Archive for the ‘youth ministry’ Category


Programs or Relationships

April 9, 2010

There has been a shift going on all over the country in youth ministry- in ministry in general, I think. This shift has been a shift away from programs and toward relational ministry. This is good, it is needed, and it is vital that we recognize real change and growth come out of relationships not programs. (Programs can open the door to these things but it is through ongoing relationships that they truly develop).

This is easier said than done though. It’s so easy to slip into programming and call it relational ministry (small groups for example can be excellent means for relational ministry or just as easily become just another part of the program of the youth ministry). I feel frustrated and also blessed to be in a position where we have no choice but to re-evaluate the entire premise and foundation of the youth ministry.

When I started here we had about 40 kids on the roster for youth ministry and about 25 regularly attending youth group. This year we have about 25 kids on the youth ministry roster and about 20 attending regularly. Next year we are going to have about 20 on the roster and unless we change things I do not think we will have even 15 regularly attending. So where do we go? Do we redefine programming and push relational ministry through programs, or do we scrap programming and just focus on relational ministry?

I have been pleasantly surprised by the church’s response to our decreasing numbers. So far they have been supportive, saying that there will be small times and big times. I agree, and I’m not really that worried about the group decreasing in size at this point. But I think we have an excellent opportunity presenting itself to us. With only 20 kids in the church in the age group for the youth ministry we can really work on building solid relationships with them. We can go to games, plays, musical performances. We can take kids out for hot chocolate or dinner or invite families over for dinner or visit families for dinner. We can do these things without feeling overwhelmed because 20 kids is not too many for 5 adults to truly build relationships with. But will the church agree that eliminating most programming is still doing youth ministry? I presented my idea for next year with my pastor and I said that I was going to meet with parents, kids, and leaders and get feed back on my ideas. And he thought that was a good idea. But he didn’t really give me any idea what he thought of the actual plan.

Here’s what I would like to see us doing next year. Perhaps you have some feedback from similar experiences that you can share.

Meet every other Sunday for a time of worship with the whole group. A short lesson and discussion will follow this time. Adult leaders will help lead the discussion and worship, but their primary task will be meeting with each student in their “group” at least once between our worship times. What that specifically looks like is up to them- going to a game, concert, play, etc.; having kids over for dinner; taking a couple kids to coffee; organizing a service opportunity for the kids in their “group”. Essentially, in place of more activities and youth group time with everyone each adult leader should view their role as being a one-on-one mentor, even though not all interactions will be one-on-one.

Have you tried something like this? How did it work? Have you thought about how we can make youth ministry more relational and less program focused?


Unimportant Numbers

October 6, 2009

I’ve been struggling with “numbers” this year. Just read a great post about how we can have great youth ministry no matter how many (or few) youth we have. Check it out here.


Serving the Needy

August 10, 2009

I spent the weekend back in Holland, MI where I grew up. As I drove to my parents’ house I passed by a big CRC church with a banner plastered over their normal sign “Welcome Serve!” Serve is the CRC’s summer mission trips. After seeing the sign I asked my sister what she thought there might be to do in Holland- a nice though economically struggling small lake side town. We both drew blanks- I mean it’s Holland, the worst places are the migrant villages, right?

My entire family was back in Holland for the weekend because of a wedding. While there we went over to my grandparents’ house for lunch and as we pulled up we immediately noticed that the dark brown house was now a much lighter gray color. “Who painted their house?” A group of kids here for the week through “Serve”. Hmmm. I guess that’s the work that people do in Holland when they come.

My grandpa had a stroke a couple years ago and now my grandma spends pretty much all her time helping him so they don’t have time for their garden/yard/house like they used to. Not that they would have been able to paint their house anyway with their age. They were surprised because they didn’t have to pay for anything- not surprised about the free labor, they knew about that part, but surprised because the paint was donated and people came around to clean up the garbage after each day of work. I think they were very amused by watching the kids outside painting each other as much as the house and enjoyed having them inside for a snack each day. I have no doubt the people who worked at their house made a lasting impression on them.

However, they didn’t really need it. Several times a year all their kids get together and take care of all the stuff they need taken care of- yard work, house repairs, painting, etc. They have plenty of money to pay for what needs to be paid for (both my grandparents and the kids) and they certainly have people who are willing and able to do the work that is needed. Don’t get me wrong, I and they are grateful for the people who came and painted (and scraped, ick scraping) their house. It needed to be done and they certainly couldn’t do it themselves. But it makes me wonder about mission trips.

What is the purpose? Who are we going to serve? Does it matter if we are serving dedicated Christian people who have the means to get the work done themselves or not? How easy is it for us to over look those in our own communities in need but not in desperate need?

I have seen desperate need- I have seen the people who depend on food pantries and volunteers to come paint and free clinics to make ends meet. There is more need than can be met right now. So should we focus on them and let those who can make it on their own make it on their own? I was feeling like we should, until I read¬†today about Mary puring expensive perfume over Jesus and his response to those who criticized her “Leave her alone! She has done this to prepare me for the day I will be placed in a tomb. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you.” (John 12:8) Sure, this is about Jesus being prepared for burial, but I think we can also take away from it that it’s not always about reaching the people in the most need, sometimes it is important to serve those who simply have a need. It’s still service, it’s still meeting a need, it’s still sharing the love of Christ with others. What do you think?

And to those who will never see this but gave a week of their summer to head to my grandparents’ house and work- thank you. You made a difference by your actions.


Selfish Service

July 28, 2009

10 years ago I took my first trip to NYC with my high school youth group. We loaded up two big vans with people and stuff and drove 12 hours to Staten Island, NY. Staten Island is the forgotten burro of NYC. We spent the week working in a soup kitchen, food pantry, women/children shelter, and more. I remember this trip but not all the details of our time serving.

Last week I took my second trip to Staten Island. This time leading a group of 16 youth in a week of serving. We did the same sort of work, soup kitchen, food pantry, family shelter, half way housing (not the drug/alcohol kind, but the homeless to independent living kind) and more. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older now or what the reason is but this time around I feel like I am walking away with a much greater understanding of homelessness.

I don’t know if I could do it. The people we served were so grateful and kind even as they had to come into a soup kitchen for a hot meal or the food pantry to get enough food to feed their family for the month. They looked at us like we were giving up something to go and work there, when really what did we give up? Not much.

We were sleeping on fairly comfortable mats in a highly air conditioned room (the AC was on b/c people wanted to sleep in their sleeping bags not just under sheets). We were showering in a nice shower stall even though we had to share one shower with 20 people. We had plenty of food, and good food at that. No one really had to pay much money at all for the trip due to fundraising and most of the kids preferred to be in NYC serving for the week than working their normal summer jobs. We had money in our pockets for buying whatever we wanted (italian ice every night, anyone?) and many had bought new outfits just before leaving for the week to wear into Manhatten when we went sight seeing. Sacrifice- not really.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t do something worthwhile during our time. The work we did was truly needed. They would have been very shorthanded and crazy busy if we weren’t there to help out for the week. We did a lot of good work helping serve food and painting buildings that needed a fresh breath of life. We engaged with children and brought a great spirit to every activity we did. But we didn’t sacrifice. I don’t know what it would take for me to be willing to walk through the door to the soup kitchen. To do that you have to be willing to admit you need help. You have to admit you cannot make it on your own. You have to humble yourself and ask for someone to take care of your needs. I think we all could benefit from a time of need, but there is no way I would ever willingly go there. When you need you learn that in reality we can’t provide for ourselves. Even you and me who are well fed and able to buy our own food and have a comfortable place to go home to at night are reliant on God. When in need you truly understand this. I don’t think I totally get it right now.

What am I saying? I don’t know that I am even willing to do this, but I think if we are truly going to be servants then when we go for a week to serve we need to sacrifice. We need to say I’m going to give up some comforts in order to truly serve. Maybe I’m going to go without italian ice every night and instead use that money to buy food for the food pantry. Maybe I’m going to forget about buying a new outfit for myself and instead buy a new outfit for someone who actually needs it. Maybe I’m going to go without air conditioning and give my sleeping bag to someone who is sleeping on the ground. These are things I look back upon and wonder why we didn’t do something more while we were there. Why didn’t I skip italian ice and give needed food to the pantry? Why didn’t I offer my blanket to someone who needed it more than me? Why did I walk right past the buckets collecting money for the homeless in Manhatten without even giving a quarter? It’s because I am too self-focused. It wasn’t until I was back at home comfortable that I realized how little I had actually given up. It wasn’t until I was home that I was willing to allow myself to see how much more I could have given if I had only been willing to sacrifice. I hope next time I will make myself see how selfish I am being in my serving. And I hope that now I will be more generous to those around me every day. I hope.

By the way, if you are looking for a great affordable service option you should definitely check out Project Hospitality, we had a wonderful experience working with them.



June 24, 2009

I am a pretty laid back easy going person. Very little really gets to me in a big way, but for some reason my brother has always been the one person who I have zero tolerance for. You may be thinking this is completely normal, and to some extent I agree. However, we were, and to some degree still are, beyond the normal. Here are a few examples:

- When we were both in middle school my parents left us home alone for a couple of hours. When they returned home there was a hole in the wall where the remote had been chucked at my brothers head.

- Again when my parents were gone…We had only one bathroom for a number of years and my brother decided to lock himself in it. I had to use the bathroom and after about an hour I banged on the door until it broke. That door became the door to the laundry room and still is broken.

- After yelling and screaming for a few minutes I slammed the door to my room and locked myself in. So my brother went and got a saw and sawed through the door. Seriously

So those are just a few more extreme examples, but I am sure you can imagine what it was like on a regular basis. I was thinking about this the other day when thinking about the siblings we have in youth group here. I’m not sure how my youth leader dealt with my brother and I, who had no problem getting into screaming/hitting matches even at church (I never started them, but I never stopped them either). If I had kids that fought like that I’m not sure what I would do, pull out my hair in frustration probably. You can seperate kids, but that doesn’t really solve anything long term. What would have worked for me and my brother? I’m not sure anything would have really worked- we could have been kicked out of youth group, but that also isn’t a great solution. What do you do when you have siblings or friends who are fighting at youth group?

By the way, my brother still knows how to push all my buttons, and although we don’t scream and yell and hit and break doors anymore I rarely spend large amounts of time with him without getting angry about something. Oh well, I guess that’s just the way it is


Good cop, bad cop…which are you?

April 28, 2009

This post on SCL made me smile. Maybe it will make you smile as well.


Twilight Religion

April 8, 2009

I’m way behind the times. Just over a week ago I read “Twilight” for the first time. I didn’t expect to like it- I’ve never really gotten excited about romance novels and I certainly have never enjoyed the weird science fiction type stories that I would characterize vampires as fitting into. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I actually really enjoyed “Twilight” and went ahead and bought the other three books. I often get caught up in a story and forget to go to sleep until my eyes won’t focus or stay open anymore. This happened as I read books two and three. I’m almost done with the last one now.

When I was in high school I had a truly frightening experience. My best friend started dating a Mormon guy, and she decided she wanted to be a Mormon. We wrote letters back and forth for weeks discussing theology. I talked to my youth leader about my worries. I talked to my Mormon friends about what they believed- a lot. Most lunches were spent discussing the differences between the Mormon church, the Episcopal church, and the protestant/Reformed church. I feel like I have a pretty solid idea what Mormon’s believe. I respect their stand even as I fiercely deny they are Christian. My friend and her boyfriend broke up and it didn’t take long for her to return to Christian teachings. Although, to this day she struggles with what she actually believes regarding the Trinity.

“Twilight” seemed like a nice story about relationships. But the more I read of the books the more I was bothered by the little things that seemed to creep in. The Mormon ideas influencing the story. I wanted to ignore them, and they are actually pretty easy to ignore. But as a youth leader I was bothered by the idea that these books might be planting the seed that would cause the youth in my life to turn away. I don’t think the books in and of themselves are bad. I just feel like ideas might be permeating their subconcious and making them more susceptable to these problems in the future.

I would love to take some of the ideas of the story and apply them to our Christian walk, at least when it comes to the girls in the group. But I worry that by taking these concepts and using them to illistrate ideas of the Christian faith I am actually opening the door to greater confusion because when you pull the idea all the way around as shown in the books it ends up becoming distinctly Mormon. Perhaps that’s the answer. Maybe I’ll do a “Twilight” series with the girls talking about Mormonism and Christianity and explaining the frightening similarities and even more troublesome differences.

What have you done with Twilight? Have you read the books? How are you addressing your concerns?


A Silent Shout Out

April 1, 2009

Part of our Sr. High program is small groups. Each small group has 4-8 youth and 2 leaders. It’s hard for me because this is part of things where I have very little involvement- I meet with the leaders, I offer insight, but I try to stay “hands off” and let the leaders do what they want with the group. I want to do a better job pouring into leaders, but I’m still trying to figure out the best ways to go about doing this. However, I was reminded today of how important these small groups are.

In all honesty, 3 of our 4 small groups are just okay- there isn’t a great depth in them, the relationship between youth and leaders isn’t that great, and the groups aren’t seeming to grow as much as I would like. That said, if every small group was like this one I would be thrilled. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it’s working.

The leaders are the reason. They are fantastic. They give and give and give some more. They are at tennis matches and softball games. They go to choir concerts and plays. They have the girls over for dinner, or take them out after an activity. They give up a weekend to go away and just have fun with crazy high schoolers. They have families and jobs and responsibilities, but they never flinch when asked to give more. And by showing they truly care about the girls in their group, they have facilitated a bond not only between themselves and the girls, but among the girls themselves. Sure, some nights there is little spiritual discussion being had, but when it is happening, it’s real- true struggles, honest questions, real desire for growth.¬† But most importantly (in my opinion), if any of the girls in the group had a problem or issue or concern and needed someone to talk to, I know they wouldn’t hesitate to text or call or show up on the doorstep of one of their leaders.

Now, how do we raise up more leaders like these ones? More people who will sacrifice to make room for a group of young men or women. More people who will not hesitate to pour into the lives of youth and help build those connections that never truly die.


Worship and Religiosity

March 17, 2009

My pastor gave me an article from “Reformed Worship” about what keeps youth in the church- actually, that was the survey the article was based on, the article itself is more about the result. The strongest idicator of youth’s religiosity was their involvement in leading worship. This was determined based on a survey of nearly 200 youth- 118 of these having attended church at some point in the past year. Now, forgive me as I evaluate this based on some basic psychology rules. The article runs with this indicator of worship leading as the cause of greater religiosity. However, there is no evidence for a causal relationship. In fact, I would say that if one causes the other it would be religiosity causes greater participation in worship leading. Now, I say this with my psychology knowledge being limited to the classes required to complete a psych major, and the article is written by a psychology professor, but it just seems like by saying getting youth more involved in worship will make them more religious is backwards.

Perhaps what the study and article both show us is that by providing opportunities and placing a certain expectation on youth we are laying the foundation for their ability to connect with and be involved with church post-high. I would love to see more youth involved in our services- I would like to see the bar raised not just for youth, but for all members of the church. Because it is when we come to see ourselves as the church instead of attending a church that the greatest transformation and Christ-like living can occur.


Alienating People

March 16, 2009

From before I was 3 until the summer I came here I belonged to the same church. The church, like the majority of reformed churches was unbalanced by age- there were a lot more people with gray hair than without. When I graduated high school I was the only high school graduate still attending the church. My Sunday School class from kindergarten through middle school was 5 people- 3 girls, 2 guys.

Despite all this, my freshmen year of high school I was part of a decent size youth group. There were over 30 people in the group- fewer than 10 actually attended the church. My fellow youth would sometimes swear, they talked about partying and they showed little respect for the church building. I often felt uncomfortable with the way they would act in church, although the actual behavior wasn’t so odd to me since I had always gone to a public school.

My sophomore year I was part of a youth group of fewer than 10 people. This is not because more than 20 people graduated. This is because the parents of the youth from the church said they didn’t like the negative influence the kids from outside the church were having. In college, perhaps before college even, I decided that when I was youth leader I was going to make sure kids from the church and outside the church were equally welcome at youth group.

Today I have kids from outside my specific church building, but I have virtually no youth from outside the church. I highly doubt that anyone coming in from outside the church would feel welcome here. I would love to have the diversity, but I don’t know how to create a space for it. Too few of these kids have practical experience relating with other youth with no church background, I don’t know how to make our space friendly to those outside. But I do know that I never want to be party to alienating anyone from the church.


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