10 Must-Have Ingredients for Every Parent Meeting

woman bakingChances are if you’re in youth ministry, you are in it because you feel called and love working with youth, you relate well to young people.  What you may or may not have noticed is that those same youth are often dropped off by parents/guardians/grandparents* at the beginning of  your time together.  Those adults are, in fact, one of your most important constituencies…maybe even more important to win over than your senior pastor.  Why does your ministry with parents matter?  Whether you realized it at the start or not, those same parent/guardians are the number one influencers in the youths’ faith lives.  They also heavily influence whether or not their teenage children can participate in your ministry.  You may be the world’s best at relating to young people, but if you can’t master communicating with parents you’re headed for trouble.

If you don’t communicate well with parents, you risk their thinking of you as unprofessional, unreliable or worse.  Unhappy parents can lead to grumbling and  complaints about your ministry.  But if you can successfully manage your relationships with parents, they can become your biggest fans and supporters.  One way you can be successful at winning parents over is by having regularly scheduled, well-run parent meetings.

And if you’re asking yourself, “what’s a parent meeting?” then no one has taught you a basic principle of youth ministry – You are in ministry to parents as much as you are in ministry to youth.  Being a parent of an adolescent is a daunting challenge, as the youth worker you have a unique opportunity to come alongside parents and make raising Christian teens a little less scary.  Let’s look at ways you can get parents on your side through well-run parent meetings.

Here are 10 Must-Have Ingredients in Every Successful Parent Meeting:

1. Start and end on time.  This really should be a no-brainer, right?  It matters because how you start a meeting sets the tone for the meeting.  If you start your meetings 10 minutes late, you unintentionally communicate that it’s okay to not show up on time to things you plan.  When it’s time for the parent meeting to begin, let parents know you have a lot to cover and how long you realistically expect the meeting to last.  Starting or ending a meeting late communicates that you don’t respect people’s time. How long should a parent meeting last?  Of course this depends on the content you have to cover, and while an hour is a good rule of thumb, what matters even more is that you spend enough time to communicate well without belaboring the points.

2. Create a friendly atmosphere.  Chances are, not every parent knows every other parent’s name or they might not even know you.  Have name tags for everyone – few things communicate care better than actually calling people by name.  Even if it’s a small group, is there anything more embarrassing than blanking out on someone’s name you’ve known for a while?   Introduce people, introduce yourself, thank people for being there.  If the gathering is under about 20 people, take the time to have each person introduce themselves and tell which kids are theirs.  During your meeting, engage your audience by calling on specific people.  Smile.  Warm up your crowd.  Create an air of friendliness but still remember you’re together for a purpose – keep the introduction time brief.

3. Have an agenda (and not the hidden kind).  Want to demonstrate that you are organized and have planned what you are going to say?  Have a printed meeting agenda to follow.  Circulate it beforehand so parents know what to expect.  What is the purpose of this particular parent meeting?  Are you addressing certain problems, seeking volunteer support, coaching parents, going over the details of upcoming events?  What will you cover, what’s the goal of the meeting?  Don’t meet just to have a meeting.

4. Have very specific action items lined out clearly.  What is it that you want parents to do as a result of this meeting?  Do they need to sign forms for a retreat by a certain date?  Are some fundraising events mandatory for the youth to attend in order to participate in other activities?  Are parents expected to volunteer once a quarter at snack supper?  Whatever it is that you really want parents to do, list the “to do’s” as clearly as possible.  Don’t make people guess what you’re asking of them – be clear.

5. Date everything.  Double check any handout you make to ensure it answers the basic questions of what, when, where, who, why, how much.  Some parents are calendar people and planners, help them out by having dates communicated as clearly and often as possible.  If you’re not doing so already, learn to use a Google calendar for your ministry events and share it with parents.

6. Use consistent formatting in your handouts.  I admit, there was a time in my life when I thought PrintShop was the coolest thing ever (yep, I just dated myself didn’t I?)  It’s easy to get caught up in the default templates available in desktop publishing.  You don’t have to spend hours sticking in multiple clip arts and fonts, just make sure you communicate the main information people really need.  Keep your handouts simple and clear across the board.  Not everyone is particular about this one, but if you’re communicating to adults, use a “grown up” font on your handouts (please just don’t use Comic Sans).  Not only is consistent formatting important, but please make sure you are consistently communicating the correct information through all communication channels you use – in other words, be sure the church newsletter, youth ministry newsletter, website, texts, Facebook page and meeting hand outs all have the correct information.

7. Make your meetings easy to follow and pay attention to your audience.  Communication studies indicate that most of our communication is made through our body language and visual aids.  How well do you do during your meetings of managing the visual?  Along with the printed agenda in the hands of your participants, have a slide show (Keynote, PowerPoint) with main points, dates, related photos to guide your meeting.  Pay attention to whether or not your audience is understanding what you are saying.  Ask them from time to time if they have any questions.  It doesn’t matter how great the information you have to share is if people get stuck at a point when they’re confused by you.

8. Tell stories to a point.  Participating in youth ministry events should be life-changing. Don’t get so caught up in talking about the logistics and huge amount of upcoming youth events that you neglect stories about the heart of your ministry.  In the midst of talking about the upcoming youth events, share a story of the impact youth ministry has had on changing a person’s heart.  Parents yearn for their children to know Christ, share a story about how youth ministry can help make that a reality.  Even better, have a respected parent in the group share a story.

9. Publicize your meeting weeks in advance.  Clearly communicate the next meeting time, date and place.  How often you should have a parent meeting depends on your situation – at least once a year, but quarterly works too if you have a reason to meet.  Just be sure to give your parents a few weeks notice so they can plan to attend your meeting.  (A cool ministry idea is to have a “parents encouraging parents” meeting – have “experienced” parents of teens lead a small group discussion or Bible study once a month with other parents.  As the youth worker, you stop in to these meetings briefly to build relationships and communicate current events.)

10. Open and close in prayer.  I am so guilty of getting caught up in making sure that all of the details of a meeting are covered, that I sometimes neglect the most important ministry we can offer – prayer.  Pray at the beginning and end of the meeting.  Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the meeting, pray for the ministry, your leadership, the parents and the youth.  If you can allow the time, have parents circle up, share their joys and concerns and pray together to close your meeting.  Remember, you are in the ministry with parents just as much as you are with youth.

And there you have it! The top 10 ingredients for a successful parent meeting – use and mix them well and you’ll create a supportive parent network.

Be blessed,


*Note: I recognize that families and family dynamics come in a wide variety of formats.  For simplicity, I’m using the term “parent meeting” to include whomever the adults are that matter in the lives of your youth group – parents, step-parents, legal guardians, grandparents, etc.

Would love to hear from you:

What other successful ingredients to parent meetings would you recommend?

How often do you meet with the parents of your youth?  What’s working?  What is not?

Are there specific ministry tools you’ve used that have made parent meetings easier?

7 Quick Tips to Look Like A Youth Ministry Professional


Note from Erin: I had this article published on The YouthWorker Movement website this week.  Based on the comments I received, it seems to have struck a chord with a few of my fellow youthworkers.  Just thought I’d point out that I am not saying it is RIGHT for people to judge others by outward appearance…I’m just saying that people DO make judgements by appearance and it might be helpful to consider what kind of image you are projecting at work.  Peace, Erin.


Over the next few weeks I will tackle different aspects about what it means to be a professional in the context of youth ministry. There are a lot of conflicting rules and expectations that people have of you, and I hope to provide a framework and some guidance that will allow you meet the unspoken but reasonable expectations that parents and pastors have of you, without impacting your effectiveness and personal style too greatly.

The first area I want to cover is appearance. I know you might think “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Well you can, and if you can’t, every one else can and does. The better rule here – if you want to quote things your mom would have said – would be this: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” or maybe “The clothes make the man (or woman).”

Think of what a parent or pastor would think in this scenario:

The youth worker Lyle stood up in the room of his fellow youth workers and parents and volunteers and said, “I’d like to talk about how we can make this youth ministry more respected in this church.”  Lyle was not astute enough to realize the irony of this: he asked the roomful of people this question as he stood there – unshaven, dressed in a t-shirt, flip flops, shorts, ball cap.

As you can imagine, their first thought was, Yes, Lyle, let’s talk about making a professional impression. And whatever valuable thing he was about to say, is now a “lecture” from someone who has destroyed his own credibility.

Or consider this story:

A veteran youth worker met with her Senior Pastor who said during her annual review that she should work on dressing more professionally in the office. She was furious. “I work with youth!  They don’t care that I’m wearing jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes – it makes me more approachable for the teens,” she argued.

Too many youth workers are starting their professional career without any thought or training on how to dress.

The truth is, you can bemoan the unfairness of being judged by what you wear as much as you want, but you will still be judged first by what you look like.  The way you dress is the way you are perceived, and whether or not you appear to be professional on the outside will make a difference in how people respect both you and your work.

But it doesn’t have to be a chore, a professional look can be comfortable, current, and still convey a sense of organization and professionalism that helps you in your ministry. If you have ever watched “What Not to Wear,” there are generally a few simple rules that can help.  Once you learn them they are not that hard to adopt.


Here are 7 Smart and Easy Tips to Make a More Professional Youth Ministry Impression:

Tip 1:  Wear clothes that fit.

Ill-fitting clothes fall into two categories – too big or too small. Wearing clothes that are either too tight or too loose can look bad.

Too big: If your clothes are big and baggy, your impression is sloppy.  Pants should fit and not hang or sag.  (The song “Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground” comes to mind…) You should not be drowning in a tent of material that you call a shirt.  It’s common for people to wear baggy clothes if they are trying to hide extra weight but the end result is looking heavier.

Too small:  It’s possible that the steady youth ministry diet of pizza and soft drinks has caught up with you, and the clothes you have owned a while are getting a little snug.  Current fashion trend of super skinny jeans can also fall into the category of too small – very few body types can pull this look off successfully.

Instead of clothes that are too big or two small, wear tailored clothes that fit your current body size.  Wear a structured coat or jacket over a fitted shirt.  Consider having clothes altered to fit you properly, usually just a few dollars at a tailor.

Tip 2: Dress your age – or even older. 

Remember, you are in youth ministry to coach and minister to teens, not to be a new BFF who dresses just like them.  Even though in youth ministry we primarily minister to teenagers, we don’t have to look like a teenager to be effective ministers.  If you also want to make a more favorable impression on the parents and adults who can hire or fire you, or who you want to support your ministry, dress like an adult.  This also means sticking to classic clothes and avoiding overly trendy styles.

When we were students ourselves, we dressed for comfort with our untucked shirts and comfortable clothes.  Tired of not being taken seriously, a young youth worker friend of mine finally decided that it was “time to look like a grown up.”  For her, that meant ditching the flip flops and Mickey Mouse sweatshirt for outfits that were a little more put together.  For women, this may mean changing to coordinated outfits, adding a scarf or cardigan and wearing closed toe shoes (more on footwear below.)

For men, ditch the trendy super skinny or ripped up jeans for khakis or a clean dark wash jean that fits.  Wear a blazer or jacket.  Instead of the t-shirts you wore in college, opt for collared shirts and polos.  It helps that flannel shirts with buttons and collars are hip right now.

If you are not sure, look on Pinterest and see if there are any models wearing what you are thinking of putting together.  Here’s a pinboard just for Youth Ministry What Not to Wear ideas.

Tip 3: Save your t-shirts and sweats for working out in the gym or out in the yard. 

We all have our favorite t-shirts.  Maybe it is the shirt advertising your favorite soft drink that you got for free 10 years ago.  It’s good to have favorite things, but save your t-shirts for working out, not for work.  Instead, opt for collared shirts and khaki pants.  If you must wear a t-shirt, consider shirts made out of quality fabric in solid colors that fit correctly.

Tip 4: Take care of your clothes.

Ripped jeans and ripped up t-shirts might work if you are Adam Levine, but the rest of us need to make a tidier impression.  Go through your closet and ditch the shirts, shoes, jeans, anything with holes, rips and tears.  Get rid of clothes that have stains, or save them for mission work, but do not wear them to the office.

Keep your clothes clean and looking fresh with regular laundering, folding and hanging them up.  Having wrinkles in you clothes is something people will notice even if only on a subconscious level.

Tip 5:  Mind what’s on your feet.

Professional dress begins from the ground up.   A great rule of thumb is that professional looking shoes are rarely made out of plastic.  If you are in the habit of wearing flip-flops or similar shoes, do you realize people are getting an unprofessional impression just from the flip flop sound as you come down the hall?  Save the plastic shoes for the showers and swimming pools they were designed for originally.

I know that youth workers are historically underpaid, but a good pair of shoes is a sound way to spend your money.  Wear clean footwear without holes, supportive shoes that make running and playing more comfortable.

Tip 6:  Personal hygiene matters.

This advice is probably no different than something your mom might have told you as a kid:  If you want to make a sharp impression, keep your hair clean, teeth brushed.  Wash your hands and make sure your fingernails are well-groomed.

Men: If you are a male youthworker and feel compelled to have facial hair, that’s cool but keep it tidy.

Women: Hopefully you don’t feel compelled to have facial hair, but do take the time to fix your hair and put on a little makeup before you go to work.

Tip 7:  Consider who you might see today and dress appropriately.

In youth ministry, you will have days when you are playing with teens.  You may have plans to get messy – in these situations, wear clothes for playing and getting messy!

But on the days when you will also be speaking to the congregation, having office hours, talking to parents, or representing the church, make sure you choose to wear shoes and clothes that make a clean, professional image.

Every youth worker should have at least one professional suit or dress to wear for important occasions.  Stick with classic, basic colors and quality fabrics to make a good impression.

They say that “clothes make the man/woman.”  Is that really true?  What matters most really is what is on the inside – your brilliant mind and love for serving God and teenagers – but we can raise the bar for professionalism in youth ministry if we also dress the part.

Be blessed,




1.     Does what you wear for ministry matter?

2.     What other tips would you add to this list?

3.     Have you struggled with not being taken seriously in youth ministry?



(Stay tuned for more tips on being a professional in youth ministry.)



Book Review: Taking Theology to Youth Ministry

It’s both comforting and annoying when you read a book and get a sense that the author jumped in your head and thought your thoughts for you, but that’s how it went for me when I read Andrew Root’s new book, “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry”

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Andrew Root, well, let’s just say he’s a big theology kinda guy.  He has a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is an associate professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota.  He thinks eye-opening thoughts and says profound things about youth ministry in particular, so he’s the go-to guy about youth ministry theology…plus he’s young and cool and talks about growing up watching television.  We can relate.  I met Andy last year at the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry, and he was genuinely a nice guy.  But what I like best is that Andy is also a great storyteller – and that’s how this book comes across, as a great story.

“Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” explores thinking theologically about youth ministry from the approachable perspective of a youthworker named Nadia.   When I started in youth ministry, like probably most new youth workers, I didn’t really understand what the word “theology” even meant, never mind what my own personal theology of youth ministry was – so I could relate to Nadia’s journey of discovering what she believed to be the real purpose of her ministry and her role as a youth worker.  Her journey is the journey many in youth ministry travel – except that she gets past the points of frustration to true meaning and purpose.

Through Nadia’s story, the book explores what is the purpose of youth ministry.   Nadia discovers that youth ministry itself was not born out of theological needs but because our culture had segregated students into grades and age groups, so ministry began to reflect that trend.  Although there is no historical or biblical precedent for youth ministry, and even if the field has a reputation for not being serious about things, it is still a place for theology.

As youth ministry evolved into a profession, the standards for youth ministry evolved as well. As Nadia discovered, when she was a hired youth worker, people expected her to be able to explain the purpose of her ministry in a professional, purposeful way.  In my experience, the larger the church and the more professional the congregation, the more pressure there was to perform and be “successful” as a program.  Like many youth workers, I planned my programs with a popular, easy to articulate, purpose driven model.  Root says:

“Too much purpose-driven theological reflection in youth ministry has been more fodder for candy shops than dangerous wrestling, because it views theology as a bunch of biblical bullet points used to sweeten our intentions, rather than a call to examine our motives in the light of God’s judgment and grace.”

The danger of this pressure, is that it rewards having a plan or presentation of ministry without necessarily requiring deep reflection on God’s call for the ministry.

Another danger is in feeling the pressure to be “successful” as a program in order to make different camps in the church happy.  When you looked deeper, the visions for youth ministry and standards for success for the people around Nadia divided into three primary motivations: keeping kids good, involving kids in service and passing on the elements of our faith tradition to kids.  

The motivations in themselves are not bad, and being able to articulate the purpose of your ministry is a good thing.  “But maybe a problem created by this professionalization is that it encourages us to ignore our motives, as opposed to actually doing ministry from the location of our motives, from the core of our own being.  We get confused into thinking that the heart of youth ministry is organized calendars and vision statements rather than having the courage to seek to become part of God’s action in the world, which always exposes our motives.”

As I reflect on my own journey in youth ministry, I have struggled with pressure to “grow the program” and to do ministry the “right” way.  But growing numbers would never be enough and there isn’t just one right way – so many different parties bring different expectations, motivations and standards of success of failure to the table, there’s no way to make everyone happy.

“If youth ministry isn’t about keeping kids good, making them into something, or passing something on, then what is it all about?  I contend that at its core youth ministry is about participating in God’s own action.  The purpose of youth ministry is to invite both young and old to participate in God’s action.

It’s about participating in God’s own action.  I love that.  It’s exciting to think about what youth ministry would be like if we could set aside the pressure to perform and just figure out what God is calling us to do next.  Us.  With our own God-given gifts and passions being used to their fullest, instead of trying to beat ourselves up for not being enough.  There is freedom in being able to articulate your purpose as a ministry this way.  It could be, after prayer and reflection, your youth ministry takes off in a totally different direction.

There is so much more to write about in this book – and a cool part is that the appendix has discussion questions for each chapter.  It would make a great book study with fellow youth workers, parents and youth in your ministry or the rest of the church staff.   If you read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts!  We are all in this together.


As you plan your fall programs and move forward, how will you reflect theologically about your ministry?  What difference will that make?

What does it look like in your context to participate in God’s own action? 

What standards of success or failure does your church use to measure youth ministry?


Be blessed,



10 Quick-Prep Activities for Super-Small Groups

I wrote the following article for The YouthWorker Movement, but the main reason I wrote it was to help out my awesome Just One Starfish Mentors with activity ideas.  Feel free to pass this on if you know people who’d like it.  In Christ, Erin

Can you have fun and learn about God with just a couple of people?

Whether you’re a big church youth group leader looking to make things smaller and more personal through small groups, or it just happens that on Wednesday only 2-3 youth showed up, or your entire youth group qualifies as a single “small group” at best, everyone can still get to know each other better and learn about God through these 10 quick prep activities.

The activities below are a mix of active and conversational games that will all work best with groups of 2-8 people.  If your group is larger, split into smaller groups.  I’ve suggested a few Bible verses to go with each activity, would love to hear from you if you have suggestions for others.

Be blessed!


10 Quick-Prep Activities for Super-Small Groups           

1. If cards

Supplies/Preparation: Prep a set of cards for each small group ahead of time

How to play:

Ask the group to sit in a circle. Write 20 ‘IF’ questions on cards and place them (question down) in the middle of the circle. The first person takes a card, reads it out and gives their answer, comment or explanation. The card is returned to the bottom of the pile before the next person takes their card.

This is a simple icebreaker to get young people talking and listening to others in the group. Keep it moving and don’t play for too long. Write your own additional ‘IF’ questions to add to the list.

  1. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  2. If I gave you $10,000, what would you spend it on?
  3. If you could watch your favorite movie now, what would it be?
  4. If you could talk to anyone in the world, who would it be?
  5. If you could wish one thing to come true this year, what would it be?
  6. If you could live in any period of history, when would it be?
  7. If you could change anything about yourself, what would you change?
  8. If you could be someone else, who would you be?
  9. If you could have any question answered, what would it be?
  10. If you could watch your favorite TV show now, what would it be?
  11. If you could have any kind of pet, what would you have?
  12. If you could do your dream job 10 years from now, what would it be?
  13. If you had to be allergic to something, what would it be?
  14. If you sat down next to Jesus on a bus, what would you talk about?
  15. If money and time were not an issue, what would you be doing right now?
  16. If you had one day to live over again, what day would you pick?
  17. If you could eat your favorite food now, what would it be?
  18. If you could learn any skill, what would it be?
  19. If you were sent to live on a space station for three months and only allowed to bring three personal items with you, what would they be?
  20. If you could buy a car right now, what would you buy?

Faith Connection: Consider talking about some of these important “If” statements from the Bible

  • “Jesus said: ‘If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’
” -Matthew 21:22
  • Jesus said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”
-John 8:31
  • “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
-Romans 8:31

2. Masks

Supplies/Preparation: You will need crayons or paints, markers, scissors and a piece of white card stock per person for this activity.

How to play:

Give each young person a piece of white card. Ask them to draw and cut out a life- sized shape of a face. They can also cut out eyes and a mouth if they wish. Each young person is then asked to decorate their card face. One side represents what they think people see/know/believe about them i.e. on the outside. The other side represents what they feel about themselves i.e. things going on the inside, what people do not necessarily know or see.

This is best used in an established group where the young people are comfortable and at ease with each other. ‘Masks’ is also a good discussion starter on self-image and self- worth.

Faith Connection:

  •  “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” – Genesis 1:31
  • “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” –Matthew 7:15
  • “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” –Hebrews 13:8

3. Flags

Supplies/Preparation:  Provide large sheets of paper, crayons, markers and paints.  An option would be to have old magazines for cutting out pictures.

How to play:

Ask each young person to draw a flag which contains some symbols or pictures describing who they are, what’s important to them or what they enjoy.

Each flag is divided into 4 or 6 segments. Each segment can contain a picture i.e. favorite emotion, favorite food, a hobby, a skill, where you were born, your family, your faith. Give everyone 20 minutes to draw their flags. Ask some of the group to share their flags and explain the meaning of what they drew.

(Variation: you could make “coats of arms” instead.)

Faith Connection:

  • “May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory, flying banners to honor our God. May the LORD answer all your prayers.” –Psalm 20:5
  • “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil… take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness” –from Ephesians 6:10-17

4. Suddenly Stories

Supplies/Preparation: A method to record the conversation (cellphone, video camera or even a cassette recorder if you want to go old school)

How to play: The leader starts a story with a sentence that ends in SUDDENLY. The next person then has to add to the story with his own sentence that ends in SUDDENLY. Continue the story until everyone has contributed. The story becomes crazier as each young person adds their sentence. Tape it and play it back. For example; ‘Yesterday I went to the zoo and was passing the elephant enclosure when SUDDENLY…..’

Faith Connection:

  • Talk about any “suddenly” passages of the Bible, or when the disciples dropped their nets at once to follow Christ.
  • ”Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” Matthew 14:28
  • “There were shepherds camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” From Luke 2

5. Object Stories

Supplies: Collect together a number of random objects and place in a canvas bag. The objects can include everyday items i.e. a pencil, keys, cellphone, but also include some more unusual ones i.e. a fossil, a Christmas card, wig, random freebies from a convention, etc.  Optional: timer.

How to play:

Pass the bag around the group and invite each young person to dip their hand into the bag (without looking) and pull out one of the objects.

The leader begins a story which includes his object. After 20 seconds, the next person takes up the story and adds another 20 seconds, incorporating the object they are holding. And so on, until everyone has made a contribution to your epic literary tale.

Faith Connection:

  • This activity would work well to open a study on materialism or on stewardship.
  • “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given.” -Luke 19:26

6. Classic 20 Questions

Supplies: None

How to play:

Before you rule this one out, consider how you will make a “classic” game like this fresh and new by adding the faith component.  One player is selected to think of an item. The rest of the group tries to guess the item by asking a question which can only be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” Truthful answers only please,  anything else will ruin the game.

(A similar classic is “I Spy,” in which one player secretly spots an item and says “I spy something (color)” and everyone tries to guess the correct item.)

Faith Connection:  This would work well with a study on the mystery of God, how God reveals Himself through Scripture, etc.

  • “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation”. – James 5:12

7. Paper Airplane Fun

Supplies: A sheet of paper per person, optional markers/crayons for decorating. Optional prizes.

How to play: Create and decorate paper airplanes.  Come up with categories for the fun and award points for the best flights– farthest, straightest, highest, shortest flight, quickest divebomb, etc.  You could make targets or have participants try to get the planes through hoops.  Award points and remember that points are free so award them by the millions!

Faith Connection:

  • “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31
  • “I  have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize…” -Philippians 3:13

8. Newspaper Race

Supplies/Preparation: two sheets of newspaper per player, determine the race route

How to play: Each player must race to the turning point and back, stepping only on his or her newspapers.  Each player steps on one, lays the other paper down in front of him and steps on it, moves the first paper forward, steps on it and so on.

Faith Connection:

  • “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” -Hebrews 12:1
  • “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”  -Psalm 119:32
  • “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” -2 Timothy 4:7

9. Four Square

Supplies/Preparation: a flat, hard floor space where you can make a four square grid on the ground with chalk, duct tape, painters tape, paint.  Number squares 1-4.

How to Play:

1. The player in square 4 serves the ball by bouncing it in his square and tapping the ball into another square.

2. The player in that space must tap the ball (after one bounce) into another player’s area, and so on, until someone misses the ball, lets the ball bounce twice, or sends it out of the grid.

3. The player who misses the ball steps out and the remaining players rotate up through the numbered squares.

4. If you are playing with more than four players, a new player enters the game at square one.

5. The player who is out waits in line to re-enter the game once square 1 is open again.
 Whoever is now in square 4 serves the ball to resume play.

Faith Connection: The strategy in this game is to knock other people out, how do we knock people out to better our position in life?

  • “Whatever you do, do well.” Ecclesiastes 9:10

10. Horse

Supplies/Preparation: Need a basketball and basketball goal.

How to Play:

Players line up. The first player announces what shot he is going to make and takes his shot. If he misses, he goes to the end of the line. If he makes the basket, the next player must make the same shot. If the second player misses, he gets an ‘H’, and it is the next player’s turn to announce a shot and try to make it. Each time a player fails to make a shot that his predecessor made, he gets another letter until someone has spelled ‘horse’. At that point the player is out. The other players continue play until only one player is left.

Variations: If there are large differences in height, you may want to outlaw the dunk shot. Some players allow the player who has received the “E” one more shot to try to stay in the game. If longer or shorter games are desired, different words can be spelled (PIG, GOD, JESUS, GRACE, JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION)

Faith Connection:

  • You can play this game with any word, so pick a word that relates to your study or lesson.
  •  “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.” –James 3:3

Asking my Really Big Question

Hmmm...so what do you think about that?

I’m totally biased, but I kinda think my husband Dennis is a super genius.  (You don’t read these posts, do you, hon?  Don’t want a statement like that to go to your head.)  On his blog, blog.trainforpurpose.com,my husband wrote an inspiring post based on his time at TEDxAustin.  I will now attempt to interact with his post Learn this to change the world: Big Solutions REQUIRE a really big question first.

An introduction from Dennis:

I attended TEDxAustin this past weekend, and I really enjoyed and was inspired by all the people that came on the stage and how powerfully they we changing the world for the better. They say TED is about celebrating and spreading ideas, but I was struck by how much all of the speakers on the stage had DONE. just check out this speakers list :http://tedxaustin.com/TEDxAustin-2012-Program.pdf

A world record holder in free diving, Someone training dozens of doctors in Iraq, A recognized and awarded Musician and conductor, An accomplished photographer, Successful and energized urban renewal activist. These speakers had done a lot.

I was also struck by something else, the similar process they went through to get to where they were. I am going to try to distill what I heard down to a few points that seemed to recur frequently during their “Life in 18 min” talks.

First, See the bigger problem

Almost every speaker had a more or less common problem, experience and took a different or second look at it. And they saw something larger than what they were dealing with.

Michael McDaniel who looked beyond the news of Katrina and the sad pictures of the first few days and weeks and saw a huge injustice in the way people who had lost their homes were being housed.

David R. Dow who handles death row cases, looked beyond the problem of the trial and appeal process and said literally “how can I make this problem bigger?” and started to see the amazingly similar backgrounds and stories that make up the most common back story for 80% of the people currently on death row.

Chris Bliss, Who looked beyond the “10 commandments public display” controversy to find a truly mind boggling lack of the celebration of the bill of rights.

Taryn Davis, who saw beyond her own pain and loss to see that there is an entire generation of people, just like her, that did not have support, and even google could not figure out where to point them.

Luis von Ahn, who we saw pre-recorded, took a look at the success of his captcha technology and looked beyond that to see the tremendous amount of time that was being wasted daily on a global scale.

Jeremy Courtney, who looked beyond the one sad father that wanted him to help find his child a lifesaving surgery in America, to see the massive epidemic that was going on in Iraq.

So step one is to take a point of view that sees something bigger. It was often not sought out, but something that these speakers found themselves in. Some of them were people who had trained for years to be in the field, but the vast majority were people pursuing something else, and when they encountered a problem, took enough time to see the bigger problem behind it.

See the bigger problem.  So, if I am going to take step one to heart, I’ve gotta tell you that the big problem I see is too many broken people in youth ministry.  The people aren’t broken so much as they are abused by a system that will let them work with at best one day off a week, pay them poorly, criticize what they do and expect more than can be done.  I have more than a few friends who are talented, smart people full of love for Christ and young people that essentially got beat up by their churches.  It’s frustrating to hear about people leaving the church because members of the church or senior pastors think it is okay to dump on them.  No youth worker is perfect, no youth worker will ever be perfect.  But unlike ordained clergy, there is no system or  set of standards in place to protect youth workers from losing their jobs unexpectedly, from working crazy hours, from being criticized, from neglecting their own care.

Obviously this varies for every church.  I’ve seen churches with incredibly healthy ministries and healthy relationships between the student ministry staff & pastor as well as staff & congregation.  I get the sense that where there is ministry health it is directly related to the leadership of the church.

Step 2, Ask a really crazy bold question

I have written before about the power of questions. I have seen firsthand how powerfully the world can shift if you earnestly seek an answer to a good enough question.

Jeremy asked, how can I do something that will make sure that every child in Iraq that needs a lifesaving surgery can get it?

Taryn asked how she could help all the military widows reclaim their lives and identity and look forward to waking up?

David asked, What can we do as a society to prevent murder in the first place?

Michael asked, How can we provide descent emergency shelter that can be deployed anywhere it is needed in time to meet the need?

And most boldly of all was Luis, who asked the very powerful question, in the 10s on average that someone takes to do a captcha, can we get them to do something useful at the same time? The emphasis is mine. The genius of and thinking is really apparent there.

And what is amazing is that every person on the stage was well on their way to providing a definitive answer to these crazy questions. But they could not be where they were if they had not responded to seeing a bigger problem, by asking what must have seemed at the time to be an impossible question.

So be sure to ask yourself a question that will solve a problem in the most _________way possible.

(pick one or two here) Audacious, Impossible, Resolute, Passionate, Just, Permanent, Life-changing, Bold, Crazy, Immediate, Unexpected, Complete, Fearless, Imaginative, Powerful

We all solve problems every day, often we don’t look beyond the face of the problem presented, and if we do, we only use that insight into the bigger world to just solve our problem better. To live into a bigger destiny, you need to take those moments of insight into the bigger problems of the world, and make your problem bigger, ask a bigger question.

My big questions.  The word that rolls around in my head the most is ADVOCACY.  As in, who is an advocate for youth workers in the church?  Who is standing up for them?  How can I be a voice that reconciles the conflict between youth workers and their churches?  How can I communicate what is reasonable to expect from a person in youth ministry?

Step 3, You ARE the leader, Take action, Now

If you are going to ask the big questions, you also need to “get comfortable with the fact you will be a leader” that aspect was mentioned multiple times, by Chris regarding his monumental project for the bill of rights, Jason Roberts when talking about his projects in Oak Cliff, By Michael and by Jeremy. They might not have felt comfortable being the leader, they might not have had the experience to do this on paper, but they all leaned into the discomfort and looked around and saw that they were the leader that was needed.

Chris even mentioned a point where he was looked around the room, and found himself staring in the mirror, and how he knew at that point, if it was going to get done.. It was going to be him.

And then he took the leap, and so did the others. They made the commitment. They took the plunge and jumped, not into the know, but into the compelling unknown.

One of the speakers quoted W.H. Murray

 The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

I don’t believe I can improve on those words.

Whatever you are wrestling with starting today. Begin it now.

Hmmm.  So here I am.  A reluctant leader?  Or am I even by myself here with these questions?

Are great organizations like Simply Youth Ministry’s Simply Soul Care and We Love Our Youth Worker the only voices out there?  Who else is standing up for the youth worker and setting standards for youth workers and churches?

Anyone wrestling with these questions besides me?

And does anyone else dare to ask their own big questions?


Can Youth Ministry really be done in 4 Hours a Week?

In 2010, our youth ministry program offered some sort of youth program (be that Sunday school, youth group, special Bible studies, retreats, trips, etc.) on 205 of the 365 days in the year.  That is just counting the number of days, not the number of programs to account for when we offered 2-3 things in a day like Sunday School in the morning and various Sunday evening programs…it was probably about 255 programs in a year.    Almost all of the programs offered were led by adults – either myself, another staff person or adult volunteers.  We had a fantastic youth leadership team and the students gave input on our plans, but if I’m really honest, most of the planning was done in our offices and most of the details were taken care of by staff.  If I say so myself, it was very professional looking, details got taken care of, we had a cool logo and everything.  I think it was run by adults because that’s what we believed we were expected to do & if it succeeded or failed, we got to hear about that first.

It wasn’t until I read the book “4-Hour Youth Ministry – Escaping the Trap of Full-Time Youth Ministry” by Timothy Eldred that I got the courage to stop the insanity.

Now, for years I’ve been on the bandwagon for having a student led ministry.  As a youth minister, I believe my job is to coach students how to develop their own gifts and to do their own ministry.  The young people I’ve known are talented, gifted, amazing, creative.  We did increase the amount of student leadership in the church, but I am almost embarrassed to admit how much of the ministry work I did when I should have been coaching students to run the show.

Tim’s book reminded me that my calling was not to run a program, essentially being like a wedding planner for youth events.  I knew this in my heart already, but I found myself caught up in working really hard to make sure programs were successful.  Sometimes implied and sometimes clearly stated, my success or failure was measured by how many people showed up, so I wanted everything to be perfect, welcoming, cool, whatever it needed to be so more people would come, and bring friends, too.

Tim points out the obvious – it’s about relationships.  And relationships don’t grow as well when you’re at a desk planning programs.  And the probably best way students can learn ministry is to do ministry first-hand.  So after lots of prayer and discussion as a staff team, we changed our ways of doing things.  We came to our student leaders with a blank summer calendar, talked about our purpose as a youth ministry, and asked the student leaders to prayerfully decide what the summer calendar would look like.  As they selected each event, they decided which students would be leading it, when they would plan the details, how they would promote it.  You could feel the excitement grow as they realized that they were really going to be in charge.

When you’ve got a team of students responsible for greeting new students and making them feel welcome, another team in charge of each aspect of the program…and you can even leave the room with no worries, that’s a beautiful thing.

Did I end up doing youth ministry in 4 hours a week after reading the book?  Maybe not immediately, but things are definitely in a healthier place.

Book review in short: it’s excellent.  It takes about 4 hours to read.  It may change your life in a very healthy way.

What if we threw away our curriculum and just used the Bible?

Last night at the Senior high Bible study I teach, I did a revolutionary thing.  Instead of coming into the class with a lesson plan full of activities, skits, handouts, etc., I brought the Bible.

Here’s how it worked:

We opened to a book of the Bible (Jonah – which is hard to find, so we used the Table of Contents).

I talked briefly about the background of the book to set the scene.

I asked for volunteers, and a youth read Chapter 1.  We talked about it verse by verse.  What do you think was going on in Jonah’s heart?  What must the Ninevites have done to get that reaction from Jonah?  What does this text say about the nature of God?  (What we concluded: God is powerful, creative, merciful, answers prayers and has a sense of humor.)  I had done some research ahead of time, so I added a little bit of information from scholars on the text.

Then we moved on to Chapter 2 and did the same thing.

At the end of the evening, we did what we always do.  We closed in prayer and passed out a little card with a Bible verse (Jonah 2:1-2) on it.  If the youth memorize it and can recite it next week, they get candy.  Maybe this is bribery, but I say it’s worth it if I get youth thinking about Scripture and getting it embedded in their thinking.

Here’s what we got from the lesson:

Incredible conversation.  The ability to discuss it without worrying about the theology of the author.  Depth.  Laughter.  Youth listening to youth.

Here’s why it’s revolutionary:

I have shelves of youth ministry curriculum in my office.  I tend to use it like a crutch or a lifeline.  Instead of relying on my own creativity and knowledge, I just grab the book of the shelf, pick what looks fun, look at the supply list and try to recreate someone’s learning scenario.  It’s not bad or inherently evil or anything, but it’s also not awesome.  It feels like creating entertainment more than creating engagement.   What I’ve learned is there is beauty in the simplicity of just reading the Bible and discussing it.  The youth agreed.

So my question/challenge for youthworkers out there: What would youth ministry look like if we made the Bible our main source of curriculum?  How would this change the face of youth ministry?  Pros/cons?  What keeps you from doing this?