13 Soul Stretching Strategies To Combat The Numbers Game

Is It All About The Numbers?

Yes and No.  Numbers are always part of the equation if numeric growth is part of the vision. Youth Ministry is about relationships, the depth and feh quality of those relationships do not have to be hurt by paying attention to (not focusing on) the numbers.

In carnally minded leadership, it’s about money and image (pride) not numbers. More kids, at least in the leadership’s mindset, should mean more families which = more tithes which = success and bragging rights . Lack of numbers = lack of money and it makes some people worry. So, youth pastor, do your job, only better. 

In healthy, spiritually minded leadership, numbers are treated as an indicator not a goal. They ask, “What can we do together to reach more/keep more?”

That’s a simple description of two ways to look at numbers. The hard work begins when we stretching our souls to come up with some real solutions to the issue of numbers or lack thereof. Here are 13 strategies to combat the numbers albatross around your neck.

Ask what success means

Someone has to decide. Your Pastor, your board, the committee owes you a clear, concise meaning of this word so you can either shoot for it or decide the expectations are too unreasonable.

You must also determine your personal success. What does it mean to succeed in ministry and make your work ethic match your definition.

Do everything you know how to do. Research. Coaching. Reading. Etc. 

No matte who your leader is, no matter how compassionate and laid back they are, shrugging shoulder is not an acceptable answer to, “What are you doing to  grow yourself?

You’ve heard it before, Leaders are Reader or Leaders are Learners, etc. the question is, how much are you investing in yourself? Are you reading the books that will help you understand your issue? Are you listening to podcasts? Are getting some coaching?

How do you spend your time? Playing Fortnite for six hours or working on yourself, praying, and strategizing to get ahead of the game and make yourself and the ministry better?

Examine Your Current Strategy

What are you currently doing? How can you tweak it? What is working and what is not? These are important questions and if we’re not asking them, we will only get more of the same if we double down on things that do not work.

What have been key outreaches you’ve done and what made them successful? How long ago? Culture changes and what worked last year may not work this year.

Define Expectations With Your Leadership 

There are written and there are unwritten expectations with every job. leader only expects you to stick to he job description. The job description is the starting point. Expectations change, they just forget to tell you.

At your next review, ask, “Has any of your expectations changed since I was hired? How can I best fulfill those?” or “I think those expectations are unfair in our current ministry climate.”

Define and re-examine your expectations.

What Does Your Discipleship Look Like: Education vs Action 

If you are only educating your kids on how to be a a disciple, this may be part of the issue. It is in the practice of he gospel where disciples are made. How much education and how much practice are you giving them?

Clearly, education does not always translate into action, but action is always followed by an education. Kids, and all other people, learn by doing. If you are teaching them how to share Christ but not giving them an opportunity to share Christ, don’t expect to much progress or growth. Where can you take the education and turn it into action. Action should be the default switch.

Its not Either/Or Its Both: Attendance and Engagement

I read a quote that said, “what matters is engagement, not attendance”. Well, and if I can channel how a former pastor of mine and how he would respond, “it may be so, but engagement does not pay the bills, not does it?”

Actually it could. We should take every opportunity students will give us to engage with them outside the youth ministry. I used to have breakfast with two freshman guys every Tuesday before school. I recently did one of their wedding and about to do the other. Neither one of these guys were big guest bringing, but they did have influence and they knew my heart for the lost.

Engagement is only one element that drives attendance; the rest is about prayer, preaching the gospel and discipleship. The outreach you put on is an opportunity to engage with lost kids but it is not a silver bullet for increasing attendance.

You can catch some of my other thoughts in the video

Paid to do versus biblically mandated 

Lines can get blurred when working in a church. The line between what we are paid to do and what we ought to do. You would think they would line up but its amazing how they often conflict.

The job description doe snot say was kind of kids you should reach, so you reach all kinds only to find out your church does not want to reach those kinds of kids. When it comes to your job description and the Bible, the Bible wins.

What is your job description? No matter what says, it never reaches the veracity of what Jesus asks us to. Do your job, then do what your called to do.

What are you measuring? 

“If it’s worth doing it’s worth measuring” they say. Part of the problem of gaining more kids, is that the kids we have, are not born again. They do not see the value in inviting others to youth let alone reaching other people for Christ.

Measure how many kids know the Lord.

Measure how many disciples you have.

Measure the passion level.

Measure the opportunities (reach) they have (how many homeschool, public, private, etc)

If you’re only measuring attendance, put away your measuring tape.

Don’t Use The Quality vs Quantity Argument 

This is a dead end. You may have gotten into youth ministry for the quality of relationships you can foster with teens,  but many of your bosses aren’t measuring that. If I was your pastor and you told me, “its not about the numbers” I would say ok, Well, the church  doesn’t have enough numbers to pay your salary.” Numbers do matter.

Quality and excellence draw people. The quality of the program should play a part in whether the numbers are there. As a parent, I want to know the youth worker has a plan and that he/she is going to do everything they can to the best of their ability. Take a look around and inward and eliminate all the sloppy parts.

Don’t Let The Pressure Get To You

I’ve lost sleep over numbers. I’ve had panic attacks over numbers. I’ve gotten sick over numbers. That’s what pressure can do. If you’re anxious or stressed out, remember, you can only do so much.

There are other factors and forces, mostly spiritual, at work as to why your youth ministry will not grow, but hat’s not to excuse to give less effort.

Change Your Language 

Numbers may come up in a conversation about your youth ministry, but that does not mean that’s all you have to talk about. In addition to numbers, talk about kids who are growing, kids who are having a breakthrough, kids who have responded to the message or later time, and kids who are going though a rough time and could use some extra prayers.

Yes, get around to the numbers, but share those numbers within a framework of progress. Move the conversation from numbers to people and stories.

Be Honest About Why You’re Not Growing

Nothing can start without honesty. Be honest about every aspect of the program including your leadership style, management style, and preaching/communication style. If we, as leaders, cannot be honest, how can we hope that others will be honest as well.

Be honest about challenges that exist. Nothing is worse than creating a separate reality and then trying to operate in that realty as if those challenges did not exist, it’s counter-productive.

Be honest about any feelings you may be having like doubt, disappointment, hurt, frustration, etc. Just because you’re a Christian and pastor does not mean you are not human It’s ok to feel, it’s not ok to wallow in them. Identify all the negative feelings, call them out, and then affirm that God is for you and loves you.

Be honest about the changes you must make. This may be the toughest part of this process. Once you’ve had your “come to Jesus” moment begin planning how you will make change, first, in your self, next with the program.

Ask for feedback

Once you’ve evaluated your ministry, share your findings with your supervisor/pastor but also include your suggestions how you might overcome some of challenges you’ve discovered.

Begin to list the reasons there may be some pushback and answer those questions before you have a meeting.

There may also be some criticism, but take it all in and then separate what is true from what is not.

I hope these thirteen principles have, in fact, stretched your soul. I hope God works in you and through you to do all He desires. Every kid you serve is a person, not a number, but they should counted. Follow these principles and you may find yourself counting more stories, more changed lives, and yes, even more numbers.

Why Being Different Is A Good Thing

I want to talk about two kinds of different. 

The first is a business kind of different. 

In business they say, 

We’re faster, we’re cheaper or we’re better.

According to a Forbes magazine article, you should pick two.

In fact, if you try to be all three, you’re just like everyone else. 

Dell is cheaper and faster, but not better.  Uber is faster and better, but not cheaper. Ikea is cheap and fast.  My tailor is better (good quality) and cheap, but slow.

Example, let’s take me as a writer. I would be cheaper and better quality. If you asked me to write a custom curriculum you would get a great series for less than you might pay for someone else, but I’m slower, because I care about what I am writing. 

The same is true for youth groups or churches, the three for religious organizations may look like,

Authentic (Sincere), Relevant, Intentional (organized, evangelism, calendar) 

You, as a church or youth group, may have to choose two because if you say “we’re all of those” you’re really saying there is nothing distinctive about us in terms of service or structure.  The reply to you might be,

“If you’re the same as everyone else, why shouldn’t someone go there?”

As youth pastors, we have to ask “Why would a kid want to come here and stay here versus somewhere else?”

Do you do discipleship differently?

Is evangelism a priority?

Are your small groups a big deal?

Are your services off the chain?

The second kind of different is about us as individuals.

Some times, we think what makes us different, puts us out of the running and we don’t even try. I say, what makes you different makes you strong and you stand out for all the best reasons. 

I think of actors like Fran Drescher from the Nanny. Her voice and laugh are distinctive. They may have kept out of certain circles for a time, but when it came to what someone as looking for, she stood out. 

I think of actors like Steve Buscemi. He does not have what Hollywood might call learning man look but he’s in a lot of movies. 

Even Jesus separated himself from other Rabbis

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:29

Have you ever heard these interview questions?

Tell me why you are the best person for this job?

How do you compare yourself to others who might be interested in this role? 

What makes you special? 

How do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

These questions should put you off to a good start as to why a church would want you or why a parent would put their student under your care.If you can’t answer them, you have some work to do.

Make a list of what makes you different

I’m loud

I’m opinionated

I’m into jazz

I rock at Fortnite

I like to hand craft furniture

I’m quiet

I like to organize

and then ask, “How is this an asset to the ministry I serve?”

Sometimes, being different feels a lot like being alone. But with that being said, being true to that and being true to my standards and my way of doing things in my art and my music, everything that has made me feel very different… in the end, it has made me the happiest. – Lindsey Stirling (violinist)

Here’s the video I did, you may find some more goodies I missed.

Perfect Is Messing Up Our Teens (And Us)

The pressure for teens to be perfect has escalated. According to an article in the Washington Post earlier this year,

” …perfectionism, is a mix of excessively high personal standards (“I have to excel at everything I do”) and intense self-criticism (“I’m a complete failure if I fall short”). In its unhealthiest forms, perfectionism can lead to eating disorders, depression, high blood pressure and thoughts of suicide.”

Pressure from parents to pursue perfect
Pressure from coaches to execute perfect
Pressure from school to score perfect
Pressure from social to look perfect

And yes, pressure from us to be more ___________ (fill in the blank)

All this expecting perfect rubs off on a kids spiritual life. How many of your kids think God expects them to be perfect? How many of you think God expects you to be perfect or have the “perfect” youth ministry?

Let’s take a breath. Let’s get back to a masterpiece mindset. God created us to have fellowship with Him. We messed up in the garden and we’ve been scrambling to be perfect, on our own, ever since.

Thank God for for his grace in sending his Son so we could experience                 2 Corinthians 5:17

“the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

At the beginning of camp this summer, a kid told me, “My parents think I’m a screw up.” By the end of the week this same kid boldly stated, “I’m a masterpiece created by God.”

This new five week series will equip you to help your teens get back to a masterpiece mind set and will lift the weight of perfect that is crushing them. Let’s remind our students that they are masterpieces, created by God, loved by God, no extra work required.

Start the Masterpiece Mindset by grabbing the series here.

A Youth Pastors Checklist For Leaving Your Church

It’s been several week now since I’ve left my youth pastor job to travel, speak, and write more, and I haven’t looked back. Regrets are killer and I happy to report that I have none. It was my time, my moment, and I took it.

I couldn’t have asked my church for a better send off. Their love and support was without match and I shall remember them always.

I wanted to leave them in the best shape possible and, I imagine, the day you leave your youth ministry, you’ll want to do the same (or at least you should)

Even when I got fired from a church, I wanted to be classy, even if, deep down , I wanted nothing more than to let my flesh rise up and tear everyone down. I had to be better than them, even if they were wrong.

I created a video a while  back sharing 7 Things We Can Do Leave With Dignity and Grace, but I’ve added a few things. You watch it below and then read on if you like.

So, how do you pull off this magic trick of leaving a ministry with some class and dignity, no matter the circumstance? Let’s begin.

What are the thing you cannot control?

You can cannot control what others will think or say. Ninety-eight percent of your church will not understand your reasons for leaving. Not really. My church was sad when I left. This should be a goal BTW, because if they’re thrilled you’re are leaving… well, that’s not great.

You cannot control what the Church will do next. Once you’ve made the move, the gears are turning and you should sep back lest you get caught in the. I made my recommendations and stepped out of the way. Let things move forward.

What are the things you can control?

If you have any grievances in the church, you can make them right. I, thankfully, had, to my knowledge, none. I had made right everything I could make right.

You can control what you post on social. Be sure to be thankful and grateful for your time at the church and what God taught you, even if the church , pastor, etc. didn’t meet your expectations.

Be an example to students how believers should act. Your teenagers will not remember how you came in, they will remember how you leave. If you have some issues, do not speak to them about it. The deserve a clean slate without our baggage.

Don’t ask kids, or anyone else to “take a side” if you’re butt-hurt over an issue. Sure, it feel good to have people support you, but don’t ask to be pitied, hold your head up and be proud of the work you did do.

Here’s are a few other tips I’d like to offer.

Consider your last message, would want to leave our youth with. If this is your first day on the job, you may want to consider this and make it your first message was well. Live the last message, so kids will know it was your conviction all along.

Write up everything, including: who are your leaders, what do they do, who are your student leaders and what do they do (or could do in your absence).

Write down all subscription plans you may be on ( or cancel them).

Tell students you love them and are thankful for them.

Tell your leaders you love them and are thankful for them and that without them you couldn’t have done it.

Make sure you include passwords so people can access them.,

Write down the typical order of service, any outstanding events you have planned including camp, etc.

Include any recommendations based on how you think the group could run with out you until another youth pastor is found.

Make recommendations of adults (seniors, mom’s, etc) who would be good editions to the team.

If you do any of the social media stuff, make sure you have other admins.

Make a list of any church roles you may have that need attention in your absence. If you run the the Facebook Live on Sunday morning, make sure you’ve trained someone, etc.

Clean your office. Leave it bette than what you found it. Don’t take office supplies, etc, that’s a rookie move. Leaving a last little note on your desk. You can make it funny or meaningful so that when someone finds it, they have one last great memory of you.

Send a thank you note or e-mail to your pastor, whether it is under the best conditions are not and let them now if you learned anything from them or if you wanted to thank them again for their support.

If you have any other suggestions, you are welcome to leave yours in the comments. Stay classy youth pastors, stay classy.

There Is No Pre-Requisit To Following Jesus

There are no pre-requisties to following Jesus.
 
Jesus never said,
 
You have to know certain Bible verses.
 
You have to be good enough. 
 
You have to have it all together.
 
You have to be a “in good standing” member of the synagogue.
 
You have to know the right people.
 
You have to be well versed in religious buzz words.
 
You have to believe Jesus is the Son of God (they discovered this along the way)
 
He asked none of this when he asked his disciples to follow Him. There was no interview. He just said, “Follow me.”
 
But, if you’re going to follow Jesus, He does ask that you, “take up your cross daily”  Luke 9:23
 
And, if you ask Jesus, “Can I follow you?” because you think it might be fun or cool or to fit in or because you think you are worthy to do so, Jesus does have a history of saying things like, 
 
“sell all you have” Mark 10:21
 
“let the dead bury the dead” Luke 9:60-62
 
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:60-62
 
Jesus separates the self-righteous from the honest seekers. 
 
Listen for his voice today, and if you hear Him say, “Follow Me”, Drop what you’re doing because He’s taking you on a grand adventure.

10 Awesome Youth Ministry Room Design Ideas

I just came back from Florida where I spoke at Life For Youth Camp for two weeks. It was an amazing time with many kids finding the Lord. I made some connections while I was down there and one of them was Joe Maldanado. He’s the Executive and Youth Pastor (sweet combo) of Lakeview Church’s 24/7.

We had coffee and he invited me out to see his facility. This was a great opportunity to do an episode of More Than A Youth Room. Here ‘s the video and, below, I share my top 10 take aways you can easily put to work in your own youth room.

Here’s 10 awesome room design ideas from the video

Retro Video Games

Why try to keep up with the new and shiny when you can go old school. Grab those retro game systems here and here to let kids go back to the future in their game play.

Designate A Room

Joe’s Orange Room is like a Green Room on those fancy talks shows, It’s a place for his volunteers to come chill and, as he says in the video, pray for one another. Yes, this is a luxury, but if you can make a room for leaders (even student leaders) why not do it? It communicates so much.

Hang Some CD’s Cases

I thought the CD’s on the wall was a nice touch. You could hang cd or even album covers. Maybe you could grab some old comic books you find at the thrift store and hang those as well.

Guest Services Area

Joe had a sweet area just for guests to connect. He had guest cards, info books, etc. You could combine the two if you have space issues. Having a guest areas says you value guests, you have with that guests will come, and you expect your kids to bring guests.

 Check In Area

This is for the regulars to come and check in. Joe gives the kids cards to swipe and check in with.

Cafe’ Area

I love that how Joe said, “No kids goes hungry.” Having a cafe, no matter how simple, allows us to meet a need in our group. The cafe is a great way to train kids in leadership and give them a responsibility as well as giving parents or other church people the opportunity contribute food or meals.

I love the ticket system. Tickets are handed out, discreetly, to kids who may have food availability issues.

You can grab some cool cafe stools here.

What’s Happening Area

How had his whole summer planned out and was clearly visible to students.

Use Of Neutral Colors

Joe was intentional not to favor any of the schools in his area and went with orange and gray.

Create A Home-Like Environment 

For many young people, youth is or could be a home away from home. Joe is intentional about creating this kind of space. How are you making your youth room more homey?

Prayer and/or Conversation Area

I love the five chairs Joe has in the back of the room. I know I have called up kids to receive Christ, but what a non-threating way for kids to come know the Lord. Having an area kids can come to after the meeting for prayer give youth workers a chance to connect with hurts and needs.

That’s it. These are my 10 design take aways. Did you have a favorite your going to steal or maybe is sparked a new idea. Let me know in the comments.

For more videos head over to my Youtube channel and subscribe (or hit the videos button in the menu or subscribe to the right of this post) to get videos like this in your in box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put A Label On It

Why don’t you just say it?

“I have a problem.”

“I need help.”

“I’m struggling.”

“I can’t figure this out.”

“This is driving me crazy!”

:I have something stirring inside of me.”

Just say it,

“I don’t have a plan”

“I need help with my volunteers”

“I need help planning stuff”

“I need more discipline in my personal life”

“I have an idea I can’t seem to get out’

I’ve heard it said, you can’t solve a problem until you’ll you put a label on it.

So, put a label on it and then let me use my 30 years of ministry experience to help you solve it. 

My Rules Of Persistence

Persistence – firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

I’ve been blogging for the past 12 years. I write because I want to, because I have a passion for encouraging and equipping youth workers and because nice people like you occasionally say I write good things (thank you and feel free to leave a comment) and has been helpful to you and that keeps me going.

If nothing else, I’m persistent. I have outlasted many other bloggers, ministry related or otherwise and wanna be-bloggers. This has paid off in many ways.

  • I have shown that I am serious about my subject
  • I have made a few dollars by making this a hub of resources
  • I have created a discipline for myself and have become a better writer along the way (I hope). 

Persistence might be my greatest attribute. Whatever you do, I think I can do it longer and better over time. I have faced my blank screens and writers block. I have overcome the self pity from believing (falsely) that no one cares what I’m saying. I am no longer easily discouraged and I enjoy the challenge that come my way.

Let me share a few ideas about persistence and why you might want to recalibrate your perception of persistence for longterm success.

Persistence is more than working hard

There are plenty of people working hard, they;re just working hard in the wrong direction. Ww all work hards, but some only work hard in spurts, like pulling bunch of weeds and needing a drink ten minutes later, possibly never to return. The persistent weed-puller, pulls a few weeds every day, after the sun goes down to maximum effectiveness and avoids the sunburn.

Persistence isn’t frenzy. Persistent people aren’t time sensitive, they know what needs to be done and they pace themselves. The same is true of goals Persistent people understand that where they are headed will take time and patiently plan their way there. Persistent people aren’t anxious, they know their hard work and smart moves will pay off.

Persistence is more than being hard headed

I think one of my past perceptions of persistence was that of someone who did’t listen to others. I thought a persistent person doggedly went his way regardless of what other said. There is some truth in this as it applies to not listening to nay-sayers, trolls, and negativity lords, but it does not apply broadly.

Persistent people have selective hearing. They know how to tune out the white noise and tune into those who genuinely want to help them reach their goals.

I can be super focused to the point of exclusion. I want what I want and anyone who used to say anything bad about my ideas was obviously an enemy. This, sadly, included my wife. I was so persistent in what I wanted, I would nor listen to wisdom, critique or advice if it disagreed with my vision.

Thankfully, I am not as closed off to what others are saying, because I know most of them are trying to help me.

Persistence is more than running over others to get to your goal

Persistence comes across as an aggressive word.  A running back stiff arming people down the field is a kind of persistence that works great in football but not so much in real life.

But, persistence can also be like a river that softens rocks. The river moves quietly and quickly but with great effectiveness over time.

persistently kind

persistently understanding

persistently empathetic

persistent encouraging

All of this, over time, can break down the resistance of your worst critics and turn them into your biggest fans

I have a few rules of persistence that have served me over their years and they may help you as well.

Rules of Persistence

Don’t settle for less

Don’t lower your standards

Don’t let others pressure you to compromise

Don’t take short cuts if it diminishes the outcome you want

Don’t use excuses like “That’s too hard” or “That takes too much work”

Don’t  try to be like anyone else. Persistently pursue your unique voice and vision.

The outcome may not be exactly what you want and you may not get where you want in the way you thought, but persistence, and patience, will always move you forward. Keep at it, what ever “it” is for you.

“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Don’t Tell Me You’ve Tried Everything

If..

You haven’t changed your habits
You haven’t changed your thinking
You haven’t prayed about it
You haven’t done research
You haven’t put in the work
You have looked for collaborators
You haven’t changed the crowd you run with
You haven’t read or listened to a book on the subject
You haven’t take steps to better yourself
You haven’t read your Bible
You haven’t taken a class
You haven’t budgeted your money                                                                                           
You haven’t gotten a second job if needed                                                                                              You haven’t searched Youtube on a way to do it                                                                        You haven’t asked for help

Commit to doing these 15 things to begin with, then I might listen, but you’ll still not have an excuse because I’ll have 15 more suggestions.

If, after all this, you still haven’t broken through or gained ground; you either didn’t want it that bad or you quit too soon.