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The Famine Blog

I Hate Fall


By Dan Berggren, outgoing 30 Hour Famine program director

I hate Fall.

It’s nothing against Fall, it’s more about grieving the loss of summer. I live in Seattle. It rains in Seattle…a lot. If you live here, you know it’s a thing.

Change happens and Fall arrives no matter how much I want summer to last. However, it also brings renewal. New students, new programs, new parents, new volunteers. There is so much change in the Fall and it’s good.

This Fall also brings a change for me personally. God has called me to a new role at World Vision. I’m heartbroken and excited at the same time. Excited to grow with a new opportunity. Heartbroken for leaving the 30 Hour Famine, students and leaders that I’ve grown to love over the past 5 ½ years. You all are a crew of crazy, coffee-drinking, snarky t-shirt wearing, flip flop lovin’, pizza eating, late-night planners. You’re also the most generous, caring, risk-taking, thoughtful and loving people that I’ve ever known.

I’m ecstatic for you and the 30 Hour Famine in 2018! As I write this, we’re wrapping up the brand-new resources and they are incredible. The new materials have an awesome curriculum leading up to and post-Famine to prepare your students for the Famine like never before. There are new games and new videos that will expose you to young lives around the world in ways that will both shock you and bring you out of your seat! Most importantly, it will impact your students in deeper and more meaningful ways and that flat out gets me off-the-charts excited! I’m in for big changes in 2018 and so are you and your students with a brand-new set of 2018 resources…BE HUNGRY!

I simply can’t thank you enough for loving and pouring yourselves into the lives of your students. I love you all.

Peeking Into The Future


By Danny Kwon

I am sure that like many other youth workers this time of year is busy. I noticed recently on social media that many of my youth worker friends are taking their teenagers on retreats this month. Thanksgiving is next week and I am wondering if that means some special youth group activities. Then there is December. That month isn’t easy. With Christmas, in our youth group, it means a Christmas party, practicing for a youth group choir that performs Christmas day for our church, and a winter retreat. Throw in all the personal stuff that we all have to tend to, and December will be a busy month.

Whether your next few weeks will be extremely packed or not, I believe it is worth it at this time of the year to take a peek into your youth ministry calendar for next year. Perhaps that may be an overwhelming task and a huge burden, but I think it will be very beneficial. And when a year from now rolls around, you will be thankful. Ultimately, the most important reason I suggest you do this now, even for a few hours, is to assess your programs and activities, to consider their effectiveness and efficiency. In studies of effective organizations, the best organizations do this on a continual basis. For those of us in youth ministry, next year may be the last thing on your mind right now. However, doing it now can be proactive step so we don’t just head into next year, and as we get into busy times during certain times of the year, don’t get bogged down into our calendars, blindly do what we have done year to year, which may not be effective or efficient.

Here are three things I suggest you consider NOW, peeking into next year:

  1. What to Cut. I was reminded of some youth group activities I may cut out next year after reading the blog post about “Program Overload” from our 30 Hour Famine blog last week. Peeking into next year now, it can really be helpful to help solve “program overload.” For myself, in the years that I did not take even just a little time to look at next year’s youth group activities and evaluate different programs and activities we did in the past year, I have found that most of the things our youth group did the subsequent year just wound up creeping up on me during that year. And as the time approached for our youth group to do that program or activity, I just changed the date/year on the announcement, just doing whatever we did the prior year.

However, taking a peek now at next year’s schedule will help you prevent things such as “program overload.” Instead of just doing things because you did it the year before, you can take a little time now, to think about things that worked, didn’t work, activities that you no longer need to do, activities that your teenagers are no longer that excited about. If it is no longer needed, then perhaps it’s time to cut it out of your schedule. Doing things in your youth ministry out of tradition is fine, but sometimes, things are no longer effective, and it may be time to consider cutting them out now.

  1. What to Tweak. Taking a peek at next year’s schedule can also help you evaluate activities that you need to adjust. For our group, I know we always do a one day service activity on the Friday/Saturday before Easter Sunday, along with our 30 Hour Famine, when many of the local schools in our area have spring break. For many years, we just continually did a church clean-up day as part of our Famine weekend, which was good for many years. However, I realized that it was getting routine and boring in recent years. In addition, I thought some of the spiritual benefits of it were getting lost. A couple years ago, as I peeked into the next year’s plans, I intentionally made the decision to change this. It helped me (perhaps forced me), to begin to think about different locations and places we would serve the next year, because I made it part of my intentional plan to tweak our service location. In other words, it was put on my radar as something important, and eventually I found a ministry that our youth group could partner with during Easter weekend. I can tell you that if I wasn’t intentional about it the year before, about a month before Easter most likely, as our 30 Hour Famine materials were being distributed, I probably would have just set up a clean-up day at our church like we always did. The calendar would have just crept up on me, and I would have just settled for the most convenient thing, which was to do what we did last year.  Looking back, I am sure glad we made a switch. Moreover, the intentionality the year before, to tweak our day of service had enabled us to partner with some tremendous churches and organization to serve our communities, outside our church. Ultimately, it has made me realize the importance of program evaluation, as a means of new and greater opportunities, even if it is just a tweak that our youth group would have otherwise missed out upon.
  1. What to Keep. Of course there things in your youth ministry that you probably want to keep. For our group, one of those things is our fall girl’s powderpuff football game, where our guys do a cheerleading competition. It is a day of great fun for our youth group, where students have great fellowship, and where youth group unity is promoted. Of course, every year, it is a lot of work and takes a lot of help and volunteers. In fact, it has gotten so big, sometimes I don’t want to do it anymore. However, thinking about it at the end of each year, it gives me some time to evaluate the importance of this activity, its purpose, and the impact and joy it promotes in our youth ministry, and subsequently why we need to keep it as part of our youth group. Moreover, in considering why we keep this activity, while I do sometimes dread the hard work and hours it takes to pull it off, in evaluating why we keep this activity, it does help me as a youth worker see the greater purpose and rationale of why we do this every year.

In the end, I want to add that I am no “Lone Ranger.” Hence, taking time NOW to do some program evaluation can and should be something you do with your ministry team. If you can take one meeting, even for just an hour or two to sit with your ministry team and look over next year’s calendar and consider what to cut, what to tweak, and what to keep, I believe the time now, will be of great benefit now…and then.

Planning Beyond 30 Hour Famine: Encouraging Students To See Their Call To Love Locally, As Well As Globally


By Bobby Benavides

For many youth leaders, the 30 Hour Famine is a wonderful way to encourage their students to think beyond their circumstances, and see that there are people around the world struggling to eat or have access to clean water. It’s a great opportunity to teach students to love their neighbors beyond the borders.

It is an eye opening experience for many and it challenges them to move outside of their comfort zone into an unfamiliar situation. It will also allow the leaders to educate the students on global issues. The activities and projects planned will develop a deeper connection, for many, with the plight of children and families globally. It is truly a great opportunity for spiritual growth.

The question that needs to be asked by leaders guiding the event is, “What’s next?”

It is important to think beyond the Famine. It is a great opportunity for students and leaders to grow together and push through hunger, but what happens after the event is over?

Students need to be reminded that, although they spent 30 hours focusing their mind and heart on people lacking food, the need doesn’t disappear after 30 hours is past.

Another idea students should be encouraged to work through is the struggle of peers and families in their direct contact.

The Famine event shines light on global poverty and hunger. It enlightens us to the needs of people around the world who are in unfortunate and painful circumstances. It also shows how World Vision is doing a great work through events like the Famine to eradicate hunger in our lifetime.

After the Famine, we as leaders, need to take time to emphasize the hardships and struggle around us.

How can we encourage our students to care for the hunger and poverty our local neighbors experience daily?

Here are some tangible ways to encourage your students and leaders to think beyond the famine:

  1. SET UP A CANNED FOOD DRIVE: This can actually happen during the Famine. When you encourage students to not only collect money for the famine, but also collect canned food to donate to food pantries and homeless shelters nearby, you keep their hearts and minds focused on global and local issues.
  2. GUEST SPEAKER: During the Famine, or the Sunday following, invite a director of a mission or shelter to come and discuss the issues in and around your neighborhood. If you don’t know one, do some research on local statistics and share the needs.
  3. SERVE AT A SHELTER: Find a shelter to serve in. Do this during a time that isn’t “normal” (i.e. Christmas or Thanksgiving), and find ways to encourage students to write cards or letters of encouragement to leave at the shelter. Ask the shelter for their needs and challenge your group to meet some, if not all, of them.

These three activities could all happen during the Famine event, but it is important to encourage your students to think beyond the 30 Hour Famine activity.

It is too easy to get back into our usual activities and lessons and wait until next year to discuss hunger and poverty. We need to be intentional about pushing our students to acknowledge the needs that occur regularly, all around us, and respond to what we see.

May your students be encouraged, yet challenged. May you lead beyond the Famine, to continue motivating your students to serve for the glory of Jesus daily.

A Reminder from a Minor Inconvenience


By Amanda Leavitt

Last night, as one girl burst into youth group she blurted out: “The water in our town is contaminated! You can’t drink it!” We hit her with a barrage of questions that were all unsatisfactorily answered by her response: “Can’t drink it. It’s contaminated. My dad told me. That’s all I know.” Then my phone dinged announcing a text from a parent: “There is a boil water warning…” One question answered; to drink the water, we have to boil it. As we started eating our snacks my phone dinged again, this time announcing a voicemail from the water company and all our questions answered; too much rain caused all the water in the region to have “high turbidity.” (Don’t be embarrassed, the woman on the message had a hard time pronouncing it too.) “Turbidity” means the water tests at the plant were cloudy. So, we, the citizens of this region, must boil water to, in short, not get an amoeba. Currently, it is a 2-day boil water advisory.

So, last night, as a mom was dropping her kids off, I asked her to pick up some water bottles for us so we didn’t “die of thirst” at our two-hour youth group meeting after we ate ice cream Sundays and trivia prize candy. After youth group, I went home and boiled up some water from the tap, as I waited for it to boil, I munched on some very salty chips and sucked on ice cubes made from pre-amoeba-risk water, to wash down the salt. This morning I have a huge pot of safe drinking water on my stove top, and I’m currently sipping from a glass of clear amoeba free water on my coffee table. Boiling water is magical.

For some this boil water advisory is like, well, a couple of our local schools are closed because of it, that’s what it’s like. It freaks people out that our standard tap water might be briefly contaminated. I will admit, it IS pretty annoying, because you have to boil the water before you wash dishes too, and boil the water you brush your teeth with, and when you shower you feel like Jackie Chan as you ninja through washing your hair and face without getting water in your mouth. We are not accustomed to this level of cognition surrounding our water usage. On the other hand, let’s be real, this is amazing. It’s just 48 hours of hassle, maybe a little longer, since it is STILL raining here. It is also, like I said before, magical; all we have to do is boil the water, and we are good. AND last night all I had to do was say “Hey Mom, please bring me some water bottles…” and BOOM, water, in our hands, pre-packaged, amoeba-free goodness for all.

Now, here I am over here on the 30 Hour Famine Blog, talking about our ice cream, candy, tortilla chips, ice cubes, bottled water, the clean boiled water on my stove top in the other room, and our “dirty” water school cancelation days. I am actually having one of those “this is my charmed life” moments (no sarcasm here). This is a snapshot of the blessed simplicity in my life, and it is what I want to share today. This description is such a picture of the privilege in my life, in my students’ lives. And…describing this as inconvenience on this blog is almost laughable because of who and what the 30 Hour Famine experience is designed to open our students’ eyes and empathy and resources to, but it’s an important picture. If we have clean water, or in my case today, if we have water we can purify with a quick boil using easy access kitchen utilities, then we’ve got privilege, which can provide a platform to help someone in need. Alongside ministry moments like the 30 Hour Famine, learning to take these “charmed life” mental snap shots in the midst of inconvenience will help kids recognize their privileges and the platforms they have to help people. This practice of looking past our own inconveniences will empower our students to live lives of personal contentment and wild creative generosity in the name of Jesus.

Program Overload


By Anonymous

As I sit down to write this blog post, I am taking a couple deep breaths as a wave of panic continues to rush over me because I just realized that my blog post deadline was… YESTERDAY! Completely putting aside what I was planning to write on, I am moving instead toward a question that has been on my mind for quite a while now—are we doing too much and yet, somehow not doing enough?

As I sit here now, my office is cluttered with basketball registration forms, uniforms that need to be updated, children’s church attendance sheets, fundraiser miscellany, residual Fall Festival games/decorations/pumpkins that need to be put way before that one church lady chides me for a messy office, Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes that need to be packed, a notebook with our big January retreat program information that has not even been cracked open, a children’s Christmas program that I’ve got to cram into December somewhere (along with caroling, parties, and all the other stuff we try to cram in) and two calendars that get dates put on them (but obviously aren’t looked at enough to keep track of when things are due)! I know that all of these things have value in some way, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on how to whittle away the fluff and focus on what is truly meaningful for the lives of the people we serve! The truth is: I have so much on my plate that I don’t have time to whittle away the fluff. I know that I need to take time away to re-focus and re-charge, but (to be honest) when I have time off the last thing I want to think about is church stuff. I am positive that many other ministry leaders out there are in the exact same boat.

Less is more. Less is more. Less is more. I’m not sure when I will actually learn this. I spent a year working alongside other youth ministers as a part of a Youth Ministry Coaching Program cohort and this was my mantra then. Obviously, it did not sink in; but it must. Too many of us burn out too quickly because we are doing what the church wants us to do and barely leaving time for what God wants us to do.

So, what do we do? I wish I had some magical answers for us all. It is clear that I may be in no position to give advice, but I can tell you what I plan to start doing for myself.

  1. TALK IT OUT—Sometimes I find myself feeling so overwhelmed that can’t breathe. I talk to God, to my husband, to my sister, my ministry friends. And suddenly it doesn’t seem like too much to handle. I take a beat and reflect with the help of others. No one can do everything on their own.
  2. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK—If you gain nothing else from this post than a resounding “ME TOO” feeling, then my mission has been accomplished. Ministry is not easy. There are no perfect formulas. Suggestions are not imperatives—just because someone says we should do something, doesn’t mean we have to. This one is a biggie for me!
  3. BE STILL—Jesus was known for taking time away, especially before and after a big event. How can we know what direction God wants us to go in, if we aren’t taking time to listen to Him? Take a day or week (not vacation) to re-focus, to listen, and to align with God’s call for you in the area of ministry that you serve.
  4. DON’T GIVE UP—What we do as ministers is important work, even if what we are currently doing doesn’t feel that important. Take time (#3) to figure out how to make the areas that seem less meaningful…become more so; or, get rid of them…cast a vision with your congregation, your students, and parents about how you want to lead. There will probably be some push back, but sometimes growth is painful (just ask the teenagers that you work with).
  5. ALLOW ROOM FOR TEENAGERS TO DO NOTHING—They are often overwhelmed too. I planned a lock-In a few weeks back for my high school youth. I had lots of different things planned, but when it came down to it, when spent the night playing cards, playing a whole lot of sardines (of course), and just sitting around talking with each other. I went home and told my husband that I felt like we did nothing all night; but, they had a blast. I need to remember that sometimes a lack of structure is not a terrible thing. Sometimes, it’s exactly what everyone needs!

Those who have the most programs do not always win even though it may seem that way sometimes. I have found over the more than ten years I’ve been doing this ministry thing that the most meaningful ministry moments are often the ones that happen when I least expect it, and have very little to do with flashy programming or perfectly run events. Moving forward, I am challenging myself to focus on a ministry that has more depth than width. I challenge you to do the same!

Was I Really Hungry?


By Grant Byrd

I remember a long, long time ago traveling to my grandparents’ house around Christmas. It was a six hour drive and for some reason mom (the planner) didn’t pack snacks or a lunch. We looked for a place to eat and nothing was open.  So it was a forever wait (for a seven-year-old) to get food in my belly.  We finally found a sketchy fried chicken place that was open. I left absolutely nothing on the bones of that chicken. Now looking back, my wait was maybe four hours past my regular mealtime, which normally occurred like clockwork, 3 times a day, every day.  Boy, what a tough life.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to travel to many places where hunger is real.  Places that celebrate one meal a day. Places that have never had a full belly like I experience every day.  God has opened my eyes to see the needs of so many around the world and how I am blessed to bless others.  When I was younger, I didn’t know better; but now I do.  I can do something.  Not only can I do something like supporting our sponsored children, but I also can educate my students to the world around them.

That is where 30 Hour Famine comes in. It changes my students. It opens their eyes to see that they can do something to change lives. They can make a difference.  With the focus on others, their hunger is concentrated not on themselves, but on the hard lives that so many around the world face daily.  When my students get their eyes off themselves, God opens their eyes to see the needs that he has equipped them to meet.

30 Hour Famine has stirred up something in my students nearly every year. Some of them continue to give and raise money for the hungry around the world.  From their suggestion, we have changed the names of our rooms in the youth area from just boring numbers to country names so we can keep the world on their heart. Instead of “201” we call it “Zambia” and have flags of the country over the door.  This is just one idea that my students have come up with as their eyes are opened to the wonderful people of the world that God made.  My hope is that the students in my group, and the students in yours, will be used by God to impact the world!

“Never tell a young person something is impossible. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant of the impossible to come along and do that very thing!”   -G. M. Trevelyan

Love Your Whole Church


By Alex Ruzanic

I am struck by the simple things in life. The comfort of a good shoe, the heat of a fire, the beauty of a full moon at night. I love keeping things simple and not complicated. One of the things that keeps my ministry simple is caring about the congregation I work with. I am talking about loving ALL the people in my church even though I am called to be the youth pastor. When I was younger I didn’t realize the amazing impact caring about the whole congregation would have on the ministry God had called me to. But in the last decade I have been blown away by the impact that this simple shift has had. So today I am encouraging you to develop a ministry of care and love for everyone in the congregation God has called you to be part of.

In youth ministry it’s very easy to focus solely on the youth we work with. Some of us might even care about the parents, who may be our harshest critics or our biggest fans – either way, loving them is an integral part of youth ministry. Loving students and parents is just the tip of the iceberg, though. What I’m talking about is loving the entirety of the congregation. Developing relationships with folks in your church that have nothing directly to do with youth ministry may seem like something you just don’t have time for. But I’m saying: make the time – it WILL BE worth it.

This might seem odd but I’ve discovered a key principle here: When I love the wider church body I am a more effective youth worker. It may sound simple but loving the overtired parents of a toddler by entertaining their kid during coffee hour, or sitting and talking with an elderly parishioner when they stop by mid-week right in the middle of the time you were planning on scheduling your spring season isn’t always easy. Yes, the task itself may be simple; but sometimes it’s the simple things that trip us up. Loving people like this requires intentionality and, let’s be honest, there are times when we feel tapped out, like there is no more of us to go around. I get that. But let me share how this has worked for me.

You start small – do events with other ministries from time to time and focus on building relationships. In youth ministry we talk about how incarnational and relationship-focused we are…so just transfer that philosophy to everyone in the church. I send our cards (yes, physical cards) to older members, to say I am praying and caring about what is happening in their world. This breaks down walls and allows natural and wonderful relationships to occur.

And guess what else happens? Folks from the congregation start to care about the youth and begin to understand what we are doing, because when we have a relationship with with them we talk about what we love…undoubtedly it is the youth of our church. By spreading our nets a little wider by genuinely caring about them we end up with relationships that are good for us as well.

There are so many folks that ask me about what is happening in youth ministry, or what is happening in my family or in my world. I feel prayed and cared for. The youth of our church also feel cared for in bigger and better ways. They feel connected to our church as a whole because the groundwork has been laid for intergenerational relationships to develop. Students will watch what we do and will often follow our lead. Relationships blossom and good things will happen.

Why do I do this? It is important to connect with your church and not just be on an island as a youth worker. Since I’ve been working on this idea I have seen great things take place. When I am working on outreach I involve the church as a whole and I gain momentum and encouragement. Because of the simple act of caring for people none of this is forced, it’s natural. The whole church has become committed to supporting the youth ministry. When we give love and commitment we get love and commitment – often times it’s really that simple!

A View from the Senior Pastor’s Desk


By Matt Wilks

It happened when I least expected it or planned for it. I remember stating quite clearly from behind a microphone numerous times throughout my tenure as a youth pastor that I would never, ever be a senior pastor. On youth pastor retreats, I used to make fun of them and I had no desire to ever be one of them.

People in the church would ask me when I was going to grow up and move into a real job or simply ask the innocent question of, “When will you use your gifts in the whole church?” Most times there was no maliciousness with the questions, just simply a question of wonder as they saw me both mature and get older in my leadership and physical age.

I became an Interim Senior Pastor for a four-year period of time and learned some lessons from being in the Senior Pastor Desk.

There were so many things I learned in my role as the lead pastor I wish I would have known as a youth pastor. The reality is I would have had a very different relationship with my senior pastors then the relationships that I had with them. I made so many incorrect assumptions about the role of a senior pastor that I wish I could have changed.

As a youth worker, if you could provide these few things to your senior pastor not only will your relationship become stronger, but also the church in return will become an effective bride of Christ.

Lesson #1: Relationship

In youth ministry, we are blessed with so many relationships. Relationships with our volunteers, relationships with our students and relationships in the networks and conference circles we walk in. A huge part of youth ministry is a pursuit of relationships. One of the biggest realizations I had as I became the senior pastor was that almost every relationship a senior pastor has is not a relationship of choice.

Every other ministry in the church allows the individual to recruit their own team where as the senior pastor you have so many relationships in which you do not get to choose the people you work with. I found myself lonely at times where I didn’t have people who I could walk with.

The other aspect of relationship is that instantly the staff’s perception of me changed. They were acting very similar to how I had by simply working in their areas doing what they got paid to do.

It is important as a member on a ministry staff for you to develop a trusting and honest relationship with your senior pastor.  Allow him to find safety in his relationship with you and to be real with you.

Lesson #2: Support

In the culture in which we live, there are many things we say we support. We support sports teams when they are doing really well, but lose interest when they are rebuilding. We support causes until the cause becomes too expensive or time consuming for us.

It is one thing to say to your senior pastor that you support him and another thing to actually show support in action. As I sat in the senior pastor’s desk wrestling through what bills should get paid when we didn’t have enough money or how we would do the initiative God was leading us to do, I needed to have resources beyond what I had on my own.

One of the greatest gifts you can bless your senior pastor with is the gift of the resources you have at your disposal in your ministry. Regularly ask your senior pastor what frustrations he has in regards to ministry and see if your ministry has the resources to take it off his plate. Bless him by sharing your resources so in return down the road, he can bless you by sharing his resources.

Lesson #3: Honor

Honor is defined simply as having high respect for someone and this needs to be how you view your senior pastor. A senior pastor will never be perfect, but he has been called by God to lead the church and will be judged by God for what he did with that responsibility.

Over my years as a youth pastor, I believed I honored my senior pastor, but there were times and conversations I entered into where I wasn’t honoring the man God had chosen for His church. People would ask me my opinions about things as a youth pastor and I would devalue the leadership of the senior pastor by not throwing my support behind him.

Honor your senior pastor by always sharing with him personally about the struggles you might have in his leadership. Just like you long to have your senior pastor support you, support him first so he knows you are in his backcourt. The reality is that a senior pastor often feels like someone is coming over his shoulder ready to attack him.

What do you wish your Senior Pastor would learn from sitting in your desk?

The Bearded Lunch Lady


By Jeff Lowry

Youth ministry is hard. Lets just be real for a minute. It’s hard and at times it sucks the life out of you. Not always, thankfully; but sometimes. At least for me. But it doesn’t have to. Over my 25 years of youth ministry, to borrow a phase from some insurance company’s commercial, I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two.

One of those things I’ve learned is that you really need to connect with students in their natural habitat—the school campus. That takes on a lot of different faces, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other on-campus Christian clubs. Most of us have done something like that in the past, and sometimes they worked and other times it was about the pizza or popsicles.

But what if there was another way to connect on campus that wasn’t a club; that wasn’t limited to the 20 or 30 kids who came, but instead gave you access to the entire student body.

I recently started a brand new position at a church in an suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. In this community we are the only church. There are two elementary/junior high schools and one high school. For whatever reason, there has never been a successful presence on those campuses by our church or any of the neighboring community’s churches. To just start a Christian club of some sort was going to be a big struggle. I had reached out to people at those schools whom I believed to be connectors at the schools and received no response.

So I began to pray about how I might crack that shell of campus ministry in a new town. Being a sort of missionary youth pastor, I was encouraged by my pastor to try to volunteer at the schools. Brilliant! How do I do that? What could I do? I didn’t know! Being in a new capacity in a new town, ministering to everything from birth to 24 years old, I did the only thing I could do—ask the church lady who knows everything and everyone who to talk to!

I reached out to both of the elementary/junior high schools and the high school with my offer to help in any way they could use help. I explained in detail who I was, were I was from and the reason I wanted to serve those age groups. And I waited for email responses. One of the elementary schools jumped on my offer. They fingerprinted me and got FBI clearance for the school district. Then I was given carte blanche for how I wanted to volunteer. So I figured, youth ministry equals food, so naturally, lunch duty! I became the lunch lady at the school!

Y’all, it is by far the coolest moment of my week, hanging out in the cafeteria and the playground with several hundred kids, most of whom think I am a legend because of my long beard. But the best part of volunteering is seeing some of my church’s students at lunch. They greet me and then get to share with their friends who I am and where I’m from. But more than that, I love to hear them start conversations that end with, “well you should come to my church and see!”

I’ve never quite thought of ministry like this being effective. I always thought it had to be a great message and time in worship, and those things are great. But the truth is, this is working way better to reach out to the entire population of this one school. As far as the other elementary school and high school, they have yet to get back to me. Oh well: their loss for now (but hopefully not for long). I need to spend lunch with my tribe. You should really try it if you can. You might be surprised.

Get in the Game: A playbook for connecting with youth and their hobbies


By Sara Clarke

It’s that time of year when “pumpkin spice something” is everywhere, school is in full swing, and everyone looks forward to cooler weather. I love the fall season, but as a youth director I also dread it because it inevitably meant the youth I served were consumed with practices, games, and Homecoming. For years there has been an unspoken–and in some ministries a spoken–tension between youth group and extra curricular activities. Most ministries experience seasonal attendance dips depending on the culture and the teens’ interests.

In the church I served football season ruled all. I struggled to plan fall retreats and seasonal youth group events that would “fit” everyone’s busy fall schedules. There was always a big game or practice that couldn’t be missed, a weekend team building retreat or competition, or the time set aside for Sunday night youth group was “the only time” youth had to catch up on homework and relax. I fought this battle for years. No matter what I did differently or how creative I was with scheduling or planning, I fumbled. I was never going to win this game of catering to everyone’s wants and schedules, so I eventually shifted my focus and let go of the former traditions that no longer worked in our ministry.

Continuing to do things that way had perpetuated a disconnection between me and a large majority of the teens I served. I had to come up with a new game plan. Rather than fight the losing battle and complaining about low attendance, I found ways to connect with the youth through the hobbies that were quickly becoming a large part of their identities. That’s what we strive to do, right? We minister to teens and walk beside them as their spiritual and individual identities take shape. It doesn’t always have to be during a big youth event or retreat. We can connect with them where they are and show we care and support them, even when it’s not at church.

Below is a “playbook” I created to connect with the sports culture I served. These ideas are here for you to use if they work in your ministry context, and if not, hopefully they will help spark ideas on how you can connect with the teens you serve during their seasons of busy schedules and activities.

POWER PLAY- Intentional Prayer

Be in prayer for your teens throughout their practices/games/competitions. Prayer can be one of the most powerful ways we support the teens we serve.

  • Encourage your youth to pray for and/or with their teammates and coaches.
  • Challenge them to pray before practices/games for God to work through them; not just pray for a win.
  • Text youth a quick prayer before the game.
  • Walk and pray over the fields/courts/buses.
  • Pray for their coaches/leaders by name.
  • Post a game day Bible verse or prayer on social media.

DOUBLE TEAM- Connecting with Coaches

These adults are also making a huge impact in teen’s lives, so why not reach out and lend a supportive or helping hand? 

  • Introduce yourself to the coach. Tell them who you are and that you’d love to support them in any way they may need.
  • Send card/email of appreciation and encouragement for what they do. If you hear a teen talk about the impact of a game or experience, share that with them.
  • Ask if you can volunteer in any way on game days or during events.

ACTION PLAY-Being Present

It means a lot to youth and parents when you show up! It’s unrealistic to make every game, but try to attend at least one a season, spreading it throughout the year so you don’t get overwhelmed. 

  • Attend. You don’t have to stay the whole time, but make an appearance when you can.
  • Wear your support. I served two rival schools in my high school ministry and fused a red and purple t-shirt together to wear to the games and show my support for both teams. It was a HUGE hit!
  • Volunteer. Think chaperone, concession sales or ticket booths, helping unload band equipment, etc. Offer your help before, during, or after events where there may be a need.
  • Take pictures at the events to post on social media. You may not be able to see all your youth while there, but they’ll “like” seeing your posts.
  • Text post game words of encouragement or ask about how things went if you weren’t able to be there.

TEAM BUILDING- Connect with the Community

If there is a cultural trend that reaches beyond the walls of the schools and into the community, use it as an outreach opportunity to connect with the local community. 

  • Create relationships with surrounding churches and youth groups to partner and host post game events. The fall is a great time to have community bon fires!
  • Host pre-game tailgating events like a cookout. You can host them in your church parking lot or reach out to the local schools to see if you can host something on-site before a game. You may be able to work with businesses in the area to host a pre-game food truck event.
  • Show your appreciation to the volunteers and teachers by providing dinner or snacks for those that are working a game/event.
  • Volunteer to provide snacks or feed a team/club a meal before an event.
  • Pass out free water bottles or popsicles to those walking to an outdoor event. The community I served used the church parking lot for additional game day parking because we were located across the street from the high school. I created labels to go on the giveaway items that included the church worship services and youth group hours.
  • Invite youth that aren’t involved in the particular sport or club to help out with outreach efforts.

PUMP UP THE CROWD- Connecting with Parents

You may not be able to connect and talk to the youth during an event, but you can connect with the parents.

  • Make the rounds by walking the crowds to spot and say hello to youth parents. I started doing this at football games and some of the parents would invite me to sit with them. This was a great opportunity to connect with them and build youth-parent relationships.
  • Don’t be afraid to text parents words of support and encouragement before or after a game. You may not get face-to face time with all the parents, but you can still show your support with a quick “great game tonight” text.
  • Visit the concession stands. Often you will find parents and family members volunteering in these areas. Stopping by to say hello is an easy thing to do when buying nachos.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about how to connect with teens during their busy sports seasons. Sports may not be “the thing” that competes for your teens’ attention, but think about what does and how you can engage with them and their passions. I’m no longer serving the church where fall football season ruled, but can tell you the youth and parents still tell me how much it meant when I came to their games, texted them “great job tonight”, or wore a silly dual-colored t-shirt sporting both team colors. They knew I cared about them, even while they were away from youth group. In some ways, I think this impacted them and meant more than any program or retreat I could have planned. So this fall, stop worrying about your losses, and get back in the game!