Monthly Archives: July 2009

Follow Up after Trips

I just got back from one of our best, if not the best, youth mission trip we have ever done at Cedar Run. I saw God do some amazing things as He pushed and challenged our students in their faith, in how they view others and the blessings they have been given.  And, I saw Him bring together students who did not know each other well.   It was a great experience.

As I have posted before, mission trips are just one of the 4 different types of summer camping: outreach, discipleship, mission trips and high adventure trips.  I believe that there is no right or wrong choice; it just depends on what your intention is and where you want to take your students.  The bigger question that we need to ask ourselves comes after you get back from the trip. That question is how do you capitalize on what God did during that trip?  No matter what kind of trip you go on, you usually come back with students who grew in their faith and are now in closer community with each other.  So, what do you do with them so that you can build off of the momentum and encourage them in Christ while inspiring others to do likewise?  Here are a few suggestions that came to mind.

How do you capitalize?

For starters, you could do a Post-Trip Gathering.  Young Life does a great job with this.  After every summer camp they go to, within 3 weeks, they do a Post-Trip Gathering in which they have invite everyone who went (and their parents) to a dessert or cook.  Then, they show a slide show or video of the trip and then have a few students share about how that experience changed their life.  It is a fantastic way to reinvigorate the students as they reflect on the memories they made and hear about how real life change happened during that time away.  This can be the perfect prelude to introducing a summer time Bible study or inviting the to come back to Church to hear about your latest message sequence.

Another idea is to create a month long Discipleship Follow Up. Often times, students come back from trips on a spiritual high, but return to the realities of the world where they can be spiritually discouraged and crushed – a clear momentum killer.  When they return from a trip, even though they are on these highs, many times they are not equipped or prepared for the realities of the world.  A great way to counter this is to have something already planned out where you can continue to bring the students together and unite and encourage them in Christ.  There are many different ways you can go about this.  Some examples are to invite them to Church, a small group Bible Study, a study designed just for those who are coming back from camp, etc.  By doing this, students can stay on fire for the Lord by getting spiritually fed.  Even though the realities of their lives will impact them to some degree, they will know that there is Truth waiting for them just right around the corner.

You could also build off of the momentum and excitement of the camp trip by spending time at each Sunday morning or at your evening program talking about it. For instance, you can have 1 person each week for a month share about their experience and how it impacted their life.  This way you are indirectly promoting your trip for next year by showing others that life change does happen and that those who didn’t go on the trip missed out on a unique experience.  It also keeps the memories and experiences fresh in their minds and encourages everyone that they can impact and help others for Christ in the local community.

The last and maybe most important key here is to include everyone. This past year, I was very pleased to take 22 students with us on our mission trip.  Although that is a solid number, that represents just about 25% of our total youth program.  If you truly want to capitalize on a powerful experience, you have to include everyone in your group and make them feel that they are still important and can contribute to the youth program in some way.

TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Recall past post-camp experiences.  What made that time a success in building  off the camp trip and what were some misses that prevented you from in building from your experience?
  2. What can you do this summer to help capitalize and build upon so this coming year can be one of your best trips ever?

Know this, it’s not too late!  Even if you already did you trip earlier in the summer, you can still capitalize on this trip.  If you don’t have a follow up strategy for your trip already, come up with one so you can build upon this and bring more students into a more mature relationship with Christ.

Questions, thoughts or experiences?  Feel free to post them so we can be encouraging each other.

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College and Young Adult Ministry

Have you ever heard a graduating senior ask you, “now, what do I do?” or “where do I go now”?  At Cedar Run, we began to experience more students graduating and moving into college starting the 2nd year I was there.  It was at that point where we decided we needed to have something for them.

As Youth Pastors, it is our job to have strategic plans for our middle and high school youth.  However, what happens to your youth when they graduate high school?  Do you have a plan for them then?  If you work at a large or mega-church, you usually do not have to worry about a plan for them after they graduate as there is probably a Staff person who is in charge of that.  However, most of us reading this blog do not work at a large or mega-church.  We work at smaller to medium size churches where there is no designated staffer to take the college and beyond students.  Therefore, it is up to us to do something with these students so that they can continue to be challenged in their faith and have a group to call their own at church.

But, just as we began to identify this great new growth potential for our church, we had a series of questions to answer

  1. Who is in charge of this group?
  2. What do you do with them?
  3. How can the group grow?

Who is in charge of the college group?

As I mentioned before, in a perfect world, you would be the Youth Pastor ministering to the middle and high school students.  Then, as your graduating seniors move off to college or the workforce, you would pass them along to a College and Young Adult Director who takes them on and lead them.  However, working at smaller to medium size churches, we do not often have a College and Young Adult Director.  There is just an Associate Pastor or Senior Pastor who are often overworked as it is.  Therefore, I believe, it rests on the Youth Pastors shoulders to take these students to the next level.  That does not mean you have to actually lead it, but it does mean you have some involvement.

The reason I believe you have to have some involvement is because you are the leader they are most familiar and comfortable with.  At Cedar Run, we have tried many times to take myself out of the picture because I have my hands full with youth oriented stuff.  However, we have seen that until these students feel comfortable with the leadership in place, it is hard to have no involvement in the strategy and direction of the group.  Even if all you do is show up and let others lead, your presence is necessary as it will be a draw if you are there.

Therefore, my recommendation is for you to organize a team of leaders that you are involved with to minister to the College and Young Adults in your church.  This is our 5th year doing this ministry and only this year do I feel that we have a great mix of leaders involved.  It consists of our Associate Pastor, a volunteer leader and myself. Together we mapped out who is in leading each week and what we will be doing.  By having the three of us involved, not all the weight and responsibility rest on your shoulders.  In fact, the great thing about this year is that this is the first time that I have had a minor role.  Most weeks, I just promote our meetings and encourage the college and young adults to come.  It has been a huge weight off my shoulders and been better for our program.

What do you do with them?

At Cedar Run, our main youth meeting is during the church service.  So, when high school students move into college or the workforce, our main hope is to integrate them into the main service so that they can feel apart of the adult community.  It’s not a hard integration as they spend time in the service most week and are involved in the work of the overall church throughout the year.  But, in the same light, this is a niche group where this demographic has their own set of issues and challenges.  How do you minister to them and meet their needs so that they feel that Cedar Run is the place for them to grow and mature as a believer?

The problem with this group is that it is not a consistent group.  You have students who go away for the entire year only to return and work long hours or go on vacation or help out at Christian camps.  Until you get some young career adults, who have more stable lives, involved it is a group that is often times in flux.  Because of this, you may have a ton of young adults one week only to have half the size the following week.  In the five years we have had a College and Young Career group at Cedar Run, I feel that we have tried almost everything to draw interest and excitement.  We have tried:

  • Donuts and coffee before Church, then sit together
  • Strong discipleship based teaching times on Sunday night or during the week.
  • Overnights to the beach
  • Social functions like Pool Parties or a night out at a Town Center.

Although they have been moderately successful, they have worked only for a short time.  They attracted some people, but for the amount of potential involvement we had at our Church, they failed to help out for the long term.  It was only through trying these activities, polling more students and getting more input that we developed a program that works well for us.

This year, we began a more fellowship-based time centered around home-cooked food and a great discussion based teaching.  The first 25 minutes of our time together is a time of fellowship and community building through eating a meal.  And, not just an ordinary, make your own subs or pizza meal.  We have a husband and wife come in each week and make items like fajitas, chicken dishes and pasta.  I wish I could say that I came up with this idea, but my friend Chris Craddock over at the King’s Chapel told me that he does this with his college and young adult program.  For him and us, this has been a huge success.  After all, if you were a college student or young adult with limited money, wouldn’t a free meal that is great tasting and not your normal college food, sound appealing?

After we have dinner together, we have either our Associate Pastor or our volunteer leader lead them in a discussion based topic.  We have learned that if we just give another “sermon” to them, they are not that interested.  They want to learn about Christ and the Bible.  But, they also want to be able to process the information and digest it.  These are general questions that challenge them to think without them having to be too vulnerable.  We have found that the students and young adults do not like to share too much, especially if it is a new ministry.  They want to feel people out before they share who they really are.  That is why we ask questions more centered around the topic rather than “share the time you failed” questions.

Overall, this format has worked very well for us.  We still do social events (such as a Thanksgiving and Christmas time-frame gatherings) and will try to do an overnight once in while.  But, this main meeting time has become our bread and butter that has gone over very well.

How can the group grow?

As I mentioned above, we have been doing a College and Young Career group at Cedar Run for 5 years now.  The problem for us has been growing the group.  Each year, our high school program graduates more and more students.  However, each year our College and Young Career group has stayed about the same size.  There has been a ton of energy and excitement around the group, but when it comes time to have our weekly gatherings, the size of the group has been small.

That began to change this year.  The reason why I believe we have experienced this change and started to see more growth is because

  1. We found the right format for us.
  2. We have finally found a core group of students to run with.

The change in format has been a huge help for us, but just as important is the identification of 4-5 core young adults to become the driving force of the group. Before we identified this current core group of young adults, we were always trying to cater to who we thought would be the leadership of the group.  Whatever they thought would be good and desirable was what we wanted to try to do.  After all, they were a great group with real leadership potential who were going to take the group to the next level.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to please and cater to them, they never fully got on board with the program.  We tried to force them into the Core.  But, instead of finding a core to run with, we ended up floundering around a bit as we were waiting for them to step up, which they never did.

This year, we changed our approach.  Before we officially kicked off our summer program, we polled the college students and young adults as to what they would want to do and be about.  We did not just identify some people we believed would be the leaders.  We talked to a bunch more and got their input.  Then, our Leadership Team formed the program around those thoughts and some of our own, hoping that what we put together would draw students and young adults.   After we did this, we waited to see who would stand out and be committed and excited about the program.

The amazing thing was that our core group was identified through this process.  It was those people who were faithful, available and teachable (didn’t we talk about these type of people before?).  We have identified 4-5 young adults who are truly excited about this and want to take this program to the next level.  Because of this, we are better able to invest our time and energy into these few and build around them.  We are talking to them and getting their input on ideas and opportunities and they are the ones promoting and getting others involved.  In addition, they are inclusive people who make newcomers feel welcome and apart of the group.  It is our hope to continue to build around this core in the fall and create a sustainable ministry year round.

Through a lot of trial and error, I believe we have finally found the right fit for us and our College and Young Career Ministry.  After a period of stagnation, we are now seeing growth and more potential.  It is because we started investing and running with a few and finding the right format for us.  Now, we still have a long way to go, but we are off on the right track for the first time in years.

What about you and your program?

TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Evaluate where you stand with a College and Young Career Program.  Do you have a program up and running?  Do you have a role in it?  If so, what is your role and involvement?  If you have a program, how is it going?  Do you have a format that is working and effectively meeting the needs of your college and young career?
  2. Identify a Core Group.  Remember the key principle of Faithful, Available and Teachable. If you already have one, how are they doing?  Do you need to add to it?

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Summer Camping

Over the years I have been doing youth ministry I have heard of and experienced many different kinds of summer camping.  The more popular ones seem to be:

  1. Going on a week-long summer camp.  The purpose of this camp is mainly discipleship (although students are encouraged to bring their friends) and fellowship.
  2. Going on a mission trip.  The purpose of this trip is to serve others and build community amongst the students going.
  3. Going on an outreach trip.  Young Life does this so well with their summer camps.  The purpose here is to bring non-christian students to camp so that they can hear and hopefully respond to the gospel by accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior

Of these 3, I have done the mission and outreach trips.  I have never led or participated in a summer camp before.  I have not done an outreach summer camp since I left Young Life in 2003 (although I have done weekend outreach trips since then).  My primary trip over the summer since I have been at Cedar Run has been to do a mission trip.  The reasons why I like doing a mission trip over the summer are because:

  • I like challenging students to step out of their comfort zone and pushed in their faith.
  • As I mentioned above, Young Life does such a great job at outreach camps that I would rather just send them to Young Life camp than try to duplicate what they do.
  • With all the summer camps that students can do over the summer, I like to keep camp trips light.  I am a firm believer in mission trips so I do not schedule a regular summer camp mainly out of default.  I do not have a strong belief in or against it.

What about you?  What is the camping you do and why do you do it?  Post some comments so we can be encouraged and challenged.

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