Even the most exciting group can lose energy over time and with teenagers sometimes routine actually hurts the atmosphere rather than helps. If you notice your group not engaging as much as they did before then here are some suggestions for re-igniting the group relationships and fighting the boredom routine.
A covenant is a deal you make as a group when starting out. It lists the expectations you have for being part of the group. If you don’t have one make one. If you had one but many of the expectations aren’t being followed time to switch things up. Take one of your weeks and as a group creates a new covenant. You do it as a group because that creates more vital ownership from the students.
Take a night and instead of normally meeting go out for ice cream, or a bar-b-que at a person’s house, or laser tag. Just something fun. It can be a surprise or a planned event. Either way have some guilt-free fun with your group.
Remember a group that parties together, stays together.
Move to a new location even if it’s in the same building. If you’ve been using video, switch to a study guide. Change the topic if you have gone many weeks discussing the same topic. Bring in a guest speaker. Add a game, or activity even. The point is to keep the group on their toes.
Choose the student who seems to be disengaged the most and hand him the night’s questions. You can still give the lesson or share but when it’s time for discussion have a student lead the questions. It can be planned or spur of the moment. But sometimes a student needs to walk in the leader’s shoes to understand how difficult being a small group leader really is.
Instead of the typical format, go serve somewhere for a few weeks. Nothing bonds a group better than a shared experience and sometimes having a group serve reminds them why they meet in the first place. Like getting the attention off themselves and onto the needs of others. Volunteer in the nursery, rake someone’s yard and coordinate with a food bank or other local organization. Even serve one of your fellow group members!
Each week rotate a group member to be in “the hot seat” and focus a big chunk of the whole meeting on getting to know them. Ask the person to come prepared with photos and mementos for a sho-and-tell. You’ll be surprised by what you learn – been from people you think you know well. You can also end the meeting by having everyone go around and give words of encouragement to that person. It really bonds a group.
Promoting events is always a struggle for youth workers. And one of the most important events that happen every year is summer camp. Have you found yourself struggling with keeping up the promotional energy year after year? Here are some tips and tricks to help keep your summer camp promotion excitable and impactful.
It’s never too early to announce at least the date of next year’s summer camp. You might not have all the details set but what parents first want to know is when is it. So think fall of the previous year as the latest to send a “save the date” email or postcard so families know when camp is and don’t forget to put when registration opens as well! This also encourages families to plan around summer camp dates.
Begin promoting camp about 3-4 weeks leading up to when registration opens and again when you have a deadline coming up. Like an early bird or final deadline.
Many parents have a million questions about camp and you can’t always answer all of them personally. Create a website (or at the very least a flyer) with all the information on there. Basic information like date, price, location, deadlines. But also other things like why camp is important, what to bring, what activities are there. Imagine your target audience as a parent of a freshmen boy who has never been to camp and doesn’t pass on any details. This can be used and just updated every year. If it’s a website you can put the ability to register for camp at the bottom. Believe me, having information all in one spot is completely worth it. It also builds trust with parents who are detailed oriented!
Remember, you can never over-communicate with parents when it comes to events like camp!
BONUS: Make sure both deadlines and your scholarship process is clear. If your deadline date is different from the website vs. your flyer or promo it makes things difficult. If students don’t know how to ask or apply for scholarships you might miss out on them even going. Your scholarship process should be clear, fair, and sensitive for families to receive or even ask for some.
If you have pictures and videos of previous years show them right after camp as well as leading up to this year’s camp. Having someone create a recap video is one of the best ways to get students excited about going to camp. If it’s done by a professional it’s worth every penny!
For big events like this, you want to build excitement and the best way to do that is to highlight deadlines and inspire people to sign up early. One of the best ways to do that is to use phrases like “Don’t wait!” “Sign up today!” plus don’t forget how powerful the phrase “space is limited” really is. Another idea is to reward the first few people who sign up with a prize or discount.
Look no matter what camp is expensive for someone. There is a balance between what is worth it and how much it costs for parents. When promoting always keep that in mind that they might not believe or know how good camp is compared to you. So as the youth worker, you might be willing to pay more than them, so there is a level of convincing that you have to do to show that camp is worth the cost.
If there is any way to find some donors or budget money to lower the cost do it! Reward people for signing up early for early bird deadlines. Or maybe pay for travel costs. Anything to keep the camp costs low.
Offer a discount for students who go to camp for the very first time whether that is freshmen or any grade. A student who has a good experience at camp is more likely to come back the next year without many promos needed. So target the ones who have never gone and this makes your promotion even more impactful! It’s better to offer no discount for returning students if you can give a big church or percentage to first-time students. Anything less than 15% is not that impactful.
One final tip is don’t come across as desperate or needy in your promotion (even if you are). If the early bird deadline has passed and few students have signed up… don’t push it back. Make it a bigger discount the next year and push harder.
Don’t publicize the list of who is going to everyone. Keep it private. The last thing you want to do is have students decide if they are going to camp based on who else is going to camp. They will talk on their own you don’t need to help them.
Don’t use boring promo that “we do this every year… so it will be fun”. Keep things fresh and new. How you first promote it sets the tone so keep things exciting even if few students have signed up… yet.
Treat camp like a big deal because it is a big deal!
“The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.” Exodus 33:14 (NLT)
I personally have just completed my first sabbatical. I have been doing full-time youth ministry for 19 years now and my church was so supportive to grace me with a two-month time of intentional rest, relaxation, and a chance to recharge. From Thanksgiving week to the end of January I did not really do any work, read emails, or visit my church. I thought I knew what to expect… but it turns out like most things in ministry I had no idea.
Sabbatical: An extended period of time when ministry leaders set aside their normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry.
THE WRONG APPROACH
I am a type-A personality who enjoys checking off tasks lists and getting things done. So I loved my work as a full-time student ministry pastor. I love working in the church and doing ministry. So most days it never felt like work. But because of my personality and enjoyment, I would most likely classify myself as a workaholic. It just so happens that my work was ministry, or so I thought. So I approached going into my sabbatical as just another task to accomplish. I was going to not do “church work” but I had a whole nother list of personal projects, honey-to-dos (things my wife has been asking for), and wild goals to accomplish. I wanted to write a book, if not at least 10 blogs. I wanted to clean out my garage fully and reorganize the basement. I was going to lose 20lbs with diet and exercise. Build a new bed for my daughter and even develop a board game (yeah I know that’s crazy).
I had all these ideas of things I have always wanted to accomplish but I thought I never could get to them because my ministry or life in general never gave me enough time. So now I can check off those tasks that I have always wanted. But God had other plans.
For the first week back I went straight to “work” without leaving my house. I reorganized the garage in two days and worked on as many things as I could each day. By the end of the week, I didn’t feel accomplished. I felt guilty but I didn’t know why. It was a strange feeling when you have an expectation for one feeling but you end up getting the opposite feeling. It brings a time of self-awareness that I wasn’t expecting.
After that first week, I finally stopped long enough to listen to God. He was telling me that His plans were a bit different than mine when it comes to how I spend my time on my sabbatical. I wanted to accomplish more and He wanted me to rest. I wanted progress. He wanted me to have peace. So I finally listened. It also helped that God used my very wise wife to keep me in bounds when I started to doubt or drift. She was truly an amazing, supportive, partner during this time.
NOT TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING WITH GOD
It’s hard for a type-A personality, workaholic, passionate person to rest. I didn’t really even know what rest means. I thought it was just waiting for the next task. But God showed me in his quiet, intentional way that not taking time to rest was robbing Him and me of the time He has given. So one Friday I just sat on my couch, closed my eyes, and listened to some worship music on my phone. I didn’t read, even pray much, I just listened and tried to relax. I felt like I was going through some kind of detox of doing something all the time. I felt guilty at first but then I didn’t feel anything and finally, I moved on to this strange peace.
Over the next several weeks I took time each day to be alone with God. This wasn’t a quiet time (that’s another task for me) this was just to be. Sometimes I listen to a sermon or worship music, sometimes I read a book or from the Bible. Sometimes I prayed. But I just relaxed and didn’t try to accomplish something with God. I took a nap almost every day in the afternoon, just before my kids got home from school. Before I would take naps because I was physically or emotionally exhausted. But during my sabbatical, I took naps because I was relaxed. I didn’t know that feeling existed really.
I started reading about Moses and just how often he interacted with God. After they left Egypt Moses was in charge of a lot of things and he had a lot of responsibility. I couldn’t even imagine just how much. Oh, and he also was the spokesperson for God to all the people. Yeah, there was that too. I came to the story right after the Israelites made the golden calf while Moses was getting the 10 commandments. I can’t even imagine what Moses must be thinking when he sees that betrayal from his own people. So in anger Moses breaks the first copy of the 10 commandments. Then in Exodus 33, there is a small break where God and Moses were interacting. In verse 14 it says, “The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.” God answers Moses’ request in the verse before “If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor.” Moses was asking exactly how God was going to get them to the promised land after God told Moses repeatedly they will be going there. Moses sounded worried and concerned and somewhat mistrusting when I read it. However, God doesn’t answer Moses really.
Instead of God saying “Okay, here is your next step, and then this, and that, and then finally you will make it to the promised land. See I have it all mapped out.” God simply says two promises to Moses.
Both are tied together with and from God. Without Him neither can really be fulfilled nor enjoyed. My sabbatical taught me that ministry is good, working for the Lord is good, but God by himself is so much better. I finally had the chance, really for the first time in my life, to open and receive the gift of rest from God. And I couldn’t really open it without him being present.
For the first time in my entire Christian life, I just was with God with no agenda. As my time closed as I got closer to my return date I began to feel excited about getting back into ministry. Not because of the joy the work gives me but because of the fact, I learned of the joy that I get from God allowing me to do ministry. As I write that it sounds silly and too subtle. But it’s really that simple. I find my joy in the Lord because He gave me rest. And because I am rested I can do the work He has set up before me.
I know how improbable it is for a youth worker to get a sabbatical, but if you ever do find yourself with that opportunity take it. Plan ahead before you leave so you don’t feel overwhelmed when you come back or guilty when you are gone. And while you are there find a way to open the gift of rest and find the peace that God wants you to have.
If you don’t have the opportunity for a sabbatical. Then find the times during your week when you can relax without guilt or distractions. This is different from a quiet time. This is a time for you to be with God without an agenda. Find a place where you can feel that it’s just you and God. Find those brief moments of peace that bring you rest and joy to finish out the day. I wish I could be more specific and more practical but it’s so unique and personal to each person.
I don’t really feel that different from two months ago but I know I am. I don’t have any big decrees, life-changing decisions or new callings. They may come from many people’s time during the sabbatical. For me, it was just a time to experience true Godly rest. And I feel so much better about it. The best way I can describe it is I feel like one of my kid’s favorite toys that just got brand new batteries put in. It’s like experiencing the toy all over again but this time you have wonderful memories of how good it was before. My spiritual batteries have for sure been recharged and I am more thankful for it.
For The Glory of God,
Chairmen of USMB Youth
Food is mentioned 90 times in the Gospels and another 109 times throughout the Bible. It is a crucial social activity in both the Old and New Testaments. In the first church, the followers devoted themselves to four things: the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42-47). This could mean communion or a more broad description is sharing a meal together. This wasn’t once a month potluck it was an everyday thing for the first church.
“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.”
Acts 2:46 NLT
They followed the example set by Jesus. Jesus spent many times interacting with people around meals. He ate meals with all kinds of people disciples, tax collectors, Pharisees, men, women, and notorious sinners. Jesus even got some pushback with who he ate meals with like Zaccheaus the “notorious sinner” or even Simon the pharisee. The only other miracle besides the resurrection that is mentioned in all four gospels is Jesus feeding the 5,000. Food played a crucial role in the ministry of Jesus. And the first church followed it by sharing meals with each other. Jesus also used part of a meal to symbolize his death and resurrection with communion. So the question is how important are meals to your ministry?
Over the years I have come to realize food and particularly sharing of meals can be a valuable element to any youth ministry. A few years ago we added a free meal to our Sunday night high school ministry. I was skeptical at first because I didn’t know if it will work, was worth the hassle, and would my budget support it. So we tried it for one year. I couldn’t believe how it improved the experience of our high schoolers. It changed the whole culture and atmosphere to the night. Sharing a meal made the adult small group leaders feel more connected to their students. It created new connection points to the rest of the church as ministries and families donated or even cooked meals. It also increased attendance and students showing up early or on time so they don’t miss the meal.
So after the trial year, we added 15 minutes to our programming and changed our schedule to make it a permanent part of our ministry. This was a big commitment for us because we have to feed about 90 people each week. That’s a lot of food. And it’s been a crucial element ever since.
Why should you include more meals in your programming? I could say, “because that is what Jesus and the first church did” but I want to share with you four other benefits you might not be aware of for providing more meals with your youth ministry programming.
Very few things can provide a natural environment to engagement than sharing a meal together. The people are connecting with each other throughout the whole process, while waiting in line, with the servers serving their food, and at the tables while they eat. It’s psychologically more motivating for humans to open up more if we have something in our hands or if we are eating. So this helps more shy or introverted students to interact than normally would not if they were just standing around waiting for the night to start.
Students who feel welcomed and accepted are the students who come back. It’s that simple. And meals provide an excellent way for students to feel welcomed. There is laughter, discussions, debates, jokes, and everything else that comes with interacting with people when you share a meal together.
Some of the best ministry times are the non-programmed moments where the leader and students can just interact and meals provide that better than most. The adult leader has 20-30 minutes of undivided attention with their students. Asking about their day and hearing about the student’s life without it feeling forced or structured like sometimes small group time is.
Adult leaders can ask questions in a more natural way than they could during small group time. They can talk about anything during this time because it’s not programmed. We have seen students brighten up during this time because they get to talk about subjects that they really care about and they have the leader’s undivided attention as well. This also helps with leaders meeting new guests for the first time in an informal setting.
One thing we noticed is our adult leaders have started to show earlier just so they can greet and interact with their students while waiting in line for their food.
There is something about walking into a room and seeing everyone eating and interacting at tables than standing around in groups. What we found when we added meals made it way easier for guests to get assimilated with the group. We try to foster a culture of “invite to an open seat” where if people see someone standing around looking for a spot they are to invite them to sit at your table. A natural “greeting” ministry started when we started providing meals.
It also was super easy to naturally go around the table and share names for new guests. They are all equal sitting at the round tables so no one needs to stand out if they don’t want to, but also no one can hide either. Meals equalize people and that improves the experience.
Having a meal with another person gives you a shared experience right off the bat, that is more powerful than just sitting next to a person waiting for the night to start. So when a student brings a friend the first thing they do is have that friend get connected with other students in a natural environment. I cannot think of another element that is better than that for getting new guests assimilated into the group and making them feel welcomed.
Our meals have even been a “selling point” when our students invite their friends to youth group.
The most difficult yet surprisingly impactful benefit we found was how meals allowed ministries and parents outside the youth ministry to connect and interact with the students. We need almost 90 meals that needs to be provided each week it was too much for one person or group to handle, and our budget certainly couldn’t. So from the beginning, we created a system for groups/ministries/parents to sign up to donate or prepare the food online. This helps us know which week has been planned and what they are bringing so it avoids repetitive meals.
Each summer we do some promoting to get people to sign up for that school year’s meal schedule. We talk to groups like women’s/men’s ministry, adult small groups, Sunday school classes, 65+ groups, and even our lead staff of our church has provided a meal. For parents, we encourage them to “group up” to provide a meal and it helps with parents who are newer to the ministry to get to know other parents!
Most people prepare the meal either beforehand or in our church’s kitchen but a few just donate funds and then we provide a catered meal that week. We encourage ministries and parents to prepare and serve the meal because there is more interaction that way than just a catered meal from a restaurant. We announce who is providing the meal and then pray for them each week. It has even become a promotional tool for our men’s and women’s ministries when they have a big event coming up that students can attend. Most people say one of their favorite parts is actually serving the meal and interacting with the students in line. So we now have several returning ministries and parent groups who sign up each year because of the positive experience they have in serving a meal.