YOUTH MINISTRY

Our Best Games and How We Play Them

This year at The Middle School Ministry Campference, Kenny and I led a breakout called Our Best Games and How We Play Them. But this, friends, wasn’t your typical breakout. In this breakout, we didn’t just tell you about our favorite games. We... read more

5 Books to Fuel Your Creativity in Youth Ministry

This post is part of Summer Ministry Vlog Week 2016! What the heck is that, you ask? Check this out. Hey pals! Earlier this week I shared five tips that have been really helpful for me personally on how to be, and stay, more creative – especially in youth ministry.... read more

5 Ways to Be More Creative in Youth Ministry

This post is part of Summer Ministry Vlog Week 2016! What the heck is that, you ask? Check this out. Hey friends! I’m super excited to spend a few minutes talking about one of my favorite things ever – how to be and stay creative, specifically in youth ministry. But... read more

It’s Summer Ministry Vlog Week!

Hey. Guess what. AUGUST 8-12 IS SUMMER MINISTRY VLOG WEEK! This week, a handful of my favorite ministry friends and bloggers are trying their hands at video blogging (in case you thought that vlog was a typo). #SMVWeek16 is the brainchild of the great Tom Pounder,... read more

Weird April Holidays to Celebrate in Youth Ministry

Don’t feel like reading? Then listen to this post instead! Or subscribe to my podcast for more audio versions of my blog posts! SUBSCRIBE! As you may have heard me say recently, I am always looking for an excuse to have a party. It’s something I assume... read more

The Awkward Moments Contest

You guys. Friday, March 18 is Awkward Moments Day. So I feel like we should talk about our awkward youth ministry moments. And then I’ll give away a prize for the best one. Because I love awkward moments. I mentioned this magical holiday recently in my post,... read more

Weird March Holidays to Celebrate in Youth Ministry

This post is part of a 12-part series about weird holidays in youth ministry. See them all right here! As you may have heard me say recently, I am always looking for an excuse to have a party. It’s something I assume everyone in youth ministry has in common. Of... read more

Weird February Holidays to Celebrate in Youth Ministry

This post is part of a 12-part series about weird holidays in youth ministry. See them all right here! As you may have heard me say recently, I am always looking for an excuse to have a party. It’s something I assume everyone in youth ministry has in common. Of... read more

Weird January Holidays to Celebrate in Youth Ministry

This post is part of a 12-part series about weird holidays in youth ministry. See them all right here! I’ll be honest, guys. I am always looking for an excuse to have a party. Since you’re in youth ministry, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you... read more

The Only 3 Things We Need to Teach in Youth Ministry

If you’re like most youth workers, you’re constantly trying to figure out the most important things to teach your students and the best time to teach those things. There are so many stories, books, characters, principles, and ideas in the Bible. How do you... read more

THE CAMPFERENCE | Building a Better Teaching Strategy

Don’t feel like reading? Then listen to this post instead! Or subscribe to my podcast for more audio versions of my blog posts! SUBSCRIBE! This weekend, I had the chance to hang out at The Middle School Ministry Campference and teach a couple of seminars! Here... read more

Youth Ministry Answers is Back from Vacation!

EVERYONE. Great news! After a few months of summer vacation, our podcast Youth Ministry Answers is back in action! We’re kicking off a new season of episodes with an interview with Adam McLane about how (and how not) to use Snapchat in youth ministry. It was a... read more

20 Things Small Group Leaders Do on Youth Trips

Hey, ministry leaders. We put a ton of work into our student camps, trips, and retreats, don’t we? I mean, between the budget, programming, transportation, food, questions from parents, the registrations, the late registrations, and the... read more

7 Things I’ve Learned from 7th Graders

This week, I was a substitute small group leader. Now, here’s the thing you need to know about being a substitute small group leader: when you sit down for the first time with a bunch of middle schoolers you barely know…you’re not going to have a... read more

Conversations with Small Group Leaders

This month, I got the chance to collaborate with my friend/hero Brooklyn Lindsey on an ebook called Conversations with Small Group Leaders: How Giving and Receiving Feedback Can Transform Your Culture.  We wrote it for the team over at Lead Small Weekly. And, by the... read more

Introducing… Youth Ministry Answers!

You guys. This is a big day. A really big day. Today, Kenny and I are launching a little something we’ve been working on for about a month. I told you about it a few weeks ago. Introducing… YOUTH MINISTRY ANSWERS A new podcast from Stuff You Can Use! The... read more

4 Tips for Telling Better Stories

In youth ministry, telling good stories is a skill that really matters. Think about it. Whether we’re communicating from a platform, or in a video, or at a table for two over a nice caramel frappuccino, stories are one of the best tools we have for communicating... read more

Celebrating Our Volunteers This Christmas

I happen to be one of those people who shops for Halloween candy at 5:00pm on October 31. I am not proud of this fact. But do you know what happens when you shop for Halloween candy at the last possible second? (Probably not, so I will tell you.) You get to... read more

Introducing… Youth Ministry Answers!

Hello peoplefriends! Guess what.  I have some news. And I think you’re going to like it. You see, last week, Kenny and I went on a bit of a road trip. And when Kenny and I go on road trips, things get dangerous. Not like car-accident-dangerous (usually). More... read more

A Few Words for Women in Ministry

In the circles that I run in, it seems like there has been a lot of talk lately about women in ministry. And there’s good reason for that. Gina Abbas recently released the book A Woman in Youth Ministry. Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist is still making waves.... read more

Every Kid Needs a Champion

I watched an incredible TED Talk last week. Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t. Either way, it’s worth (another) watch. Rita Pierson is an educator, but the ideas she talks about here are way bigger than just tactics to help kids learn. I heard... read more

Hey Guess What!

Friends, I have something to tell you.

I’ve hinted at it a few times on this blog. And it’s probably old news if we’re friends on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

But…

I recently got the chance to co-author a book with two of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
And, last week, I held it in my hands for the very first time.
It’s about small groups, which is pretty much my favorite topic.
And it’s available really soon.
And I’m so excited about it.

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HOW TO | Make Small Group Party Kits

I’ve got to show you something Our New Guy Erik has been working on. (Erik joined our Middle School Ministry team back in January. He’s really cool. I’ll introduce you sometime.)

So we really like it when small group leaders have parties with their small groups. Because we know, if a small group leader expects to make an impact in the lives of kids, they need to spend time with their few outside of church.

And because we know small group hangouts are so important to those relationships, we try to make it AS EASY AS POSSIBLE for small group leaders to make them happen.

Maybe I’ll tell you about all of those ways sometime. But for now, I just want to tell you about one of them – the thing New Guy Erik has been working on.

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The Very Best Volunteer Interview Questions

Don’t feel like reading? Then listen to this post instead! Or subscribe to my podcast for more audio versions of my blog posts! SUBSCRIBE! So you’re at Starbucks, sitting across the table from a potential new volunteer. This is a big moment. You’re... read more

A Look Back at 2013 and a Look Forward to 2014

It’s the first full week of 2014! I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about this coming year. I think it’s going to be a good one.

But, really, 2013 was pretty great too.

I launched this blog in 2013, for one thing. And it’s been a really fun little adventure so far. In the last year, we’ve talked about all sorts of stuff. Social mediahaving funpartnering with parentswomen in ministry… recycling your five million youth group t-shirts… and lots more.

I’ve had a blast so far.

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My Soapbox Rant About Empowering Volunteers

Yesterday I gave you some of my favorite snippets and takeaways from the 2013 Middle School Ministry Campference. I hope you checked it out because, seriously, there was a heck of a lot of goodness in those notes.

Now, to keep the Campference conversation going, I want to tell you about a little Campference tradition that I got to be a part of this year: the Soapbox Sessions. Apparently, every year, Marko asks a handful of Campference people to give quick little 5-minute “soapbox rants” in response to this question:

“What is one thing you wish every middle school youth worker would stop doing, or start doing, or understand?”

And, this year, he asked me to get in on it.

So here’s my response, inspired by my 5-minute Campference Soapbox Rant.

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The Middle School Ministry Campference Was Freakin’ Awesome

This weekend, Kenny and I got the chance to hang out at The Middle School Ministry Campference. And it… was… awesome.

Let me tell you some of the cool things I learned.

Oh, but first, if you don’t know anything about The Campference, here’s what you need to know:

  • It’s a gathering just for the Middle School Ministry tribe.
  • It happened at SpringHill Camp in Seymour, IN.
  • It’s sort of a conference (with speakers and breakout sessions and things), and it’s sort of like camp, with crazy free time options (like paintball-ziplining), shared meals (just like at camp!), and tons and tons and tons of conversations.
  • Everyone at The Campference is a peer – including the speakers. Everyone hangs together, eats together, rooms together, and makes some new best friends.

Kenny and I got to lead a couple of sessions about games and environments and marriage, which was really fun. And I got to do a little “Soapbox Rant,” which I’ll talk more about tomorrow.

But today let’s talk about the cool stuff we learned in sessions. Want to hear some of my favorite takeaways?

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Why Fun Environments Matter

You may or may not know this about me, but I spend some of my time working with a really cool group of folks on a really fun project called Uthmin.

What is Uthmin?

It’s a little something for the Middle School Ministry tribe.

Tom Shefchunas (the Middle School Ministry guy at North Point) and Jeremy Lee (the guy behind ParentMinistry.net) are the masterminds.

Uthmin is about helping Middle School Ministers do ministry better, and it’s about bringing Middle School Ministers together… to help each other!

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My 3 Go-To Resources for Discipling Teenagers

I’m often asked to recommend tools and resources for discipling teenagers. And, well, there are three resources I find myself recommending over and over again.

So today, I want to take a second to give you a look at those three resources (a method for sharing the Gospel, a Bible, and a 30-day devotional) and tell you why I like them so much.

Here they are…

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LEAD SMALL | Four Ways to Start Strong This Year

Every month, I write a post for Lead Small, a blog that’s written for Small Group Leaders, by actual Small Group Leaders. In honor of September and the beginning of a brand new school year, I recently shared some thoughts on how to get off to a great start with your small group in the new year.

These are things that have really helped me be a better Small Group Leader for my girls. So if you think it’s helpful, I’d love it if you’d share it with your Small Group Leaders, too!

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I’m Not Blogging This Week (and Here’s Why)

Hey friends! Just wanted to get you in the loop on something…

I’m not going to be blogging this week.

Not because I don’t like you, but because…

I’m writing a book! WOOHOO!

More details will be coming soon, but for now I’ll just tell you a few things about it…

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A Little More Office Inspiration

So, friends, we’ve come to an end of this series of posts on how to make your office more awesome. In case you missed it, we’ve already talked about de-cluttering your workspace, wooden pallet walls, custom dry erase boards, t-shirt walls, and a magnetic chalkboard wall.

To wrap things up, I want to leave you with just a few more sources of inspiration for the design of your office. You’ve already seen some small snippets of our offices this week, but I heard a rumor that some of you might want to see the rest of our spaces. So… here you go! Hope it helps.

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HOW TO | Make a Sweet Volunteer Wall

Ok reader friends, we’re back with just two more installments in this “How to Make Your Office Awesome” series. So far, I’ve shared some tips for de-cluttering your workspace, a tutorial on how to make a wooden pallet wall, a tutorial on how to make yourself some custom dry erase boards, and a tutorial on how to make a t-shirt wall.

And today, I want to give you a peek at my favorite part of my whole office, because it’s super functional and it looks pretty cool, too.

MY VOLUNTEER WALL.

32e3I oversee all the volunteer development, training, and care for our Middle School Ministry, so it was really important to me to have a big statement piece in my office that was all about them. I wanted something that would help me remember practical things, like who was serving where, but I also wanted something that would help me remember why I do what I do.

So I decided to put all of my volunteers’ pretty little faces up on my wall. (Aren’t they so cute?)

Let me tell you what you’re looking at, and then I’ll tell you how to make it.

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NEW RESOURCE! 19 Editable Series Graphics

Hey friends! I need to interrupt this Awesome Office series real quick because… we have new treats for you in the Stuff You Can Use shop!

A BUNDLE OF 19 EDITABLE SERIES GRAPHICS!

Each of these 19 graphics were made with real-life teaching series in mind – some for our Middle School Ministry, others for our pal Dan’s Middle School Ministry.

Each graphic comes with an editable .psd file (editable in Photoshop), plus finished .jpgs (if you’d like to skip the editing and use the designs as-is).

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HOW TO | Make Your Own T-Shirt Wall

We’re still going strong with this little “How to Make Your Office Awesome” series. So far, I’ve shared some tips for de-cluttering your workspace, a tutorial on how to make a wooden pallet wall, and a tutorial on how to make yourself some custom dry erase boards. I’ve got a few more ideas coming this week, starting with this gem from my favorite boy Kenny’s office…

A T-SHIRT WALL.

Being a youth pastor is pretty much synonymous with having an epic collection of t-shirts. So, if you’re looking for a cool (and affordable) way to decorate your office, take a few minutes, dig out your old youth ministry t-shirts, and you’ve got the raw materials for some pretty incredible office decor.

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HOW TO | Make Custom Dry Erase Boards (with a FREE Download)

In case you missed it, I’m in the middle of a little series about how to make your office awesome. Because having a cool office is fun, of course, but also because the condition of your office can actually help you be better at your job.

In my last post, you got a peek at my friend Austin’s wooden pallet wall and, today, I want to keep this trend going with a feature in my office that I absolutely love: custom dry erase boards. 

I’ll tell you how to make them and I’ll give you a free download with the templates to make them yourself.

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HOW TO | Make Your Office Awesome

Today, I want to talk about making our offices freaking awesome. Why? Two reasons.

#1  Having a sweet office is fun.
I mean, think about all the time you spend sitting at your desk. Don’t you want to enjoy being there?

#2  The condition of your office can actually help you be better at your job.
Seriously. Plenty of research shows that the condition of our workspaces can significantly help, or hinder, our ability to be efficient and creative. And that’s a big deal because… well, we’ve got work to do! Like, really important work. If we want to be the best youth ministers we can possibly be, we’ve got to get stuff done, think creatively, and be motivated. So let’s create workspaces that encourage us to be our best and get more done.

So here’s what I want to do. Whether you’re in an office, cubicle, or a broom closet (been there, by the way), I want to share some tips for making your workspace freaking awesome.

These are tips for getting your office more organized (because I’ve seen some of your offices, and they are scary places), and tips for making it look sweet, too.

So let’s do it. Here are 4 simple tips for making your workspace more awesome.

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HOW TO | Make Super Simple (and Awesome) Wall Art for Your Youth Space

Recently, our youth space needed a little makeover.

I guess it’s just what happens when you’ve got hundreds of teenagers running around multiple times a week: stuff starts to fall apart, decorative items get broken or go missing, and things just start to feel… a little run down. Our space needed some revamping. So I started brainstorming some solutions and updates.

The easiest way to bring some new life and coziness to our space, I decided, would be to invest in some cool wall art.

Two complications, though:

  1. IT NEEDED TO BE MULTIPURPOSE. We do youth ministry in a space that is also utilized by other ministries and events. So whatever I hung on the walls needed to appeal to more than just teenagers.
  2. WE DIDN’T HAVE MUCH OF A BUDGET. This wasn’t something we had planned for in our budget. But it was necessary. And buying wall art can be expensive. Boo.

So I made my own! And it was so easy. Even if you don’t have a single artistic bone in your body, you can do this. I promise.

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The Transformative Power of Women in Ministry

Last month, Jen Bradbury over at YMjen.com asked me to contribute to a series she was doing on her blog. She had asked a handful of women in youth ministry to share a transformative moment in their faith and ministry. I loved this series. And I was really excited to be a part of it. And I think you should read it.

Here’s the post I contributed. It’s the story of a moment that changed the way I view women in ministry

The summer after I graduated high school, our youth pastor took a group of high school students and recent graduates to a student leadership conference. For five days, we were challenged to make a difference, set big goals, have a vision, and change the world for Jesus. I loved it.

Toward the end of the conference, one communicator in particular caught my attention. Because we all have unique gifts and passions, he said, the way each of us serves God should be unique too. Some of us would go on to serve God in the “world,” as doctors or lawyers or politicians or whatever else we wanted to do. And some of us, he said, would serve God in vocational ministry – maybe in a church or missions organization.

As a recent high school graduate who was still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, I paid close attention. I had a ton of interests and talents and passion, but little eighteen-year-old Elle hadn’t figured out how to pull all of those things together for a future career yet.

I did know, though, that I loved leading and helping and serving in my church and my youth group. So when the communicator mentioned “vocational ministry,” I started to wonder…

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7 New Things We’re Working on This Summer

Earlier this week I shared 9 things that I do every single summer in preparation for the new school year.

Those 9 things are keeping me pretty busy. But (like you, I’m sure) we also have the challenge of juggling all of the new things we want to launch in the new school year.

You know. New projects, new ideas, new systems…

So today, I wanted to give you a look at 7 brand new ideas and projects we’re trying to pull together in preparation for the new school year. And, like my last post, I’ll let you in on how we’re doing with each of them.

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9 Things I Do in Youth Ministry Every Summer

I was just talking to my friend Jeremy Lee about how ridiculously busy summers are in youth ministry. (And when I say we were “talking,” I actually mean he was laughing at me and my absurdly long Summer To-Do List.)

Summers in youth ministry are crazy. Now that August is almost here, I’m guessing you’re swamped with planning the calendar for a new school year, recruiting volunteers, reworking all the stuff that flopped last year, planning a sweet kick-off event, and about a million other things.

Or maybe you’re reading this post right now and thinking, “Shoot… I should probably start thinking about the new school year, huh?”

If that’s you, I will pray for you.

Anyway. I thought it would be fun to share with you a little checklist of the 9 things I do every single summer in preparation for the new school year… and let you know how I’m doing with each of them so far.

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So I’m Wondering…

Ok friends, I’m wondering if you can help me with something…

I’m working on a few new series of posts for this blog. I’m really excited about them, and I think they’ll be pretty cool and helpful.

But… I need your help to pull them off!

So here’s what I’m wondering…

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Don’t Climb Alone: A New Discipleship Tool We Can’t Wait to Use!

Earlier this week, I was gushing about the 7 reasons I’m obsessed with Never the Same Summer Camp. And I kind of left you hanging on Reason #7, where I said that I love them because of “their post-camp discipleship resources.” I had to hold off on telling you more about it because their brand new resource is so stinking good that it deserved its own post.

So, today, I’d like to introduce you to a new tool from our friends at Never the Same. It’s called Don’t Climb Alone.

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7 Reasons We’re Obsessed with NTS Summer Camp

Kenny and I are home after a week of summer camp with some of our little middle school friends!

Our week at camp was amazing. But if we’re Instagram buddies, you probably know that already. Hope you liked all those videos of dance parties and giant sprinklers and boys wearing tutus.

Photo Jul 09, 2 43 28 PMWe take students to NTS Camp (short for “Never the Same” Camp) every single summer. And, every single summer, the NTS team consistently blows us away with their vision, their hearts, their creativity, and their execution.

Is NTS Camp the best summer camp in the world? Yeah probably.

Should you take your students next summer? Um yes.

Let me tell you why.

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Fun Ninja is LIVE!

Guys. GUESS WHAT.

On Friday, Kenny launched a brand new youth ministry resource under the umbrella of Stuff You Can Use, and we are so pumped to share it with you!

Fun Ninja is a growing archive of our favorite youth group games and Kenny’s thoughts about creating super fun environments for students. I love what he’s put together so far, and there is tons more content on the way. Check it out!

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COMING SOON | A Growing Archive of Youth Group Games from Stuff You Can Use

Kenny and I are super excited about today’s news.

We’re almost ready to release a brand new resource under the umbrella of Stuff You Can Use. 

And it’s all about FUN & GAMES! (One of our favorite things, if you recall.)

This almost-ready-to-be-announced resource is going to be an archive of our favorite youth group games. Expect lots of photos, videos, how-to’s, and blog posts from Kenny about how to create super fun environments at church.

Here’s a little sneak peek…

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9 Youth Pastors, a Cabin in the Woods, and What They’ve Been Reading Lately

We’ve all but wrapped up this Cabin in the Woods series, but I wanted to leave you with one last takeaway from the 2013 Middle School Summit. At the very end of our time together, the nine of us spent some time answering the question “What are the best books you’ve read this year?”

Some of our suggestions are about ministry. A ton are about leadership. Some stretched our brains. And some were just good for our hearts.

Here’s the list of our favorites…

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9 Youth Pastors, a Cabin in the Woods, and a Conversation About Helping Each Other

Well, friends, we’ve just about reached the end of this Cabin in the Woods series. I’ll be posting one final little bonus session tomorrow, but today is the last major topic of conversation from the 2013 Middle School Summit.

We’ve covered a lot in the last two weeks. Parent ministry, rites of passage, developing mission-minded teenagers, leading volunteers… and today we’ll wrap it up with one last conversation.

I’m pretty excited about this one.

Because Kenny and I are a little bit obsessed with the idea of partnership in the Body of Christ. Thanks, in large part, to the influence of our pastor, we’re big believers that the Church must work together if we want to be effective for the Gospel. As church leaders, we need to collaborate. We need to help each other. We need to swap ideas, compare notes, brainstorm, and troubleshoot together. We need each other.

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9 Youth Pastors, a Cabin in the Woods, and a Conversation About Developing Volunteers

Hello and welcome back to this little Cabin in the Woods series! If you’ve stumbled on this post mid-series, you probably want to check out this introduction from last week so you know what’s happening around here.

In the last week, you’ve been eavesdropping on the conversations that happened at this year’s Middle School Summit in Forest Falls, CA. We’ve already recapped our conversations about parent ministryrites of passage, and developing “mission-minded” teenagers. And each topic has been packed with wisdom, insightful questions, and super practical ideas from a handful of insanely talented and innovative Youth Pastors.

So let’s keep it going with a look at our next topic of conversation:

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9 Youth Pastors, a Cabin in the Woods, and a Conversation About Students on Mission

Ok! Today marks the halfway point of this Cabin in the Woods series. Since last Monday, you’ve been eavesdropping on some of our conversations from the 2013 Middle School Summit – a small annual gathering of Middle School Pastors that’s been in existence for a little over 10 years. This year, Kenny and I got to attend for the first time and it… was… awesome.

Like I mentioned at the start of this series, the beautiful thing about the Middle School Summit is that it wasn’t a conference – it was a conversation. For three days (in a cabin in the woods), we got to talk ministry with some of the most incredible Middle School Pastors we’ve ever met.

We swapped ideas, talked about what’s working, shared what we’re wrestling with, and dreamed about what we’d like to try next. 

We’ve already covered our talks about parent ministry and rites of passage. Today, we’ll keep it going with our conversation about seeing students live “on mission.” 

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9 Youth Pastors, a Cabin in the Woods, and a Conversation About Milestones

This week we’re giving you a look at the conversations Kenny and I had recently with 7 of the most creative and incredible Middle School Pastors in the country. Why?

Well, because those conversations were encouraged us, challenged us, and gave us a ton of new ideas and inspiration to implement in our ministry. And I think they’ll have a similar effect on you.

Yesterday I shared my notes from our group’s conversation about ministering to, and with, the parents of our students. And today, we’ll explore a related topic by sharing the highlights of our group’s conversation about milestones. 

What the heck do I mean by milestones, you ask? Good question. Two things. Part of it had to do with transitioning students from one ministry to the next (Children’s Ministry to Middle School Ministry, or Middle School Ministry to High School Ministry). But most of our conversation centered around rites of passage experiences. And by that we mean spiritual, developmental, or age-specific moments that could generate conversations between parents and their children.

So with all that in mind, here’s how our group tried to sort out how our ministries can best approach…

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9 Youth Pastors, a Cabin in the Woods, and a Conversation About Parent Ministry

Yesterday we told you about this crazy opportunity Kenny and I had to hang out with 7 of the most creative and incredible Middle School Pastors in the country. We spent three days together, talking ministry, brainstorming, swapping ideas, and dreaming about the future of Middle School Ministry together.

The conversations we had were challenging, inspiring, and packed full of practical ideas. 

So this week, I’ll be publishing my (mostly) unedited notes from our talks. Starting today! With a conversation about…

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Be sure you check out the line-up of people participating in this conversation – so you can have some context for these notes, of course, but also because these are youth pastors you definitely want to be following. 

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9 Youth Pastors and a Cabin in the Woods

So I know the title of today’s post sounds like the tagline to a really awesome horror movie, but… that’s not where we’re going with this. I know, you’re disappointed.

But hopefully I can make up for it with what my next few posts are actually going to be about…

A peek at what some of the most talented, creative, and amazing Middle School Pastors in the country are learning, trying, and dreaming about right now.

How do I know what some of the most amazing Middle School Pastors in the country are up to? Well, I got to hang out with them. For three days. And yes, we really were in a cabin in the woods. In the middle of nowhere. With no cell service. Winding mountain roads. Some seriously creepy fog. And some really awesome conversations.

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A few months ago, Sean Meade (a Middle School Pastor in the LA area) gave me a call to tell me about an annual gathering of Middle School Pastors called The Middle School Summit. They had been meeting in various places on the west coast for 12 years or something crazy, and their roster of past organizers and participants included some of our biggest heroes in Middle School Ministry – Mark Oestreicher, Brooklyn Lindsey, Scott Rubin, and Kurt Johnston, for example.

Marko, actually, is the founder of the Middle School Summit, and has shared a bunch of the notes from previous years on his blog.

So by the time Sean told me they were looking for some fresh faces and voices to add to the conversation this year, and asked if Kenny and I were interested, we were pretty much already buying our plane tickets.

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Your Social Media Questions Answered | Part 4 of 4

Well, friends, this is it! The final installment of our 4-part series on social media. All week long, we’ve had a panel of social media geniuses responding to your questions about using social media more effectively in ministry. 

We’ve covered a lot of great stuff already, from managing multiple social media platforms to helping volunteers interact safely with teenagers online. And we’ve got a ton more to cover today. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Today’s panel of expert contributors…

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Your Social Media Questions Answered | Part 3 of 4

Happy Wednesday! And happy Part 3 of our series on using social media in ministry. In case you’ve missed it, we’re spending the rest of this week responding to your questions about using social media more effectively in ministry.

In Part 1, social media geniuses Justin Wise, Rich Birch, and Anthony Coppedge shared some thoughts about the future of social media and some tips on managing multiple social media platforms.

In Part 2, we got a little more specific to youth ministry. Rich Birch, Anthony Coppedge, and Jeremy Lee all weighed in with some suggestions for communicating more effectively with teenagers digitally.

And today, in Part 3, we’ll get even more practical to youth ministry.

Today’s panel of expert contributors…

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Your Social Media Questions Answered | Part 2 of 4

This week we’re continuing our current series on using social media in ministry. We started this conversation back in April, and now we’re keeping things going by responding to your questions about using social media more effectively in ministry. 

If you missed the first installment of this series, you can check it out here. In Part 1, social media geniuses Justin Wise, Rich Birch, and Anthony Coppedge all shared some great responses to your questions. And, today, we’re going to keep it going with some more awesomeness from the experts (plus a few thoughts from me).

Today’s panel of expert contributors…

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Get Instafeed LIVE for FREE!

If you’ve been following us for the last couple of months, chances are you’ve heard a little something about Instafeed LIVE. It’s a program Kenny and I developed for creating LIVE Instagram slideshows on your big screen – using your students’ Instagram photos. 

If you don’t know the backstory of Instafeed LIVE, how it works, or how we use it in ministry, take a second to read this post about it. That’ll clear things up. Once you’ve checked that out, there’s only one thing you need to know…

Instafeed LIVE is free until the end of June!

Why? Well, because we love it and we think it’s a really fun tool for ministry and we think you’ll love it too. So try it out!

Here are the details…

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God, Please Help Us Have Fun

This week, we’re talking about fun and why it’s so important in youth ministry. Yesterday I gave three reasons why I think having fun should be a priority and a strategy, rather than just an afterthought, in our ministries. And today I want to point you in the direction of a post I wrote a few weeks ago for Lead Small – a blog written for Small Group Leaders, by Small Group Leaders. It’s an incredible resource, and I am so excited that I get to contribute. Because leading a small group is one of my favorite things ever.

So… if you’re wondering how you can relay this have more fun! message to your volunteers, maybe this will help…

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NEW! | Create Your Own Live Instagram Slideshows

We love using Instagram in ministry.

I have an Instagram account. Kenny has an Instagram account. We have an Instagram account for our Middle School Ministry. And, of course, we have a ton of volunteers and students with Instagram accounts, too.

Since Instagram seems to be the realm of social media where most of our students are hanging out and interacting, Kenny and I were chatting recently about ways we might increase our presence and engagement on Instagram. We already had our Instagram account up and running, were encouraging students and volunteers to use our hashtag (#shinedotms), and had a pretty decent number of students interacting with us there, but we wanted to take things a step further.

We wanted to find a way to get students even more engaged and excited about what was happening at SHINE! 

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What Middle Schoolers Want to Know About Love & Dating

If you’ve ever talked to me or Kenny before, chances are, you already know that we’re a little bit obsessed with Middle School Ministry. Because, well… middle schoolers are awesome. And insane. And our favorite.

And they’re also super interesting. 

Seriously. Middle schoolers are fascinating. The preteen and early teen years are a crazy time of change and transition and developmental advances, which (for both middle schoolers and the adults who are trying to influence them) is both pretty cool and also a little bit terrifying.

And as middle schoolers struggle to navigate these years of growth and transition, one of the most confusing, important, emotional, exciting, and stressful things they will deal with is, without a doubt, the issue of love & dating.

We recently embarked on a 3-week teaching series with our students about this very topic. And as we strategized about how to deal with this super important topic, we knew we wanted to make sure we were doing our very best to address our students’ biggest needs and questions. We had some ideas about what we thought they needed to hear about love and dating, of course, but we couldn’t help but wonder… Are we really being helpful? Is this content relevant to what they’re dealing with? Are we addressing the questions our students are actually asking about love and dating?

We weren’t sure. So we decided… if we really wanted to know what our students are wondering about love & dating… we should probably just ask them.

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Our 13 Favorite Ways to Learn New Things

Yesterday we talked about the fact that the world’s greatest innovators are people who know a lot of things about a wide range of subjects – they are “expert generalists“… people who love and are committed to learning about all kinds of fields – even those unrelated to what they do for a living.

Then we talked about how, as youth workers, it might be time for us to cut back on the ministry-related knowledge we consume, so we can spend more time exploring new fields of study. Business, economics, psychology, marketing, design, history, literature – even different theological perspectives and faith systems. Because, by broadening the scope of our knowledge, we can become better people, better thinkers, better problem-solvers, better leaders, and better innovators.

So today, to get us started, Kenny and I wanted to share with you some of our all-time favorite places to learn new things and get exposed to new ideas. And then we want to hear yours too!

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Sparking Innovation in Ministry

I recently read an article from Art Markman about “the benefits of being an expert generalist.” You should really read it. Markman’s article is the inspiration for today’s blog because, I’m convinced, this “expert generalist” thing is something that we, as youth workers, could really learn from.

First, a quick summary of the original article

The greatest innovators throughout human history have something in common – while they might be known for their contributions to one particular field, the greatest innovators know a lot of things about a wide variety of topics.

They are expert generalists.
People who love and are committed to learning.
People with a wide knowledge base.
People who explore and delve into many different fields of study – even those unrelated to what they do.

These “expert generalists” are often the people who are our best creators and innovators. Because they have expanded their knowledge beyond one single field of study, they are able to see connections, draw parallels, and solve problems that the rest of us simply can’t.

So what does this have to do with youth ministry?

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Refocusing Your Volunteers in the New Year

This week, now that we’re all back in our offices and kicking off 2013, we’re talking about getting refocused for the new year. Yesterday we looked at refocusing our ministries, and today we’ll keep it going by talking about refocusing our volunteers.

If you’ve been in ministry for any length of time, you’ve probably already discovered that your volunteers are really important. Like, really, really important. So, ministry leaders, as we hit the ground running in 2013 with all of our new ideas, innovative strategies, and fresh vision, remember – we can’t make the mistake of leaving our volunteers behind. 

Fresh ideas, strategies, and vision in the new year are great. And necessary. And awesome. But if we fail to cast that fresh vision to our volunteers – if we fail to lead them well – our fancy new ideas are probably going to fail too.

So what do we do? How do we help our volunteers get refocused on their roles and responsibilities in the new year? How do we help them find fresh motivation for the second half of the school year? Well, here are a few things we’re thinking about…

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Refocusing Your Ministry in the New Year

This week, as we launch into 2013 and get back into the grind at the office, we wanted to chat for a second about getting refocused in the new year – today, we’ll start by chatting about getting refocused in our ministries.

One of the best things Kenny and I have done for our Middle School Ministry has been to establish a rhythm of reevaluating our ministry. Twice a year (usually on the heels of a nice vacation, away from the office), we spend time talking through our vision and goals for our ministry… brainstorming new approaches and ideas… looking at what we do through fresh eyes… and being really honest about the things that need work.

We had one of those “refocusing” sessions a few days ago and we thought it would be fun to give you a little inside look into that conversation…

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Some iPhone Design Tips From a Student Pastor & Instagram Artist

Yesterday we gave you a 3-step tutorial on how to create great graphics – using only your iPhone. It seemed like you guys liked it. So, today, we’re going to continue with the iPhone art conversation by introducing you to someone who’s making some pretty cool things with his iPhone. His work has inspired us and we think it’ll inspire you too – and show you the kind of design that’s possible, using just your iPhone.

Meet our friend Sam Woods. Sam’s really cool. He’s one of the student pastors at Oneighty, the Student Ministry of Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. Sam specializes mostly in Jr. High Ministry. And listen. If you don’t know about the COTM team, you really should. They’re super creative and super generous with their stuff. And that’s a great combo.

Sam’s also got some really impressive iPhone design skills. Actually, his iPhone art creations have made him kind of Instagram-famous. He wouldn’t tell you that. But it’s true.

Here’s a bit of his work…

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HOW TO | Create Great Graphics Using Only Your iPhone

So here’s the thing. Hopefully this won’t come as much of a shock… but, in general, churches aren’t exactly known as being hubs of great graphic design. You know what we mean. Comic Sans… Papyrus… those creepy pictures of Jesus as a white guy… animated clipart of doves descending on open Bibles. There’s some weird stuff out there.

But, hey, we get it. Not every church can afford a graphic designer or the latest version of the Adobe Creative Suite. And, even if you do have the right tools, you may not have the time, or the eye, for becoming a world-class graphic designer. And that’s ok. Really.

But if we want to be influential with kids and students, good graphic design really does help.

Here’s the good news though. You don’t necessarily need to spend hundreds of dollars on software (or a ton of hours learning how to use that software) in order to make good design happen. Today, we’re going to show you how you can create some really great graphics using only your iPhone (or iPad) and just $2.98 in apps. Yep. $2.98.

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11 Must-Have Small Group Supplies

When Kenny and I aren’t doing Stuff You Can Use, we’re doing Middle School Ministry at an awesome church in Buffalo, NY. It’s pretty fun. We’re learning a lot, we’re trying a lot, and part of the reason this blog exists is so we can share with you some of our experiences and experiments. Maybe some things we share will spark something really genius in your ministry context. That’s what we’re up to in today’s post.

One of our personal core philosophies in ministry is this: in everything we do, we want to set up our Small Group Leaders to win with their students. In every aspect of ministry, we want to give our Small Group Leaders every opportunity and resource they need to be successful. Because they’re the heart and hands of what we do.

One of the ways we’ve tried to do that has been to create a Small Group Leader Supply Station. It’s sort of a one-stop shop for anything and everything our Small Group Leaders (or SGL’s) might need. Today, we wanted to give you a peek at it!

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NEW! | The 4 Elements Small Group Projects

On Wednesday, we introduced you to a little something called The 4 Elements. And to go along with those 4 Elements, we also told you we had some brand new resources coming in just a couple of days.

Well, today is that day. You ready for some new resources?

Now just to recap: The 4 Elements are the four things that our church uses to measure and evaluate spiritual formation. They’re the four things that we believe a life following Jesus is made up of: 

  1. Growing in Friendship with God1
  2. Growing in Christlike Relationships
  3. Knowing and Using Your Gifts
  4. Sharing Your Story

In SHINE! (our Middle School Ministry), we’ve decided to incorporate The 4 Elements into our small group strategy. Why? Because we think our Small Group Leaders are the people who know our students best, and that they’re also the people who can best guide their small group of students into a deeper level of discipleship and spiritual formation.

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Thanksgiving in a Cup… YUM!

Happy almost-Thanksgiving, friends! This week, we’re really thankful for you. For real. Thank you so much for all of your love, your support, your encouragement, and your help spreading the word about what’s going on around here at Stuff You Can Use. You make us smile.

So in honor of Thanksgiving, let’s talk about how we’re celebrating this delicious holiday with our favorite kids and students. We’ll tell you one of our ideas, and then it’s your turn. Ready? Ok.

We’ve got this guy on our team named Andy. He’s crazy. And he volunteers his time to be the Game Master and Fun Expert for our Middle School Ministry. Because Andy sometimes likes to make our students participate in gross food-related group games, he has earned the prestigious title of Chef Andy.

Meal in a Cup is one of our most infamous group games. And, for some reason that is entirely beyond our comprehension, our students love it.

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How Western New York is Redefining Church Partnership

Here in Buffalo, we’re really blessed to serve under the leadership of a guy named Jerry Gillis. He’s really great. There are lots of reasons why we love our pastor, but one of the things we love most is his heart for seeing the Body of Christ coming together in unity and partnership for the sake of the mission. It’s a vision that he has been casting and championing to our staff and congregation for years.

And the cool thing? Here in Buffalo, it’s actually happening. And it’s happening in an area that didn’t exactly have the best track record for church partnership. Years ago, relationships between churches here in Buffalo were more often characterized by competition and, sometimes, even animosity.

But in the last several years, we’ve seen tons of very different churches in the Buffalo area come together as “the Church of Buffalo” to do some pretty crazy things. First of all, how about the fact that “the Church of Buffalo” is actually a phrase people use around here? Crazy, right?

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