Avoiding the Holy Huddle – Challenging Students Beyond the Church Walls

I think one of the most important lessons we can teach our students is that the Kingdom of God is larger than the four walls of our church building.  When students graduate from our ministry, I hope that they find a place to worship, to serve, to grow, and to connect with other Christians.  Whether they end up worshiping at Hazelwood with us or somewhere else, the goal is that they stick to their faith, no matter where God may lead them.  Showing them God’s work around the world, in my opinion, helps prepare them to serve God in any location.

As a ministry, there are some deliberate steps we take to help students see the global God at work.  I’d love to share some of these steps with you, and hear some feedback on what YOU do to prepare your students for the global Kingdom.  As we collaborate, perhaps we can better prepare students for life after youth group.

1.  Connection with Other Youth Ministries


For whatever reason, it seems that youth groups have become more autonomous in the past decade.   It seems like less youth groups are participating in collaborative efforts like area-wide youth rallies, statewide conferences, and so forth.  I still believe these hold value for our students, particularly when it comes to showing them the Kingdom outside their own church.    Our Youth Ministry still participates in statewide conferences, where we can be encouraged and connect with other youth groups from our state.  For our last conference, we took a local church with us and partnered with them.  We also stay connected with other ministries in our area through Youth Minister monthly gatherings.

2.  Local Service Opportunities

Students love to serve, and giving students opportunities to serve locally opens their eyes to the world around them.  When students see the needs around them, they begin to understand how their gifts might help meet the needs of the world around them.  1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has receive to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  Our church offers many different opportunities for young and old alike to serve in the community.  Though we could always do more, I’m thankful for a church that has an outward focus in this area.

3.  Mission Trips for All Age Groups

Acts 1:8 says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  We model our Youth Missions Program after this verse, offering trips for each age group in our ministry to challenge and encourage them to see God at work in various cultures and subcultures.  Middle Schoolers participate in “Jerusalem,” or local mission trips through Mission Indy, an organization with an amazing purpose (you can check them out at www.missionindy.com).  High School students travel via bus somewhere on the continent (Samaria, to continue the analogy).  Throughout my twelve years at HCC, we’ve taken High Schoolers to Tennessee, South Dakota, Mexico, New Hampshire, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Tampa, Washington, D.C., and more.  Some trips are work-related, some are relational, and some are prayer-focused.  Finally, an area we are growing in is with our College Age students, who travel abroad (the ends of the earth).  This past summer, we took a group of 12 to Honduras, and we are making plans for another trip in a couple years.  By offering trips for all ages, students see the global God at work.

4.  Purposeful Guest Speakers

Sometimes, we can get very protective of our youth groups, and not allow them to hear from people with other viewpoints or doctrines.  By having relationships with other Youth Ministers in our area, I am comfortable asking some of them to come share with my group from time to time.  While I choose carefully, this can be a great way for students to wrestle with doctrinal issues while they are still under your tutelage.  This past summer, our guest speaker for our huge High School Adventure Trip was a great Youth Minister friend named Tyson from a local church.  He did a great job, and I think my students were blessed by His messages.  I challenge you to invite some purposeful guest speakers into your Youth Ministry.

5.  Continuous Challenges to Change the World Around Them

I know we all do this, but it’s worth mentioning that our students should constantly be challenged to be the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.”  By continually challenging our students to change the world, it reminds them that God has a purpose and a mission for them, even now!  I believe this encouragement goes a long way in making mission-minded, lifelong disciples.

I’m eager to hear from you – what do you do to help students experience God outside the walls of your church building?

Guest Post: Why we chose to only do Youth Group on Sunday Mornings

About 6 years ago we made the decision to cancel our Wednesday night youth group for middle school students and move everything we did to Sunday mornings. For more info about what our Sunday morning program looks like click here. We also chose to cancel our Sunday morning and Sunday night gatherings for High School and move everything to Wednesday night. We saw both numerical growth and the quality of ministry increase immediately and here’s some reasons why…

1. It was a win for volunteers’ and families’ schedules. Instead of running students around to church 2 or 3 times a week (or even more), or asking volunteers to serve multiple times a week, we condensed it down to one time a week – and for middle school that was Sunday mornings. It works for us because we have 2 adult gatherings on Sunday mornings (9am and 11am) and we do the same for our middle school gatherings now. It allows volunteers to go to church at one service and serve at the other. And it’s a win for families because now they can spend their weeknights together now or engaged more in their community.

2. It was a win for our church. If we’re honest, we understand that parents will sometimes choose a church to attend based on what it offers for kids. A lot of parents tell me they heard about our children’s ministry or heard about our middle school ministry and decided to bring their family to check it out. This is especially true with unchurched families; families already engaged with our ministry now have another reason to invite their unchurched friends to get engaged – “you guys should check out of childrens/middle school programs, your kids will love it”, and mom and dad get to go to church at the same time. I believe having a quality middle school program on Sunday mornings really helps in attracting young families to engage with your church.

3. It increased our volunteer pool. Because we canceled our high school program on Sunday mornings, it opened the door for high school students to serve and invest in middle school students. High School students that can’t drive or are busy during the week now have a place to use their gifts and are engaged as greeters, cafe workers, security, and even leading a small group if they are mature enough.

It also increased our adult volunteer pool because they are already there at church – they don’t need to come back another day and time to serve. This has been huge for us and makes it easier to find quality volunteers that may be busy during the week.

4. It increased the quality of ministry to students. Because we as a staff can focus all of our attention on just one gathering a week, we have a lot more time to invest in volunteers, develop our small group environment, develop our worship environment, plan our games/fun stuff, and prepare our messages. When we were preparing for 2,3, or more events or gatherings a week, we had a lot less time and energy for each gathering and the overall quality of each one suffered. And because we include small groups in our Sunday morning program now, that means every student we are engaged with is automatically plugged into a small group. Each student that walks through our doors is connected to an adult that cares about them and a community of their peers that is on a journey of following Jesus with them.

As you can tell, for us less gatherings = better ministry opportunity. I realize every context is different and our structure isn’t the “right way” or anything, but I just wanted to share why we chose to do it the way we do.

What do you think?

We value you’re input and want to have discussion with you. How is your youth ministry structured? What are the pros and cons of how you do it and what would you recommend to others that has been successful to you?

Getting inside the mind of a Middle School student

One of the keys to being an effective leader for junior high students is the willingness to journey back to your own junior high experiences. Some of them are exciting and some of them, like some of mine, are painful.

Our current students are really not that far off from where we were growing up.

It’s natural that the older we get, the less we remember about our youth; but it’s important for us to “revisit” the past… who we were, who we hung out with, and who we went to for advice. By stepping back in time, you can begin to remember your journey forward that made you into the person you are today.

Remembering what life was like for us helps us appreciate what life is like for today’s junior high student.

Take a look at these questions, be truthful to yourself, and answer in the comments. Together, let’s take a walk in their shoes and remember what it’s like.

I went to______________________Junior High School.
My favorite band was________________________.
My favorite outfit was_____________________________.
In junior high, my biggest fear was_______________________________.
My junior high crush was__________________________________.
I was involved in __________________________.
The thing that rocked my world the most in junior high was _____________________________________________________________.
My most painful experience was_________________________________.
I felt that God was _________________________________________.
I felt most met by God when_____________________________________.
When I grew up I wanted to be ______________________________.

If you have another question that could help you connect to your inner junior-higher, add that one in the comments as well!

Youth Ministry Group Game – Shark Attack

This game actually started out as a bit of a joke as a few of my Middle School Leaders and I were brainstorming games. We thought about how you could make almost any game 50x better in, middle school ministry, by simply adding pool noodles to it, how even shark’s and minnows would become an entirely new game for the students who play it every year in the pool, if you simply added pool noodles.

Then the joke faded and we thought “well actually, that might be fun to try.” So we did.

To play this game you will need:

– Pool noodles, but get the ones at the dollar store that our like 60″ long, and cut them in half.

– clearly identified boundaries for your game to be played in

Shark Attack is basically the pool game sharks & minnows, but the rules for that game vary depending on where you live, so we’ll set it up.

We set up an area outside in our parking lot that wasn’t too wide or too deep for our size group, and then had everyone line up on one side. We chose one person to start out as shark, and the shark got two pool noodles. During the game, the shark can move anywhere he or she wants within the boundaries, and the object is to tag the minnows as they pass. To tag, you simply whack them with the pool noodle.

A leader will say go and all of the minnows have to run from the side they are starting on, to the opposite side of the game area without getting whacked by the shark. If they do get hit, they have to stand in the same exact spot they were tagged in, and a leader will bring them one pool noodle. They can’t throw their pool needle to get others out, they can’t move their feet in any way to get other people out, only stand as stationary towers. The last minnow becomes the shark in the new round.

Variations:

We played a few speed rounds of the game where everyone was free to move when they became sharks. These rounds were usually over fairly quickly, but what was nice about them, was because we played them after a few regular rounds, our students would primarily be concerned with getting their friends out first in these rounds, as opposed to the slower kids. So the winners of our speed rounds were, not every time, but often the students who were easy pickings with the normal rules.

Youth Ministry Group Game – Shark Attack

This game actually started out as a bit of a joke as a few of my Middle School Leaders and I were brainstorming games. We thought about how you could make almost any game 50x better in, middle school ministry, by simply adding pool noodles to it, how even shark’s and minnows would become an entirely new game for the students who play it every year in the pool, if you simply added pool noodles.

Then the joke faded and we thought “well actually, that might be fun to try.” So we did.

To play this game you will need:

– Pool noodles, but get the ones at the dollar store that our like 60″ long, and cut them in half.

– clearly identified boundaries for your game to be played in

Shark Attack is basically the pool game sharks & minnows, but the rules for that game vary depending on where you live, so we’ll set it up.

We set up an area outside in our parking lot that wasn’t too wide or too deep for our size group, and then had everyone line up on one side. We chose one person to start out as shark, and the shark got two pool noodles. During the game, the shark can move anywhere he or she wants within the boundaries, and the object is to tag the minnows as they pass. To tag, you simply whack them with the pool noodle.

A leader will say go and all of the minnows have to run from the side they are starting on, to the opposite side of the game area without getting whacked by the shark. If they do get hit, they have to stand in the same exact spot they were tagged in, and a leader will bring them one pool noodle. They can’t throw their pool needle to get others out, they can’t move their feet in any way to get other people out, only stand as stationary towers. The last minnow becomes the shark in the new round.

Variations:

We played a few speed rounds of the game where everyone was free to move when they became sharks. These rounds were usually over fairly quickly, but what was nice about them, was because we played them after a few regular rounds, our students would primarily be concerned with getting their friends out first in these rounds, as opposed to the slower kids. So the winners of our speed rounds were, not every time, but often the students who were easy pickings with the normal rules.

Youth Group Game: Who's the Hero?

Here’s a fun Youth Group game we played this past weekend with our middle schoolers that only needs a life saver and some string. Have your group get into a circle (or more, depending on how large your group is) with one person in the middle. Now, the only part that could be tough is that you need a piece of string long enough for one person to hold onto both ends while everyone else in the circle is able to hold onto the string with both their hands. Now, place one (or, again, if you have more in your group and are one group, you could do multiple) lifesavers on the string, so it can slide across the string without falling. Tie the two ends together so it creates a perfect circle, and your ready to go.

We called it “Who’s the Hero?” Simply because someone is going to end up with a lifesaver, and the person in the middle has to guess who.

There’s two ways to play this game, and thats up to you to decide.

The first way is to have the person in the middle close their eyes and count to 30. While they are counting, the students holding the string will pass the lifesaver around, in any direction, but trying to stay quiet. When the 30 seconds are up, whoever has the lifesaver simply covers it up with hishand, while the person in the middle has 3 guesses to guess who is holding it. They guess wrong, they sit down, they guess right, they rejoin the circle and whoever had the lifesaver is now in the middle.

The second way of playing it lets the person in the middle keep their eyes open and watch. The group will still pass the lifesaver around, but they will have to be more sneaky about it as to not get caught. Depending on your group size, the person in the middle has 3-5 guesses before they are out. This version would almost be similar to the winking murder game a lot of Youth Groups play.

So there ya go. We have several other games we played recently with lifesavers we’ll be posting, but we’d love to know your thoughts on this one, if you play it, what we could change to make the game better, that sort of stuff. And as always, we’d love for you to submit a game to the site using the big blue submit box near the top of the page.