What I Learned About Ministry At The Starbucks Reserve Roastery 

By | communication, Uncategorized

If you want to improve the way you reach teenagers it’s important to look at successful models. However, sometimes that means going beyond the church and looking in the corporate world.

When non-coffee drinkers recommend you go to a coffee house you go. The Starbucks Reserved Roastery in downtown Seattle is unlike any place I’ve ever visited. It’s a coffee lovers dream and for those of us in ministry, you can learn a lot. What the Starbucks Reserved Roastery taught me about ministry is: Read More

Build A Crowd With Clear Communication

By | communication

Last Thursday night Sonic opened up a restaurant by my church.  Sonic Restaurants are nothing new to the Maryland area; however, this was a big deal.  The lines were long, and the place was packed.  For them to build a crowd was no problem. When it comes to the corporate world most companies have a professional marketing, and communication strategy.

When it comes to church ministry marketing getting the word out and building a crowd isn’t as easy.  Your resources are limited, and you do not always have the personnel to help you get the word out quickly and effectively.  In fact youth ministry marketing can be a little messy.  To overcome the obstacles and build a crowd in your ministry you need to:

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Fold Inspiration Into Your Meetings

By | communication, Systems and Structures, Uncategorized

I used to hate Tuesdays.  It was one of those days where staff sat in one room for a meeting that lasted for hours. It had been a useful meeting when the team was only 5 people; however, as the staff grew so did the length of the meeting.  Eventually people didn’t want to be there (including myself) and that became obvious.  Instead of leaving full of inspiration, we left drained.  Fortunately, we did a face lift on meetings and made sure that each came with:


While not all meetings are designed to be fun, they should have an element of inspiration.  The end of your meetings should be a commission. You are sending your people out to go and GET THE JOB DONE.  Unfortunately people have preconceived notions that meetings are boring; therefore, fold in that inspiration by:

  • Provoke The Passion – In order to move your team forward you need to help them care. You need to do more than present a problem.  You need to paint a picture. Build inspiration by laying out the impact of your mission. Cast a vision and grow their heart by casting into their lives a vision.
  • Lay Out The Facts – Not everyone is motivated by emotion, some people receive inspiration from numbers and stats. Create a clear and accurate account of the data. Provide enough data for people to see how you can accomplish what you need to do and watch them move forward.
  • Give Direction – Even if you have their heart strings and filled them with reason, you need a plan to set them forward. Many times we spend a meeting heavy with facts and story, but lack the answer to, “Now what?” Never conclude a meeting or a message without an action plan.

Improve your meetings by preparing ahead of time. Practice your delivery and gain feedback from trusted sources.  Remember it’s not just about getting together, it’s about creating a path, listing out clear facts and growing their hearts.

How do you fold inspiration into your meetings?  What’s your biggest meeting hangup?

GUEST POST: Do Parents Read Your Emails?

By | Aaron Helman, communication, COMMUNICATION, email, parents, Smarter Youth Ministry, Systems and Structures, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES
Courtesy of espensorvik/Creative Commons License

There are few things more frustrating than talking with an uninformed parent even though you’ve tried to give them information over and over and over again.

It happened to me last week.

We’d been pushing a large event for the better part of a month, Sunday came around, and things went very well. Then on Monday, I got a call from a parent, upset because she didn’t know about it.

I bit my tongue (nearly all the way through), and listened to her, but I knew that I’d emailed her at least three times in the past month about it. Turns out she hadn’t read a single one of those emails. There are many reasons why your email communication might be ineffective. Here are just a few of them.

You Don’t Have a Current Email Address: 

31% of people change their primary email address every year. If your email list is a few years old, how good could it possibly be? If you’re going to use email frequently, you need to find a way to confirm addresses at least once a year.

You (Or Your Church) Sends Unimportant Emails: 
The average person sends and receives 140 emails per day and can’t possibly process all of them. Email users learn to ignore unimportant messages, and if your church sends too many of those, they’ll learn to ignore all of them, unimportant or not.

Your Subject Line Is Bad:
Remember, people don’t open and read all of their emails. Your subject line needs to be persuasive. Here are a few examples:
  • BAD: Camp Information
  • GOOD: Sign Up for Camp this Week and Save $49
  • BAD: Youth Newsletter for 3/12/11
  • GOOD: [Youth Newsletter] We’re Going to Costa Rica!
  • BAD: Youth Group this Weekend
  • GOOD: Youth Meets at MY HOUSE this Sunday at 6:00

You’re Sending Emails At a Bad Time:  
This is my thorn. I typically work at home in the evening after I put kids to bed. The problem here is that if I send an email at 10 p.m. to someone’s work address, they might not check email until the next morning when my message has come in along with three dozen other overnight messages. Use a scheduled send program like Outlook or Boomerang for Gmail to deliver emails at appropriate times.
Did I miss anything? What do you do to make sure your emails get read?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like effective communication. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

Clearly Describe Your Ministry

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, elevator speech, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, Questions
Courtesy of David Locke/Creative Commons

A few months ago I had a youth minister from a local church visit me to discuss student ministry.    He wanted to know more about the ministry, what it is we did and how we did it.  I basically told my entire story, every detail and I probably repeated myself several times.  At the end he seemed very enthused; however, confused.  I hadn’t properly defined what it is my ministry was designed to do.  Instead of getting straight to the point I made the mistake of trying to explain everything.

There are people who are going to inquire about your ministry.  They are the parents looking for a spiritual home for their teens, an adult looking to get involved or a teen wanting to check it out.  If you can’t define for them what your ministry is designed to do, you’ll lose them.  In a world where there is so much constant and quick communication it’s necessary for you to know what you want to say and how to say it as directly as possible.  To do this you need to:

  • Have An Elevator Speech – An elevator speech is a memorable and well crafted description of why your ministry exists.  While you could go in detail about the event or what you will be discussing that week, people just want to know what it is you do.  An elevator speech packages it nicely so that you aren’t wasting people’s time and getting straight to the point. (For more on the elevator speech go here
  • Let Them Ask Questions – You might feel as if you need to answer a person’s question before they even ask them.  The problem with giving too much information is it might confuse your original point.  Don’t be afraid to make room for questioning, this allows the other person to process what you’ve said by digging deeper into the definition. 
  • Invite Them To The Experience – Sometimes words can only do so much, in the end they need to witness it for themselves.  When a parent, teen or an adult is interested in what you provide for teens the simplest way is to show them.  Invite them as a guest and then offer to sit down with them to answer any questions after the program concludes.

Sometimes we’ve been in the trenches so long that we assume everyone has experienced what we have.  When you have this mentality it’s easy to grow frustrated, that’s why it’s important to define what it is you do.  When you can describe to others your ministry and job clearly, you will not only gain support but insight on how you can better grow.

How do you make sure people have a clear picture of your ministry?

Do You Demand Excellence?

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, environment, excellence, goals, identity, irresistible, meetings, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, vision, youth space
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Is there something in your ministry that drives you crazy?  Maybe it’s the person showing up late for a meeting or when there is a piece of trash on the floor of your youth space you cringe.  When you express these concerns to others they tell you to relax, but you disagree because you demand excellence.  And that’s good.  Striving for excellence means having the desire to take your ministry to the next level.

It’s easy for youth ministers to come off laid back because of how they look and who they serve; however, that should not be an excuse for a lack of excellence.  When you have excellence in ministry it means you have standards, expectations and organizations.  The only caution with demanding excellence is having it turn into a journey for perfection.  Perfection doesn’t allow flaws, excellence means wanting the most out of what you can give.  In youth ministry it’s important to have this desire especially when it comes to:

  • Youth Space: Whether it’s in the basement of the church or in a decked out youth room, your space needs to be an irresistible environment.  That means it needs to be clean, cared and prepared for, so that students are not walking into chaos.  They have enough craziness going on in their lives, let your space be that sanctuary.
  • Meetings: Whether it’s a 2 minute check-in or a 2 hour strategic meeting it’s important that everyone shows up on time, an agenda is set and people are prepared.  If you are leading the meeting all of that falls on you, so make sure you plan ahead of time.
  • Communication: It needs to be clear and consistent, the way that’s going to happen is by practicing, reviewing and receiving feedback.  You should never take for granted that your message is heard if only said once, repeat, repeat and repeat.
  • Identity: Excellence in your identity does not mean perfection, it means authenticity.  That means you need to embrace humility and transparency in how you communicate and interact with others.  If you stress too much about appearance and reputation you will only find yourself disappointed. Make sure you surround yourself with accountability so that people can help you stay true.

There are many areas in which we should strive for excellence; however, it doesn’t come naturally for all of us.  To obtain excellence as a value you need to set goals and cast vision with your team.  Excellence does not always mean perfection, it means having expectations and dreams of what can be and will be.  While you don’t want to be too hard, don’t be afraid to think big.

How do you strive for excellence?

Four Areas That Need Your Attention This Year

By | budget, communication, COMMUNICATION, preparation, Systems and Structures, training, vision
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The feelings of anxiety and excitement fill me up this time of year, and the back to school commercials do not help.  Everyone is focusing on what they need to get, do and learn before the school bells ring for the first time.  If there is a time when a check list is most important it’s over these next few weeks.

Doesn’t matter if you had programming throughout the summer, it feels like everyone is starting from scratch.  That sense of urgency fills the area and people pick up their pace. The mantra, “SO MUCH TO DO IN SO LITTLE TIME.” rings through all of our heads.

Not sure what’s on your check-list, maybe it’s long and maybe it’s filled with big things.  If you want to get that all done, there are a few areas you need to tackle first.  Those areas are:

  • Your Personal Schedule – What does your week look like?  Before the madness begins, start allotting time to when you will prepare curriculum, touch base with team, and even when you’ll eat lunch.  When you create a calendar for your week, you give yourself a pace.  If you walk into the roar of September without a clear pace you’ll find yourself falling behind or burning out. Give yourself 30 minutes to create one. (For more details go here)
  • CommunicationWhat do you want them to know? and What do you want them to do?  Those two questions should proceed every email, message and presentation you give.  The tendency is to have reactionary communication, which means waiting for something to happen.  Look at your calendar for they year and determine how you want the communication to roll out.  When is the best time for people to know certain information.  When you plan out your communication you give yourself time to craft an effective message.
  • Budget – It’s easy to only think about your budget when you want to increase it.  Like communication our budget needs to be proactive; therefore, create a spending plan for your ministry.  Develop a system where you know how much a week, or month you have to spend and record each item effectively.  Schedule times monthly to check-in on your progress.  Own a plan for your budget, before the budget owns you.
  • Training – What’s the vision for your leaders?  Decide on one or two things you want them to learn this year.  While there is so much they will learn in the trenches, it’s important for you to intentionally prepare them for a certain area of ministry.  It doesn’t have to be meetings, but making sure resources and online trainings are available to them.  Be sure you know how you want them to grow this specific year.

These four areas will impact how you serve and what you do as a leader this year.  The reason they are so important is because of the foundation they build in your ministry.  There are a million other things on your plate, you need these areas to help you organize and fuel them.  While you still have a little bit of margin left in your schedule, just take the time to reflect on them, and then plan on tweaking them throughout the year.

Would you agree with these four or am I missing an area?

What’s The Bottom Line To Your Ministry?

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, elevator speech, vision
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How good is your elevator speech?  If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s when you have to get your point across, or make your pitch to someone as if you were riding an elevator.  The goal is not to speak quickly but to say more by speaking less.  It can be an exhausting exercise if you like to take your time explaining concepts, using analogies and specific examples.  Chances are you’ve never really been in a situation where you had to get your point across in two minutes, and then again maybe you’ve never realized you’ve been in that situation.  You thought you had the time, you thought you had their focus, but all they needed was a quick answer.

For example the time:

  • A parent called you on the phone with questions about your program.
  • The friend of a teen who’s never been to church
  • A potential minister who is unsure whether or not he/she can make the commitment.
Believe it or not you’ve been in that situation, you just didn’t realize it and rambled on for too long without CLEARLY COMMUNICATING THE BOTTOM LINE. 

To get to that point takes more than just practice, because you want to make sure you say the right thing.  To put together the best elevator speech you should figure out:

  • What It Is You Want Them To Know: At the end of your spiel the person listening should be able to repeat back to you the bottom line.  If there is one thing they must know what is it? Should they know that small groups create big change?  Or, connecting in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ comes through connecting in authentic relationships with Christ followers?  What’s that one thing?
  • What It Is You Want Them To Do: What’s the purpose to your spiel?  How should they react to your statement?  Should they join your ministry?  Sign their kid up for the camp?  What direction are you trying to send them in?  Know where it is you want to send them before you tell them anything.
  • How To Put It In One Sentence: In an elevator ride chances are you only have a few minutes.  If you can explain your ministry, event or opportunity in a sentence or two you won’t lose them in the details.  Condensing your pitch into a sentence will force you to be clear and concrete because you won’t waste a word.
  • How To Make It Memorable: When you take your time to explain everything you sometimes explain too much.  The goal is to make it attractive enough so that they want more.  If you make it memorable they’ll have questions, and that’s when you can fill in the blanks.  Get them interested by making your message compelling.
Again, it’s not the most attractive exercise; however, if you can lay down in a sentence or two your vision, mission, purpose or general ministry then people will begin to listen and then pursue.  We live in a noisy world, and to get your message out there you need to make sure you craft it, tweak it and practice.  It’s through clear communication that people begin to invest and pour into your ministry.  

What other steps do you take to clearly communicate the bottom line?

3 Steps To Keep Your Ministers

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, expectations, ministers, ministry health, thank you
Courtesy of Easa Shamih (eEko) | P.h.o.t.o.g.r.a.p.h.y/
Creative Commons LIcense

Along with the warm weather comes a transition to what you do.  Even if you don’t break for the summer the schedule becomes a little more relaxed because you need time to reflect and review so that next fall can be better than ever.  A part of the transitioning process is asking the question, “Will you be back.” to your team.  It’s a nerve racking question, even if you are confident that your ministry is filled with youth ministry lifers.  It’s nerve racking because life happens and you can never be sure.
While there are many things we can do to turn away our ministers, it’s more important to focus on what we can do to ensure that they’ll stick it out, grow with the program and walk with you for the long run.  Now, there is no full proof way of keeping them because again life happens; however, here are three steps every leader should take when it comes to keeping ministers:

  1. Persistent Communication – Under communicating is worst than over communicating.  Too many times we expect our volunteers to read our minds and make assumptions about the way we do things.  The end result is always disappointment.  Be persistent to be sure that everyone is on the same page.  People might get annoyed but they’ll appreciate the fact that you care that they know what you want them to know.
  2. Open Gratitude – No one knows you are gracious for what they do if you never tell them.  If you don’t thank your team chances are they’ll think you don’t care about them.  One of the hardest; yet, most important things we need to do is love on our ministers.  Let them know that they are worth it.
  3. Raised Expectations – We love them; therefore, we don’t want them to fail.  But, in reality if we truly loved our ministers we would push them to go to great lengths to bring teens to Christ.  If you have their trust and love you should set the bar high.  If you set it too low, it will seem as if you don’t trust them to do the hard stuff.

Granted you can go too far with each of these steps and become a little overbearing.  However, build and grow these steps and watch your ministry team build and grow.

What other practices do you use to keep your team for the long haul?

Are Conversations Dying?

By | communication, COMMUNICATION, conversation, ministry health, small groups
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Not sure how you communicate with your teens, but when it comes to my small group of 10th grade guys the easiest way is through Facebook.  This past Sunday I wrote them all a note, asking whether or not they were going to make our service project this upcoming weekend.  Right away I got a response from one of the teens saying, “Sorry, won’t be able to go.”  I found myself a little upset, not because the teen couldn’t make the event; it was due to the fact that he was in the next room and didn’t tell me face to face.  I got up, walked over to him and jokingly said, “You couldn’t have just told me that?” He said, “I wasn’t sure how you would react.”  Instead of diving into a conversation about why he couldn’t serve, he thought it was best to just tell me and be done with it.
It’s interesting how we communicate today.  Doesn’t matter if it’s bad news or good we Tweet it, post it or share it on our wall.  But, is this a problem?  Is the fact that we have so many ways of communicating electronically hurting or helping us?
In Sherry Turkle’s New York Times Article “The Flight From Conversation” she claims:

We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.

It’s a statement that I go back and forth on, because I wonder about how technology has hurt; yet, helped the conversations that I have had.  It’s helped me invite teens into a deeper conversation.  It’s non threatening to send a text that says, “Hey, can you meet me after group to chat for a few minutes?” or “Haven’t seen you in a while, can you stop by tonight for worship?”  But, then again Turkle warns that this trend of electronic communication is leading us to an isolated life:

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

Basically, technology can remove the tension in relationships that lead to growth.  It gives us a control that fools us into thinking that our relationships are growing stronger.  Don’t get me wrong, communication can help us connect with teens, and reach out to their peers in non threatening ways; but, does it help grow healthy relationships?
With or without technology the healthiest relationships need to have a solid foundation, and as Christians we believe that foundation is with Christ.  One of the best places teens can learn to be relational in their faith is through small groups.  It’s through small groups that we can teach teens to grow together and hold one another accountable.  And to do that you need to:

  1. Go Beyond The Questions – It’s easy to ask questions; however, to truly dive deep into the answers is a whole different task.  Many times we find that our new small group leaders bust through the questions like they are taking a test.  The idea isn’t to complete the questions, it’s to create more.  Going beyond the questions means creating opportunities for life changing conversations.
  2. Embrace The Silence – Nothing is more awkward than staring at a bunch of teens blankly; however, it’s something we need to allow because silence gives us time to reflect.  It’s easy to claim that successful conversations have noise; however, silence allows ideas and thoughts to develop.  When you take the time to listen, process and then speak you allow the conversation to become rich.
  3. Build Trust – Chances are your teens don’t trust you if they aren’t willing to talk with you.  That doesn’t mean you aren’t trustworthy, it just means the trust isn’t there yet.  In order to build trust you need to be transparent, vulnerable and honest.  Sometimes that trust can be built in a group, other times it needs to be done one on one.  Either way make building trust one of the cornerstones of your ministry.

Is conversation a dying art?  Probably not, it’s just evolving; however, Sherry Turkle’s article gives us plenty of examples as to why your teens aren’t engaging in the conversation.  Is it technologies fault?  Probably not, it’s a tool and we just need to see how we can use it to initiate and provoke it in our ministries.  If we can create opportunities for healthy conversations in our ministry then we can create healthy relationships.  And the healthier the relationships the stronger we can be together.

How do you promote conversation in your ministry?