Thursday, October 15, 2009

Discussion style youth group lessons.

Discussion groups are more likely to grow and least likely to decline.

A new poll by Josh Hunt reinforces my belief that Sunday School, or children's church, based on discussion type lessons like mine are far more interesting to teens than a sermon or lecture done poorly. Josh finds:

"If your class is not growing, we have an easy solution: change to the discussion method. It is the single most likely group to be growing AND the single least likely group to be declining. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by going to the discussion method." Read the entire article.

Subscribe to Josh's Lesson Vault. Use coupon code 4478 for a 10% discount. Free 170 page e-book from Josh Hunt in .pdf format. Download here.

420194: You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or LessYou Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less

By Josh Hunt / Group Publishing

You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less is a revolutionary concept based on tried and true principles of church growth. Hunt shows us that Sunday school isn't a dinosaur headed for extinction, but a dynamic tool that can be used to reach many people for Christ. Relationships is the way to reach people for Christ and the Church and Josh Hunt tells how to do it. This book breathes excitement and passion. The purpose of doubling a class is not just numbers or to have a bigger Sunday school. Hunt appeals to the NT purpose of evangelism and outreach.
Get Down with the kids:

I don't mean "get down, get jiggy". I mean get your body down to the kids level. Join them. Do not stand above them or preach from the stage. They get enough talking to at school and home. Get down with them and talk with them. Your body position and posture subconsciously indicates your feelings about the kids to the kids. In the typical youth setting the leader is separated and above the kids. What does this indicate about his feeling towards the kids? Is it any wonder we get the blank stares and poor participation in a setting such as this? If the leader is sitting with the kids, actually a little lower, the kids are facing each other and the conversation is lively.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Survey Says:

Despite innumerable surveys and research on the subject of why young people are leaving the church pastors and leadership boards still sit dumbfounded as to what to do about it. By twisting the avalanche of research data available ministries can reach just about any conclusion they want to support the claim that their particular ministry is the answer to the problem.

Many recent articles are referring to research done by LifeWay.

Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research is quoted as saying this: "There is no easy way to say it, but it must be said. Parents and churches are not passing on a robust Christian faith and an accompanying commitment to the church. We can take some solace in the fact that many do eventually return. But, Christian parents and churches need to ask the hard question, ‘What is it about our faith commitment that does not find root in the lives of our children?’"

6958EB: Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them - eBook Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them - eBook

Lost and Found presents comprehensive research about and in-depth interviews with young men and women ages twenty-five to thirty-four who have never really been churched. The findings, such as how open this generation is to spiritual things, will surprise church-based readers and break some long established assumptions and opinions.

Expert church culture author Ed Stetzer (Breaking the Missional Code) also examines the congregations that are effectively reaching the younger unchurched and how they are doing it. Any church that is concerned about outreach to this generation will discover principles and methodologies to learn from and adapt into their own ministry.
A new book by creationist Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis gives data from a commissioned survey from Britt Beemer of America's Research Group.

515297: Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop ItAlready Gone:
Why Your Kids Will
Quit Church and
What You Can Do
To Stop It

The survey data is important but Ken Ham falls off the deep end, leaving the data far behind, insisting that the root of our problem is that we don't teach creationism. But not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say, here is a brief synapses of part of Britt's data (The data that supports my own twisted conclusions naturally. Hey, why should I be any different that anyone else?):
  • 90% of people who've left the church made the decision to do so in in the junior high school years.
  • The reasons given most often: boring church services, legalism, hypocrisy of leaders, too political, self-righteous people, not relevant to personal growth.
  • Both surveys point to data showing that the 20-35-year old's have a deeply felt need for spirituality. They want a relationship with God. They don't think the church, as an establishment, has the answers.
Why has this happened and what to do about it:

I'm sure you've noticed the blank looks on the kids faces as they suffer through another church service aimed completely at adults. Lets face it, adults give the money. We want them satisfied. In this time of tight budgets the first thing that's cut is the youth guy. "Lets get an intern, they're free," I've heard elders reason. The lack of resources aimed at our children's spiritual development is shameful.

On the other hand, parents attending churches that do have youth programs have completely abdicated the responsibility of discipleship of their kids to the 20-something youth-dude or the Sunday school teacher. In fact the data seems to show that Sunday School and youth group is having a detrimental effect.

On this point the researchers and data seem to agree. Ham says, "If you, as a parent, have been putting the responsibility for the religious education of your child on the church's Sunday school, you need to realize that the statistics say the job isn't getting done. As we have seen, in many cases and for many different reasons, it's not helping, it's hurting. This is your job. Do not totally delegate it to someone else -as, sadly many parents seem to do."

OK, digest that. In the next blog entry we'll talk about what to do and what resources are available.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer is slipping away.

Wow, youth camp, lock-in, movie night, putt putt golf...a lot of activities happening. But how many teaching moments have you had? I'm actually starting to see leaves changing here.

I met a 35 year old woman who told me all about the great youth group her church had when she was a kid. Lots of fun stuff and the youth pastor, a great fun guy. But when I asked if she believed in Jesus she said no. Further conversation showed she had little knowledge or understanding of the gospel message.

She rated her youth group as great because of the fun activities. How do you rate your youth group? By activities or by teens life changes. Don't assume your kids are Christians just because they attend. A regular clear statement of the Gospel message should be on the agenda.

Keep teaching as a top priority. Activities should be supportive of teaching moments. They can find activities many places. What you offer is the Gospel message and Biblical teaching. Stay focused.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Was the Only Man in My Daughter’s Life By Kevin Ophoff. Copyright 2000, All rights reserved.

My daughter never got to experience the love of a husband. She never knew what it was to love any other man but me. Catherine was killed in a tragic snowmobile accident January 23, 2000. She was fourteen. As parents often do in these cases I could punish myself with regrets, but, one thing I will never regret: I loved my daughter well. The unusual thing about it though, is that it was her idea.

When she was little we wrestled and hugged a lot. But as she began to mature I became hesitant about physical contact between a man and a teenager. She would have none of that. Somewhere Catherine had heard that a girl needed at least eight hugs a day from her dad and she declared her intention to get them. She was the kind of self-confident kid not to be dissuaded by her father’s hesitancy. She practically accosted me from the time I came home from work until bedtime. She made me carry her on my arm like I do her mother, and even liked to hold my hand in public. How rare is that for a teenager? After awhile, I became comfortable with my daughter’s affections and it was not uneasy to watch TV in the evening with her in my arms. My son Jesse would sometimes enthusiastically jump on top and a giggling dog-pile ensued. My wife was always encouraging and willing to put herself aside when Catherine wanted my attention. I found an outstanding source of love and adoration in my daughter. Suddenly it’s gone, and I’d give everything I own to get it back. What a phenomenal loss.

During the days following her death many came to offer us comfort. I expressed my loss to numerous men and asked them how their relationship with their daughters were. I was disheartened to hear that many fathers (most unknowingly) suffer estranged intimacy from their daughters. They felt the same pious unease about physical contact and a lack of understanding about what is and is not appropriate contact between fathers and daughters as I had. They also had no idea what they were missing. So, I’m writing this letter hoping to reach as many dads as possible with this message: Get over it.

There is a lot of normal, moral, non-sexual physical contact and affections that can and should be shared between fathers and daughters. Maybe an over reactive self-concern to appear above reproach by Christian men in an immoral society has solicited and unwarranted restraint. Perhaps we have given in unwittingly to biblically conjectured but self-centered righteousness.

Please don’t think that I am so naive to not have considered that their may be insurmountable extenuating circumstances in your case preventing a loving father/daughter relationship. There might be. But, short of death, you still have a chance to make sure that the trouble between you does not lie with you.

I have seen daughters resist unaccustomed affectionate advances by their dads if the estrangement has been going on for several years. Like the man who worked day and night through all the growing years to give his family “the best the world has to offer”. He doesn’t have the years of a daddy/child foundation from which to begin. He must grow it afresh, and this can take years of persistence. The place to start, however, is with an in-depth soul-searching to see if repentance and apologies are in order for a deeply hidden self-centered motive. Was work easier and more gratifying than the stresses and chaos of family life?

It could be that she has done something hurtful to you for which you are withholding your love until an apology is received. “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) Is there forgiveness required? You are the older and supposedly wiser one. Fathers can be very intimidating to children, young or old. Somebody must take the first step. It’s you.

I hope you are fortunate enough to have a wife like mine who gently encourages you (like rolling this letter up and whacking you over the head with it). Women are relationally gifted. You can believe what they tell you. What... divorced? Was it self-centered pride that did you in? Was it yours? You can go on stubbornly insisting that you don’t need these loving mushy relationships to exist quite well. You may have convinced yourself that it’s somebody else’s fault. But, you may be letting the devil trick you into giving up the best parts of life.

Self-centeredness is easy to do. Pride is easy to overlook in one’s self. It’s just plain human nature. Fallen human nature. I was helped tremendously by Dr. Larry Crabb’s books, "Inside Out", and "Men and Women, Enjoying the Difference". Maybe that’s a good place for you to start too.

Wherever you start, let me assure you, the benefits of loving others has a huge payoff for you. I can’t guarantee that it won’t end up with terrible grief and loss like I am experiencing. You really get attached to someone with whom you’ve invested years of relationship building. But, relationships last forever. You can take them to heaven with you. Plus, you might discover a gigantic source of love to help get you through the time you have to spend here on earth.

If you know you have a relationship with your daughter that needs patching, or this letter has stimulated a new awareness in you, I can’t recommend that you wait until tomorrow to begin.

I found this poem along with thirty others Catherine had written and stored in her computer a few months before she died entitled “When God Calls”:

When God says “Hello.”
I say “How are you?”
When God says, “Jump.”
I say, “How high?”
When God says, Go.”
I say, “Where?”
And when God says, “Come home.”
I say, Right away Sir.”
But, I will not go quietly.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Spiritual Retreats -Refresh yourself

For those of us in the Northern hemisphere it's becoming summer. The end of the school year, longer days, warmer temperatures. This initiates some changes and creates opportunities in the way we do youth ministry.

Think of summer not as an ending of this school year but as the beginning of the new year. I'm sure your head is filled with opportunities for the kids now that the weather is nice.The schedule can get packed fast. However, when you are planning, make sure you add some time for your own spiritual renewal.

While some churches and leaders recommend taking the summer off from any Sunday School or youth activities I completely disagree. Summer has always been a time of growth for my groups. Stopping your ministry will mean restarting from ground zero next fall. Hopefully, you have developed many volunteer leaders who are sharing the responsibilities of the ministry so it's OK for you to take some days off (make sure they do too).

Plan a few spiritual retreats for yourself. My favorite activity is camping. I go by myself to a favorite spot. Two nights is enough for me. That allows one whole day for prayer, reflection, and relaxation. The prayers are frequently "listening" prayers. The hikes, fishing, reading, napping are things I do for refreshment feeling that God is doing them with me. It's great to be surrounded by things God created.

My wife, however, usually has her spiritual retreats in a condo she gets through a travel club for just $99.00 a week (e-mail me and I will refer you to this club). That's cheaper than camping.. It gets her away from the distractions of home. She also feels safer than being in the wilderness. Plus, it gives her the opportunity to go in bad weather or the winter. She takes her favorite music, devotionals, and easy food. She goes for a week at a time, comes home really refreshed.

Whatever you can do plan to do it before a hectic schedule crowds it out.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back from the Youth Ministry conference

Welcome back from the Youth Ministry conference. You're undoubtedly psyched up with great new ideas, energy, and direction for your youth ministry. This is great.

Here is an analogy of what might happen when you put these new ideas into practice: If you've ever gone cross-country skiing on a prepared track you know it's easy to glide along the ruts the snow machine has prepared for you. Occasionally you come to a trail intersection where the snow machine lifts it's rut-maker. This is a scary spot because as you know cross-country skies don't have the steel edges and awesome bindings of down hill skies. You need to be really cautious about your stance and balance and the moves you make or there's a painful landing in store.

Coming home from a conference is a lot like cross-country skiing. You could just fall back into the ruts you've been in, complain about the long hours and low pay, or you could take the risk of leaving the ruts and taking a new direction. I encourage you to take the risk but be cautious.

One first impulse is to drop everything you've been doing in favor of the new ideas gleaned from the conference. This, however, can cause mass chaos and result in a nasty fall. It's better to choose one or two new ideas you've picked up at the conference and implement them slowly into your ministry. Stop doing one or two things that have not shown results.

There will be a time of uncertainty as you pick the new trail but soon you'll be gliding along safely in the familiar ruts....wait, wait, wait. Familiar ruts? Oops. Better build in a check point a couple of months out with specific goals as bench marks of the new trail to make sure you haven't just fallen into the old ruts. Post the new plan on your office bulletin board to check against (like a trail map) at a glance to see if you're still taking the new direction.

Good luck to you all. Let me know how your new ideas work out so I can pass them on to others.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Don't underestimate the value of old folk in youth ministry.

The common thought that youth leaders or youth pastors must be youthful is causing Christian churches to overlook or shuffle aside a large group of qualified volunteers for youth ministry. While it is true that it takes a youthful body to keep up with kids on outdoor trips and some physical activities is is not true that older folk have nothing at all to contribute to the discipleship of young Christian kids.

A lot of pastors argue that kids will be drawn too or have closer relationships to younger adults because they have more in common is also not true. Many kids are suffering the loss of a parent through divorce. These kids yearn for a caring relationship with an adult viewed as a surrogate parent or grandparent.

It is true that a young aged youth leader brings some abilities to the group that older folk don't but the younger leaders lack the wisdom and experience that comes with age and a life already lived in faithfulness to God.

A smart youth leader with gather a group of adults of many ages, genders, and occupations to bring the strengths, spiritual gifts, and life experience he (or she) lacks.

This was never more evident than during a teaching time using the book, "Every Man's Battle". The younger leader was great at identifying with the teens about the struggle for sexual purity. In reality he was very much in the midst of the battle against his hormones and fleshly desires as the middle schoolers were beginning to be. What he lacked was the experience of winning (and sometime losing) the battle and the wisdom that had come from a life long struggle to be pure. I supplied that. We had a good combination of experience from both ends of the age spectrum that the boys benefited from.

I have also observed that the closeness in age of a twenty-something leader to the teen girls in the group presents a lot of problems in itself. The girls are naturally attracted to the "hot" youth leader. This may be the main reason they attend the group. While the pitfalls of sexual attraction are obvious other issues also interfere with the goal of a youth group in discipling kids. These kids will never enter into the same depth of conversation with a hot guy as they will with a trusted parent or grandparent figure. I have actually overheard kids wondering aloud at how much they had opened up in conversations with me.

Older volunteers also add a high degree of accountability to the younger leader. We all understand the fine line of propriety a youth worker walks as they relate closely to kids on deep issues of the heart. It's not that the older person is there to always be looking over the shoulder of the younger but that they both provide a witness for the other if any impropriety is suggested and each provides the other a confidant in discussing situations and strategies in dealing with the youth.

Every youth pastor or volunteer should be encouraged to build a team of people to assist in the ministry. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. They don't know where to begin and assume the adults want nothing to do with the kids. The adults wrongly assume that they are not wanted in the youth group setting. To bridge this gap prayer is required. Next a simple bulletin announcement seeking volunteers to simply pray for the kids. If anyone shows interest the youth pastor should encourage them to simply attend the Sunday School or youth group to see if their spirit is drawn to the kids. This generally flushes out most of the curious do-gooders but the one or two individuals that do attend will quickly form relationships with the kids and be drawn into the ministry quite naturally. Parents can always be tapped for the chores like bringing snacks and driving but one or two "ministers" is all you need to greatly enhance your effectiveness in your discipleship goals.

Even if your group is small and the adults outnumber the kids the group will grow as the kids see the value of the relationships you're offering. This is the way to go.

Here is a link to another great blog on the value of adults in youth ministry.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Fun parallels between youth ministry and building a building.

Last Sunday I was asked why I do youth ministry. I gave a quick answer and went in to the sanctuary. As I was sitting through the sermon I gazed out the window at the current building project just beginning. To me the area looked icky, mud from one end to the other. Large dirty tarps covered the newly poured foundation protecting it from the cold as it cured. I discovered many parallels between this work site and youth ministry.

Early teens are just beginning to build their personality and faith apart from their parents. You can't really see what's happening but foundational decisions about who they are going to be and what they are going to believe are taking place.

Kid's brains are actually still developing. They don't think like adults. They do not act like nice adults. They can be rude, boisterous, and irreverent. Just like a dirty job site if you wade in you're going to get dirty. I noticed that the church members all stayed in the finished part of the church where is was clean. Only a certain few paid contractors and workers would venture into the job site. Some youth workers understand the importance of laying a firm Biblical and Spiritual foundation in teens. They wade in fearlessly, knowing that there won't be many acknowledgements of the work they are doing and few will see any real outward signs of progress being made in the lives of the kids. They roll up their sleeves and get dirty anyway.

Few church people will help, preferring to stay in the clean finished church building working on their own stuff. They would rather pay someone else to do this unpleasant chore. Unfortunately, while the foundation is the most important part of any building, the youth worker is the most poorly compensated, and frequently the most inexperienced person in the Christian community. Usually the highly paid master pastor stays in the warm clean church helping the adults paint and decorate their lives with niceness. Churches seem content to let middle school age kids flounder with the elementary grades or dump them into the High School groups -as long as their quite. Teens are often left in the care of "interns" with little experience and impoverished budgets.

Is it any wonder that today's church is suffering from lack of depth and poor attendance? But anyway, back to the original question, why do I do youth ministry. I wish I could say it was Isiah 6:8 "Here I am send me," but it's nothing so noble. I just like teens better than grown-ups. They're more honest, sometimes brutally so, they really want to know the answers to the questions they ask, and they make major life changes when they decide to believe something.

It's like the remodel I'm doing on my house. The major work was done in about six weeks but the finish details are dragging on. It's been four years and I still haven't finished the baseboards. I should be working on that right now.

So there you have it. I just started spending time with kids (hiding out from grown-up church actually). I began to value them as real individuals. They in turn responded by trusting me. I feel like I was given the right set of spiritual gifts along the way to be worthy of that trust. It just grew from there.

Here's another fun parallel: We have "hydro-compactable" soil here. If it gets wet it turns to soft goo. Anything built on it better have a proper foundation with pylons driven down to the bedrock or the building will be unstable. I actually attended a church that has sunk 18" inches on one end. It was literally an up hill climb to get to the alter. We should be building strong Biblical foundations in kids lives with pylons rooted on the rock of Christ. I think our major focus in church should be the kids. How's your church doing? What do you think?