Check out this special episode of the This Week in Youth Ministry podcast! Terrace Crawford hosts a roundtable discussion with Mark DeVries, Scott Pontier, and Stephanie Caro on Reimagining Young Adult Ministry! How do we reach millennials? Should Youth Ministries operate differently than they (currently) do? PLUS+ we’ve got great resources to help you grow your ministry!
Archives for May 2018
A VBS Gift
By Stephanie Caro
Like a speeding train you couldn’t stop if you wanted to, it’s almost here! The moment many churches wait all year for: Vacation Bible School! Funny title, right? There’s nothing “vacation” about it, at least not for all the dedicated leaders who pull it off every year. There’s “tired” and then there’s “VBS tired.” But every moment is SO worth it. When the sounds of children echo the halls in real time, there’s no better joyful noise. Between the children we see every week and those we see only once a year, whenever God’s name (Love) is demonstrated – it’s worth every single body ache and ounce of fatigue.
From my years of consulting with churches, I’ve found there’s not much to improve upon during the actual week itself. You’ve got this! But where I’ve seen some churches miss the mark is in the follow-up after the big week is over. So, I’ve created a game plan you can use for maximizing the outreach long after the markers have been capped and the glue has dried. Enjoy!
VBS Visitor Follow-up Game Plan
- All Children’s Ministry Teachers/Key Department Leaders/Staff are on board with the first timer process and have signed off.
Calendar Space Needed:
- 15 minutes at one VBS teacher training and/or email with response required. Goal is to ensure that all adults are oriented to the process.
- May Meetings: VBS team, Sunday school team, CM Leader Team. To set up plans for follow-up before VBS.
- August Meetings: Same as above with the purpose of evaluation and planning follow-up event.
- Plan a “Back-to-school,” “Fall Kick-Off” or “VBS Reunion” event where all kids from VBS come back for a fun, energetic 2-hour program. The program elements will include a video/slide show from VBS, a look at the fall CM ministry, a craft, game time, snack, songs from VBS, etc.
- A database of visitors updated and distributed to all key adults and staff following the VBS week.
- Sunday School database.
- Church Members/Family database.
Children’s Ministry Staff Responsibilities:
- Ensure that all VBS Leaders are prepared to give special attention and provide an intentional welcoming climate for all visitors, particularly first timers. They are especially on the lookout for the parents of first timers/visitors.
- Ensure that online registration forms indicate “first time family” or “visiting family.”
- Create a First Timer Card that will effectively collect information about that child/family and is emailed upon registration of a first-timer.
- Ensure that First Timer/Visitors Cards are available for all Sunday school teachers, children’s ministry volunteers, and any other weekly school year CM program leaders.
- Ensure that all first-time visitors’ parents complete a first timer card.
- Ensure that, in each weekly ministry program and every special event, that at least one volunteer is responsible for distributing and collecting first timer cards.
- Be sure that all first timer cards make their way back to the age-level director who will follow up.
- Within three days of an event where a first timer has attended, generate a letter to be sent to all first-time visitor families & mail before the end of the week.
- Work with the Children’s Ministry data management person to ensure that first timer contact info is put into the system.
- Work with the Children’s Ministry data management person to re-categorize all names on the visitor directory when needed as they either fall away or attend regularly (based on attendance information).
- Work with volunteers and staff on an ongoing basis to create an increasingly welcoming environment for each program of the children’s ministry.
- Transfer all completed first timer cards within 24 hours to correct age-level director.
- Make a call or send an email to all occasional and regular visitors each month.
Children’s Ministry Administrative or Data Management Staff Responsibilities
- Update the database monthly, placing each person on the database in one of the following categories:
- Visited only once
- Occasional Visitor (Visited six or less visits in the previous three months)
- Regular Visitor (has attended at least seven times in the previous three months)
- Each month, give the staff a list of all occasional and regular visitors (for follow up contact).
- Maintain attendance records for all weekly children’s ministry events.
- Add “regular visitors” to the ministry mailing list, to receive the same ministry mailings that all children’s families receive.
- Keep a hard copy back up of all completed first timer cards.
- Ensure that the entire visitor database receives invitations to “bring a friend” community events.
- Personalize and mail a letter for all first-time visitors within one week of their first visit.
- Create first timer card
- Determine what software the children’s ministry will use for its visitor database
- Draft welcome letter
Schedule volunteer leader training in which volunteers will be trained in their responsibilities in the first timer process.
Let’s talk about it – youth ministry budgets. If we could all be honest, not many of us are rolling in the youth ministry dough. Most likely, you’re living on a shoestring budget and organizing, once again, the annual spaghetti dinner, pancake supper and car wash so your students can go to camp and have a new couch in the youth room that’s not from 1972.
When I was a kid my dad always told me, “Heather, money doesn’t grow on trees.” I wish my dad’s statement wasn’t true, because if it wasn’t, I’d ask for a youth ministry money tree this year for Christmas. If you know my dad, he is a very hard-working man. Every dollar to him mattered. To him, it wasn’t a dollar to waste, but one to steward well. You and I are in a similar situation, wanting to be good stewards of our youth ministry budget, but also getting really tired of all the fundraisers we have to do just to keep the ship running at full speed.
Here’s a few tips to keep things running smoothly (dad approved) without taxing your budget.
- Contact local businesses to see if they can offer free things for outreach events. I can’t tell you how many free slurpees, ice cream cones and hamburgers I’ve gotten from doing this.
- Do your research before you buy. Some businesses look to get rid of nearly brand-new stuff. I used to get day old donuts for free from the local grocery store and Panera Bread too. They give all their bagels and breads away for free at the end of each day. All it takes is a phone call and a quick ask. Other places are looking to sell nearly new furniture, too, for next to nothing.
- Utilize your congregation. Does anyone own a business, work for the school or have a heart to go above and beyond? Keeping things within your budget is all about playing it smart. Building relationships and making connections with your church congregation brings people on your side. You’ll find more often than not, as long as you’re not just using them for free stuff, people will be quick to come alongside of you. I’ve gotten buses, hundreds of apples, trailers, tons of food, and school gyms all for free or nearly nothing thanks to this approach.
- Find fun things to do that don’t tax your budget. Bringing in Lecrae for your next big youth event would be cool, but is it necessary? What about a local Christian band the kids love or something as simple as a dodgeball tournament or movie night? Kids care more about the relationships that are being formed than they do about the thing they’re doing.
Before you fire up the engines for the next spaghetti dinner, think about applying some of these principles if you’re looking to become a budget savvy youth ministry.
Have you ever been part of a BIG building project – one that required real blueprints? Or have you ever been involved in site development for a multi-building plan for a park or camp? I’ve always loved building things, and along the way I’ve learned that every really good result starts with a really good plan.
A Great Result Starts with a Great Plan
Your youth ministry really is a big project, and if you want it to accomplish what you sincerely feel God is calling you to accomplish, then you’re going to want to give your planning a high-quality shot. Let me give you an example …
About five years ago my family realized that it was the right time for us to build a new home. As my wife and I were both nearing retirement, we knew we would need to plan for that part of our lives. Our three children were completing their schooling and entering the workforce. We had to decide (and plan) what we wanted this new home to “do” for us.
So we started with some ideas:
- Home is where the family gathers, and we wanted our home to be a place that family members would enjoy bringing their friends (or families in the future).
- We wanted an informal home – no sacred, seldom-used living room and no formal dining room.
- We love the outdoors and wanted to engage the outdoors as part of our plan. It’s one of the best ways that we stay connected to God.
- We wanted to use natural building materials and colors that would be a natural fit for the wooded lot which we had bought earlier.
These were some of the things that we wanted our home to do for us, and after researching a number of plans, ideas, and styles, we began to work with a design engineer who developed our blueprints – sixteen pages of plans on paper that it would take to build the home for which we hoped. By doing that kind of careful planning we were able to pull it off!
So What Do You Want Your Youth Ministry to Do for the Kingdom? What Will Your House Look Like?
Maybe you have a really good answer to that question… maybe you don’t. But you have to know the answer to that question before you can really build a great youth ministry.
What are the ideas that are a part of your youth ministry house?
- Maybe your youth ministry is worship driven, and you want a large space with a stage and lots of electronic possibilities.
- Maybe you want a mission-driven house where you need storage for food or clothing drives.
- Maybe your youth ministry house needs lots of spaces to accommodate small groups or breakout sessions.
- Maybe you want an athletic ministry centered around sports teams.
- Maybe you need more of a concert house to accommodate a music-oriented ministry.
- Maybe your setting calls for a youth ministry centered on the outdoors – camping, rafting, canoeing, hiking, or rock climbing.
- Maybe yours is a skateboard ministry.
There are all sorts of youth ministry houses you know…
If you are struggling with what kind of youth ministry house is right for you, you might consider bringing in an outside firm to help you explore that question in order to find out what is just right for you and your ministry.
But that’s just the first page of the blueprints…
Sixteen Pages… Really?
I don’t think I can come up with all sixteen, but each of those pages in our family house plan was geared toward a specific thing. The front page gave a picture of the end result, but all of those other pages described what it would take to get there. Those pages described things like: dirt work to prepare the lot for building, footings, foundation, plumbing, electrical, framing, roof trusses, roofing, masonry, landscaping, and others to reflect the second floor.
But the blueprint for your youth ministry house needs lots of pages, too. You may have a picture of what you’re shooting for, but you’ll also need to plan for some specific things. You’ll need a facilities page, a budget page, a staffing page, a volunteer page, a leadership training page, a policies and procedures page, a transportation page, a communications page, an administrative page… you see what I mean.
But here’s the thing… they all have to fit together!
Think of Your Blueprint in Layers
So, let’s suppose that you have determined the right type of youth ministry house for you. Imagine that you are looking down at the top of your youth ministry house from about 300 feet up… don’t get scared now.
For an example, let’s say that you need a youth ministry house that allows you to focus on one large worship gathering for 130 youth, but you also want to break out into twelve small groups (two gender-based groups for each grade). Of course, youth ministry is complex, but we’ll keep this simple.
- Start with the facilities page – It might look like one large hub with smaller spaces around the edges for small groups.
- Now fold over the staffing page – maybe it has a lead youth minister, a half-time worship leader, a half-time small group coordinator, and a full-time administrative assistant.
- Fold over the volunteer page – it probably includes band members, production volunteers, small group leaders, hospitality folks, etc.
- The budget page – there will be a commitment to sound equipment, video projection, and lighting in that budget, as well as to small group curriculum, and salaries, as a start.
There are lots of pages, but they should basically all look similar from 300 feet up. They should all reflect the same priorities and values, each layer reflecting the same commitments and goals, folding in on top of each other in full support of one another.
The youth ministry house begins to get scary when either a part of the ministry does not fit in with the rest of the blueprints or when the ministry begins to feel stuck in a house that will not accommodate what a ministry really feels led to be and do.
Build a Great House By Starting with a Great Plan
So get that great youth ministry house picture in your head. Imagine it from 300 feet overhead and start building from the ground up, adding layer after layer of just the right things that reflect what is needed for your particular house. And stick to the plan!
If you get stuck, call me. I love to build things!
Renée Wilson, Staff Consultant & Search Specialist
Don’t worry. This isn’t another article on “reaching” that awful generation that just won’t seem to go away. (fun facts: sarcasm is a love language. And I’m a Millennial.)
No, no. THIS is a word on how to work with those who are now a part of “the largest generation in the U.S. labor force.” (source: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/)
Because Millennials have officially surpassed their predecessors in the workplace – and you probably have, or soon will have, a few on your staff – you need to understand the not-so-secret secret about these 35 and unders: They. Are. Different. Different things matter to them. Most importantly, they believe THEY matter. And aren’t just a cog in a system that needs to continue producing __________ (fill in the blank).
But here’s the interesting thing: the system still matters. Did you know that Millennials are willing to take a $7,600 pay cut in their annual salary JUST to be in a job with a better “quality of work life”? (source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryalton/2017/06/20/how-millennials-are-reshaping-whats-important-in-corporate-culture/#5e330d522dfb)
Their value of culture, their fight for appropriate work-life balance, their deep want to experience purpose – these MUST be considered on our staffs if we want to attract this new generation – and retain them.
Aw, yes, the “r” word. Retention. Does that matter to you? Employee transitions not only affect an organization financially (source: https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/importance-of-employee-retention), there’s a relational impact, as well. When someone leaves, this has the potential to influence engagement of your primary stakeholders (for ex., children or youth in a ministry), forward progress towards the vision (if the transitioning employee is in charge of multiple initiatives on their own), and, depending on your rate of turnover, congregational trust in leadership.
A simple place to start might be in your job descriptions. Seth Godin, author and former dot com business tycoon, recently offered some ideas with the Millennial generation in mind. Found here (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2018/04/missing-from-your-job-description.html) one might suspect older generations would find these suggestions superfluous and needy. While younger generations would probably say “now you’re talking!”. The former might argue that this list is not vital to productivity. While the latter could easily counter with “some of these are essential to me working at my best.”
Here’s the thing: Both viewpoints can be right! But that’s not the real question you need to be asking. The real question is: Can you identify the culture of your workplace? Is your staff talking about this – and is everyone on the same page? Could you define your office environments and staff community to a new applicant? And could you identify what characteristics you’re looking for in a new hire, specifically related to their ability to connect with current staff? Taking it one step further, do you have a way to vet these characteristics in an interview process?
Just as much as you’re looking for the right-fit candidate, they’re looking for a right-fit, as well. So what’s your next move in figuring out what makes your team worth being a part of?
It’s summer, which means it’s time for cookouts, pools, youth camps, and internships. Every summer, youth ministries all over the country host interns in some form or fashion. Maybe they’re paid, but more often they’re volunteer. Maybe they’re seminary students, or maybe they’re graduating seniors from your youth ministry. Regardless of who they are and what stage of life they’re in, the key to having great interns is having a great program.
If you have interns but don’t have a strong program, then one of a few things will happen. For starters, you may not have interns in the future. Word will travel about the quality of your program. The fastest way to make sure you won’t have an internship program in the future is to have a poor one now. If you continue to have interns, you’ll probably attract less than stellar individuals. So if the key to having great interns is to have a great program, how in the world do you put a great program together?
I’ve had interns on and off for years now. I’ve had programs in vastly different sized churches and cultures. Through my experience with interns (both good and bad) I’ve come up with five keys to a solid intern program, and I want to share them with you. Having interns and developing them well is not just good for you and your church, it’s good for the big “C” Church. It’s a place to raise up the next generation of youth workers, youth pastors, and church staff. It’s precisely because of this that we owe it to ourselves, our churches, and our students to do it well. So here are five keys I’ve found to having a great intern program.
5 Keys to a Great Intern Program
#1: Use applications and interviews.
This may seem simple, but it’s an absolute game changer in my opinion. If you want to have a great intern program, start by putting together a great application process. Our application gets the applicant’s information and includes a page of leadership questions. It also requires two written references from adults. After completing the application, potential interns go through a series of two interviews. I try to make these interviews happen with two different people. Our interns currently interview first with our pastor of leadership and development. If they get his recommendation, then they interview with me. It’s a lot, but it’s worth it.
So why do we make it such a process? Well, it’s because I believe it separates those who are serious and those who aren’t. If they’re not willing to go through the process & paperwork, they won’t be ready for the internship. A good application and interview process will help get the right people for your program.
#2: Have a plan.
This step is possibly the most overlooked by most youth pastors. You get a few interns. They turn out to be good and talented people, but you don’t know what to do with them. You are busy and don’t have time to teach them a lot, so they end up doing busy work the entire summer. Does this sound familiar? It does to me. I’ve seen it time and time again with youth pastors, and it used to be my story.
If you don’t have a plan for how to use your interns, they’ll end up frustrated, under used, and devalued. This could be the most important part of the process. So before you start an intern program, come up with a clear written plan for how you will use them. Doing this right will take more of your time, so make sure you have a plan to set aside time to spend with them as well. When it comes to internships, remember this: if you have a good plan, they will have a good experience!
#3: Be intentional about development.
The primary goal of an intern program should not be getting work out of people, but developing them. Developing people won’t happen by accident though, it has to be intentional. Part of your plan for interns should be how you will develop them as people and leaders. There are a variety of ways to go about this, but the key is intentionality. I develop interns in four ways: one on one meetings; small group book studies, leadership classes, and hands on projects.
I meet with each intern for personal development at least once every other week. These meetings generally last 30 minutes and focus more on their development than performance. All our summer interns meet once a week with another leader for an intern small group. During this time they walk through a leadership book together. We also hold hour long leadership classes every few weeks. These are led by different staff members at the church. The final way we develop interns is through the assignment of a ministry project. Each intern is assigned a project based on their skill set, gifting, and personality. These projects are designed to stretch them and help them grow throughout the summer.
Regardless of how you go about developing interns, the important thing is that you do it. If you do this well, they will have a greater impact on your youth ministry. More than that, developing them well will set them up for a better future in ministry. You’ll know you’re doing a good job when your interns leave as better leaders than when they started. The key to developing interns is this: want more FOR them than you want FROM them!
#4: Limit them to a manageable number.
I found this one out the hard way. The easiest way to jack up an intern program is to take too many of them! My suggestion is to decide up front on a manageable number of interns and keep it below that number. The number may vary for each youth pastor, but in my experience it’s usually 5-6 interns. When you bring on more people than this, it gets hard to give them the time and attention they need. It also gets hard to give them enough assignments to keep everyone busy. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule, but 5 is my general recommendation for youth pastors. The key is to keep the number low enough so that you can manage and develop them well. It’s not about getting extra help from them, it’s about helping them grow and get better.
#5: Set clear expectations.
In leadership, clarity is kindness. There are few things I hate worse than having fuzzy expectations. Most of us desire clarity from our leaders, and interns are no different. The best way to help your interns succeed is to be crystal clear about what you expect of them. Be clear about when they should be there, how long they should work, and what they should be doing. Take the guess work out of it and they will perform better and feel valued. A lack of clarity will result in wasted time and frustration for everyone involved. Clarity is kindness, so set clear expectations from the beginning. Your interns will thank you for it, and so will your future self!
Do you have interns? Are you interested in starting an intern program in the future? We would love to hear your comments and questions . Also, let us know if you have something to add that will help take an intern program to the next level at [email protected]