough to unite? Do not get caught up in thinking that just because you are the head youth leader, you cannot and should not work with others, that you owe it to your church to plan a great event alone. When we choose to be the lone ranger and go after these students by ourselves, we miss plenty of opportunities to unite students together and spur them on in Christ.

Partnering with other ministries and churches are great for a variety of other reasons. First, you all may be trying to reach the same students. By partnering with others, you can eliminate the overlap and be united to reach these students for Christ better. For instance, Mike Miller and I have a lot of the same students involved in our programs. When we partner together we have better success as we are not unintentionally competing against each other with similar events. Secondly, it brings Youth Pastors and Ministers together. As I have mentioned in a previous post, it stinks to be the lone ranger. When you are partnering with others, it unites two or more people together who are trying to do that same accomplish similar goals. Thirdly, it unites students together and gives them a bigger picture of the kingdom of God. For example, maybe Johnny goes to First Baptist and Luke goes to First Methodist, but they both go to the same school. They may not know they are both Believers, but if you join together for an event, they will realize that there is another Believer at their school who can encourage and support them. What a great opportunity for them to connect! Lastly, it combines resources. In a non-mega church, your budget can be limited. By joining together with others you can split the cost of doing a stellar event. You benefit, students benefit and most importantly, Christ is proclaimed.

A word of caution – DO NOT PARTNER FOR THE SAKE OF PARTNERING. I believe partnerships are great, but do not sacrifice your core values and beliefs just to join together. There has to be a right mix of personalities and missions in order for this to be helpful. Had I tried to partner with Young Life the year before Mike got there, it would not have worked. Not only were there differences in personalities but also there were differences in vision that would not have made it successful. Therefore, when you are looking at partnering with other ministries and churches, do not partner for the sake of partnering, make sure that the Lord has opened a door for you to go through. If the Lord is not opening this door, it will only lead to frustration and conflict.


  1. Find out what para-church ministries are in your area. Find out what their purpose is and if there is any commonality between your church and their organization. Some youth specific ones are Young Life, FCA and Youth for Christ’s Campus Life. If there is a local office of any of these groups in your area, pick up the phone and call the Area Director to set up a “get to know” meeting.
  2. Give a Youth Pastor from another church a call and set up a time for you to get to know each other.

Know this, by setting up a meeting with them, does not mean you have to partner with them. It is just an opportunity to get to know them. Out of that conversation, a partnership may develop. But, unless you start the process of first getting to know them, you will never know.



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My last post talked about the importance of Assessing where your students so that you are making an impact on them for Christ.  Then, part of the TAKE A MINUTE challenge was to start assessing where your students were by starting a notebook of sorts where you can write down interests, where they are with Christ and anything else you know about them that will help you assess where they are at.

But, I know there are other ways to assess where they are at and tools are out there for you to begin this process.  For instance, I found these:

  1. Youth Specialities has great handouts you could use.  They have high school ones and middle school ones.  Check them out as they offer a variety of discussion starters.  But, more importantly, they have some Assessment Handouts so you can find out exactly where your students are at.
  2. Spiritual Assessment Test by Lifeway.  This is something you can do and modify to fit what you want to ask.
  3. Teachervision has some great “Get to Know” mixers and ideas.  Obviously, this site is geared to School Teachers, but a tweak here and there and you can replace some of their get to know items with what you want to know about your students.  Be careful though – pick wisely, the 1st 3 links you click on this site are FREE!  After that, it cost money.

These are just a few ways you can begin the assessment process.  But, again, I know there are more ways and tools you can use you can do this.  So, TAKE A MINUTE and…

  • Post a comment of ways you have used to Assess Where Your Students Are At so that we can all benefit!

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