Tag Archives: attendance

When tool’s are no longer tools

One of my frustrations is that I don’t think I am a good small group teacher. Every week, I pour into a lesson, then the night comes, we go through the lesson, I ask some questions which students give answers too, and thats it. There isn’t a whole lot of conversation that comes from the lesson. But every week, with out fail, we close in prayer and say Amen, and then discussion starts about who knows what.

Last night, we got, somehow, on the topic of tracts. Now I personally am extremely against tracts. I think one of the reasons why I hate them is because of living in Lynchburg, VA the last 4 or 5 years, and just seeing how waiters and waitresses hated working on Sunday afternoons because the church folk would come out and instead of leaving a tip, they would leave a tract.

I think the main reason why I hate them, though, is because to me they symbolize the weakness of the american church when it comes to discipleship, because in essence, when most people give out a tract, they are saying to the person receiving it “Here, Go save yourself. Good luck with the rest of life.”

What’s frustrating about that is that the great commission doesn’t say “Go out and make converts” but rather it says “Go and make disciples.” Handing someone a tract is something that people do if they are trying to just get people saved and then they move on.

So I hate tracts with a passion.

But as I am explaining this to our students, my wife butts in to tell of how her Mother got saved because of a tract. But she also noted that it wasn’t just the tract that saved her, but the people who gave her the tract went through it with her, and invited her to church and to their home.

See for this couple that saved my mother-in-law, a tract served a purpose for their discipleship, it led to a further conversation. But for many who hand out tracts, this idea is foreign.

So it got me thinking about the idea that maybe its not necessarily tracts that I hate, but the fact that people don’t know how to use them that I hate. And that got me going on one of the buzzwords that has been going around youth ministry the last decade or so: Programs.

If you have read anything Youth Ministry related since 2000, you have read how evil programs are and we need to get rid of them. The Pizza nights don’t serve a purpose and aren’t making any converts or disciples. “What you save people with is what you save people to.” You know what I am talking about.

But if my mother-in-law got saved with a tract, shouldn’t she still be only reading tracts?

I get the notion of that saying, I do. But I also think, maybe we are just a little off with that sort of thinking. Maybe we need to realize that there are tools we can use to get people saved. But if something doesn’t have a clear purpose behind it to move that person to the next level, then yeah, we are just saving them to that level.

So if a tract has a purpose of starting a conversation to open doors for other conversations, then it has a purpose. If we just hand someone a tract and walk away praying “God let them see you in that tract” then yeah, maybe we have great faith, but we really aren’t being purposeful.

In that same way, If I am having a Pizza night to bring in students who don’t come to my ministry so that I can build a relationship with them and get them back to a regular youth service, then I think Pizza Nights are great tools. But if the Pizza Night is the end of the line, If I get up and think “this is my one chance to reach these kids, I better preach the heck out of them right now,” then I would say thats a bad purpose. I’m not pouring into them, I’m just hoping to get them to say a prayer and then maybe they will come back.

I don’t know if that resonates with you. But these are just the thoughts I get challenged with after hanging out with my students.


Why we’re launching Core Groups mid semester

I mentioned earlier that this Sunday is the last in a big push for our Youth to sign up for Core groups to be starting soon, but I also am aware that launching something like this in the middle of the year doesn’t really make much sense. But really its phase 2 in a soft launch that we have been doing all year.

I’ve mentioned before, but when I got here last year, the church really had no idea what Sustainable Youth Ministry looked like. They had had several volunteers, and I don’t know them, I am sure they did great work, but none of the kids they built up are still here, specifically, none of the kids in our youth ministry came from those past experiences.

This past Fall I did a push for small groups, got kids signed up, and then it toppled. I didn’t build up a system to be in place for it. I didn’t show kids how awesome Core groups were or could be. So it quickly died off.

The in October we did a soft launch with some sr. highers, and I posted earlier of how successful that has been going, that one of our goals with launching it was for them to not want to miss it and not to lose the community, and how last night really showed how important their small group is to them, without it coming off as cliquish.

Now, in March, were doing phase 2 of our soft launch, and gauging interest. At the most, I hope to get 4-6 more girls to sign up and 4-6 more guys to sign up for small groups. If more sign up, then great, but my hope is to have enough to have 3 groups going for now to be influential in the fall to encourage others to sign up.

So though it may seem weird to be starting Core groups mid year, I’m having to remind myself, leaders, and students, that this is just a trial and error phase. Just because it worked with one group, doesn’t mean we can make it work with more, so we will see how it goes.

Is this a good problem to have?

Our youth group has a problem of consistency, but thats not what good problem to have. However, as a result of that, we scaled back our wednesday night Sr. High night from trying to put on a full service, never knowing who’d be there, to just a small group that met at my house.

When we started it, one of the things I told the kids was “Don’t invite anyone.” Which at first, seems like an odd request. I know they were a little taken a back for a bit. But my purpose was so that we could really make it a small group, and so we could just grow this core group of students to be the leadership team when the Sr. High Ministry grew.

Now we have added to the group since that first night, but we usually wait until a new study starts and we know the person is committed and has a relationship with the rest of the group, that way the chemistry isn’t thrown off.

But last night, due to a miscommunication with myself and one of our volunteers, we had 3 extra kids show up that no one knew. Great, I loved having them there, I really did. But at the same time, there was a look on the faces of all my group of “this isn’t ok.” It was rather conflicting for me to see the group growing, but also to see these kids so out of place with the newcomers.

One good thing is that as I talked with the kids after all the other adults and visitors had left, they really understood why I had at first told them “Don’t invite anyone” and thats a positive because I hope to use them to talk a little bit about the importance of Core groups (our Life groups, if you will) this sunday as we do a big push for sign ups for the rest of the year (why in the middle of the year? More on that later.)

But it also made me aware of a problem, one that could be a good one or could not be a good one, it all depends on how the kids are going to handle it.

The problem is, in essence, the age old problem of cliques.  On the one hand, I want the kids to have ownership of their group and to feel a sense of belonging and community, which I know they do. But I also had to take a step back last night and assess “Are these kids not welcoming in the newcomers?”

But I know that to not be the case. All last night during the actual study time, I was kind of worried that our group was being cliquish.  But talking to them after word really showed me the maturity of some of these kids. They were thrilled to see new faces, but they got it, they said exactly what I said at the beginning of launching this group, that they want to know the kids on Sunday Nights before they know them on Wednesday Nights.

I could go on and on about how mature my group showed themselves to be after our study time, and it really showed me that last night was a great “problem” to have. It gave our kids more ownership of the Wednesday Night, showed them the difference between a small group and big group service, and I think they did a great job of getting out of their comfort zone and being welcoming to the new kids.

Feeling at Home

One of the biggest things I have missed about Lynchburg, VA compared to Trenton, IL is the quantity and quality of book stores.

I’ve always been a big reader, and Lynchburg was FULL of book stores. They had several great, large Christian book stores within a quarter mile of Liberty’s campus, and on top of that, there were the two Liberty Bookstores, and even the Barnes and Noble close by had a “Christian” section that took up a giant chunk of the store, and in all honesty was larger than many other book stores.

Needless to say, there was quite the selection. Of all the stores, two stand out to me as being my most favorable. One was local to just Lynchburg, and it was more a coffee shop that sold books. It was run by this old guy who was in love with the Inklings. The Inklings are near and dear to my heart Authors. The Inklings is the name given to a group of men, friends of C. S. Lewis, who met together in Oxford, England to read and discuss one another’s literary creations. These meetings usually occurred either in Lewis’ residence in Magdalen College or in the Oxford pub called the “Eagle and Child,” or affectionately, “The Bird and Baby.”

Because I am a huge fan of the Inklings, I loved everything about them, the White Hart kind of felt like a home away from home, some place you could escape to and feel like you were surrounded by the inklings, part of their conversation, as you sipped your coffee and read their works.

I have missed that. I have craved for that the last year since leaving Lynchburg, and just haven’t found it. The closest thing would be starbucks at Barnes and Noble, but even that is so far away, both in distance and in relation to what the White Hart was.

Today I took a trek to Missouri, to the closest LifeWay book store, my other favorite store from Lynchburg. It was all so familiar, it felt like I was back in lynchburg, and it was just a refreshing time for me (which I know is weird, its a bookstore).

But I know I’m not alone in this idea. I think each and every one of us have a certain place, a coffee shop, a book store, somewhere that we feel at home that isn’t our home. For some it could be a particular church sanctuary, others it could be the corner booth at a restaurant down the road.

But my hope is that for the youth we Minister to, they would feel this connection with our Youth Room. I want them to feel at home, in their environment every time they come to church.

I remember this past summer taking a group of our student leaders up to my fathers Church in Northern Illinois, and the first night a few of the girls couldn’t stop commenting on how homey it felt. They had never been there, but they felt at home instantly. I’ve thought long and hard many times on how that could be accomplished in our youth room, or in our church. Because those same girls also said how they didn’t feel like our church was “homey.”

So its just something I think about. It felt good today to feel at “home” for a bit.

Small Church vs. Large Church

One of the things I love about the holidays is returning home to the church that my Dad preaches and I consider my home church, as well as returning to my Wife’s home church in Rhode Island. One of my least favorite aspects about this, however, is the envy that ensues when I walk in the doors of these two buildings. They have great atmospheres, make you feel welcome and at home almost as soon as you enter, and don’t even get me started on the Youth area’s.

I’m left with this feeling of inadequacy, and I don’t really know why. It’s almost as though I start thinking about all the things I COULD do with that space and COULD do in a church like that, but in the end I’m not in a church like that and so feel like I can never do those things.

The problem is that some of those things I could do in the ministry I currently am in, but they wouldn’t be effective. We have several great volunteers in this ministry, but many of the things I would do would not work with 7 volunteers alone.

Being in our area that is pretty devoid of Youth Ministry, the kids in our schools who want to go to youth group either come to us or a mini-mega church a half hour away. I’ll be the first to tell you they do some pretty awesome things, but they have a much bigger pond to do them in. They aren’t in a small town, we are. They are a church of over 1400, we are not. Many of my students either have been to their youth ministry or know someone who has. I’ll admit its tough when I’m planning for our fall/winter retreats thinking about what activities we can do and a student comes up to me on Sunday Night and says “I Just got back from First Baptist’s retreat and it was AWESOME! We did this cool thing, and this amazing thing, and those weren’t even the coolest things we did!”

I know it’s not about what Youth group can do the coolest things, but one of the challenges that arises is how do you get your students to invite their friends to their youth group if their friends are inviting them to a cooler one?

Over the next several weeks I want to give my two cents on some of these challenges of being in a Small Church vs. Big Church, and I hope you’ll join in on the conversation. I have several challenges in mind, but if you have a good one and want to add your opinion, let me know, and maybe you could give a guest post.


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