Shower Office

October 29, 2015 — Leave a comment

I’ve decided to move my office into my shower.  No seriously.  After conducting tens of hours of rigorous scientific research, I have realized that 9 out of 10 of my genius ideas occur to me in the shower.  There must be something about the humidity and the water.  So, I’m moving my office to my shower.  I’m still working on the issues of waterproofing my laptop.  I’m sorry if this image causes you to be a little sick but I assure you this is for the best.

Ok. Actually, after thinking about it a bit longer, I’m realizing that creative ideas spring upon me in other places–like when I’m forced to walk long distances, when my phone is dead, when I have to drive alone without music, that one time I went for a run, and when I’m trapped in elevators.  So, after a bit more thought, maybe it isn’t actually my shower that is a conductor for creative energy…maybe it is quiet, a lack of structure and maybe even boredom.

I’ve come to realize that for me, creative energy requires certain conditions in order to be released.  When I am rushed, hurried and frantic, creative ideas and innovative schemes seem to dry up.  Maybe creative energy needs space.  Stop.  Listen.  Be patient.  Turn down the noise.

My suspicion is I’m not alone in this.  Whether you are an engineer, an artist or a stay at home mom, creativity and innovation propel all of us toward greatness.  We all need ideas.  Ideas unlock the places where we are stuck.   I’m discovering that there is a way to structure our frantic lives for creativity and innovation.  It probably involves letting your phone run dead, walking instead of driving, or carving out space for a longer shower.

All this is so counter-intuitive.  We believe that running fast, busyness and long hours are what make us productive.  Admittedly, this is partially true.  However, without space for quiet–for curiosity, wonder and undistracted thought, the ideas, innovation and creativity will dry up.  Perhaps our daily schedules need blocks of running fast interspersed with blocks of locking ourselves in a closet.

The world needs your creativity.  We need your ideas.  Do us all a favor and create some dead space.  Be bored.  Take your time.  Power it down.  Let’s generate creative thoughts and fresh ideas.  I bet our lives, families, offices, schools and churches will be better for it.


image credited to r. nial bradshaw via Flickr



Defining the Win

October 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

Lately, our student ministry team has been redefining our wins.  Also, we’ve been reading through 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.  Basically, we’re kind of obsessed.  It’s been a great exercise for me and my team.  Here’s what we’ve come up for the ultimate win in our student ministry:  We win when a student is still following Jesus at age 25.  Yeah, that’s right.  It’s an intimidating goal.  A little about the wording…

  • We decided that what really matters is that our students are still pursuing Jesus and still connected to a church long after they leave our student ministry.
  • We chose the word “follow” because we’re not just after belief.  We’re after discipleship.
  • We chose the word “still” because we want kids and students to develop faith in our family ministry…not after.
  • We chose the number 25 because most 25 year olds are done with or finishing up college and yet, 25 is typically before children.  In other words, we want to fight against the trend of emerging adults putting their faith on the shelf in college and not reengaging it until it’s time to take their kids to church.

Obviously, this win is a lot harder to attain or measure than the typical win:  “leading students into a relationship with Jesus.”  Sure, this is part of what we want but it doesn’t speak to life-long faith, which is what we are really after.

In the process of redefining our win, we’ve been wrestling with the “how.”  I’m confident that our win is correct, but how exactly do you get there?  This is the part that I could be wrong about.  Also, we haven’t wordsmithed any of this yet.  I’m open to your ideas and your feedback, but here’s a rough cut of what I’m thinking:



I think the foundation is connection to a Jesus community.  In other words, attendance matters.  Belonging to the community matters.  By all of this, I mean participation in your student ministry, but also connection to the congregation as a whole.  FYI has repeatedly shown that students who are inter-generationally connected to their church have a much better shot at healthy faith as adults.

So, what’s the first step?  Get students connected to your student ministry…and don’t you dare be a silo!  Get them connected to the rest of the congregation as well.



I’ve come to believe that this strategy is the cornerstone.  The three other pieces are important but this one is absolutely crucial.  Kids and students need a guide.  They need a mentor to show them what it looks like to follow Jesus.  A caring adult who is willing to walk with a group of students over the long-haul is the secret sauce of life-long faith.  Over and over again, I have seen how a great spiritual mentor can be a game-changer.

This is why small groups are a must and investing in volunteers is crucial.  We don’t need chaperones.  We need spiritual mentors.



The third piece is a growing personal faith.  Students who develop their own spiritual habits (or disciplines) are much more likely to continue pursuing Jesus in life after your student ministry.  In other words, it’s imperative that students begin to engage Jesus in their own world.  If their faith only exists at church, then we have a problem.  We must find ways for them to integrate their faith.  This is difficult because developmentally, students will naturally compartmentalize.  But, if we’re serious about promoting life-long faith, we must find ways to break down the walls of compartmentalized faith by helping kids bring their faith home and to school.



For years, the word that has defined our high school ministry’s strategy has been “Express.”  We desire for our students to begin expressing their faith.  This shows us that it is no longer their mom’s faith but their faith.  When students step out and express their faith through service and leadership, we know we are on the right track  However, we’ve learned that experience is often needed before expression.  That’s why we focus a great deal on mission trips, serving in our children’s ministry and serving roles at our summer camp.  And of course, because we desire inter-generational connections, we don’t have a student leadership team.  We want our middle school and high school students to serve alongside adults in church wide ministries because then they will develop relationships with other generations.

Lastly, students want to serve and lead now.  Don’t leave them on the sidelines!  First off, this practice is hurting the faith of students all across the country.  If they have to wait to practice their faith, they are far more likely to put their faith on the shelf.  Secondly, students are full of passion, energy and ideas.  Put them in coach!  It’s no coincidence that most of the world’s faith revivals have begun with students.


So, we win in our student ministry when students are still following Jesus at age 25 and these four strategies are our pathway to getting there.  What’s your win?  What’s your path to winning?  And…let me know if you have any genius wordsmithing ideas.


image credited to Erika via Flickr

Why You Must Invest in Fun

October 5, 2015 — 1 Comment

Something I’ve learned from my friends at Orange is that fun matters.  I used to think that fun was important because it could be used as a sort of on-ramp to the parts of student ministry that really matter.  In other words, if students have fun at our events, maybe they’ll want to go a little deeper with their faith.  But, I’ve changed my opinion about fun.  Fun isn’t important because it attracts students.  Fun is important because it connects students.  Reggie Joiner often says that fun matters because fun, over time, makes a friendship go deeper.  When we have fun with students, students realize that we actually like them.

To me, what matters most in student ministry is the relationship between a student and an adult mentor (usually a small group leader).  Every kid deserves an adult in their life who shows up consistently simply because they care.  Every kid deserves an adult who will listen.  Every kid needs an adult who will act as a guide–to show them what it looks like to follow Jesus.

What I’ve discovered is that fun accelerates this process.  The mentor/student relationship is built upon trust and friendship.  Fun together is like oxygen to this fire.  Laughter is even better.  This is why we invest an incredible amount of time and resources in having fun.  To an outsider, this may appear to be a poor investment, but we have learned that investing in fun is investing in the student/mentor relationship and the truth is, when it comes to student ministry, there is nothing more worthy of investment than this relationship.

And so, fun matters.  Fun over time makes connections.  Fun over time makes a friendship grow deeper.  Which is why we make ridiculous videos like this one…so that students and adults can laugh together.

Toddler Justice from Lifeline Student Ministries on Vimeo.


If these ideas struck a chord with you, it’s probably time for you to come along with me to the Orange Tour or the Orange Conference.  You may just find your people.


image credited to JD Hancock via Flickr

It’s the Friday of Labor Day weekend and because I care, I’m sending you out with a laugh.  This ridiculous video is from our middle school summer camp.  We always produce a series of comedy videos for camp and this year, we created a bunch of commercials for our fictitious Lifeline TV Network.  Props to Al Shepard, Steve Carigon and Luke Koskinen was putting together hilarious videos for our students and volunteers.  Enjoy…

Whicked Bluegill from Lifeline Student Ministries on Vimeo.

Look, I know how it is.  You had a plan.  You had it all mapped out.  But, then there was the mission trip, the other mission trip, the camp, and the vacation.  And now, here we are, the day before September, and well, you don’t exactly have a curriculum plan for the fall.  Been there.

I know that many student ministry leaders are scrambling to make teaching plans for the fall, so I thought I’d share ours.  Feel free to steal or borrow anything you like.  In fact, I’d be happy to send you full teaching scripts and bumper videos.  Also, before you go to the trouble of writing your own curriculum or adapting some of ours, you should consider XP3.  In my opinion, it is the best curriculum out there for middle school and high school students.  If that doesn’t suit you, there is also a ginormous selection of great teaching series at DYM, including some of my own stuff…shameless plug.

Anyway, here’s our teaching plan for the school year:

We’re kicking off the year with a series called Scandal  Here’s a little blurb to describe what it’s all about:

Who was Jesus? Most people believe that Jesus was a really nice guy who did a bunch of nice things and started Christianity. He’s usually depicted in a clean white robe with a fancy blue sash, and his hair and beard look like something out of a shampoo commercial. The truth is that Jesus was incredibly controversial. To the people he lived around, nearly everything about him screamed “scandal!” What if our perceptions of Jesus are too polished and tidy? Who was this scandalous and controversial man? And how do His actions and words relate to our lives, 2000 years later?

Our goal with this series is to put the spotlight on Jesus.  My hope is that many of the students who come to our ministry in September would become intrigued by Jesus and stick around.

Our October series is called Recalculating.  I’ll be honest with you, it’s a collection of stolen teachings from Andy Stanley on wisdom and decisions.  When I come up with better wisdom sermons than Andy, I’ll let you know.  For now, here’s a description of what Recalculating is all about:

Have you ever been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” That’s a hard question! A better question might be, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” As in, what kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be generous? Selfish? Thankful? Bitter? Honest? Deceitful? How do you make sure you become the kind of person you want to be? That is what this series is all about.

Our November series is called Habits.  This series is all about patterns in our lives and how certain behaviors, over time, lead to life and others lead to death.  This series isn’t fully completed yet, but I think it will be great.  The first teaching is based on Ephesians 4:21-32 and the bottom line is:  Break one and make on.  In other words, you are one habit away from becoming more like the person God created you to be or one habit away from becoming less like the person God created you to be.

In December, we don’t have a teaching series planned.  Instead, we focus on serving, put on a baptism service, and a stand alone teaching on Christmas.  Like most of you, we take a few weeks off around the holidays.

In January, we’ll begin a series that has been reoccurring for us.  Two years ago we called it Doubt.  Last year, we called it You Asked for It because the series was built around difficult questions our students had been asking.  This year, we’re calling it idk.  Like last year, we’ll build the teachings around questions our students write and place in our “doubt box.”  We’ll collect the question in September and spend the next few months creating a compelling series.  For the record, we were originally planning to call this series, Can I Ask That? but then, like usual, Andy Stanley came out with a book by that title and stole our idea.  He’s always doing that…

In February, we’ll capitalize on the romance in the air around Valentines Day and do a series called Awkward.  For years, we just simply called this series The Sex Series, but eventually we figured out that sexuality encompasses a lot more than simply sex. Also, calling a series The Sex Series is pretty weird.  Apologies to all our alumni students.

By calling the series Awkward, we acknowledge upfront that the conversations within this series are a little uncomfortable, humorous, and awkward.  But, they are also incredibly important.  Awkward is a series we repeat year after year.  The best part of our Awkward series is when we put a panel of volunteer leaders on the stage, have them tell their stories, and then let our students ask them questions.   It’s always an amazing night.

Our March series is called Forever.  This series is a response to what I sense is a growing misunderstanding among our students about eternity.  In particular, I’m excited for a teaching on the new earth.  I’m planning to steal a page out of Dallas Willard by calling it, “Life after life after death.”

I think the idea of heaven is boring to most of our students because they don’t really understand it.  This series will be different from anything we’ve done in recent years.  We’ll see what happens.

In April and May, we’ll conclude the ministry season with a series called Fortune Cookie.  This series is all about things we believe that aren’t actually in the Bible.  The reoccurring statement in this series will be, “God never said…”  We haven’t completed this series yet, but here are a few of the beliefs we plan to address:

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • God just wants you to be happy.
  • God will never give you more than you can handle.
  • All religions lead to God.

Well, that’s our plan for the year.  My hope is that some of our ideas generate something awesome for you.  Also, we’d love to be a resource for your ministry.  If you are interested in our teaching scripts, bumper videos, or anything else, just let me know.


Last month, our high school ministry filled a couple charter buses and headed off to New York City for a week of serving and learning. It was a great experience, we partnered with CSM and Reach Global Crisis Response.

While we were there, I spent a day serving alongside a summer school program in Harlem and overheard a conversation unlike any I’ve ever heard. I was walking alongside two young Dominican boys. We were on our way to a local playground. I began eavesdropping when I heard this line, “What are we?” Here’s how the conversation went between two Dominican American kindergartners.

“What are we?”

“You’re Dominican American.”


“Because you weren’t born here. You were born in the Dominican Republic.”


“What are you?”

“I’m American Dominican because I was born in American.”

I was struck by this conversation. Listening to these two little boys struggle to put words to their identity reminded me of what it’s like to watch and listen to the students we serve and lead.

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Where do I belong?”
  • “Am I valuable?”

These are the primary questions our students are trying to work out. I’m convinced that identity building is the most important task of adolescence and therefore the most important task of student ministry. Who you believe you are is paramount. It influences every decision, every relationship, and every boundary.

I believe we need to spend less time teaching our students how to live and more time telling them who they are. Based on what our team is seeing and hearing, our students don’t believe they are valuable. They don’t believe they are worth much. The values and pressures of our culture are having terrible impact on their minds and hearts.

Culture is saying: “Whoever you are is perfect!” While simultaneously saying, “You are only valuable if you look like a supermodel, compete at the highest level or score in the top 10%.” In other words, it’s all based on performance. It’s a confusing at best and emotionally crippling at worst.

Unfortunately, I think that many Christian parents and student ministries are guilty of the saying essentially the same thing: “Whoever you are is perfect!” While simultaneously saying, “You are only valuable if you follow all the rules, attend every event and generally make us feel like we are succeeding as a ministry.” It’s still based on performance.

I believe we should help our students build an identity that is rooted in what God has said and demonstrated rather than on who they are and what they are good at.

In other words, “Whoever you are is imperfect. You are valuable because you are created, unique, loved, pursued and forgiven.” In other words, your identity isn’t based on your…it’s based on Him.

My point is that we need to be careful that we don’t teach our students to build their identities on what they look like and what they are good at. When we do this we are simply painting a shiny veneer on what our culture is already saying. This isn’t what our students need.

Our students need to understand that their identity begins and ends with Jesus. This understanding is fundamentally different because it isn’t based on beauty or performance. It’s based on the unchanging truths of the Gospel.

Let’s get serious about teaching our students about their identity because what they believe about themselves influences every decision, relationship and boundary in their lives.


image credited to Sophie via Flickr



Today, I have the privilege of blogging for one of my favorite blogs:  Orange Leaders.  Here’s an excerpt:

My favorite word in the universe is collaboration. I love it. This hasn’t always been true. For years, I was a one-man show in student ministry. What changed me? Fear.

Three years ago, the pastor who had led our student ministry team for 12 years left our team to become the lead pastor at another church. I was chosen as his replacement. A ginormous multi-site student ministry. A staff team of 12. I’d never managed another person in my life. No pressure. Did I mention that my predecessor was an absolute legend in our church? I was scared to death.

Fast-forward. The student ministry didn’t crash and burn. In fact, it grew. In many ways it became stronger. How? Our team stepped up to the plate and delivered. The keyword here is “team.” I believe that my smartest all-time leadership decision was to choose we over me. You see, I’ve come to believe that we are always better than me…

Click here to read the rest off the post.

Make it Happen

June 30, 2015 — Leave a comment

I’m currently in a blog series about creating a magnetic volunteer culture.  I believe that fantastic volunteers–specifically small group leaders, are the key to a transformational student ministry.  Here’s what I’ve written on the topic over the last few weeks:

How to Take Your Student Ministry to the Next Level

Give Them What They Want

Raise the Bar

Today, I want to share a little about making it happen.  What do you need to do to create a magnetic volunteer culture?



If you want a magnetic culture, people must love serving in your ministry.  It has to be a blast!  I’m convinced that in our ministry, volunteers have more fun that students.  We purposely target aspects of our programming at our volunteers.  We create videos that will be funny for our students and hysterical for our volunteers.  We put on a leader retreat that is over the top.  Essentially, we believe that if you want a magnetic volunteer culture, you must create a volunteer experience so compelling and fun that volunteers would rather be at your program than anywhere else.
Another easy way to make it ridiculously funny is swag.  Give your volunteers free stuff!  It keeps them happy.  It makes them feel valued and it is great marketing.
If you need more ideas on how to make it ridiculously fun, here’s a post I wrote on how to pull off an epic volunteer retreat:  click me


Step two in making it happen is to remove every obstacle that hinders a volunteer from serving effectively.  One of the biggest obstacles in student ministry is money.  Events, trips and retreats cost money.  It costs money to take a student out for coffee.
Let’s be honest, some of the best student ministry volunteers are college students because they are close in age to students, have tons of energy and (whether they believe it or not) have tons of free time.  What college students don’t have is money.
If you want a magnetic culture, remove the obstacles that prevent volunteers from doing great ministry.  The first and biggest is money.  In our ministry context, we have decided that volunteers will never pay for events, trips and retreats.  We’ve had to rethink some of what we do in order to pull this off but it has been worth it.  We’ve even gone as far as to create a fund for our volunteers who don’t have the money needed to take students out for coffee or lunch.  We believe in one-on-one conversations and we want our volunteers to do amazing work so we have removed the obstacle of money for them.  Make it free.


People want to know how they’re doing.  It’s part of human nature.  This is why we have grades, why we keep score and why cars have speedometers.  We want to know how we’re doing.
Also, it feels like a million bucks when you know you’re killing it–when you know you are meeting or exceeding expectations.  Everyone loves that feeling!   So, if you want a magnetic volunteer culture, promote that feeling!  Make the expectations and grading scale obvious and clear (in writing) and then encourage the heck out of your volunteers.
The truth is that most people don’t like quitting something they are really good at.  When you make the expectations obvious and when volunteers know they are doing a good job, they are very likely to stick around for a long time and tell their friends that your ministry is a great place to serve.  Boom…now you have a magnetic volunteer culture.


Here’s one of my pet peeves in student ministry:  ministries that require too much from their volunteers.  “Listen, we’re gonna need you here Sunday mornings for the service, Sunday night for the youth group service and Wednesday night for small groups.  We also have events twice a month, a fall retreat, a winter retreat, a summer retreat and four mission trips…”
We all know that student ministry is crucial and we all know what is at stake but no one can pull off that volunteer load for long.  You might get a few crazies who have no lives but over the long haul, you’ll only manage to hang on to volunteers for a year or two at the most.  Great student ministry–the kind that truly transforms lives, requires long-term investment over years of a student’s life.  You have to make volunteering doable!
In our ministry context, we keep it simple.  Our program only meets once a week.  We only ask our volunteers to show up for 3 hours once a week because we want them to have the time to get on the student’s turf.  Our training meetings are attached to our programming.  We only require 3 events per year:
  • a leader/parent brunch (2 hours)
  • a leader retreat (1 night)
  • a winter retreat (2 nights)

When you make the volunteer load doable and manageable, volunteers feel like their ministry is sustainable.  Did I mention we take the summer off from programming?  Our volunteers come back after a summer break ready to absolutely crush it.  It’s great.


So, if you want to make a magnetic volunteer culture happen in your student ministry, make it ridiculously fun, make it free, make it obvious and make it doable.



photo credited to Nick Saltmarsh via Flickr

Raise the Bar

June 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

In in the middle of a blogging series on creating a magnetic volunteer culture.  A magnetic volunteer begins with giving them what they want:  community, a mission and a guide.  Today, I want to talk about raising the bar for our volunteers.

Over my student ministry career, I’ve noticed something.  People want to know what the standard is.  Everyone wants to know how they are doing.  That’s why we have grades.  That’s why we keep score.  That’s why we celebrate accomplishments.  In addition, everyone wants to know what the rules are.  That’s why we have speed limits.  That’s why we have regulations.  That’s why God gave Israel 10 Words.

It’s the same for volunteers.  It’s disorienting when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing and how you’re doing.  A magnetic volunteer community requires clarity on expectations.  This will help improve your student ministry in two ways.  Volunteers will typically play by the rules.  And, volunteers will rise to the bar you set.  So, let’s raise the bar!  Here’s what I mean.



What exactly does a small group leader do in your ministry?  What are their roles?  How often should they meet with students?  What do you want to happen during small group time?  What events should they attend?  How would they ever know if they are meeting those expectations?  Clarifying these things will bring peace to the hearts of your people and raise the impact of your volunteers’ ministry with students.

Secondly, how do you want your volunteers to behave?  Do they know how they are expected to behave?  What are your standards for dress, language, social media behavior, driving and meeting with students?

It can be uncomfortable to be a volunteer and to sense that their are expectations but to not have clarity on what the expectations are.  The clearer we are on communicating what the boundaries are and what winning looks like, the more healthy and magnetic our volunteer culture will be.

If you’ve never put together something like this, here are a few examples from our ministry:

SG Leader Expections

FM Covenent Staff

One last thing, if you’re going to have expectations, you have to be willing to enforce them.  Volunteers are the backbone of everything we do in our student ministry.  We simply must have great volunteers who are invested and committed.  If a volunteer isn’t fulfilling expectations we will have up to three meetings with the volunteer:
1. Clarify the expectations 
“Hey, you haven’t been meeting the expectations.  I just wanted to meet with you to make sure we’re on the same page on what the expectations are.  Can you do these things?  Yes?  Great!  Let’s meet in a few weeks to check on your progress.”
2. Set a deadline
“Hey, you’re still not meeting expectations.  Can you do this?  Yes?  OK.  I’m giving you 2 weeks to implement these things.  If you’re still not meeting expectations, I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to step down.”
3. Enforce the expectations
“Hey, you’re still not meeting expectations.  I’m really sorry but I don’t think this is a good fit for you.  I’m asking you to step away.”
In most cases, meeting number 1 is all it takes because the volunteer thinks, “Oh!  They are actually serious about this.  I better step it up!”


Creating a magnetic volunteer culture requires investment.  Volunteers who feel like they are being invested in and growing are likely to stick around for a long time.  The beauty is, when you invest in volunteers, they grow and volunteers who are growing make fantastic leaders.
However, we have to be honest about human nature.  Very few people grow naturally.  We get comfortable.  Most of us require pushes, big and small.  Who has the relational authority and equity to make these pushes?  The people we trust–the people who we are confident love us and have our best interest at heart.
We have to understand that while we need our volunteers to grow, we don’t automatically possess the relational authority to ask them hard questions, challenge their habits or call them into deeper spiritual practices.
If you want the relational authority to speak truth into a volunteers life, you must first invest.  They must know that you care.  This means that your volunteer community must be built on quality relationships, and someone on the student ministry staff needs to be driving the relational culture because investment matters and investment can’t happen outside of trust.


Here’s my one sentence descriptions of how high school girls feel about their small group leader…
Freshman year:  “I bet you’ll ditch us.”
Sophomore year:  “You actually came back?!?”
Junior year:  “If you ditch us now we’ll kill you!”
Senior year:  “Can I be in your wedding?”
Graduated:  “Will you be in my wedding?”
Sure, I’m oversimplifying, but my point is that it takes time for a small group leader to gain the trust of students but when trust is achieved, the relational connection becomes powerful.  If a small group leader has invested and stayed connected, by the time that small group is in the last two years of high school the potential is phenomenal.  I’ve been continually amazed by the quality of relationships that develop when a small group leader stays invested for years.  It’s incredible and the spiritual impact is unlike anything else I’ve seen in ministry.
When an adult comes alongside a group of students and invests in them over the long-haul, the result is pure magic.  On the flip side, I recently spent a couple days buried in the statistics of our student ministry.  One of the measurables I was studying was retention.  My questions:  Why do students drop out?  What are the factors that contribute to good retention?  The clearest indicator I found was the student’s small group leader.  If their leader bailed during high school, the student was very likely to walk away.
More than great programming and content, atmosphere or experiences, the most powerfully attractive factor we have in student ministry is the small group relationships.  In many ways, our success is contingent on the longevity and commit of our small group leaders.  We must raise the bar here.
Magnetic volunteer community requires raising the bar in three crucial ways:  raising the bar for expectations, raising the bar for investment and raising the bar for commitment.  I hope you’ve found this helpful.  I’ll be sharing more ideas soon.
photo credited to koocbor via Flickr

I believe the most important factor in a transformational student ministry is a team of magnetic volunteers.  That’s why I’m devoting an entire blog series to building a magnetic volunteer culture.  The first step is to give them what they’re looking for.


Young or old, Gen X or Millennial, we all want to belong.  We long for that feeling of “family.”  This longing is hardwired within us.  We are at our best when we have a place to belong.  Your volunteers are looking for a community.  Give it to them.

I’ve discovered that when you build a culture that provides volunteers with a place to belong it’s really hard to get rid of them!  I’m serious.  It might sound crazy, but we have a hundred and a half small group leaders and it really isn’t that hard for us to recruit them  It’s common for us to turn away applicants because we don’t have enough small groups for them to lead.  Mostly, I believe this is because we have a reputation of providing our volunteers with a second family.

Each small group leader in our ministry context serves alongside 8-10 other leaders in their “house.”  These leaders sit together at weekly leader meetings and collaborate to lead programming in a house every other week.  In addition, each of these “houses” has two volunteers within it whose primary role is caring for and guiding small group leaders as they lead their students.  Year after year, these “house” teams evolve into something like family.  It is common for our “house” teams to meet an hour before our programming for a leader meeting and to then go out for apps and drinks after our programming because they simply love being together.

If you give your volunteers a place to belong as well as a place to serve, you will create something powerfully magnetic.  It’s amazing to watch.



Not only do we want to belong, but we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  We all long for a cause worth giving our lives to. Volunteers are looking for a mission to invest in.  Give them what they are looking for.

One of the biggest mistakes that student ministry leaders make is asking too little of their volunteers.  It’s easy to think that we’re inconveniencing volunteers so we end up saying things like, “Look, if you just show up and keep the kids from breaking something, I’ll buy you dinner.”

We do just the opposite.  We ask our leaders to pour their lives into students.  Right up front, we tell them that this is a massive investment–it’s exhausting, it’s long, it’s hard and oh, and we need you for at least four years.  How can we ask for all this?  We can because we paint a compelling picture of why this investment is so epically worth it and we can show it in the lives of graduated students and their leaders.

We’re investing in the next generation.  We say things like, “In a culture that has largely abandoned teenagers, you have an opportunity to be a mentor.  The impact that your investment will have is incredible.  Listen, in our ministry, you’ll be the youth pastor.  You’ll be the one who knows our students–what they are going through and what they need.  It’s a huge responsibility and an amazing opportunity.”  I’ve learned that this is a mission that many young adults are willing to invest in–especially if they experienced the benefits of a spiritual mentor when they were young.

Give your volunteers a mission to live for.  Don’t make the mistake of asking too little of your volunteers.  Paint a compelling picture of why small group leaders are so powerful in the lives of students and invite your volunteers into the mission.  Then, watch them get to work and just a warning…be prepared to be amazed.  Volunteers who find a place to belong and are sold out to a worthwhile mission are incredible to watch!



Students aren’t the only ones on a spiritual journey.  Our small group leaders need investment, direction and care too.  In other words, volunteers are looking for someone to guide them–someone has to have the maturity, resources and time to do this because your ministry is only as good as the quality of your volunteers.  If your volunteers aren’t growing then your potential is being stifled.

As I mentioned earlier, in our ministry context, each volunteer is placed within a “house” team.  Each of these teams has a leader of each gender that we call a coach.  A coach is a volunteer who has ministry experience.  Most of our coaches led a small group of students before becoming a coach.  They know all the tricks of the trade and are great at offering advice and tactics for leading small groups.  In addition, our coaches are typically a few years down the road from our small group leaders.  They are more mature in their faith and more established in life.  Because of this, we ask them to invest in the lives of our small group leaders.  We give them a budget and require them to meet up with their leaders one-on-one over coffee and lunch and journey with them.

We firmly believe that our ministry rises and falls with the quality of our volunteers and that’s why we invest in them so heavily.  Providing them with a built in mentor is a great way to invest in them.  Maybe you don’t have the personal or the budget to create a second tier of volunteers to “coach.”  If this is the case, I think that person needs to be you.  One person can really only deeply invest in about 6 students.  If you have more than 6 students in your student ministry, then it’s time to start investing more into your volunteers than you’re investing into your students.  It’s simple math.  Go for the more strategic investment.

So, how do you create a magnetic volunteer culture?  It all begins with giving them what they’re looking for.  I believe every person longs for a family, a mission and a guide.  If you are able to provide your volunteers with these three things you’ll be well on your way to a powerfully magnetic culture.  Stay tuned.  I have a few more ideas on building a magnetic culture and I’ll be sharing them over the next few days.



photo credited to timlewisnm via Flickr