Thursday, November 20, 2008

Planning Your Programs

Despite all the negative talk about programs (in youth ministry circles), I think they are still important. "It's about relationships, not programs!" say some youth ministry gurus.

But, if you just hang out all the time with no direction or purpose, where will that get you?

Here are some things I try to keep in mind as I plan different programs/events for our youth ministry:

PURPOSE: Each program should have a purpose. And, yes, fun can be a purpose! Some people think relationships should happen without the help of programs. I agree, but don't think that's always the case. You might have some shy teenagers who will not call anyone else in the youth group under normal circumstances, but will make great buddies when they play video games together! Relationships, Worship, Outreach, and Equipping are my "Purpose" categories.

ABSENCE: I have noticed this powerful tool only recently. Sometimes, I will purposefully plan ZERO ACTIVITIES for a week or two, and the teens never fail to ask, "What are we doing this week?" Sometimes, they are grateful for the break, and sometimes they show disappointment. This is the perfect opportunity for me to tell them to plan something themselves, call a friend, gather at someone's house! If your group is constantly busy, they may not realize what they are missing.

DIVERSITY: Sometimes we get stuck in a programming rut. It's so easy just to recycle the programs that worked really well in the past. That paintballing trip may be fun, but you also might be alienating someone who hates getting shot by little balls of paint while running through the woods. Be careful to keep in mind your girls, athletic kids, intellectuals, extreme sports enthusiasts, gamers, and the apathetic kids who just like to "hang out" when planning your events.

COST: Keep a good balance between low-dough or free events and high dollar ones. Remember that parents are already spending a ton to entertain their teens during the summer. Be their friend and go easy on that pocketbook! Make it easy for the less fortunate kids to go to the events that you plan. Do it quietly, and don't embarass them or their families.

MOMENTUM: If you sense a good thing, don't let it die! For example, if your teens are bringing their friends, plan more events to facilitate those relationships. If families are pulling together because of your ministry, keep doing family activities. Learn to spot when things are working, and when to phase out a program for a while.

TIMING: When I arrived in Nebraska, I found out that a MAJOR part of senior year is for parents to have an open house (party) to honor their graduates. This also means that seniors (and other teens in your group) will be busy attending these parties. My first year, I tried to plan stuff during May, but I quickly learned to tone it down during this month and honor this tradition.

GOD'S WILL: Uh-oh...confession time. I'm not always the best at waiting to see what God wants me to do. Sometimes, I charge ahead without waiting for Him. Make sure that your activities and programs are God-honoring, and always brought before Him in prayer.

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Looks Great

Here is a trailer to the upcoming Will Smith movie "Seven Pounds." I'm there!!!

By they way, they stole this idea from my novel!! :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Yes, our annual youth rally called "Akastasia" is over. All of a sudden, we had about 180 guests from Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and South Dakota.
I love youth rallies.
It always starts off with everyone being a little awkward. They haven't seen each other in a month or more...some since summer camp. As the weekend progresses, you can see people loosen up, and maybe even establish new friendships.
This year was tough. Garrison's hospital stay put me WAY behind schedule on the planning. Several last minute decisions and phone calls had to be made. Our tradition of ice skating on Saturday did not happen this year. Several of our Christian colleges could not afford to support us financially.
But God LOVES showing up when we're worried about the way things will turn out!
A couple at our church offered to help pay for the t-shirts. I told them their offer could not have come at a better time since other financing did not work out. When the bill came in, I emailed them with the total and told them any amount would be appreciated. They paid the whole bill.
I also worried about our entertainment and game times. Soul Concern from York did an awesome job filling in almost last minute. And as far as games, teens would rather just hang out sometimes than be forced to play games.
Robert Cox did a PHENOMENAL job of speaking, as usual. He knows what struggles people are facing, and challenges them to face those struggles with God's help. His church families have such great stories.
And to top it off, one of our teens, Lucas Anderson, was baptized. He accepted God's grace, and committed himself to living a radical life for Jesus Christ. Then, after the teens had gone to their host homes, a lady from Kansas was baptized, too!
Several people sought me out to tell me what a wonderful rally it was. All I could do was shrug my shoulders, smile, and say, "It wasn't me. God was here and made this rally more than I ever planned or hoped for!"

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Planning a Youth Rally

Where do you start? Is there a master list to follow? Here are some tips I've used (stolen) in planning several youth rallies now:

1. Plan your theme and speaker well in advance. We try to have next year's theme and speaker ready to introduce by the end of this year's rally.
2. Give your teens appropriate responsibilities. Some teens can take on more responsibilities than others. For example, you probably shouldn't give a teen command of the budget for your youth rally!! On the other hand, you might have some talented artists who can perform or make artwork. My teens have shot the Rules video each year, and really impress me each time.
3. Involve your whole church. This is a great opportunity for people to see you (youth minister or volunteer) in action. Use them to house teens, serve food, lead a discussion or class, registration, driving...the list goes on.
4. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. I have a list that I start working on over a month before the rally begins. The stress will fade away as you cross the items off that list!
5. Be flexible! Things WILL go wrong! Teens will take their cues from you. If you think things aren't going well, they might think the same thing. Evaluate each rally when it's done, and remove or rework those things that didn't work.
6. Keep Jesus by your side. Remember what your rally is all about. It's not about showcasing your talents, or getting people to like you. Point them toward Christ.

In case you're wondering, I DO have several lists that I use to plan and execute our youth rally. If you think it would be helpful, let me know and I'll send them to you.

If you'll excuse me, I have to go sleep one more time before a hectic weekend begins with a LOT of teens and a LOT of Jesus!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I wonder what churches will do now that Barack Obama has been elected as our next president. Prayer vigils were held before the elections asking that God would bless America. Will they feel like God has blessed America, or cursed it?

The following passage is from Romans 13:1-2.

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

Have you ever really thought about this passage?
The author is admonishing them to submit to a government that became increasingly harsh to Christians!

So, what are Christians to do now?
1. Don't worry. God is in control. Jesus told us not to worry. God told the martyrs in Revelation not to worry. The Bible is chock-full of God advising people, "Don't worry!"
2. Keep praying! Will churches pray now that the elections are over? Let's pray for Barack Obama instead of cursing him! You wouldn't believe how many negative statements I've seen on Facebook tonight. He is human, just like you and I. He makes mistakes, just like you and I. And he needs prayers, just like you and I do.

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

I don't know about you, but I think this is holy and wise advice. And I hope you'll keep praying for our next president.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Teaching Teens Work Skills

Our electronic society is a huge blessing for youth ministry. Most of the work can be done by emailing instead of making tiring amounts of phone calls. Calendars can be produced with clipart on them without going through multiple stages of print.
However, not everyone has email yet!
For our youth rally, I recently asked teens to help me with a few projects. One project was addressing envelopes to our members who will be housing out-of-town teens. So, I was a little confused when one of the teens asked what we were doing.
To show them an example, I went over to one of our girls, who had already addressed an envelope. As I picked it up, I noticed she had written the address in the upper right-hand corner where the stamp goes!!!
While we laughed, another girl said, "We don't know how to do this...we email and text people!"

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Parenting Lessons

Finish this sentence:
I want my kid(s) to be the best ___________.

How did you fill in the blank?
Pianist? Quarterback? Chess player? Pitcher? Debater? Cheerleader? Student?

I see it all too often: Parents who live out their lives through their children. They want their kids to be cool, popular, "the best." They push their kids to practice hard at their chosen activity. They make sure they are at every practice early, and stay late. They sponsor all the activities, and shell out hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars to get their kids the BEST equipment.

We all want our children to be happy. We all want them to work hard. But I would encourage you to consider filling in the blank with something different...something that matters far more than any ballgame or competition.

I want my kid to be the best Christian that he can be.

I want to make sure he's at all the "practice sessions" he needs to get to know God. I want to make sure he has quality equipment for studying about his creator. I want to monetarily sponsor things that get him in touch with God's love and grace!

Can you say those words? Do your kids know that their soul is more important to you than their extracurriculars?

One of the parents at our church was talking to her son recently. He is the mascot for one of our local high schools. It's a horse named "Mighty." He was telling me that he didn't know if he could attend our youth rally (and help lead worship) because he might be mascotting. His mom replied with a smile, "I would rather you be doing mighty things than Mighty (the horse) things!"