A Few Things Every Parent Should Know About Youth Ministry


Youth Ministry is probably the best job ever.  We get to play video games all day, leave the office at 2PM after taking a 2 hour lunch, and we almost never have to buy our own food on the weekends because we can just order pizza with the Church credit card.  We only have to do real work on Sundays – even then, it’s pretty easy!

That’s what a lot of people think youth ministry is.  As awesome as that sounds, it’s not an accurate description of youth ministry.  Believe it or not, youth ministry is more than games, pizza, and glorified babysitting. Here are a few things I wish every parent knew about youth ministry:

1) Youth ministry is a lot of work. We almost always work 5 days a week.  We’re on call 24/7.  There is a ton of work that goes into making an event, small groups, youth group, and mission trips happen. As much as it may seem like we only work on Sundays, that is far from the truth. 

2) Your expectations of your youth worker are probably too high. Most youth workers quit their jobs after a couple of years because they cannot meet the unrealistic expectations of parents and Church staff. Do you want our youth group to triple in one year? So do I!  Is this a realistic goal? Probably not.  Make sure that you’re setting realistic goals in your mind for your Church’s youth ministry and its staff. 

3) We really do plan intentionally.  I know sometimes it seems like we’re doing a Super Bowl party, lock-in, or ski trip just for fun, but we have planned every single event intentionally.  We do parties and lock-ins so our youth can experience genuine Christian fellowship and we often use them as a chance to do service in our community. We do our ski-trips because we get some of our best worship times during these trips.  Everything we do has a Biblical purpose behind it (except maybe our hot-dog eating contest…that’s just for fun)! 

What are some things that you think every parent should know about youth ministry? 

My Budget Sucks.


Does your youth ministry budget suck?

Do all other areas of ministry seem to get more money than you do?  Do you feel like you’re constantly doing fundraisers to get money for the simplest things and everyone else has some money in the budget for necessities of their area of ministry? If you feel this way, you’re not alone.

Our youth ministry has a pretty fair budget but it’s definitely not much compared to others in our Church.  We made a big push to get a bigger budget this year and are still waiting from our finance committee to find out whether or not our proposed budget was approved.

I’ve found myself thinking, “What if we don’t get an increase?  Worse yet, what if we get a decrease in our budget? What will we do!?!”

This morning I was reading through Proverbs and came across this verse:

Proverbs 24:3-4
Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms shall be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

This verse shook me up a bit.  I think that having a healthy budget is a huge help to any sustainable youth ministry.  But is it necessary? No…it’s not.  God can work in the lives of our youth with a $40,000 youth budget or a $100 youth budget.

Maybe we won’t be able to afford a new ping-pong table this year.  Maybe we won’t be able to upgrade our Wii systems to WiiU’s.  Maybe we can’t have many freebies at youth this year and will have to do a few less object lessons.  But will this stop God from working? No.  Does a small budget mean a small youth ministry? No.

So, if your budget sucks, deal with it. God will continue to work in your youth ministry – I promise.  If you have a good budget, be thankful and make sure to use it wisely. Our God is bigger than money. Remember that.

The Importance of Volunteers

Tomorrow a guest post I wrote for MORF magazine will be published about recruiting volunteers.  It’s perfect timing because yesterday I was able to see the fruit of my volunteers abundantly.

We had a 3.5 to 1 youth to volunteer ratio yesterday.  In my early years in youth ministry I would have thought this was excessive, but I would have been so wrong.

Having a 3-5 to 1 youth to volunteer ratio frees you up to do SO much with your students. You can have your volunteers each do one or two of the little things that take you away from the youth.  I was able to have two volunteers pair up and each lead discussion groups which enabled me to float around a bit to different groups and hear a little bit of what each group was saying.

I had volunteers organize the clean-up, the snacks, and the supervision of some of the more “rowdy” youth.

Guys – I’m telling you – the more volunteers the better! Our youth LOVE to have adults there, too.  It makes them feel more like they’re a part of the Church as a whole – not just the youth group.

Make sure you say thank you to your volunteers – they’re awesome.  If you don’t have a lot, then go recruit!

I know this is more of a rant than a legit post, but I am so thankful for my volunteers and I wanted to share that with all of you.

5 Ways to See Your Students More

I love that a lot of us are being encouraged to make students a priority over administration, design, planning, etc. in 2013.  This is awesome! Here are a few things you can do to make sure you see your students more this year:

1) Invite them over for dinner.  This one is great – call the family and invite them over for dinner.  The best part? 9/10 times they will invite you over instead!  Free food and a lot of quality time with students. 

2) Go to as many of their events as possible.  Keep track of sports and extra-curriculars and go see your youth perform!  This one seems like a given, but it’s easy to forget unless it’s a student on the varsity football/basketball team.  Make sure you’re checking out the drama club and chess club, too. 

3) Pull random all-nighters.  Is your wife/husband out of town? Need something to do? Grab a few guys for a random all-nighter! Make sure you get another adult chaperone, a case of monsters, and a 5 lb bag of gummy bears.  Then plug in your X Box and you’re ready to go!  My students LOVE when I do this!

4) Get snapchat.  This is a great app that lets you send silly pictures back and forth with your youth.  Snapchat is notoriously connected with “Sexting”, so be careful that you’re not sending anything stupid (I know it would be funny to send that dude in your small group of picture of you mooning him, but it’s not the best idea).  This is a great way to “see” your students when you can’t hang out with them and it enforces that this app can be used for fun – not just sexting. 

5) Hang out with them at your programs.  This one seems glaringly obvious but is often the most overlooked on the list. Sometimes we’ll be so busy with the program itself that we forget to hang out with our students.  Make sure that you try to connect with as many students as you can when they come to your event!

What are some ways that you make sure you see more of your students every week?

“Speaking to Teenagers” Giveaway!

speakingtoteenagersCongrats SCOTT!  You’re the winner! Enjoy your FREE book!

I recently received a copy of Speaking to Teenagers by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins.  I saw the book and thought to myself, “I’m already pretty good at speaking to teenagers – why would I need to read this book?”  Despite my initial attitude, I decided to give the book a shot – after all, Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins are pretty legit.

I read this book and loved it.  It’s a great tool to anyone in youth ministry – no matter how much experience you have speaking to teenagers.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to purchase another copy to give away to one of my readers!

I’ll pick one lucky winner to receive a copy of Speaking to Teenagers  on Tuesday January 22nd, 2013 (winner to be picked at random).

Here’s how to enter:

Comment here on how you would use the book – just a fun read, to give to your Church’s youth leader, to improve your speaking skills, etc.

Tweet this message to be entered again! – I just entered to win “Speaking to Teenagers” from @tomdshriver – so can you! Enter to win here: http://tomshriver.com/2013/01/02/speaking-to-teenagers-giveaway/

Guest Post: The Sabbath is Even More Important Than You Think


Do you make your day off an uncompromising priority?

Or do you cheat too often, resting only when you “can”? Most youth workers report that they fail to take a regular weekly Sabbath.

And all of the time, they fail to understand the consequences that stem from that decision.

There’s a reason God commands us to rest. He knows we can’t function without it. You know why I don’t work on Saturday? For the same reason that I don’t kill people or provide false witness. This is too often lost on church professionals, but the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, and God was as serious about this one as he was about the others. 

Remember this. Skipping your Sabbath is absolutely Biblically disobedient.

Just in case that’s not cause enough for you: People who rest are more effective workers. Try this article or a dozen others just like it. People who take time to rest and recharge simply get more done. That means there’s an excellent chance you’ll actually get more done in a fully-charged 40-hour week than if you run yourself ragged.

Sabbath-skipping is the best way to ensure you burn out of the ministry. In my interviews with former youth workers, 80% report that they didn’t take a regular Sabbath.

I’m sure there are important things that are keeping you away from your day off, but I promise you they are not more important than your career and your ministry.

Your body-clock is going to take a break anyway. Maybe you won’t take a day off, but you’ll almost certainly make it up in other ways. You might take a nap during the week or spend a few hours zoned-out and cruising YouTube.

Whatever you do, remember that the Sabbath isn’t just some suggestion from a blogger; it’s a commandment from God, for your protection and benefit.

What are things that keep you from taking a Sabbath?What do YOU need to do to make keeping this commandment a priority?

ImageAaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like managing time and stress. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

10 Ways to Fail as a Youth Worker (Part 2)


This post is the second of a two part series.  To read Part 1, Click Here!

6) Don’t reach out to parents.  When I was a kid, my mom made me go to youth group.  I didn’t always want to go – but she would make me get in the car each Wednesday night and go anyway.  Why? Because she had a good relationship with my youth pastors.  She knew their heart and vision and believed in the program they had established.  If my youth pastors had not developed a relationship with my parents, I may not be where I am today. It’s important to connect with as many families as you can, or you will #fail!

7) Don’t have a volunteer team.  I have known youth ministers who like to do it all themselves – DON’T! We can do it by ourselves but it’s no healthy at all – it will make us and our students #fail.  If we’re the only ones in spiritual leadership positions then our students tend to rely on us – not God.  This also leads to youth ministry burnout – always have a strong team of volunteers to help you along the way.

8) Don’t spend more time with your spouse than your youth. Family comes first – period.  If you are with your youth more than you’re with your spouse, you’re #failing.  Make sure you’re talking to your husband/wife often and asking if they feel your ministry is getting in the way of your relationship.  If it is, then step back a bit.  Your marriage always comes first – period.

9) Don’t be original.  I love reading about what other youth pastors are doing.  This gives some really good ideas that can be implemented in our youth program, too.  Make sure you’re not just doing someone else’s program week after week.  If the Church across the street did something that was a big hit that doesn’t mean it will be a big hit for you too. Be original in what you do! The kids that come to your youth group come because they like your youth group.  If they wanted to do the same events as the Church across the street then, well, they would be attending the Church across the street! It’s okay to borrow sometimes, but make sure your overall group is original – or you’ll probably #fail.

10) Don’t debrief programs. No matter what the program is – always debrief! I typically break events into three categories – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  I note the good things (made money, had good numbers, brought teens to Christ, etc).  I note the bad things (lost money, not much attendance, not enough publicity, the message was lost, etc).  I note the ugly things (youth snuck alcohol to event, two students made out in the closet during sardines, one of my kids broke his leg due to my negligence  etc).  This will help you decide whether or not to do this event again and how you can improve it next time.  Make sure to send your debrief form to all of your adult volunteers involved to get

Game Idea: Invasion!

This is something we did at our “Guy’s Night In” a couple of weeks ago. The guys LOVED it and girls wanted to play – so I’ve decided to expand the game a bit for our upcoming Church Lock-In.


NERF Guns (I bought about 10 off-brand ones pretty cheap for youth who didn’t have their own).

Zombie/Army Headbands or other items to separate teams (optional)

How to Play:

Split up into two teams – half of your youth will be designated to the “Army” and the other half will be designated to be “Zombies”.  Army members have NERF guns, Nerf Battle Axes, Blowguns, etc. Zombies have don’t have anything.

Zombies can be brought over to the army and the army can be turned into zombies at any time – here is how it works:

There is an Army Base and a Zombie Lair. The Army Base is a safe zone for the Army.  Likewise, the Zombie Lair is a safe zone for zombies. This is where you will meet to discuss strategy, recoup, and even convert! Army bases can have a stock of NERF guns and darts stashed there.

Your base/lair can be a room, a closet, a few rooms, or even an entire floor if you have a large Church (we have a 4 story Church – the top floor is the Army Base and the bottom floor is the Zombie lair).

Anywhere not designated a base is a Battle Zone. Here is how the Battle Zone works:

You battle. Duh.

But seriously – zombies try tag the soldiers. If a soldier gets tagged then they are turned into Zombies – simple as that.  The zombie that tags them has to take them to the Zombie Lair first where they must remain for 30 seconds to “convert”.  After the zombie drops off their newest victim they can go back to the battle zone – they don’t need to wait the 30 seconds. Zombies can be stunned while they are taking a zombie to be converted – if a soldier tags the zombie before they are converted in the lair the zombie remains a soldier.

If a zombie gets shot with a NERF gun they are stunned for 15 seconds. This means 15 full seconds – not “1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 15!” If a zombie is shot and stunned they can be taken into the army base to be re-converted from zombie into army – to properly transport a zombie into the army base you need two people to bring them there.  They have to wait in the army base for 1 full minute.  When that minute is up they are converted.  Zombies can attack while you’re taking them to the base, so be careful!

If you’re an army soldier – sorry, you won’t convert all the zombies.  It’s pretty much impossible. How do you win? Survive. Rounds can be from 15-30 minutes long. The army needs to survive.

Zombies – it’s actually pretty easy for you guys to win – easier than you think, anyway. Just be smart about it! You win by converting all of the army guys into zombies.

One rule that needs to stay in effect is that the army base can be invaded in the last 2-5 minutes of the game (depending on your preference). This gives the zombies a chance to take over the rest of the army that is camping in their base.  Army – make sure you plan for it!

We loved this game at our Guy’s Night – it’s a great Lock-In game.  Just be ready to pick up a lot of darts!

Guest Post: Striving Towards God, Not Goals

It seems like about every other week I find myself saying something like, “if I can just make it through _________”. Fill in the blank.  It could be next week, the next event, the next hour.  What I continuously realize (and continually forget) is that getting through that ‘next thing’ does not put me at an end.  There’s always a next thing.  This caught up with me a couple of weeks ago.  Our administrative assistant at church had left, and so the church was essentially being run by 3 people: the custodian, the senior pastor, and me.  This meant a lot of extra work to keep things running, including being behind a desk most of an 8 hour day.  Now, if you know me at all, you know that sitting behind a desk will slowly kill me.  I am not a desk worker.  I tolerate desk work to get things done when they need to be, but I’m much more comfortable with other people around, or out doing something.  So after two weeks or so of doing essentially two people’s jobs, I was tired.  I love doing ministry, and I wasn’t ready to quit or anything, but I was worn out.  I looked back on those weeks and realized that I had something I hadn’t done in quite some time.  I had made youth ministry into a job.
For our purposes:  Job  ‘J-ah-b’ n.  “a list of activities to be completed in such a manner as to form a cohesive end product”  (yes, I made up this definition)
What had happened was that I had boiled youth ministry down to a list of tasks that needed to be completed so I could move onto the next thing.  It was three bullet points on my ‘to-do’ list and nothing more.  Once I had written a short (not awesome) lesson, touched base (rather blandly) with a couple students, and made sure the next trip hadn’t fallen apart I moved on to working on my next task.  And that was youth ministry for the week.  Really?
I’m sure most of you readers see the problem with this mindset, but don’t we do this with so much more than just youth ministry?  Maybe you’re reading this and you’re not a minister, and you think to yourself, “man, I’m glad I have a job that’s just a job”.  But what about your ministry? This is actually where I had my eyes opened. I thought about my wife and her ministry.  She doesn’t get to turn ministry into a job because it’s not her job.  She has a job where she ministers.  She has a home where she ministers.  She has a life where she ministers.  Here I was taking the whole of my ministry and diminishing it down to 3 or 4 bullet points.
I think we are all prone to this.  We all have our Christian checklist.  Go to church, read your bible, pray, give to the poor, etc.  We have probably all boiled down our lives in Christ to a few bullet points and have made ourselves feel better than other when we complete our list before/better than others.  But ministry is not a list.  Ministry, like worship, is a lifestyle.  Ministry doesn’t finish, it doesn’t end.  It’s funny how, in the end, this notion energizes me more than it tires me out.  I feel like knowing it doesn’t end allows me strive towards God instead of a goal.
In the end, we hired a new administrative assistant, and while I still say “if I can just get through _______”, I know that if I continue to strive towards God, that ministry follows.
ImageMatt Hantelman has been doing youth ministry full time since 2005.  He is an avid musician and gamer, and loves to love people.  He makes his home in southern Indiana where he lives with his wife and two dogs.  If you ever meet him, be prepared for one of the biggest hugs you’ve ever received. You can read his blog at http://bigtallguy.wordpress.com/ .

Reach Out.


I went on a retreat this past weekend with a well-known college organization on campus.  I was super excited to go for numerous reasons – worship, fellowship, and some quality time with my wife. 

We spent a long time getting thing ready before-hand (ok ok my wife spent a lot of time getting things ready before-hand) for the prayer destination and registration (you got me – my wife did literally all the work. I just lit 50 some candles for the prayer destination).  I was stoked after registration – there were a ton of awesome people there and I was ready to have a good time. 

I wasn’t so stoked after the weekend kicked off. 

My wife and I were so excited to catch up with some of the people we had not seen in a long time…but apparently they weren’t very excited to catch up with us.  We got a few “hi’s” and “what’s up’s” but the majority of the weekend was spent alone (with each other, of course).  We had never felt so alone and isolated among a group of so many people – Christians none-the-less!

I have to admit – we didn’t try to socialize much. We hoped people would come talk to us.  It just didn’t happen. 

Are you aware of this in your ministry? Are you making sure you give more than just a “hi” to the people who need it? Can you see the students that need more attention? Here are some things you can do to make sure you’re not leaving students on the outside:

1) Take more than 30 seconds to talk to them.  Make them feel like you want them there – like you want to know about their day/week. Take some time to build a relationship. 

2) Train adult volunteers to make students feel welcome.  This will take some of the pressure off of you on your super busy days. 

3) Train your youth leaders to make genuine friendships with all students.  Make sure your student leaders are not a part of a clique but are a part of the body of Christ.  This is the absolute best way to make people feel wanted – when people their own age want to be their friends! 

Being alone sucks. Make sure you make everyone feel like they’re part of your ministry.