Using Social Media to Spark Spiritual Growth

News Flash: Teenagers use social media. A lot. 96% of Canadians ages 15-24 are using social media. Youth workers know that the overuse of social media is a problem among students. As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the negative affects of addiction to social media. Thankfully, there are some great resources available to help assess and address our compulsion need to monitor our feed.

However, while youth workers should continue doing our best to pry our students attention away from their snap storylet’s not miss out on the opportunity to leverage social media for good.

The reality is, our students are engaging with social media on a daily basis, and that means our youth ministries have an opportunity to speak into their lives.

Consider this – most youth ministries have the attention of our students for 2-3 hours each week. In that window of time we are hoping to communicate a message that will impact the lives of our students throughout the rest of their week.

What if we saw social media as a platform to reinforce those messages?

This is an opportunity to encourage students to live differently around their friends while they are actually in their school. We can nudge them to spend some time in scripture as they get their day started. We can remind them that God is always with them as they go about their everyday lives.

The bottom line is simple: youth workers have an opportunity to leverage social media to spark spiritual growth in students. Here are two ways to make that happen:

1 – Reinforce the messages from your gatherings   Your gatherings are memorable. Your messages are impactful. Social media gives you an opportunity to echo the big ideas and help them stick in the hearts and minds of your students.

2 – Prompt spiritual habits   If your youth ministry has identified some basic discipleship habits for your students, use social media as a way to prompt your students to live those out. In our youth ministry, we’ve identified 4 areas of discipleship that we want our students to grow in: #LoveGod #KnowGod #FollowGod #LoveOthers. We talk about these discipleship areas in our gatherings, but we really want our students to grow in these areas throughout the week. We reinforce this idea with the tagline: #LakeviewOnTheGo. We want our students to understand that these are important areas of our spiritual journey that happen between our gatherings.

If you haven’t identified discipleship habits in your youth ministry…maybe now is a good time to try.

Like it or love it…social media is major part of the world our students are immersed in. Let’s embrace the opportunity to leverage social media for something good, because there is a great opportunity to fuel the spiritual growth of our students. Go claim it!

PS: Using an app like Word Swag makes it easy to create beautiful images that will grab your students’ attention and prompt them to embody those spiritual habits. For other tips on productivity apps, make sure to check out this post from Jeremy MacDonald.

Five Emails You’re Forgetting to Send

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Your schedule is packed. Your inbox is full. You can’t keep up with the Facebook messages. The busyness has shrouded your view and you are still met with the complaints:

“It would have been nice to know about this sooner.”
“What are the details about that retreat?”
“Didn’t you know that the seniors’ button club was using the auditorium this week?”

You can spend time blaming others for their lack of inquisitiveness or their inability to find the right answers… or you can take responsibility and send five regular emails this week to prove you are the premier communicator in your church.

Pre-Program Weekly Leader Email
This email is where you cast vision for what is coming up in your program. A weekly email keeps leaders in the loop and empowers them to prepare for the program. This should include: small group questions for their discussion, a program order for your night including game details and/or song choices, and anythings specific you want them promoting to students.

Post-Program Weekly Leader Email
This email is where you thank leaders and invite their feedback. You can use a Google Form to get the same feedback each week. You’ll also want to highlight and encourage any leaders that you saw doing great things at the program.

Weekly Parent Email
This email is similar to your pre-program leader email, except you’ll want to put the focus on what content you are covering at your program and how parents can take it further on the drive home or later that week. Also be sure to include any upcoming events that are out of the ordinary so that parents can plan their family calendars accordingly.

Bi-Monthly Boss Email
You should never be assuming that your boss knows what’s going on in your ministry. Take time consistently to update him/her with highlights, statistics, budget overviews, and ministry prayer requests/needs. The more you communicate the more your boss can be in your corner and support you.

Sowing Seeds Email
Keep yourself from getting desperate with the number of leaders you have by starting the recruiting process nice and early. Have a hit list and start to nudge people 6-9 months before you hope to onboard them. The advance planning will help you get the high capacity leaders that are drawn to organized ministries.

PRO TIP: Batch write these emails all at once and then schedule them to go out at the appropriate times throughout the week (use a program like Boomerang, Right Inbox, or Streak).

How Do We Help Students Make Friends?

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In youth ministry, I’ve realized that the real test of our ministry is when students graduate – Do they continue to attend church? Do they have a desire to pursue community? Are they starting or continuing to serve in the church at large? Answers to these questions can sometimes be sobering and serve as a reality check for our youth ministry.

As I’ve asked these questions and watched students graduate over the years there is something simple but significant that I’ve discovered. One of the contributing characteristics of seeing students continue in their Christian journey post-high school, is whether or not they have significant relationships with others their own age within the church. Therefore, in an age that is so tech dependent and with many students unaware of how to make friends, we must as youth workers help them learn to make friends.

HOW? – Below are some helpful and practical ways that you can help students make friends.

For All Who Work With Students

  • Coach Students. One thing I’ve discovered is that students need coaching in how to interact with people face-to-face in an intentional way. Take some time to coach this simple outline to a group or encourage those who seem to be isolated yet wanting to connect.
    • Ask them if there’s one person in the youth group that they think would be someone they might want to get to know.
    • Help them Set a Goal to talk to that person by next week, by either introducing themselves or just chatting in hang out time.
    • Prep them that it might be awkward but it is worth It!
      • Be simplistic. Sometimes it takes teaching them how to introduce themselves and then practicing it! ‘Hey, I’ve seen you here the past number of weeks/months, but don’t know if I’ve ever met you. My name is ____________.
    • Teach them how to make ‘small talk’ by asking NAKED questions:
      • Name
      • Age
      • Kin / Family – How many siblings do you have, who do you live with? Etc.
      • Education – What school do you go to, what grade are you in?
      • Dreams – What are your plans after school? What are your hobbies? Etc.

 

  • Follow Up. Follow up the next week to see if they did it and how it went.
    • Encourage them to ask that person to go for coffee or lunch in the next month – Remind students that everyone is scared of being rejected and everyone wants to be noticed; therefore, asking someone to hang out might feel awkward but will be affirming to that individual.

Point Leaders

Structure your weekly program around activities that help foster relationships such as:

  • Games that get students interacting and breaking down walls (ex: ‘Speed Friending’ – like speed dating but with the purpose of helping students get to know each other)
  • Small Group Time (Teach students how to share their stories and then give them opportunities to share)
  • Create opportunities for students to go deeper (Ex: Prayer meetings)
  • If you have students coming from multiple schools – break the larger group into school groups so that they know who’s at their school as well.
  • Retreats – extended time away together always helps students break down barriers and helps them connect.

Volunteer Youth Leaders

Be an example of how to make friends, give students opportunities and encourage them to continue!

  • When a new student comes to the group, grab a committed student to come with you and welcome them.
  • When meeting with a student – invite two at a time to help them connect as well as you connecting with them.
  • In Small Groups, encourage students to exchange numbers to stay in touch throughout the week!

Ultimately, Christ changes people’s hearts and promises to finish His work in our students, but we also know that we need community to grow strong in the faith. May each of us use the influence we have to help students make friends so they become a strong force to be reckoned with!

Amy Miller | Youth Pastor | Living Stones Church | Red Deer, AB

7 Productivity Apps for Youth Workers

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I’m a tools junkie. I love when new apps come available that might help me do my job more efficiently. I’ve compiled my favourites–take a look and see if you might benefit from these tools too! If you have any other suggestions, drop them in the comments.

Wunderlist: There’s an enormous amount of options when it comes to task or project management. Wunderlist is a great place to start, as it gives you scalable options (attaching files, sharing lists) while keeping things simple.

How I Use It: I have shared lists with anyone I’m doing a one-on-one with. Both of us can add items to the agenda. I also keep a grocery list shared with my wife.

Right InboxHave you ever emailed someone and then forgot to follow up with them when they didn’t respond? Have you used your inbox as a to-do list to the point that it has gotten overwhelming? Have you ever thought of emailing someone, but it’s at a weird hour of the day and you’d rather send the email at a different time? You need Right Inbox (Boomerang or Gmelius are similar tools).

How I Use It: If I’m sending an email that I expect a response on, I add a reminder that will return the email to me if I don’t get a response (the time allotted for a response is customizeable). No more trying to remember who has gotten back to me already. I’ll also schedule regular emails that I want to send (program night details, followup for immediately after the retreat, etc.). This way I can plan to have a note go out at precisely the right time.

RemindRemind is the definitive texting platform that you need to be on. It’s free, it has an app, it has options for leaders, parents, and students. Our needs have expanded beyond Youth Ministry and so we’re now using textinchurch.com, but Remind is definitely the place to start.

How I Use It: Set up your ministry as a class and put opt-in instructions on social media, on screens during your program, and in emails to parents through the week. As people sign up you’ll have the ability to text them directly with info, last minute changes, and promotion.

You Need A BudgetAfter our honeymoon, my wife and I read a Dave Ramsey book and decided to start budgeting. A few years later we can’t imagine where we’d be without this critical tool keeping our sanity around finances. At the same time, I’ve now realized that I likely have mistakenly donated an enormous amount of money to my previous church because I had no idea where my money was going and if I didn’t have the receipt at the end of the month I wouldn’t claim the expense.

How I Use It: We use ynab.com, however since Dave Ramsey released his free budgeting software, if I were to start over today I’d probably check out everydollar.com. Here’s the key–every transaction must be accounted for and put into a budget category. This way you can guarantee that all those Starbucks visits are accounted for come expense report time.

Evernote/Scannable: Knowing that you took someone out to coffee for ministry purposes every other day last month doesn’t change the fact that you are staring into the eyes of an angry accountant, empty handed for the fourth month in a row. Be their hero, be responsible, and do yourself a favor by downloading Evernote and Scannable.

How I Use It: If it’s a ministry receipt, as soon as it’s in my hands I scan it into Scannable. I now have a copy to print at the end of the month.

Spotify: I loved TobyMac’s latest release, but after playing it on repeat for a few months, I realized it was making our program feel a little stale. That’s when I realized that instead of spending money on new music every month, I really needed to just bite the bullet and switch over to a streaming service.

How I Use It: I follow a couple playlists that have active users updating the music. No more overly repeated music.

Overcast: Podcasts are a great way to add value to mundane tasks that don’t take a lot of brain power (driving solo, yard work, exercise, etc). Overcast is the best podcast player for three simple reasons:

  1. Voice Boost — “Boost and normalize volume so every show is loud, clear, and at the same volume.”
  2. Smart Speed — Magically shortens natural silences in shows and ends up saving you hours over the long haul.
  3. Adjustable Speed — Increasing the speed of a show can help you cruise through lots of good content in a short period of time.

How I Use It: I subscribe to my favorite podcasts (The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, unSeminary, Freakonomics Radio, Revisionist History), increase the speed until it’s at the fastest speed I can handle, and play them during my 40 minute commute.

Water in the Desert

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As the last student trickles out of the house Cara lingers, waiting to see if we can talk. Cara has been one of our most committed and passionate followers of Christ and I always enjoy hearing what Jesus is doing in her life. Today is different. With hot tears pouring down her face, Cara articulates her disillusionment with Jesus. “I want to know Jesus and I’ve been working so hard to spend time with him, but when I am with him my mind races with other things, my body grows restless and my soul doesn’t spark like it used too. I can feel my relationship with Jesus slipping into a lifeless routine and I don’t know what to do.”

Cara is experiencing a slow drift, once alive and overflowing in her relationship with Christ to now finding herself lonely and wandering through a spiritual desert. In reality she is not alone, she is joined by many Christ-followers who find themselves in similar spiritual deserts, thirsting for living water and longing to experience God’s presence once again.

So – how do we find bread and water to survive during these desert seasons? 

Remember Your Story. In the book of Revelation, Jesus rebukes the church of Ephesus for being forgetful. “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you a fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first”. 

Over and over again through the Scripture, God reminds his people to remember how he has saved them. These memories are meant to be sustenance for us when we are starving and hungry in the desert. These memories are the morsels that keep us alive when we are feeling disillusioned, distant and struggling. So remember!

  • Where have you seen God at work in the past?
  • When is the last time you heard his voice? What did he say?

Remembering your story will sustain you in the desert.

Pursue those who have gone before. One of the main characteristics that keeps us in the desert is apathy. You know that numbing feeling you get, when it feels as if your heart has gone cold? When we become apathetic, we are no longer hungry or thirsty and have lost motivation to seek, search and find a way out of the desert. In this space we need something to jump start our cold heart. We need to fall in love with Jesus again. In these deserts we need the stories of saints that have gone before us. Reading biographies of men and women who witnessed and experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ can create a spark in our hearts and make us hungry and thirsty for the same in our own lives.

  • Live in the mud hut with Don Richardson as he shares Christ with the indigenous in Africa.
  • Take the flight with Bruce Olsen to bring peace to aboriginals in South America.
  • Fight the darkness with Jackie Pullinger as she uses the gospel to transform the addicted.
  • Sit down with an old saint, someone who has journeyed with Jesus for a long time, and ask them to share their story with you over coffee. (your treat!)

I pray that as we remember Jesus in the desert seasons and as we seek to find Him in other people that the Holy Spirit will use these tools to quench our thirst and fill our stomachs and sustain us for the journey ahead.

4 Ways to Run a Parents Meeting That Parents Actually Want to Attend

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Running a parents meeting that no one shows up to is almost seems to be a right of passage for youth workers. What’s your response when you have a poorly attended meeting for your parents?

“I’m done running these meetings.”
“These parents don’t give a rip.”
“I had the info ready. If they don’t want to know what’s happening that’s their issue.”

There is a better way. Rather than throwing our hands up in despair, we may need to start rethinking our approach.

Here are four ways to run a parents meeting that parents actually want to attend. (full disclosure, several of these ideas have been borrowed from Jeff Brodie at Connexus Church…you should definitely check out their stuff. But since you’re already here…let’s dive in!)

  1. Focus on the stuff that cannot be captured in an email.
    Most of the information parents need can be captured in an email or newsletter. Program times, registration, retreat dates, etc. Don’t waste your meeting time covering information that they can read on their iPhone… because there is a lot that cannot be captured in an email.

→  The VISION for your youth ministry

→  STORIES of transformation

→  WHY you believe the retreat could be a life changing experience

→  The PASSION your leaders have for investing in young people

Try this approach…
Use emails to get parents the information they need.  Use meetings to capture their heart and imagination. This is important for the content of your meetings, but this should also impact the way you promote your meetings. I’ve often used a simple line to lure parents in:

“We have a parents meeting coming up that we’d love to have you attend. Why? Well, because there are just some things that can’t be captured in an email.”

It will take some time to get your parents used to this, but stick with it. The real test will come when a parent emails you looking for a summary of a meeting they missed. That’s when you need to be disciplined and let them know, “I wish I could send you the info, but there are just some things that can’t be captured in an email :)”

  1. Timing is Everything
    Being thoughtful with the timing of your meetings can have a major impact on parent’s engagement.

First, honour the parents in your group by asking for a modest window of time (20-30 minutes should be enough), and being diligent to follow through. We all know how precious time is and if parents get the feeling that your meetings could drag on, they are likely to check out. You can change their expectations by setting a clear time frame and consistently sticking to it.

Also, do everything you can to make the timing of the meetings accessible and convenient. Right before your youth program or right after a Sunday service are optimal times. Parents are already doing enough traveling, so finding a way to save a trip will go a long way.

Finally, be strategic and selective with the frequency of your meetings. Trying to pull parents together too often will only make them tune you out over time. Instead, schedule your meetings strategically to maximize key moments in your calendar when you want to boost your parent engagement. Fall kick-off and leading into a major event like a retreat are optimal times to capture their attention

  1. Snacks
    This one is obvious (I hope) but don’t ever forget the power of food. It doesn’t need to be much, but at least show them that you thought ahead. If you can establish a reputation for having awesome munchies at your meetings, parents will remember and learn to look forward to it.
  1. Celebrate these fine folks!
    Parents often feel like they are not measuring up. They are tired, they are unsure how their kids are going to turn out, they are feeling inadequate. Take some time to affirm them. Remind them of the significant role they play in the lives of their kids. Encourage them to take hold of the opportunities they have to build into their relationships. Let them know that you are on their team, and that your youth ministry exists to support them in the good work that they are already doing.

When parents feel valued and affirmed by your youth ministry, they are going to take an increasing interest in what the ministry is all about… and THAT is a huge win!

Maybe parents meetings have always driven you crazy in the past. I don’t believe that needs to be the way it is moving forward. 

Praying for you and the opportunities for deeper connection with your parents this ministry season!