10ST – Bad Location

10ST is an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
The 6th Stupid Thing that Surratt suggests will keep churches from growing is clinging to a bad location. He has some great examples of how location has hindered the growth of several churches he’s known. A location that’s difficult to find or located far from where the people of the church and those they’re seeking to reach actually live can be a huge obstacle for a church to overcome. Inadequate, shoddy facilities, or even those that are simply not designed for the ministry the church wants to do can keep the church from moving forward.
The problem for most youth ministries is that we’ll have very little input on location and facilities issues. If you’re in a new church or a recently relocated church this may not be the case, but most of us haven’t had much of a say in deciding our address. To make matters worse, this is a pretty complicated issue AND an emotional one. People get emotionally attached to buildings.
Currently, our church meets in what was once a lumber yard. The congregation was out of space in their building in one of the older neighborhoods in town, so they bought the lumber yard and began renovation. As growth continued over they years, the renovated showroom became less than adequate, so they built a larger auditorium which was finished about 6 years ago. The facilities themselves are good. We have plenty of room to grow and for the most part, the building space is very usable and flexible. But our location is not nearly as good.
We’re in a fairly small town, so this isn’t as huge an issue as it could be, but our location is out on the edge of town on the far side of a farm field behind a couple big box stores. Our “neighbors” are a beer distributor, an old bean elevator, some storage units, a furniture store, and an RV dealer. In my opinion, this is not a prime location – especially for youth ministry to kids who’d have to walk past all that to get here any time their parents can’t bring them. I almost never have kids just drop by. But, it is what it is… we are here, not there, so what can we do to overcome the location? What can you do to overcome what may be a location obstacle?
  1. Maximize what we’ve got. Because the new auditorium hosts most of the congregational activities, we’ve been able to reclaim the old one primarily for youth and children’s ministry. We’re working toward making this a great space for facilitating connections with students & with God.
  2. Shift our thinking away from our facility. The church is not your building. When our student ministries are limited to what happens at our location, no matter how great that location & facility may be, we’re missing an important component of student ministry. How are we training youth leaders to do youth ministry outside of the weekly event? Where else could we hang out with students for discipleship?
  3. Establish outposts. Your church may be in a position to establish some kind of youth ministry center outside of your existing facilities (hopefully located within walking distance for most students)… Maybe you could partner with a few churches to establish a youth center… Check out what my friend Mike is doing in Norton, KS or The Bridge in Joplin, MO for a couple examples (but beware: the next stupid thing is “copying another successful” ministry).
How are you and your youth ministry challenged by your facilities? How are you responding?

5 Ways to Keep Easter Visitors from Returning

I remember walking around at a football game once because I couldn’t find a place to sit. You can’t just shoehorn your butt between people you don’t really know, so I scanned the stands for familiar faces. I thought I’d just walk across the front of the bleachers, sneaking surreptitious glances into the crowd, but it was no use. I couldn’t find anyone except a kid in the band and there was no way I was sitting in the middle of the tuba section.

So I went to the snack stand, hoping to see someone on the way. No luck. So, popcorn and Mt. Dew in hand, I headed back and walked the gauntlet in the opposite direction. Still nothing. After a couple more trips, I was desperate: I offered a few M & M’s to some kid if he’d pretend to know me and sit with me, but some lady came and pulled him away really quickly. I think he’d forgotten to do his homework before the game or something and was in really big trouble.

It’s awkward to be part of a crowd and still feel out of place. Like a platypus in a gym full of penguins… what exactly am I supposed to do? How should I stand? What do I do with my hands? Wait, I’m a platypus, why do I have hands? Since Easter is here, attendance at weekend church services will swell across the country. “Regular seats” will be taken, parking lots will be full, and awkward moments will be plentiful. In order to isolate the uneasiness to just this 1 week (or maybe two if Christmas isn’t on a Sunday), and in case you’ve completely forgotten why we’re even here, I offer these suggestions to ensure the guests who take our seats and park in our spaces won’t be back next week:

  1. Take the good seats. Regular attenders have a huge advantage here: You know exactly when the service starts. That means you can get there early and take the seats in the back. Church isn’t like a football game or a play or something. You want the back rows – the outside chair in the back rows if you’re really going for the ultimate in church chair positioning dominance. When they show up late and have to make the walk of Sunday tardiness shame to the front rows… it just sets the tone for a morning of stifling awkwardness that will make your church the last place they ever want to be again. What if some visitor actually shows up early enough to get a good seat? Just tell them that’s your regular seat and stare at them blankly until they move. They won’t be back anytime soon.
  2. Holy Kiss. “Excuse me, sir… Paul (“He was an Apostle, you know.”) instructs us in 4 different Epistles (“That’s how we say ‘letters’ here.”) to greet each other with a Holy Kiss. Here, I’ll show you…” When he pulls away, he’s still left his wife and kids vulnerable to the incredibly awkward bear hug, which isn’t really as biblical, but still very effective. Enough said – they’ll be back when the platypus flies with the penguins.
  3. Beg for volunteers. Hey, let’s face it, your church has a lot of work to do. And this weekend, you’ll have lots of people there who aren’t really pulling their fair share of the load. Easter weekend is a great time to lay on the guilt and recruit some new Sunday School teachers. Other positions of service you may want to load up on this weekend are groundskeepers, bulletin stuffers, and nursery workers. Nothing says “Don’t come back.” like the threat of diaper duty and formula “splatter”.
  4. Make sure the music and the message are the same as last year. We only have one message right? Jesus is alive! Make sure to say that in the same way it was said last year and every other year before that. All these new people won’t know the songs, either, so make sure you sing the ones that have been sung every Easter since Moses came down from the mountain. That way, it’s all familiar to them and they won’t feel so out of place, but they’ll be bored and think that’s all we do every week. It’s kind of an emotionally confusing mixed message. Just to be safe, think beyond the music and message, and don’t do anything unexpected that they may find compelling. Be as churchy and boring as they think you are.
  5. “He is Risen…” Ah, the traditional Easter greeting. If you want to make sure those Easter visitors don’t get too engaged, walk right up to them, look them in the eye (blankly works best), and say “He is risen.” To the uninitiated, this is the most awkward way to say Hello since the Eskimos discovered language. They don’t know how to respond. Just be careful when approaching a group of visitors with the greeting. There’s a good chance that one of them knows the jig, probably the matron of the group who’s forced the rest of them to come by withholding ham and au gratin until after the service, and she’ll answer with the customary “He is risen, indeed!” Look for fidgety eyes, not quite trimmed mustaches, and other signs of anxiety – then greet that guy. He won’t know what to say.
Alternatively, you could relax a little bit and…
  • Treat your visitors as honored guests, being truly grateful that they’re with you to celebrate what’s most important to you.
  • Explain what you’re doing during the service, and why.
  • Above all of that, live a life that is evidence that Jesus really is alive. Let them see Him in you, and learn to explain the hope that you have when they notice it.

Sticks & Chisels 4.3

The following clip comes from a messaged titled The Cost of Discipleship from Mark Driscoll out at Mars Hill in Seattle. I found the message link as I was looking at their FAQ page for the Mars Hill Internship, which I was looking at after reading this article from Mars Hill intern, Ross Lester. The whole message is a good one for the church to hear, but this clip in particular sums it up for me. Don’t quit following Jesus.

Remember when you first decided to become a disciple of Jesus? You probably felt there was nothing you wouldn’t do for Him. But maybe the years have lulled you into something other than discipleship, something much more comfortable and much less costly. Ask yourself what price you’re paying for your discipleship right now. If the price is low, you may be buying stock in some kingdom other than Jesus’.

As Easter approaches, take some time to evaluate what you’re really following in your life. Are you still answering His invitation to come and die? Is there a price you’ve ceased being willing to pay?

10ST – Promoting Talent Over Integrity

10ST is an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
Marking the mid-point of our excursion through 10 Stupid Things is the promotion of talent before the reinforcement of integrity. Short version: if you make a habit of ignoring character flaws in the people you’re working with, you’ll cripple your ministry.

In youth ministry, this is every bit as dangerous as it is in the rest of the church. It’s so easy to put that shining star student out front in some leadership capacity without critically thinking about where they’re at spiritually. It’s easy to ignore the evidence of serious issues when we don’t want to believe that evidence. But we may be short circuiting God’s refinement and reconciliation process when we do so. And we’re certainly playing with a fire that will cause a lot of damage when the lack of integrity makes itself publicly visible. (It always does.)

At this point, I want to back up a little bit and address the issue of growing a youth ministry. We’ve been talking about things we do that may keep our ministries from growing, but this issue of integrity brings up the fact that there are some things that we could do that would actually grow our group numerically that are still, in fact… stupid. One of those is the subtle misuse of talented students. We know that there are certain kids that, when they’re put out front, will draw in other students. Even if the lack of integrity induced train-wreck never happens to derail the involvement of our super-student and his groupies, we need to be careful to not use our students for our own gain and ego strokes.
Some of the most important aspects of youth ministry are helping students discover how they can contribute to the kingdom, working with them to make the most of their abilities, and crafting moments of opportunity for them to put their gifts to use. But when our focus subtly shifts from equipping them for God’s work to getting their friends ‘hooked’ into our ministry, we are on dangerous ground. Youth ministry is not a place for an ego that needs bolstered by a bunch of teens that we treat as the players in “our” show.
Here are a few questions to ponder when asking your kids to step up to the “microphone” (or some other leadership capacity):
  • Is promoting this student into this leadership role going to help her grow, or just help me get more kids to report on an attendance list? Don’t take the short cut to growing your group. Plain and simple: it’s a type of exploitation that has no place in your ministry.
  • Does he have the kind of character I’d want my own sons to develop? Someone is always watching and modeling themselves after your leading students. Are they finding character worth emulating?
  • Is the talent I’m asking him to employ more important to the student than Jesus is? An all consuming ability can easily morph itself into an idol – and the most insidious idols are those that are hidden in the garb of church work.
How do you personally make sure you’re not exploiting the students in your ministry?

Sticks & Chisels 4.2

I came across an interesting study today dealing with the use of and attitudes held toward social media by college students. The study was originally done in a class of a couple hundred students at the University of Maryland, but was subsequently undertaken by a dozen different universities throughout the world. About a thousand students in Uganda, Chile,  the UK, the US, China, Lebanon, Argentina, Mexico, Slovakia, and Hong Kong participated in a 24-hour assignment in which they used no media: no phones, no newspapers, no video games, no tv, no internet, no iPads… you get the picture. These students unplugged.

While the scope of the study isn’t really broad enough to say this represents all young people, it’s interesting to read their responses. Technology is everywhere and media is consumed in nearly every moment of many lives. Some students enjoyed the break, but many recognized what they called their addiction to media.

There CAN be too much of a good thing. A recent Fuller Youth Institute article talked about a report in Pediatrics (the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) about the use and effects of social media on children and adolescents (and their families). In addition to the benefits of social media use, the report highlights a number of new problems that are coming up like online harassment, “facebook depression”, sexting, & what amounts to manipulation via targeted ads.

All this should simply serve as a reminder. We shouldn’t just blindly buy into whatever is next in the social media/technology world. Think about what we’re doing and the patterns we’re setting. What kind of mess are we making when we thoughtlessly plug in to whatever comes next?

10ST – Settling for Low Quality Children’s Ministry

10ST is an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
Chapter 4 of 10 Stupid Things handles the topic of children’s ministry. I think that a church who is willing to settle for a mediocre children’s ministry is wasting one of the best opportunities it will ever have to shape lives. If the children’s ministry is essentially babysitting church kids so the adults can have ‘big church’ without all the fuss and noise – then ‘big church’ has largely missed the point. I know that there are very few who would actually SAY they want their children’s ministry to just keep the kids out of what’s left of the adults’ hair (though I have met several) but there are many more who functionally treat their children’s ministries this way.

From a youth ministry perspective, we need to be invested in our children’s ministry as well. In many churches, one person oversees both sets of ages, so this may seems automatic – but it’s not. This was the case for me early in my ministry. I’m way more comfortable with a group of teens than with a class of 7 year olds, and I often found myself so focused on the older kids that I had little left to offer the children’s ministry. Thankfully, there was a great team of dedicated children’s workers who could help lead the lollipop guild much more skillfully than I.
I don’t want to imply that the children’s ministry is some kind of farm team or feeder system for the youth ministry, but it is a great place to build a platform from which you’ll later be launching young disciples into their own life-ministries. If you lead a student ministry, many of your students will be ‘graduates’ of the children’s ministry, where they’ve been trained up and have come to a certain set of expectations of what church is like and should be. What if you’re not on the same page?
A couple years ago, we noticed that our 7th Graders were having a tough time transitioning from our children’s ministry to our youth ministry. There was too big of a difference in what was expected and what was happening, so we shifted our practice with the 5th & 6th Graders to be something of an intermediate shift. We’ve even allowed the 6th Graders to move between the two groups as they wish. This has really seemed to ease the transition and make the most of the challenge we want to bring to our kids.
Surratt leaned on his wife’s extensive experience with children for this chapter to arrive at 4 lessons to which we in youth ministry really need to pay attention:
  1. Build a strong team. Don’t hog all the great volunteers for the youth ministry and treat the children’s ministry team as a lower tier. Find people who genuinely care about kids and give them whatever tools they need to help communicate God’s love to those kids. If you’re the youth minister in a church that also has a children’s minister, work together to maximize each other’s ministries.
  2. Work purposefully, creatively, and with excellence. Don’t cut corners and be cheap because they’re “just kids”.
  3. Find out what parents think. They ask their kids every week, “Did you have fun?” and “What did you do?” when they pick them up. Make sure the kids have a great way to answer those questions.
  4. Listen to the expectations of local families. If they’re dropping kids off at high quality day cares and well funded schools, then they show up to a nursery full of half broken toys from 1984, that’s not going to make the impression that should be made.
How do you see your youth ministries and children’s ministries being integrated and capitalizing on each other’s work?

Three Reasons to Prioritize the Youth You Know

I found this video last week on Compassion’s blog giving some great reasons to make youth a priority. This was from their chapel service a while back. It reminded me of Wess Stafford’s message at Catalyst West last year. Compassion is an organization that prioritizes youth like few ever will, but this was a challenge for the employees (I’m assuming that’s mostly who was in attendance) to do so in their individual lives as well, and for the church to move beyond merely entertaining kids to equipping them to be disciple makers.

Lenz shares some amazingly painful statistics that reveal the need to prioritize youth. I’ll leave you to hear for yourself in the video, but here’s the bottom line:

  1. 2 out of 3 people who accept Christ, do so before they’re 18. Where would our resources make the most impact?
  2. The enemy is attacking children. Who will defend them?
  3. It’s the heart of Jesus to love children. “…it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” than to hinder the young from knowing Him.
How are the youth in your life doing? How are they being equipped? How are you helping?

Stop Procrastinating. Just Start.

A few months ago, my 4Runner died. I had gone into a store, and when I came out and turned the key, just a bunch of clicking… no life. It was pretty obvious that the starter was the problem, so we got it parked in the driveway with the intention of getting to work on it when it warmed up a bit. A few warm days came here and there, but still the 4Runner sat, pathetically mocking me every time I passed by.

You see, I had a problem on top of my car problem. I knew what the car problem was, and I knew roughly what needed to be done to fix it: Take bad starter out, put good starter in. So simple, right? But I’ve been dreading doing it for a few reasons.

  1. I didn’t know exactly where the starter on my old 4Runner was. I knew what it was supposed to do, and roughly where it should be, but not exactly where or the best way to reach it, so I knew I’d have to do a lot of hunting before being able to make any progress.
  2. The engine compartment of my 4Runner is a mess. 20 years of small leaks and dusty places have added up to be a thick black layer of sludge covering basically everything. It’s hard to tell where one part stops and another starts! (Plus, grimy, greasy hands… I have issues.)
  3. I’d read several horror stories of other 4Runner owners taking of entire suspension packages just to be able to reach their starter, then discovering the starter wasn’t actually the whole problem anyway. Maybe it was the wiring, or a relay somewhere. I didn’t want to do a ton of work to find out the problem wasn’t really what I thought it was.
So, the 4Runner sat until yesterday at lunch. I finally decided to stop putting it off and start digging in to the mess of parts and pieces by taking off the wheel. Once the wheel was off, I took off a guard panel inside the wheel well to open up some more space and get a clear(er) view of where the starter was supposed to be. As I began to peak in and poke around a little bit, I noticed something strange – a bolt just hanging from it’s perch in the engine block. Surely that should be tightened to something!?

Turns out, it was one of two bolts that holds the starter in place! The starter was just laying there, not bolted in – I have no idea how that can even happen, but I guess after almost 180,000 miles, a two inch bolt CAN revolve enough to fall out! Fortunately, the bolt was still hanging there, so I lifted the starter a bit and wedged my hands into enough space to tighten the bolt.
After some extra juice via some jumper cables, it started right up. A project I’d been dreading because it seemed beyond the scope of my mechanical acumen (which is rather limited, I’m told) turned out to be easily remedied. I just had to dig in… I just had to START to find that out.
I wonder how often we miss simple solutions because we’re afraid to start.
Is there a tough question you’ve been afraid to ask?
Is there a hard conversation you’ve been putting off?
A potential conflict you’ve been avoiding?
A big project you just aren’t finding time for?
Get some help and START.
You just might find it’s not as difficult as you thought (and even if it is, you’ll be one step closer to resolution).

Watch Your Step

Found this link over at churchcreate. This place looks awesome… I need to visit Los Angeles again, soon. I’ll probably have to take my brother if he sees this though!

Sticks & Chisels 4.1

This is a recent shot at a map of stats from this blog. Notice anything unusual? Oui, that! Over a thousand pageviews from France in the past month! (Which is about a thousand pageviews more than in the rest of this blog’s history.) “Hi, France.” I don’t know why there’s been a sudden surge in French interest (the only French people I know live in Omaha & Lincoln), and to be honest, I suspect it’s only some kind of exaggerated glitch in the stats reporting… but it reminds me, and you, that the reach of your message doesn’t have to be limited to your local boundaries.

When I first started blogging, I didn’t set out to build a worldwide following (not that I would say that’s happened anyway). I just felt like I had a message to share, and blogging opened up the potential for me to do that with a whole new group of people. I have had interactions, both online and face to face, with new friends from far off and exciting places like L.A., Canada, China (where apparently my blog was banned at one time), and Intercourse, PA… because of windows opened in the blogging world.

I’m not out to be an international blogging sensation. Fame doesn’t really interest me as a whole. Maybe I’m lying there, but even if you’re a famous blogger, you’re still viewed as some crackpot blogger. Even other bloggers downplay the significance of bloggers. But blogging has helped me share thoughts and encouragement with other people that I’d never have connected with otherwise. It’s extended my reach.

Do you have something to say? Maybe a blog would help you say it (but if you spell like the blind chimpanzee in my last post, maybe not). Maybe you already have a blog, but it mostly sits idle. If that’s the case, ask yourself why you started blogging in the first place. Go back and read a few of your very first posts and be reminded. Maybe you need to re-boot your blog. Maybe you need to scrap it and start over. Maybe you just need to write again. (Check out BlogRocket for some great new resourcing/encouragement for your blogging adventure.)