When Nobody Shows Up To Your Event

one thing most of us in student ministry are well aware of – especially during the summer months – is how unpredictable attendance can be.  families go away on vacation, some teens are in summer school, sports camps & band camps are in full swing, and some teens just can’t get a ride. we tend to envision big turnouts, plan for high numbers, but then feel discouraged and defeated when the actual number comes in low.

so how do you still do the event without being discouraged? every summer we face this in some form or another, and this question surfaces in my brain a lot.

resist the temptation to think about who’s NOT there. 

i’m all for tracking attendance and charting numbers.  i have big goals for our sunday morning attendance 2 years from now. but when it’s go time and the event has started, i’ve learned that if i don’t walk in the room forgetting about who’s not there, i’m gonna waste some important opportunities with those who are.  if i’m not grateful and thankful for who did show up, the lies of defeat will slither in my mind and try to discourage me.

here are 3 things you can do to help you forget about those who aren’t there:

1. pray through the list of students who are signed up. it’s amazing what happens when we get away and pray. it doesn’t have to be long, and you don’t have to get up before the moon goes away (that aint happening for me)… but just pray.

2. think about their individual stories (and the big voice you have to speak into their life at this event). some of them have had a rough year. some have been in the middle of their parents’ fights. some have endured bad breakups. some have been asking big questions about their identity but haven’t verbalized it to anyone yet. some have just started cutting. some laugh when everyone’s around but cry when they’re alone. some just need a new friend network, and they’re trying your event in order to find that. 

3. make it the best event for them that you possibly can. they’ll likely go back to the rest of the group and let them know all that they missed. it’ll make a make a big difference in their life, and other people will see the change. there’s value in simply providing an atmosphere where students can have the time of their life.


Our 5-Step Process For Recruiting Ministry Volunteers

it’s summer time right now, which for us in student ministry means it’s all about the fall and prepping for the start of a new ministry year… (all while still running the ministry, summer events, and late night conversations with teens).  one of the things we are all working hard at during this season is recruiting new volunteers to join us in this worthy cause in september. when a potential volunteer expresses an interest in serving in our student ministry, i take them through this 5-step process. it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s working for us right now:

  1. come, check it out! i wanna know for sure that they even want to serve in this area.  do they have a passion for teens, or do they run when they enter the room? do they relate well to students, or are they insecure, awkward, and frightened? this is just as much for the volunteer as it is for me. i wanna see how they react in the room and i want them to have an accurate picture of our ministry before we start really talking specifics. i usually ask them to come for 4-6 weeks before anything else happens.
  2. roll out the paperwork! we have a formal application that i then give to them. with it i also give out a background check authorization form.  all of our volunteers have had background checks run, and it’s important for me to be able to tell new parents that as they check out our ministry. we use a company called protect my ministry, but there’s lots of great ones out there.  in case it can be helpful, here’s the application we give out:
  3. take some time! i tell them from the beginning that i’m a lazy youth pastor (not really… but that it might seem like i am).  i take my time looking over the application, brainstorming how they could specifically fit & contribute in our ministry, how their personality will gel with the others on the team, etc. i’ve learned the hard way that it’s way easier to say “no” at this stage rather than to say “yes” now and then try to get them off later. 
  4. do the interview! even though it’s not a paid position doesn’t mean the interview has to be any less formal. it’s a high calling and an extremely important role in the church. going into the interview i pretty much know whether we’re going to bring them on or not, and we use this time to discuss specific roles, how their experience and story will affect their leadership over students, and some potential next steps for them to take before joining the team. sometimes we do say “no” to this specific ministry role, but i work hard to provide them a list of other areas in the church where their unique gifts and abilities can be used instead.
  5. announce it to the teens! once they’re added to the team, it’s important that we let our students know this is someone they’ll track with over the next few years and someone they can trust. we usually bring them up front on a sunday morning. and ideally we try to get them to share their story with the teens within a few weeks.  i love this fun video that this one youth ministry has been using lately to introduce their new leaders:

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Much

i admire people who can put up blog posts everyday. and someday maybe i’ll get there. but lately i just haven’t had time because of this little girl…

A List Of Names Ministry Leaders Should Keep

many times in ministry (or in life in general) it’s easy to focus on the negative & frustrating issues at hand… and i know why that is – because they’re usually problems under our leadership that need a response from us.  but i love what paul says in philippians 3:17-18.  i was reading through the chapter this morning and it was one of those things that jumped out at me anew even though it’s a passage i’ve ready many times.

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

it’s almost like paul is challenging us today to start a new running list of the names of people touched by our ministries that are doing well and walking closely with God.  to look at those names and read through them periodically.  to be encouraged that it’s not all hopeless.  that not all reject the claims of Jesus, but that some have embraced them and are living for Him.

sometimes i think if we focused more on the positive things God is doing we’d be more encouraged to press on through the difficult times.

Jumbo Jenga Game

i just saw a tweet from kurt johnston on a new game of “jumbo jenga” they made using like-sized 2×4’s. looks like a super cheap and easy addition to any youth room that will foster interaction and fun.  just sent a message out to our team for someone to make one for us! thanks for sharing, kurt!

The Global Leadership Summit – Sign Up Now!

things are really ramping up at our church right now in preparation for willow’s global leadership summit. we are a host site for this leadership event, and would love to see you come!  if you’re a lakeshore member or attender, you’re running out of time to lock in the best rate! don’t wait any longer!

When People Don’t Like Change

whether we like it or not, change will always be a part of ministry. because culture is constantly changing, the methods used to reach culture ought to change as well right along with it. unfortunately, most churches, businesses, and organizations are not good at change.  too much emotion gets entered into the equation, and when the masses revolt, the hesitant leader rescinds and questions whether the decision was right or not.

a few months ago, another blogger posted a review for the book ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, and with my curiosity piqued, i grabbed a copy.  great, great read – it’s a simple little “proverb-like” book with some obvious and not-so-obvious business tips.  i love their writing style and it’s kept me engaged.

towards the back of the book is a great little chapter on change in an organization. i thought this exerpt was worth posting:

when you rock the boat, there will be waves. after you introduce a new feature, change a policy, or remove something, knee-jerk reactions will pour in. resist the urge to panic or make rapid changes in response. passions flare in the beginning. that’s normal. but if you ride out that first rocky week, things usually settle down. […]

people often respond before they give a change a fair chance. sometimes that initial negative reaction is more of a primal response. that’s why you’ll sometimes hear things like, “it’s the worst thing i’ve ever seen.” no, it’s not. it’s a minor change. come on.

what tweaks and changes do you know you need to make? if God is truly leading the change, lead strong and don’t be swayed by the ones who want to stay where it’s comfortable!

Free 5 Minute Countdown

i love free stuff, and i just found this free 5 minute countdown over at worship house media.

go grab one – hopefully it’ll still be up there!

Are You Discouraged As Your Students Graduate?

it’s graduation season and for those of us in student ministy, it means popping from

party to party, trying not to get thrown in the pool, and politely staying away from the mayo-ridden salads that have been out in the sun too long (thanks Todd!).  it certainly is an exciting time as we watch our students enter a whole new stage in life, hoping that they’re ready. but the question we’re all silently asking is just that: “are they really ready?”  “did we do enough to come alongside their family to ensure they didn’t just graduate from their faith when they graduated last week?”

the hard thing is that many times, we as their shepherds have a gut feeling, if we’re honest, that they probably aren’t quite ready. that despite our best efforts and 7 years of our hearts, their faith just isn’t rooted deep enough… at least not as deep as we would have liked to see at this point.

and then the discouragement sets in. and we beat ourselves up. and we question our ministry paradigms. and we read books by disgruntled authors about the failure of modern youth ministry. and we question our calling.

if you’re there right now, i want you to be encouraged. yes… i want us to push ourselves and evaluate our ministries with our leadership teams and fill the holes. but do yourself a favor and recognize that in this season the enemy may simply want nothing more than to discourage us so that we go into september defeated and beat up.

if you have 5 minutes, can i encourage you to listen to this audio clip? it’s from dan webster’s leadership of the heart seminar. a few months ago i sensed our volunteer team feeling overly discouraged, and played this clip for them. it did my heart good to see the truth breathing new life into their souls, and it can do the same for you!