Great Graduation Gifts for Students

In our main Facebook YouthMin group, one question always pops up repeatedly around this time of year.  The question is “What do you get your graduates as you recognize them?”  There is always a lot of conversation, and a great deal of options, and we decided to share some things we’ve done in the past.  Maybe one of these options will be a good fit for you and your ministry as you seek to honor your graduates this year.


  • A Bible with their named engraved on it. (a good study Bible is ideal for a college freshman)
  • Radical by David Platt
  • You Can Be Everything God Wants You To Be by Max Lucado
  • 99 Thoughts for College-Age People by Chuck Bomar
  • Thriving at College by Alex Chediak
  • Apologetics Study Bible
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
  • The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
  • Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper


  • Your church logo on T-shirts or hoodies (downside is you must know sizes)
  • Church mugs/travel mug with church logo
  • Backpacks or Drawstring Bags with your logo (either church of Youth Ministry)


  • Gift cards to Starbucks, Christian Book Stores, etc.
  • For ladies: A Sterling Silver Cross Bracelet
  • If you have the budget and only a few grads, make a care package with essential dorm supplies (laundry basket/detergent, air fresheners, etc.)


  • Honor all graduates during your worship service.  We call them to the front, have them share their name, school, and future plans.  Then, we give them a small gift.  Included is always a flyer about our upcoming College Ministry activities – the hope is they will plug into that ministry seamlessly.
  • Do a Baccalaureate service for your students – meal, speaker, worship, challenge.
  • One church near us does a slide show for their students during the worship service to honor them.
  • Do a mini-retreat for your seniors with some recent college students. Have them share life experiences and words of wisdom as they enter college.


Regardless of what you get your sr.’s to love on them during THIS season, just make sure they know you still love them the same in the next season. The best gift you can give them is a continued interest in their lives and pastoral care as they begin this next chapter in their lives.

We’d love to know what you’re getting for your graduates? Share in the comments the gifts your getting this year, or the best idea you’ve seen!

5 Ways to Make Your Ministry Better This Year

Whether you are a big proponent of New Year’s resolutions or not, one must admit that the turning of the calendar seems to be a mental reset for most of us. Most times, we focus on our weight, our finances, or our family. Today, I thought it would be good to focus on our ministry instead. I am eager to take our Youth Ministry to the next level, and I’m sure you desire the same thing. So, I have compiled a list of a few ways you can improve your ministry this year. Know that I am writing this list as much to myself as I am to you, and I can’t wait to see God at work in the coming year.

1.  Try a brand new approach to an old event or program.

If your ministry calendar is like mine, there are certain events and activities that are annual “staples.” It can be easy to get into a rut, to do the same old thing in the same way, and fall back on what we know. This year, let me encourage you to approach your calendar with a fresh perspective. Shake it up, try something new, seek input from other Youth Ministers and get ideas from them that might breathe fresh air into that “same old” retreat.

After 13 years of mission trips over Spring Break, we are doing something completely different this year, emphasizing the mission field in our own community. It’s bold, challenging, and very different, but I think it could have a huge impact on our community and our ministry.

Try something new and creative – God may use it in a big way!

2. Give more ministry away to your leaders.

One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is to multiply other leaders around you.  It becomes easy in ministry to try to be the hero, to do everything on your own.  If we aren’t careful, we will be setting up the chairs, doing the tech, leading the worship, teaching the lesson, stirring the lemonade, greeting the students, and counseling every student.  This, in my opinion, is egocentric ministry at its worst, and is a trap of the evil one.

This year, take your ministry to another level by giving more ministry away to your leaders.  Ask them to lead some of the upfront games and activities.  Challenge them to lead your small group even when you are there.  Encourage them and guide them as they try new things.  You may find out they are way better at certain aspects of ministry than you are!  And what better picture of the Body of Christ exists?  Try it – you might love it!

3. Commit to praying over your students and leaders with renewed fervor

Prayer is something I think we could all do better, so why not make this a fervent commitment this year?  Maybe you could use an app like Evernote or Reminders to record prayer requests your students mention so that you can recall them later.  Print a list of your students and commit to praying for a few of them by name each week.  Send them a card to let them know they’ve been prayed for.  Challenge your adult leaders to show up early to pray over the room before youth group.

The list of ideas could go on and on, so be creative.  But, as Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  Make this a renewed priority.

4. Get out of your office and be with students.

We know the to-do lists that face us each day in ministry.  There is no end to the things we CAN be doing for the Kingdom.  But being busy doing ministry tasks in our office often means we are missing time with our students.  Don’t get me wrong; it is VITAL to spend the right amount of time preparing the messages and crafting the vision of your ministry.  But we have to find a nice balance between “getting things done” and building relationships with our students.

Go visit your school cafeteria.  Make a plan to get to your students’ ball games.  Send personal letters of encouragement.  Invite students over to watch an appropriate movie.  Make being with students a priority, and see what happens.  You’ll build deep relationships with your students, and meet students you would have never known if you hadn’t made the extra effort.

5. Plan ahead further than you normally do.

Sometimes, our ministry looks a lot like our checkbooks.  We often live week-to-week and end up doing things at the last minute.  When we are unprepared, no one wins.  Creativity suffers, leaders are frustrated, and our students see right through it.  This year, plan ahead further than ever before.  Invite a group of creative people (they don’t even have to be youth leaders) to meet with you and walk through your ministry calendar for the year.  Have them brainstorm about some creative ways you can accomplish your ministry tasks, retreat themes, lesson series ideas, decoration concepts, and more.

By planning ahead, you free yourself up to dream and be creative.  You free yourself up to be with students, and to stop running around putting out fires all the time.  Plan WAY ahead and see how God frees you up this year.

These are just a few of the ways I’m going to try to take my ministry to the next level this year.  What steps make your list?

How to Respond to Social Media Criticism Towards Your Ministry

For the past three months, I have been working at the headquarters of Youth for Christ as their Social Media Specialist to learn how to better engage people with social media and blogging at a local and national level as we work to improve engaging with teenagers and the whole community to share the Gospel alongside the church. One of the first missions I had for the position is to put together an all-encompassing social media and blogging policy for the organization that will not only protect the students and families we minister to, but also help the staff people do good ministry and protect themselves as well.

Let’s be honest, if we are serving a God who loves teenagers unconditionally, are willing to say the hard things to parents and senior pastors, or push the youth to do more with their lives than texting and sexting, we are going to rub people the wrong way. We will post events on Facebook, photos from the latest camp trip, a video blog entry on Twitter sharing the upcoming sermon, and people are going to leave mean responses. So instead of deciding to react to how to each individual situation, lets figure out what the steps should be when it is not a crisis situation.

Let me quickly note that there is a difference here between someone being rude, mean, or negative to your ministry on your social media and blogging comments and people directing their words to specific people in your ministry, be it teenagers, parents, or volunteers. The policy below is coupled with a cyberbullying policy that states an immediate removal of posts directed at students that include sexual harassment, verbal attacks, or threats of any kind, mandated reporting when necessary, and direct conversations with the parties involved over the phone or in person.

The following entry into the policy became as follows:

Do Not Delete Comments
A comment, whether positive or negative towards the ministry is still something that can be of value. If it is negative towards the ministry and not vulgar, immediately respond with an apology of the situation (note that we are not admitting guilt here as clarification needs to be made), let them know that you will contact them directly through a private communication through Facebook message, Twitter direct message, or the like, and then immediately contact them. If the situation warrants, discuss what has happened with your supervisor and follow their guidance on the situation.

Go Counter-Intuitive And Win!

This kind of a response is something that is counter to the immediate reaction to the situation. I feel in my heart that they dislike me, that others will be swayed, and I have to stop it now. I worry that my faith is in need of protecting and I have to respond bold, if irrationally. The person just does not get it and I need to fix their line of thinking right now.

But what are you missing out by responding this way? With a thoughtful and quick response, you are showing everyone else that reads this comment that you are listening and care about the person. You show that in the midst of controversy and crisis, you want to dialogue more and get it worked out right. A teenager could read this and think, “Maybe, just maybe, my even scarier problem that I have not told anyone could be heard and not judged by my youth worker.”

I call that a win.

If you find that you want to take the next step with your social media and blogging for your ministry, I would love to help you. We have a track of working with numerous churches, ministries, and blogs(including our very own!) We are offering social media and blogging consultations here exclusively for ministries to help you effectively share the Gospel and better build relationships.

An Open Letter to Church Leaders

You might assume by the title of this post that I’m concurrently working on my resume and a blog post, but I’m excited about sharing this post with you and with my own church leaders as we seek to make Christ famous.  I am also eager to hear back from you on what you would share with your church leaders, and I hope this post will be a great conversation starter.

I know that every denomination and every church has a different structure and different definitions of “leadership.”  In my church, we are locally governed by a group of elders, as qualified by 1 Timothy 3.  These are men that I respect, love, and am honored to serve with.  With that context in place, here we go.

Dear Church Leaders,

Let me start by saying that I am honored to serve in the Kingdom with you.  You have been called by God, appointed, and affirmed by our congregation to lead and govern us as a Body.  You bear a heavy burden, and I am thankful for your leadership, your devotion to our Lord and His church, and I write this letter with a submissive heart.  As a co-laborer in Christ, I’d like to share some things from my heart that may encourage and challenge you.  I hope this can open the door to more collaboration in the future.

1.  Your interest in the Youth Ministry means more than you know.  As I speak with fellow Youth Ministers, one of the most common mantras I hear is “I wish my leadership was more aware of what we are doing.”  I know you are busy, and there is no way you can be involved with every ministry in our church.  But you have no idea how encouraging it is to see our leaders stick their head into youth group on a Wednesday or Sunday night, to volunteer to run an inflatable at a 5th Quarter, or even just to ask us in the hallway how the ministry is going.  Those little connections make a BIG difference!

2.  Embrace our differences.  One of the greatest things about the Body of Christ is that it is full of very different people serving One God in very different ways.  There are a lot of things about the students I minister to that would probably blow your mind, and the methods I employ may not make sense to you, but I hope I have proven that you can trust me.  Students live online through smartphones and tablets.  They spend HOURS on Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more.  I know we may be very different, but I’m certain we both have a place for ministry in this congregation.  So, forgive me when it sounds like I’m speaking Greek, or when I’m asking for some gadget in my budget that weirds you out.  Hear me out, and I guarantee I’ll have a reason for it.  Then, we can go from there.

3.  Give me feedback…any feedback…please.  I believe with all of my heart that God has called me to this ministry, and specifically to ministry in this church.  I think about youth ministry when I get up, when I go to bed, and almost every minute in between.  I’d love to hear from you about your perceptions concerning our youth ministry.  I have blind spots, and I need your feedback so that I can improve.  Be honest, be kind, but I want to be the absolute best Youth Minister possible.  You can help me with that.

4.  Don’t be afraid to try something crazy.  One truth about leadership that I learned early on was that you will never make everyone happy.  You have been given a huge responsibility to shepherd and lead the flock, and sometimes, that means shaking people up.  I challenge you to take a leap every now and then, think outside the box, and make people uncomfortable.  Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made in ministry seemed a little crazy at the start.  I know it may mean criticism from time to time, but don’t be afraid to try something new and different.

5.  Pray for our students.  Our students are in a crazy world.  Many of them have difficult home lives, some struggle with abuse and neglect.  Others are being pressured by coaches, parents, teachers, and school administrators to perform at near-perfect levels in every area of life.  It seems that the students’ calendars are more full than mine with academics, athletics, church, extracurriculars, and more.  Lift them up in prayer often.  It would be greatly appreciated.

I am praying for you, for our church, and for your leadership.  I believe we can do some amazing things together for the Kingdom, and I am eager and ready to follow your lead.  Let’s do this!

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  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?