Tag Archives: Planning

Lessons Learned from Outside Teachers

This fall, we began a series on Sex and Dating.  It is not the first time we have talked about this topic but it was the first time in over 2 years that we have done that.  One of the reasons we didn’t talk about it for a bit was because I did the teaching the last time and it was a very awkward time.  I know that is a lame excuse, but it definitely caused me to think twice about teaching it again.

So this year, we decided to bring in a local Christian non-profit come in and teach about it.  They came in and taught for 2 weeks (1 group for the high school students and 1 group for the middle school students).  Although I was grateful that they taught about this subject, it did not go exactly as planned.  Because of this, I thought of many things I that I did wrong during this process.  So, I figured I would pass on my lessons learned on in case anyone is getting ready to bring in an outside person to share to your youth.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Meet with the teacher beforehand and share what you hope to accomplish during their teaching time. Although I did meet with our teacher beforehand, I did not let them know the make-up of our youth program.  Not all youth groups are similar in students that attend, so had they been better prepared for the type of students we have, they might have tweeked their overall presentation a bit.
  2. Make sure you know exactly what they are going to share. You don’t want to be thrown any curveballs during the presentation as they may share something completely outlandish.
  3. Be prepared to follow up afterwards.  When you teach on anything, it is always good to have a follow up strategy.  This is even more important when you teach on such an important subject or an outside teacher comes in to share.  One of the best things Katie, my Associate, did after one of our meetings was she grabbed a bunch of girls immediately after the presentation was over and began to process with them what was said and how they were feeling.  You may not need to do something like that, but following up in the next week would be a great start.
  4. Do a thorough evaluation afterwards. Oftentimes organizations will give you an evaluation to fill out.  However, I have found that most of them are pretty generic.  This particular group’s evaluation was very generic.  Therefore, instead of writing out an evaluation, I went and met with the person who presented and gave them a verbal one.  I have found that when you write up something, people may misconstrue your comments.  So, if you have some harder things to say on an evaluation, it is better to talk it over with them rather than write it.  Speak the truth in love, but definitely speak the truth.

In the past we have had a variety of outside teachers come in and share and overall I highly recommend them.  Working at a non-mega Church, it can get overwhelming and you can drain yourself too much doing multiple teachings every single week.  So, if someone else can come and share competently with your youth, why wouldn’t you take the night off?  But, just great as it can be to have a night off, it can be a lot of work as well if not done right.

Have you had similar experiences and learnings?  Post them so we can all know how to do a better job on the front end so that we don’t have as much to do after they share.


Leave a comment

Filed under Planning

Learning from each other

The other day I had a great conversation with Katie, my Staff Associate, and Rick Beckwith, the VP of Field Initiatives for Young Life.  Rick, Katie and I have been friends for years and we had a great discussion about Young Life, the Church and how we can be reaching students better.  Now, I have blogged before about partnering with other churches and ministries – something I think is a must do.  But, out of this conversation, I had a different thought about partnering with others.

As we talked about youth ministry and leadership, I began to think about why other youth ministers do certain things and how we can inspire each other to follow a good example.  When I was an Intern at my first Church, one of my first training assignments was to go interview 3 other youth ministers and learn from them.  I was to ask them a lot of basic questions as to what they do and why they do it.  As I was reflecting on this time, it made me curious as to how many youth minsters, myself included, take time to learn from and with other youth ministers.  By this, I mean, how often am I meeting with other youth ministers now to process ministry and see how they are doing effective ministry (or, even as Rick said, “Sometimes we learn as much or more from seeing what folks DON’T DO RIGHT”).

To me, this is more than just meeting with other youth ministers regularly to discuss life and ministry.  This was taking it a step further.  I didn’t want to just talk about ministry, I wanted to experience ministry with someone else.  Therefore, I challenged Katie and myself to “shadow” another youth minister and basically see what they do, why they do it and learn from them as I hang with them.  I have an email into a few people to try to coordinate a time I can shadow them for an afternoon and evening.

Have you ever done something like this before?  How did it go?  When did you last shadow someone else?  Shadowing someone else is probably one of many different ways we can learn from each other.  What are those other ways?  Share them so that others can try.


  1. Think through how you learn best from others?  Is it by talking with another person, reading blogs or shadowing others?
  2. When you’ve picked out a way to learn that works best for you, take a minute to coordinate a time for you to do that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Training

Teaching the Truth

I recently took a class from Dr. Michael Horton at Reformed Theological Seminary called “Ministry in the Post-Modern Context”.  During the class, Dr. Horton told us of an interesting stat.  He said that students who were raised up in an Evangelical church were very likely to abandon their faith by the time they are sophomores in college.  Naturally, I was blown away by that stat because that doesn’t seem very logical.  Why is that?  What makes someone who went to church regularly and really enjoyed it abandon their faith and not feel that Christ isn’t important to them and that Church is worth going to anymore?

It was a fascinating class in which it made me ponder so much about how I am reaching students for Christ for the long haul.  If this is the truly the case and Dr. Horton is right (which I have no reason to not believe him) that a growing number of believers are leaving the faith during their college years, we, as Youth Pastors have a huge problem on our hands.  Of course this is not all our responsibility, but as overseers of the youth program, we have to play a part in transitioning these youth into adulthood.  How can we bridge the gap between the teenage years and adulthood?  I believe that it comes down to a simple change in focus.

What are we to do?

I believe that a critical step that we need to do in helping students stay strong in Christ for the long haul is to teach the Truth of who God is.  Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Duh Tom, I do that”.  But, take a moment and think about your last meeting.  What was the most memorable part of it?  Was it the wild and crazy game you played, the creative and awesome video you showed, the funny skit guys who dressed up like cavemen OR was it the Truth of Christ?  Unfortunately for me, I have an easier time remember the crazy thing we did during our time together rather than the Truth of Christ that was revealed.

Students are not dumb.  They know that when they come to Church, people are going to talk about God and Christ.  So why, then, do we feel the need to play so many games and feel that we need to entertain them so much?  It is a very delicate balance because we want our group to be attractive to everyone while at the same time present the truth of Christ consistently.  I struggle with it constantly as I so desperately want our students to know the Truth but how do I present the Truth to students who are inundated in an MTV world where images come at them so fast?

One thing that sticks out to me is that it appears that we can get so caught up with making Christ attractive that we lose the fact that the truth of Christ is attractive enough.  It is almost like we have to come up with an angel to make Christ attractive to wild teenagers.  When we do this, I believe we miss the point that Christ is already attractive enough, we just have to share about him. Does that mean we have to stop being creative?  No, but the Truth should drive our creativeness, not vise-versa.  Do not get so caught up with the presentation and miss the content of whom you are presenting.

Christ says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  In this day and age, we can get so caught up with creative ways to share the gospel with our fancy PowerPoint slides, movie clips and dramatic performances (and believe me, I have done all those things).  It almost seems that we are trying to copy what MTV and the rest of the world is doing, but in a “Christian” way.  But, is that the right way?  Shouldn’t Christ and the truth found in Him dictate how we teach?  Do we have to go to such extremes if just knowing and understanding the truth will set us all free?

Effectively teaching students the Truth

Now, if you know me, you will know that I am not a Youth Pastor who gets up at the beginning of his meeting, opens my Bible and does an exegetical study.  I appreciate those who do that, but that is not how I am wired.  I love having fun with the youth and trying to find ways to create an exciting and attractive program.  But, Dr. Horton’s stat and subsequent challenge got me thinking of different ways we can be presenting the Truth of Christ so that students can have a committed, long term relationship with Him.

  1. Use the different learning styles. In order to be effective in teaching the truth, we have to be aware of the different learning styles of youth.  There are multiple learning styles: audio, visual, and kinesthetic.  Don’t get tied into just presenting Christ in one way.
  2. Repetition. The Truth of Christ is unchanging, so teach on who he is.  Andy Stanley has a great book, “The Seven Checkpoints” about this and gives some great insight on how repetition constantly reinforces important topics.
  3. Engage and help them Discover. Teaching the Truth about God doesn’t mean you stand up and preach until you are blue in the face and that their ears and minds are ready to explode.  Engage them and discuss the subject with them.  Throughout your message, ask questions so that they can discover the Truth rather be told what the Truth is.
  4. Strategically plan out our Meetings. What is it that we are teaching the students during our meetings together on Sunday?  Are we teaching them that Christ is all fun and just a little scripture?  Or, are we teaching that in all situations, Christ is present and relevant?
  5. Create a Educational Flow from Childhood to Adulthood. Coordinate with your Children’s Ministry, Christian Education and Adult Education Director(s) about the Truths of God you should communicated at each level/stage of their life.
  6. Follow up/through. Continue to earn the right and build relationships with students during the week.  Help them process the information you all discuss on Sunday mornings or at small group by following up with them throughout the week.
  7. Involve Parents. This is especially helpful if you have Christian parents.  Parents are the ultimate spiritual heads of their children.  But, too often, parents believe it is the Church’s job to teach their children about God. The church is just a small part of presenting Christ.  The bulk of the work has to come from the parents.  So, let parents know what you are discussing so that they can know and follow up throughout the week with their children.
  8. Set up Mentorships. This is to integrate the generations in your Church.  It is important to partner up the adults with youth so that the younger generation can learn from the older generation and their experiences.

Final Thought

As youth move into adulthood, like Dr. Horton said, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing too many young people fade away from Christ and the Church.  The comment, “church/Christ just isn’t for me anymore” is not an acceptable answer, especially for someone who was very committed to Christ as a teen.  Sometimes I wonder, was it me?  Did I turn him/her off from Christ with what we did in our program?  I know that is not the right mindset to have, but it I still wonder.  I believe that in order to engage someone long term for Christ, we have to begin to look at what and how we are teaching our youth.  Christ never said he was just about fun and games.  However, he did say that he was THE way, THE truth and THE life (John 14:6).  Therefore, let us not do a disservice to our youth and present Christ in just a fun, comfortable way.  Rather, let’s present him for exactly who he is and see how our youth step up and take hold of him.


  1. Do this quick exercise.  Your Senior Pastor just gave you the challenge to share about Prayer to your youth next week.  Quickly, write down how you would organize your meeting?  You have to prepare an hour time frame.
  2. Now, after you have prepared your mock meeting, answer these questions:
  • What was your overall objective for the meeting?
  • What was the 1st thing you prepared?  Was it your game, mixer or social activity OR was it the truth about Christ you were going to present?
  • Was your game tied into your teaching or was it completely separated and had no correlation?

For your next lesson, start with the Truth of Christ and then form the rest of your meeting around that. Let the Truth of Christ drive what and how we present.


Filed under Planning

Bridge Events that Work: 5th Quarter

5Q33If you look at the title and say to yourself, what is a “Bridge event”, let me clarify before I get into how 5th Quarter is a great bridge event.  A Bridge event is designed to give every student an opportunity to come and experience some of what we do as a youth program in hopes that if they do not go to Church or have a Church home, they would make Cedar Run that place.  We are bridging them from not involved into being involved in our program.

What is 5th Quarter?
5th Quarter is a weekly event we do every Friday night from 9:30 – 11:30 pm during the local high school football season.  We open our church up to any and all middle and high school students, although we see very few middle schoolers as it involves parents driving.

It is not an original event in any way, but what we do to it adds a little “Cedar Run” to the mix.  The purpose of 5th Quarter is two-fold:

  1. Offer a safe alternative for middle and high school youth to come after the high school football games.  It is our hope that instead of them having nothing to do, hence getting in trouble or going to parties, that they would choose to come to Cedar Run and hang out in a great place where they can be themselves and have a great time doing it.
  2. Be a bridge into our program.  We want others to start coming to Cedar Run after they experience 5th Quarter.

How does it work?

For us, 5th Quarter is simple.  We open the whole Church up (which isn’t huge) and allow the kids to pick and choose to do whatever they want.  If they want to go outside and play football or death hack, they can (if you don’t know what death hack is, it is a cross between hackie sack and dodgeball – lots of fun).  If they want to go upstairs and play video games or watch a movie, they can.  If they just want to sit at tables and socialize with their friends, they can!  Again, it is simple.

We have added different things to 5th Quarter throughout the 2 years we have been doing it.  At different times, we have added s’mores (usually when it gets colder), a coffeehouse format where we have leaders or kids perform in a corner for others, and we have even experimented with a dance party room.

Ultimately, our goal is not to to structure it too much, but allow the youth to come and just be themselves.  It seems like that is a great option for them as we draw around 60 students each Friday night.

How does it Bridge students into the Program?

This is just our 2nd year doing 5th Quarter, but already we have seen new students who come to 5th Quarter start showing up at other Cedar Run events, in particular Sunday morning.  What 5th Quarter shows students is that Cedar Run is a safe and cool place to come.  Therefore, it is our hope that they want to check us out on a Sunday morning or one of the Special events that we do.

When new students come to 5th Quarter, they are often blown away by the food, the hospitality, the fun and the simple fact that they can be themselves.  We don’t have a program and there is no outreach talk given (although we probably could do one).  We just give them a safe place to come and a positive alternative to other Friday night options.

5th Quarter is a great bridge event that works for us because of 3 key groups of people:

  1. Leaders – Each week we have 5th Quarter, we get a lot of our leaders to come out and participate.  When they do come, they quickly see that this is a perfect opportunity for them to do contact work with new students.  It is a blessing that our leaders are very relational with students so this event is a great opportunity for them to come out and build new friendships. As new students get comfortable with the leaders, it increases the likelihood that they will come to Cedar Run.
  2. Students – Our leaders are able to meet so many new people each week because our students bring their friends out.  A lot of our students (especially the core student leaders) are very outreach oriented.  They want their friends to come meet Christ and so they have no issue with bringing them to Cedar Run.  Without them bringing their friends when we first started last year, this could have easily turned into a Cedar Run only event – which is not the intent.
  3. Parents – This is a great way to involve parents.  We have parents bring food, help serve the food and even mingle with the students.  Last week, we found out that one of the parents can is a get card magician.  He had half the group hanging on his every trick!  What a great opportunity for students to see parents involved and that they care about their children. Without parents there to help and take care of the food, it would mean that our leaders would not be able to hang out and do contact work with the students as much.  Plus, it gives parents a sense of what we do and who we are ministering to.

5th Quarter is a great bridge event that works very well for us and I believe it can work for you all as well.  So, while it is still fresh in your mind, TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Think through whether or not you can do a 5th Quarter.  It is not too late to do at least 1 or 2 of them this year.  We plan 5th Quarter every Friday night after the football games. So, when the football season ends, our season ends.  So, you still have time to organize and put one on.
  2. If you feel that 5th Quarter doesn’t work for your area, what could you do that is similar enough to 5th Quarter, but be called something different?  The key for us is that your church is a safe place for people to go to instead of going out and getting into trouble.  So, is there something you could do instead but have the same effect?

Like this post or have a different idea, post a comment so we can be encouraging each other reach students for Christ!


Filed under Outreach, Students

The Day After Insanity

Monday always seems like my best Admin day.  It is the day I get to process all that went on during the Sunday service and afterwards.

So, as I process (and get overwhelmed), I wonder if anyone can identify with my craziness and post how they deal with it all.  Here is what is running through my mind:

  • What leaders and I meeting with this week to go over their personal and ministry goals for the year?
  • How can I deal with a fellow staffer accusing my newly hired Youth Associate of dressing inappropriately (when she was not dressed inappropriately)?
  • I need to start working on my weekend retreat talks and finishing planning the weekend retreat.  When am I going to do that?
  • I need to find more parents to help at our Friday night 5th Quarter event.  Who are they?
  • I need to get a letter out to our parents ASAP explaining our upcoming Sex and Dating series.  How can I do that when I don’t even know how to mail merge??
  • I need to get a leaders email out to get them focused on the week ahead and how to follow up with students.
  • When am I going to take a day(s) off this week since I’m gone on Saturday and back for Church on Sunday morning?

CAN ANYONE RELATE?????  It’s kinda funny?


Filed under Planning

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.


Filed under Camping, Planning

Working with a Limited Budget

I had an opportunity a while back to go to a meeting at a mega-church in my area.  I had never been to their place before then.  As soon as I turned into their campus, I was utterly amazed.  For starters, I had to park in a parking garage.  Then, as I walked in to the building, I felt that I had just entered a convention center.  It was huge!  In fact, it was so big that in order to get to my meeting, I had to check the floor map – you know, one of those things you find at a mall to find the store you are looking for.  Really?!?  Once I check the map, I was able to navigate the floors to make it to the Youth Room in time for my meeting.

Once I got to the youth room, I was blown away.  It seemed more like a Youth Club than a Youth Group Room.  They had pinball machines and real arcade games (seriously, old school Pac-Man and Dig Dug were 2 of games – how cool is that!).  In addition, they had a nice stage with band equipment, plenty of tables and chairs for people to sit, a kitchen attached, and tons of other great things that youth would love.  And, this was the middle school room!

I am so glad they have this place.  It was truly amazing and I hope that they use it all for the glory of Christ.  But, in the same light, I cannot imagine ever having this kind of money to spend in my budget.  Sure, it would be nice to have these things and I would never say no to any of it.  But I have been doing full time youth ministry for over 12 years now and the most money I have ever had to spend in a given year is $15,000.  I have had as little as $4,000 when I was a Middle School Director and this past year was the first year I have ever had more than $12,000.  Whether or not this seems like a lot to you, the fact is that most budgets at small to medium size churches are very limited and no matter what we do or try, we will never be able to duplicate what mega-churches can.

How, then, do you make the most out of your budget?  After all, you have dreams to do great events and provide a great environment for your students just like mega-churches are able to do.  What do you do with the, often times, limited budget and resources at your disposal?  Here are a few ways that I have been able to work with a limited budget and make the most with the resources I have.

Plan ahead. Before you can start thinking about your budget for each event, you have to look at what you want to do over the course of the year.  What events do you want to offer and what environment do you want your students to walk into?  If you are not used to planning ahead, this can seem overwhelming to plan a whole year but in the long run, you and your students will benefit greatly from it.

As I have mentioned before, at Cedar Run, we plan a few key events every year.  One example is our annual Super Bowl Bash.  Every year, we put on a great event filled with tons of games, lots of food, testimonials and some surprises.  If we wanted to do all that was possible for this event, we would end up spending a lot of our budget.  We cannot afford to do that in the 4th month of our budget.  By properly planning ahead, we keep the long-range goal in mind.  We realize that what we do for that one event, will not make or break our year.  God is bigger than that.  So, as we plan the year, we try to strategically place events, therefore, not getting caught up overspending on any one event.  It is a huge benefit for us to plan ahead.

Think creatively. Once we have planned out our key events and identify some budget drainers, we then have to start thinking creatively.  How can we pull off these events with the least amount of money used?  How can we offer the best experience with the limited funds we have available?  It takes creativity and I am fortunate to have a good team of volunteers to help me process and organize.  In the same way, you have to think creatively.  There are events you probably want to do that, if you do all that you want, will probably cost your budget an arm and a leg.  But, if you get a team of people together, usually great, creative ideas come out of that time.  Now remember, if you do not have a team of volunteers, surround yourself with some students, adults or even parents to help you think creatively.

Now, there are definitely times you want to splurge a little and spend some extra money.  But, you have to identify what are those things or events you want to splurge on.  For example, when I take students out 1-on-1, most of the time, I will treat them.  I like to treat them for a variety of reasons but, that is just me.  You may decide to spend your youth budget differently and that is perfectly fine.  The key is to identify where you want to splurge and stick to it.

Get parents involved. When we started doing our 5th Quarter event on Friday nights in the fall, we realized quickly that we were spending entirely too much money each week on food.  If we were going to have any money left over in the spring, we knew we had to get parents involved.  Therefore, we organized a food needs list and sent it out to the parents in our church and a funny thing happened – they sent an overabundance of food in!  By the time 5th Quarter was over for the fall, we ended up having so much non-perishable food left over, we were able to use it for extra youth events throughout the winter!  Parents are eager and willing to help, especially for a good event that their children are benefiting from.  If you get them a list, they will help out.

Don’t be afraid to charge students money. Very, very few things in life are free.  Whatever youth do today, there is usually a cost.  So, do not be afraid to charge your youth money for events you put on.  You do not need to break even for your event; you just need to get some of the money back.  Otherwise, you will not have very much money left over by the time the summer comes.

These are just some of the ideas you can conserve money so that you do not overspend and have to tighten your spending as spring and summer approaches.

What are some things worth spending money on?

Even with a limited budget, I believe that there are a few things worth spending money on.

  • Treat students to food. This is not the same as charging for youth events.  I like to treat students for food when I am hanging out with them 1-on-1.  I do this for a few reasons.  For starters, I treat because there is something about food that makes conversation go better.  I cannot explain it, but if students have a drink or food in front of them, it usually makes for better conversation. In addition, money can be scarce at their home and I don’t want anyone to ever turn down an invitation because of money.  So, I make it clear to students that whenever I ask them to lunch or dinner, it is my treat.

  • Prizes (especially at big events).  At every major event we do, we offer a prize(s) that is a draw so it adds an additional attraction for the students coming to an event.  For instance, we have given away a few iPods Nanos and $50 gift cards before.  They are not cheap but when someone hears about the giveaway, it gives them one more hook to come to your event.  And, who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit will work in their life that night and be drawn back to your church and begin to follow Christ.

  • Safety first.  Thinking conservatively is great, but when safety is involved, it is always best to splurge.  For example, we have a church van that has given us fits and we have recently deemed as unsafe.  Therefore, in our effort to conserve money, we tried to borrow vans from members of our church.  Although it was a good idea in our effort to conserve money, we finally decided that it was in the best interest of our students and church to rent a van from a rental company.  Safety is always important, so do not skim on providing safe equipment and a safe environment for your students.

There may be more things that are worth spending money on, but these are three that I believe are important.  What you deem as non-negotiable may look different than what I suggested and that is perfectly fine.

My hope is to encourage and help you work with the limited resources smaller and medium size churches usually have to deal with.  Over the past 6 years at Cedar Run, I have been under budget in all but 1 year.  The reason I was over budget that one year was because I lost focus and I did a poor job of planning.  I hope and pray that you can stay focused and plan ahead well enough so that you can use the resources that God has blessed you with and help provide an environment and events that will give hope to students and praises to God.


  1. Start looking ahead to the fall and plan a few key events and identify where you will spend money.   The summer is the perfect opportunity for you to begin planning and focus on what you want to accomplish for the year.  If you are eager and so incline, start planning the spring as well.
  2. With your planning started, begin to look at our potential budget for the new fiscal year.  What did you spend last year?  With what you want to do in the fall and spring cause an increase in your budget?  If so, make sure you have just cause and there is a reason behind the increase so that you can defend your increase to you budget committee.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget, Planning