Designing Your Youth Space: Plan Like NYC

Because of our new youth room, my mind is attuned to anything that is talking about space. So, the other day I was listening to Diane Rehm  interviewing New York City Planning Commissioner, Amanda Burden. She had some great things to say about creating special spaces in a huge city like NYC. I’d like to offer a few quotes and then some commentary.

And just before that time, I met my most important mentor. His name was Holly White, William H. White, and he wrote “The Organization Man,” and he was an urbanologist who specialized in public spaces. And he said to me, you can measure the health of the city by the vibrancy of its streets and public spaces, and that became my passion.

ur·ban·ol·o·gist (ûrb-nl-jst)n. A sociologist who specializes in the problems of cities and urban life.

You could say, “You can measure the health of a youth ministry by it’s space.” but that is a little overboard. I would re-phrase it this way,

Rooms and space are an important aspect of a youth ministry’s ability to be spiritually and emotionally healthy,

Buildings and room plans cannot change a heart but it might put a teen at ease long enough to listen to you share the gospel. I have not done a formal study on this, but my guess is, the church in your town with the best facilities is getting the lion share of kids to show up. That doesn’t mean they’re doing everything well or even making disciples of Jesus, but they do have the raw material of the gathering to work with. 

We can swing overboard both ways on this topic. We can obsess about our meeting space or ignore it and say things like “It’s the Spirt that matters, not the room we meet in.” I agreed, to a point, but some teens may want to come to your creepy church basement to experience the Spirit. Let’s be people of balance. 

And having the public spaces to study, it makes all the difference in the world because that’s what makes people fall in love with the city. The public spaces, the parks, the streets, just finding places that they can enjoy, have that respite, whether it’s on the waterfront, whether it’s in Bryant Park, or whether it’s in a small place in Paley Park, whether it’s on a sidewalk café. All of those things make a city wonderful.

I like the word respite. It’s possible that our youth rooms can be so busy (video games, lights, etc.) there is no respite. No place to think, talk, rest, or pray. In other words, we have to balance the energy of Times Square and make room for the respite of Central Park. 

Yes. Well, you know, as you’ve heard, we have very, very broad, ambitious plans for shaping the whole city, but really how we judge a project is how it feels at the street. That’s what people really care about. How does it feel walking along that street? Are there many stores along an individual block? Are there shade trees in a park? Are there places to sit that are comfortable?

This is the key phrase “What does it feel like at street level”. When was the last time you looked at your space from a teens point of view? The “build it and they will come” may have worked for a few weeks, but if we watch how our teens gather, how they break up, how they sit together, it may clue us to the effort we should put into the seating and lay out of the rooms we meet in. 

When you sit at the water’s edge, can you see over the railing? Or does the railing block your view? Do you feel that there is a place for you, for sun and shade, a table to hold your book? Each of these things is very important and details make all the difference.

Pay attention to detail. Your kids are. They know when it doesn’t look right or feel right. Our rooms, their smell, their color, and their layout all may be making our jobs of ministering to our teens  little harder. 

If you would like more room design ideas, I have 29 videos just waiting for you over here.

 What do you think? Take the poll. 

7 Reasons Why I’ll Skip Your Youth Ministry Network Meeting

This will sounds grossly arrogant, but I don’t “need” a network. Now, let me clarify, I do not need a traditional network. I’m in certain category, I am a 45 +, 27 year youth ministry veteran. Many networks are sponsored to pimp programs or sell stuff. Think of the timeshare you sat through to get the free ticket to x park in Orlando. Was it wort it? This is not to say I don’t need Christian friendships or professional peers, I just have a different context for those.

So, whether it is Greg Stier from Dare 2 Share doing a luncheon 2 hrs from me or a company at YS doing a network deal at a conference or a local network in my area, I apply the following rules to all of them.

. Here are a few reasons I’ll skip a network meeting:

1. I’ll skip it if we are only meeting so you can share your agenda and why we should jump in/buy your stuff (aka pimping your stuff )

I have enough going on. I don’ t need another thing to sponsor.

2. I’ll skip it if I feel there isn’t space to share my experience or talents.

Like I said, I am in a different boat and the context of many meetings don’t apply to me. I’m at the point in life and career where sharing and passing on what I know is of utmost importance.  Hence this blog, my Youtube Channel, my podcast, etc. If there’s not open space, within a network meeting, to help someone, I check out.

3. I’ll skip it if I think you are going to waste my time (meeting just to meet)

Once again, meeting to meet, unless I am with my closest friends (shout out to my Hueytown crew), is a a waste of time. I don’ need a guest speaker. I can watch what I want or need on YouTube.

4. I’ll skip it if there is no networking.

I have been to many kinds of network meetings, seated around round tables, and I left without having really networked. To me, and to most people I think, networking is not a meeting or a guest speaker. Networking is for sharing ideas, making friends, and praying with those who share your burden for the next generation. A network sponsors role is to create the context where these things can happen.

5. I’ll skip it if I am not challenged to be more.

I want to network with people who challenge me, challenge the way I think about ministry, life, and faith. I don’t need a pep talk, I need answers and life on life relationships. I have enough surface relationships, thank you.

6. I’ll skip it if I sense I won’t walk away smarter or better than I walked in.

This goes back to the principles of networking which is relationship. You many also say, “How arrogant.” Go ahead and say that. Let’s see what you’re like after 20 years, you have a family, you have kids in college, and see if a network meeting is the same draw for you. I love relationships and new ideas. I want those at my network meeting.

7. I’ll skip it if I feel like I’ll be shamed for skipping it.

If you run a network or host a network, you should love your network and value the people in it. Shaming someone because they’ve missed or because you think that person doesn’t “buy in” to your philosophy is the wrong direction.

Advice to network leaders, Treat youth pastors like you would the kids that come to your youth ministry:

Always keep your channels open.

Send friendly reminders that you missed them.

Offer them the opportunity to contribute (they won’t skip as much)

Love them fiercely.

So, whether you think I am arrogant, pretentious, or just crazy, that’s o.k.. I know me. I am who I am and you are who you are. I’m getting ready to “play the back nine” , as some say, and I want a network of people who will make playing the back nine as fun, informative, crazy, and as fruitful as the front nine.

You may say “If you’re so dissatisfied, Why don’t you start your own network then.?” Good idea, and I have. Most of my networking these days are online so you can get with me on with of my Facebook page Youth Ministry University or Disciple Project Ministries. You can also interact and leave comments on my Youtube channel and always comment back.

What about you? Do you have a youth ministry network? Do you love it or hate t? Do you skip it for any of the reasons above? Which ones?

If you are a network leader frustrated with how your network, do any of the above principles apply to you? Which ones?

Why do you think people are skipping your network meetings?

From Idea To Reality In Four Steps

We are coming off a great night last Wednesday. We saw our kids fulfill one students desire to have a youth choir. We showed that a kids idea can go from thought to reality.

Step one in bringing a kids idea to fruition is first to listen for passion cues in key phrases. What is a passion cue? A passion cue is something a student says that reveals what they may be passionate about. Even a complaint may be a passion cue in disguise. Here are some of phrases that may cue me in to the possibility of a kids passion which may result in a new project, outreach, or program idea:

“I wish we could..”

“I think we should have…”

” I wonder if we could..”

“Is it possible to..”

“Why can’t we …”

What do we do after we here one of these passion cues? What is our method of getting these ideas to fruition? I recently shared this four step response with our staff and is the second step  to bringing the idea to reality.

Second, consider the request. Is it self serving or does it serve a greater community need or a need of the group?

Third, pursue the student. This is where we usually drop the ball by not following up. Ask the student whether they would be willing to head it up. Ask them why they think their idea is important to the group or community. If they’re not willing to at least share the idea with the group or share in the leadership of idea, then the passion is not there. But that doesn’t have to be the end of it.

Fourth, ask them, “What if we could help you make it happen?” Offer support, in the form of helping to publicize or help them plan the event or service. .

The third step is the easiest. Get it on the calendar, make a big deal about it, and then execute it. When we implemented the choir as a project, we used the second half of our service to execute it. Did we lose a few kids for a few weeks, sure, but on the night we sang, we had 25-30 in the youth choir, including some visitors and we blessed our Wednesday night adult crowd.

Yes there will be balking, but that will be by the students who have no ideas, no better ideas, or no conviction to make their ideas a reality. Move forward and watch what God does.

What are some other passion cues you listen for? How do you bring kids ideas to the table and make them a reality? Share your story below.

Youth Pastors, Why Isn’t This In Our Job Description?

Failed Job Desciptions

  • Schools teach Math, History, etc.
  • The military teaches discipline, leadership, and job skills
  • Sports teams teach sportsmanship and how to pay the game
  • Churches run programs to keep people busy and not sin as much

These are organization with a list of activities with no clear goals. What if they said,

  • School’s produce imaginative students ready to solve problems in a complicated world?
  • The military trains men and women to be people of character who can ably defend our country both home and abroad.
  • Sport teams make leaders who will do their best on and off the field.
  • Churches make disciples who make disciples to impact the world for Christ.

These latter job descriptions are far more compelling than the former.

The church teaches about God? Really? Is that all? You may say, “Isn’t that enough? Think about the job description you received when you were hired. How much of that are you fulfilling? What impact are you  making because of it? Now, think about what you are CALLED to do. How much of that are you fulfilling? Who we are as believers and youth pastors impact schools, military, and sports teams by impacting students . In a word, we impact CULTURE.

What has the church, as an spiritual organism/organization produced in recent years? We can’t produce Christians because God does that; so what does the church produce? Can’t we produce better educated, leaders of characters with skills to impact the world around us? Why isn’t it in our job description simply ot make disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus to impact the world around us? Why doesn’t the details of  this job description include

  • Helping kids use their imaginations to see what God sees
  • Teach job skills and make better employees of our community
  • Take more mission trips and have less pizza parties.

Why do churches set the bar so low by asking youth pastors to “run the program” ?  Why can’t churches set the bar high with “Equip students to do the work of the ministry” or “Make disciples of Jesus?” . Why Because it’s less work, and less mess, to just run the program.

Your Turn

How can you expand, re-write, your job description to be more effective at making disciples of Jesus.

Breaking Down The “Why?” Question In Our Youth Ministries


I have been reading the book Start With Why By Simone Sinek. The focus of his book is in the title; that people are more about why you do something than what you do or how you do it, so why don’t we start with asking why before we create another ineffective program? I used to think that if I told kids what we did (events, fun, concerts, etc.) and how we did it ( with energy, lots of give aways, food, big crowds) they would be sold, come to the event, and then stick around for a while. Had I stuck to that premise only, I would have left youth ministry a long time ago. The what and the how no longer excite me, but the why is still what has kept me going.

I think most of the kids have stuck with me in the ministry for a while because they know I do not do it for the money, fame, and glory because their isn’t any. They stuck around because I cared about them enough to hang our with them, share the truth with them, and from time to time, discipline them. They figured out that the Why? under current of my life was to see them become fuller followers of Christ while they were under my watch. They knew I was with them for as long as I could be, and I never gave up on them so long as it was within my power.

This does not mean my WHY was not without a few faults. I would slip from time to time back into what we do and how we do it and make that the focus. I would sometimes not do relationships very well, but the kids hung around anyway, God bless’em.

So, how do we take the translate the meaninglessness out of our what and how of youth ministry to give us a compelling story instead of an invitation tag line or bumper for the next video of a  program we’re pushing? I recently re-thought out our worship band and this is my why, what, and how of our youth band. I recently sent this to our band leader.


WHY do we have a band? – This is purely philosophical, but if we cannot answer the why then the what and the how do not matter.

Why do we have a band?

  • Because it allows young people to use heir gifts and talents to glorify God rather than be spectators.
  • Because young people need peers to model what worship is. 
  • Because, if we do not create an atmosphere of worship, with the best that we have, that lifts God high, we will never see students step out in faith and worship God in the fulness of the Spirit. 

Simple right? This is WHAT the band is going to do

1. Practice become worship leaders to their peers to the throne room of God, in band practice.
2. Grow deeper in their individual walk with God because of their commitment to worship
3. Become the best they can be at their instrument and vocals.

More simple, right?  This is HOW we are going to do it: We will

1. Expect them to be at practice and on time. Let’s have a few weeks of grace but the rule in the past is: If you do not practice with the band, you do not play with the band that following week. Let’s stick to that.
2. Create an environment of innovation. No idea is too crazy, no song to stupid, no combination of instruments too ludicrous. In other words, if they have an idea, let them share it, weigh it against the feedback of the rest of the band and what you think; and if it is doable, run with it. This means:

a. If someone has a solo, either instrumentally or vocally let’s figure out how to fit that in (special, offering, communion, closing, etc.)
b. Mentor and challenge kids to step up. Don’t let talented kids hide. Encourage them to step out. Really focus on certain kids to be lead worshippers. Here is a four step process I use when mentoring

I do it you watch (this might mean you show them how to pray out loud, move in the Spirit, etc.)
I do it you help (give them opportunities to do what you just did)
You do it and I watch (take the training wheels off and let them ride, even if they crash, they learn something)
You do it I train someone else ( Once that person has to confidence to do it, let them do it and move on to someone else all the while being available for feedback, etc.)

3. We’re going to bang the drum in all these areas. We will  say it, write it, practice it, show it, paint it, sing it, or any other method that will keep our WHY at the forefront.

4. We will start each practice with a short devotion about worship, more story driven than principle driven but not leaving out either. The devotion will be short with interactive (open ended) questions and we will let kids struggle with the answers to  “what does this mean for me personally?” and “what does this mean for us as a band and a youth ministry?”

5. Recruit fantastic musicians and singers, from inside and outside the church, to mentor our kids in their instruments and vocals.


That took me about 15 minutes to think through and write out. Feel free to steal it, rework it to make it your own, or come up with your own.


Part II Coming Soon: Steps To Coming Up With Your Why Statement












6 Things I Do The Week Before Youth Camp

I am heading off to our summer camp next week and I thought I’d pass along a few things I do that make my life easier:

  1. I meet individually with students who I think might cause me a problem. I challenge them to step up and lead or give them a job for the week, such as watching out for younger students to make sure they’re not picked on.
  2. I over communicate with parents about any changes.
  3. I make sure every kid has signed our camp standards covenant
  4. I think of a surprise or bonus I can spring on the kids that week. It could be as simple as candy bars or free t-shirts.
  5. I make sure my Pastor has a count and a list of campers so he can pray for us individually
  6. I meet one final time with parents right before the trip for about 10 minutes to challenge them to prepare a home where they can live out the things they have committed in their hearts to Christ.

Do you have a list of things you run through to make your camp run smoother?  Share them with us.

Oh, here is a free Generic Camp Covenant I created for our group. Enjoy.

Preaching The Green Lantern Oath

What? You do not know the Green Lantern Oath? For shame.

Say it along with me:

“In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight.Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!“

If you are going to use the oath in any of your up coming messages, by all that is holy, let’s get it right.

Here are some themes you could use using the the Green Lantern’s Oath

“In brightest day, in blackest night”  I Peter 3:15, 16, 2 Timothy 4:2

Let’s always be ready, no matter what the conditions, to share the good news

No evil shall escape my sight. Romans 12:9, Hebrews 5:14, 2 Timothy 2:22

We have to be wise, discerning what is good from what is evil.

Let those who worship evil’s might  Proverbs 14:22, Romans 2:8

If you choose to love and do what is evil, it is not going to work out for you.

Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!“  2 Corinthians 12:9,  Ephesians 1:19, I John 4:4

Obviously, evil doers will not fear OUR power, but the ONE who is in us is greater than he that is in the world.

Green Lantern was a simple movie and much maligned movie but I enjoyed it. If you’re a believer, you won’t be able to not see the spiritual parallels.

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Why Senior Sunday Saddens Me

Why Senior Sunday Makes Me Sad

Let me preface this post by saying I’ve been at my church for under a year. I understand that you have to jettison a senior class or two within a youth ministry to expunge former philosophies and practices and to import new ones that will grow over time. This fact does not make Senior Sunday any less sad for me.  Eighty percent of the seniors I’m graduating, have not had any significant relationship with me or have they been involved in the youth ministry over the past year. This means, when I stand up to introduce them to the congregation, I will not be able to

  • Share stories of spiritual growth
  • Share moments from trips or events
  • Share about about how much I care about them (I do but it’s hard to really care about people you don’t know)
  • Share about funny moments we all shared

Even sadder, their parents could care less if I shared about these things. Maybe because they’ve had all the spiritual moments they needed in life. Maybe because with strong family units they did not need another spiritual community. If this is the case, God Bless them.  Here’s a another saddening realization, their futures, unfortunately, include

  • Not attending church
  • Not continuing to grow in their faith
  • Not caring whether the generations that come up after them in the youth group will have spiritual role models

What if I read that as their future plans in addition to going to college? Right, like a lead balloon. Can you say job hunting? The last of the saddest news is, I don’t know if their is an answer for our community. Oh, I could say Jesus is the answer but that is trite, and quite frankly, stupid. Jesus is not duck tape, You don’t slap him on broken spiritual lives and hope it holds them together.

To quote the great philosopher Dirty Harry, “A mans got to know his limitations”- Magnum Force.

I know mine. I also know God’s, He has none. Only God, by his grace, can save, inspire, and bring to pass, the spiritual growth needed to move this community past Senior Sunday. I have no confidence  in the flesh. I have great confidence in God, but, that does not make me any less sad.

Your Turn

What challenges or emotions do you face on Senior Sunday?


Help! I Need Training, Mentoring, and Community! Now!

My friend Nathan over at Called To Youth Ministry asked me a few weeks ago if I was interested in doing some mentoring and I told him I am always up for helping fellow youth workers. Called To Youth Ministry is sponsoring an online training opportunity. For twelve  weeks we’ll cover topics like Dealing with Burnout, Getting Your Youth Ministry Plan Together,  and the How To’s of Discipling Teens. In addition, and most importantly, we’ll search the scriptures and pray together for God’s will for you, your family, and your ministry.

I will be leading 1 hour conference calls on selected Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. CST and we will be posting thoughts back and forth over the course of the semester. If you are interested in getting some more training on a flexible schedule and at a minimal cost, you can check it out or sign up HERE

I look forward to the journey.