The best Youth Ministry Conference out there

the orange conference youth ministry

They often say “leaders are readers,” but the underlying truth there is that leaders are learners. We all get that.

That’s why conferences are, in my opinion, so crucial for leaders.  In the world of Youth Ministry, we have a number of options to choose from. In my time as a Youth Pastor, I’ve been to a lot of the major, national conferences and several of the smaller, regional ones.  I don’t mean to bash on the others, but there really is nothing that can top the experience and education of the Orange Conference.

I wrote this summer about the idea of the 10 word answers, that it’s easy to be able to say a quick phrase that sounds great or offer a general solution that might solve a problem without understanding why the phrase is true or why the solution works. For me, I can go to any conference and get inspired, see something that is killing it in another ministry, or hear an idea that would be phenomenal for my church. But rarely at these conferences do I learn a) Why an idea is a killer idea in general, b) why an idea is being successful there in that context, or c) how I can make it successful in my ministry, or if it’s even a good fit for my ministry.

That’s why I love the Orange Conference. You’re going to see a lot of amazing things, hear about a lot of killer ideas. But the focus of the conference isn’t the solution, but instead the philosophy of the solution. You won’t just leave with a notebook of ideas or curriculum options, you’ll leave planning a strategy for YOUR ministry.

So I know I’ll be in Atlanta this coming spring, and I’d love to meet more of our YouthMin community there. Registration opens up this week (october 9th) and you can save $80 per person for opening day, thats a HUGE savings!

Even better, the amazing folks at Orange have been kind enough to give us a ticket to give away to a reader. Just leave a comment on ANY post this week, and on Thursday at 3 pm CST, we’ll choose a random winner!

Check out the highlights from last year’s conference

The Orange Conference 2014: Highlights from Orange on Vimeo.

*Disclaimer: I’m asked to help promote the Orange Conference, but I’d write the same post above even if they hadn’t asked.

The dilemma of going to a Youth Ministry Conference

Odds are, you aren’t on staff at a mega-church that puts on mega-conferences on a yearly basis.

Odds are you aren’t on the speaking circuit, traveling from city to city speaking to other Youth Pastors on how they can improve their Youth Ministries.

And odds are that you don’t go to conferences just for the free stuff, because you don’t need to learn anything in the sessions and workshops.

Because of that, going to a Youth Ministry conference usually instills one of two mindsets within us.

Two years ago, when I went to the Orange Conference for the first time, I was 3/4 of the way out the door at a church, and the worship, the sermons, the ideas being talking about in every workshop, they did nothing but brew within me resentment towards my ministry. Our church could NEVER do worship like that, our pastor would NEVER go for this idea for the church. I left that year with some great ideas, but mainly a heart full of bitterness at where God had placed me, because I felt stuck.

Last year, I was in a completely different position, and full of enthusiasm for where God had led me over the last year, to a new church, a new state, a new ministry. Every Session, every speaker, every workshop cultivated in me the thoughts “if we really wanted to, we could do that, but we’d have to be called to do it for it to succeed.” I left last year’s conference on a higher note than I arrived, filled with anticipation to get home and begin to build our strategy to incorporate some of these ideas.

It would be easy to say that because I was happier in a better ministry, of course I had a different experience these two years. But I believe there are things we can do to ensure that have a positive experience at conferences opposed to leaving dejected.

1. Understand the work behind the idea.

For every good idea that is presented at a conference, I bet those leaders and ministries went through 100 bad ones. The most basic, simple, “why didn’t I think of that” ideas come after exhausting other options , and though these might be what we get, we’re missing out on the countless hours in brainstorming meetings, “come to Jesus” you screwed up meetings, and many other things that led to the discovery of this Amazing concept being presented.

2. Understand your calling in ministry is different than every other church.

You just sat through a presentation on how to use motion graphics to engage the audience during worship, but you’re youth group has 5 students and you don’t even have worship because no one plays guitar. It’s easy to get jealous of how professional it looks with motion backgrounds, but don’t lose sight of the fact that God has called you to a specific set of students in a specific community. Live into that, not what the church putting on the conference is called to do.

3. Forget the unrealistic expectation of “right now ideas”

I don’t care how simple or basic of an idea you hear, there are hardly any ideas that you can hear and immediately put into practice in your Youth Ministry. If it’s something like “make sure you do your own devotional time” then sure, but for the most part, you’ll need time to plan for this idea to actually work in your ministry.

4. Spend at least a day of debrief after the conference.

Debrief after the conference. Make a list of everything you learned that you want to use to change the way you do ministry and spend some time working through each idea, how would this look if we put it into practice, how would it benefit the ministry to put this into practice, would we have to force it or is it something that others would easily buy into. Let your brain cool off and settle down, and then start figuring out how your ministry is going to look when you come up with a plan and stick with it.

Review of #SYMC

The Simply Youth Ministry Conference was fantastic. I know I said that I would blog every second of it, but I was completely naive of the mixture of exhaustion and rejuvenation I would be experiencing. There were so many things that rocked my world this weekend, and I’m excited to share them with you.


  • There was so much community with SYMC.
  • I got to meet some really fantastic people whose blogs I follow and whose wisdom I admire.
  • There was a variety of classes to choose from.  One day, I couldn’t make up my mind, so I literally just YOLO’d and walked into a random class.  It ended up being a very good decision.
  • There were a fair amount of women teaching classes.
  • There were options for classes that were practical, theological, and educational. Whether you were a teacher, a volunteer, or a pastor’s wife (or husband), there was something for you.
  • The variety of personalities represented by the speakers was fantastic.  There was a mix of “famous” to sell tickets with a mix of “needed” for some soul care.
  • The resource center was fantastic.  The booths were great too.
  • There was a Canadian pin for your I.D.  I’m not Canadian, but I grabbed one for Kolby Milton.
  • The conference was set in a really central place with tons of options for food and entertainment.
  • There was a Starbucks in the hotel.  Enough said.
  • We did a Harlem Shake.
  • I learned a lot. Like, a lot.
  • “Cons”

    • I wasn’t able to attend a panel because the schedule could be hectic, especially if you like to eat once or twice a day.
    • There were a lot of women at the conference, but very few on stage.  A total of 4 women stepped onto that stage, including one of the musicians.
    • The big-group sessions were super long.  In their defense, they utilized that time well.  But still, for me to stay in one place for 2 1/2 hours is a challenge.
    • My hotel pillow smelled. I know that’s not SYMC’s fault. I’m just saying!
    • There weren’t enough minorities represented, period. On stage, as teachers, and even in the crowd.  I would love to see more of that.
    • There was no urban ministry connect group.  Or a pin for my I.D.
    • Nobody wanted to find me and win free stuff from the YouthMin.Org Marketplace.

    Lessons Learned

    • No youth pastor is a rockstar.  Whether you’re Josh Griffin or Kassy, this girl I met at Starbucks; we all have something to contribute to the Youth Ministry community.  Also, those youth pastors who you may look at as a rockstar don’t look at themselves like a rockstar.  They’re just as weird, love students just as much, and have just as many struggles as you do.
    • We need to be more transparent with one another.  We are in youth ministry together, and it’s about time we share burdens with one another and live in real community.
    • A grimy penny is worth just as much as a shiny penny.  That student who has a bunch of junk in their life and is a thorn in your side?  God values him the same as that kid who is perfect.  And God also values him the same as you.
    • While some may plant and others may water, it is God who causes the growth.  Yet, your responsibility may just be to ready the soil by chipping away at all the gravel and clumps it has gathered.
    • Quit balancing, hiding, or trying to stir in your sins and burdens. Give them to God.
    • Youth pastors are a lot like their youth.  I saw a couple “comforting each other” during worship. Once the overwhelming B.O. (or maybe it was Axe?) singed my nose hairs.  I saw “that guy” with the guitar.  And there were people running around like cray cray.
    • Don’t skip out on community at these conferences. Fight the urge to go to bed at 9. Stay out and learn from other youth pastors.  Talk to the people in the elevator.  Don’t not talk to someone just because their haircut is too cool for you or their blog is actually read.

    What are some things that you learned? Pros? Cons? I would love to hear about them in the comments.  If you blogged about SYMC, I encourage you to link it in the comments, as well!

    SYMC Day 1 Recap

    Today was the opening night of the Simply Youth Ministry Conference.  My mind is stinking blown, and I feel like one blog post won’t handle it all.  There are so many ideas that are floating around in my head, but I will just go ahead and do a quick recap!

    My Day of Networking

    I spent the day meeting people who I have spent three years stalking…er blog-reading.  I met people who are in the YouthMin.Org Facebook group, and had lunch with them.  I met some fantastic women in ministry (#womanyouthpastorswag) who I have “lady youth pastor crushes” on.  I then got to talk about blogging with some of the best bloggers I know!

    Opening: General Session and Worship (Emphasis on Prayer)

    I want to preface tonight with the fact that I had been concentrating on the spiritual discipline of prayer for the entire month of February, so how perfect was it for me, personally, to have a night focused on prayer? Rocked my socks off. I’ve been learning a lot about how, when we ask God for prayer, we need to BELIEVE it can happen.

    • That kid in your youth group who you feel will never have that come-to-Jesus moment? BELIEVE that God can work in his heart. Don’t give up.
    • That parent who is disconnected from their teenager? BELIEVE that when you pray, God can impact their life so that they impact their teenager.
    • You feel like your youth group will never grow? BELIEVE that God CAN make it grow.  Don’t give up praying for it.


    More than just BELIEVING that it can happen, BE IN CONVERSATION with God about it.  Don’t dump all your mess on him and then not listen to what he has to say. Be genuine. Be authentic. Don’t B.S. around with him. He knows your heart better than anybody, and he also knows how to HELP you better than anybody.  Let God be a part of the solution, and not just who you lament your youth ministry woes to.  After all, God is the creator of all things and all souls, why would you not include him when he has personally asked you to minister to those souls?

    Find Me And Win Stuff!

    Follow me on Twitter @heatherlea17. I will tweet out my location at random times for you to find me!  I have a QR code that you can scan, and it will take you to a page where you will enter a contest!  Over $1500 worth of stuff is at stake here, and you are basically guaranteed to win something (unless over 200 people find me, and even then it’s a 1 in 2 chance. cray. just do it). If you can’t do the whole QR thing, come find me anything and I can help you cheat :)


    What did you learn tonight at #SYMC? Tell me about it in the comments!


    Heather's going to #SYMC!

    I am going to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference.  Tomorrow.  I just found out today.  Like two seconds ago.

    I really wanted to go, and for a while things seemed to be falling in place.  But then I had a few financial things come up, and couldn’t justify $400 for it.

    But then God did some pretty cool things:

    • A fantastic woman told me that I could share her hotel room, for free, since her husband travels and scored it for free.
    • A pretty cool youth worker had an extra ticket that I could have for free.
    • I won a free tank of gas from work.


    So.  I’m going.  I’m excited.  You should be too.

    Look for me there! is doing a giveaway, you just have to find me to sign up! You could win an ESV Leather Journaling Bible, $50 gift card to the marketplace, or $10 gift card to the marketplace! Over $1500 worth of gift cards are going to be given away!

    But more importantly, you get to talk to me!  And I to YOU!  It is going to be GREAT!

    Also, keep an eye out on this site–I’ve been commissioned to blog about everything I do, see, and most importantly, learn.

    Let me know in the comments if you are going to be there! Tweet me @heatherlea17, or if you’re my Facebook friend, cop my digits off the page and call/text me!

    How to Choose a Summer Conference

    When it comes to summer conference options, there are probably more options for youth ministers than ever before in history. A simple Google search for “summer conferences for youth groups” will overwhelm you with options from Big Stuf, CIY Move and Mix, NYR, countless missions organizations, local camps, and tons more.

    Navigating all these options can be a daunting task, so I thought I’d share with you how I go about narrowing down my summer options for my group. Perhaps seeing this process of choosing a conference and evaluating it will help you clarify what you are looking for this summer.  Here’s how I work through this tough question.

    It may seem odd to start with something so “unspiritual,” but the truth is that this is a central, driving factor. I recently spent thirty minutes on the phone talking with a missions organization about format, details, locations, and more only to find out they charge 4x more than we’ve ever charged our students in the past. The reality is that you know your budget, your students, and the socioeconomic culture of your church. So, if a conference costs $500 to attend, and your students can only afford to pay $150, don’t even investigate it. In other words, don’t go to the Mercedes dealer when you can only afford a Kia.

    This is a tricky balance to find, but it can make all the difference. You want to find a conference located far enough away to be an “adventure” for your students, but close enough to be practical and cost-effective. Last year, we drove our students to New Mexico (from Indiana) for a mission trip. It was such a long drive that the return trip almost ruined all the good that had been done throughout the week. But if you go to a conference an hour away, you will likely have less students and you may have to deal with students wanting to leave for baseball games or football practices. Choose the location wisely.

    Track record and other Youth Ministers’ Opinions
    With all the different options out there, it’s easy to be sucked in by some sleek graphics and a nice website. Take some time to do the research and find out the track record of the conferences you are interested in. How long has it been around? What have others online said about the conference? What speakers / bands / talent have they had in the past and what does that say about their credibility? Most importantly, what have other Youth Ministers near you said about the conference? Was it beneficial to them and their group? Talk to the YMs in your area to get an impression before you decide.

    Format – Does it fit our needs?
    We recently took our college age group to Passion, which is an amazing conference. However, the reason we wanted to take our group was because we wanted to build some momentum and unity for our college ministry. While Passion was great, the brutal schedule, the immensity of it, and community groups that split everyone up, I barely saw my students all week! Find a conference that will meet your specific needs, and that values the same things you value.

    We’ve probably all been burned on this at some point, so it’s probably good to note. I don’t want to spend an entire week “undoing” or “unteaching” everything that has been communicated from the stage doctrinally. Typically, I try to stick with conferences that share my doctrinal perspective. At the very least, make sure you know what you’re getting into before you attend. If you’re from a Baptist background, you might want to know before you attend a conference run by Pentecostals.

    These are just a few of the criteria I use when choosing and evaluating a summer conference, but I’d be interested to hear what would make your list.  What are you looking for in a summer conference for your youth group?