Youth Specialties Blog

The Blessing of Small

By Youth Specialties on September 14 2014 | 2 Comments

We are fortunate to know so many incredible youth workers that are far wiser than we are and Stephen Ingram is one of them. We're excited to share this guest post from Stephen. 

Original photo by Flee.

I work in a big church. I mean a really big church. My church has more members than my hometown has people! While I love my church and my youth group, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t, sometimes, miss the joy of doing youth ministry in a smaller church setting. I don’t miss it in a nostalgic sort of way, but I do miss the necessity of the youth in churches that are smaller. 

Here is what I mean…

Smaller churches don’t have the option of letting youth silo and create the “one-eared Mickey Mouse” as easily as larger churches do. Most smaller churches I’ve worked with have to use their youth in larger ecclesial practices like being in the choir, reading scripture, serving on boards, helping with children’s Sunday school, being in the Christmas and Easter productions, running sound—and a myriad of other activities that ingrain them into the life of the congregation.

Does this mean that churches are “using” their youth to do the things they do not want to do? Maybe, in some cases. But it can also be thought about as a way of furthering the responsibility and ownership of the students in the greater church ministry. In smaller churches, there is such a great potential for students to acquire, develop, and practice leadership in an ecclesial setting. I owe so much of who I am in ministry and leadership to having grown up in a small church where I was given the reins of many projects at a youth-group age. 

Often times I hear leaders of smaller church youth ministries wanting the benefits of a larger group: They want to do bigger trips, bigger worship, and bigger events. I totally understand this. I remember taking a group to a beach retreat center and having one of those massive groups there along side of us. In some ways, I was annoyed and in others I was envious.

But what I learned that week was pretty special. Our whole group could hang out in one of the rooms that we had rented—there were only about 25 of us, so every night we would all pile into that room, watch Shark Week, play cards, and laugh until we cried. It was awesome.

The other leaders and I had real and deep, meaningful relationships with each one of those youth. We knew them and they knew us. As I looked at the other, big group, I knew that kind of one-on-one connection wasn’t something that was as accessible to them. I was proud of my group, my church, and myself. I found the beauty in the small thing that day.

Consider your smaller church group a gift! Understand the number of students you have as a tool and an opportunity to do intense developmental and leadership training. Here are a few practical ways you can start…

Live Within Your Group’s Statistical Means: 

Do not try to do things that you can only do in big groups. If you usually have eight kids in your youth group, don’t try to launch a grade-based, small-group ministry. Remember that just because it’s successful in other churches doesn’t mean that it’ll work in your church!

Develop Student Leaders:

You have a unique opportunity to allow your youth ministry to be a ministry leadership lab for the students who belong to it. In larger youth groups, there’s often a premium put on “polished performance ministry.” There isn’t usually the same expectation in smaller groups. Take advantage of that by letting your kids lead! One of my favorite retreats I did at a smaller church included worship services designed, developed, and led by students in groups of three. It was incredible. 

Get Your Big Group Fix:

There’s no doubt that being in an arena with thousands of other youth is exhilarating and gives your students a great experience that they’ll never forget. Take your kids to these big conferences occasionally. It’s something different and something that will inspire them. 

WARNING—Do Not Try This at Home:

After you go to the big conference, don’t come home and try to copy the stuff you saw. You won’t do it as well (neither will I) and that’s not why your kids come to your group anyway. They come for the intimacy, the community, and the love they feel… not for pyrotechnics.

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of "Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time."

By Youth Specialties on September 14 2014 | 2 Comments

Trending This Week (Sept 12)

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 11 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include a guide for parents during the first 6 weeks of college, a look at how teens share self-harm content on social media, some encouragement during the messy times in ministry, and of course all the fuel for your procrastination.

Blogs From This Week

Mark Matlock (@MarkMatlock) reviews the new Christian horror film The Remaining - CLICK TO VIEW

Wayne Rice shares some really practical ideas for "Intergenerational Youth Ministry" - CLICK TO VIEW

Mike Clifford wrote a great post about the importance of different faith perspectives: "Spiritual Parthenogenesis" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

For College Parents (@4collegeparents) shared a great post that you can forward to parents of college students: "Guide for parents during the first 6 weeks of college" - CLICK TO VIEW

Krystie Lee Yandoli wrote a piece that was difficult to read but could be helpful for some youth workers: "Inside The Secret World of Teen Suicide Hashtags" - CLICK TO VIEW

Andy Blanks (@AndyBlanks) passed along some great encouragement: "Youth Ministry is Messy... But It's Worth It" - CLICK TO VIEW

Ben Trueblood (@BenTrueblood) is in a series on how to utilize parents in youth ministry: "Who is the hero?"  - CLICK TO VIEW 

Wayne Rice shared some more great ideas through Next Generation Journal (@NxtGenJournal): "10 Reasons Why Parents Should Be Involved In Your Ministry" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

24 Football Teams That Lost Before The Game Started - CLICK TO VIEW

This 10 year old is a better dancer than you - CLICK TO VIEW

Giant Mutant Spider Dog - CLICK TO VIEW 

Duck Tales Theme Song with Real Ducks - CLICK TO VIEW

Really cool images of earth from Alexander Gerst with some “awesome” dance music added - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 11 2014 | 0 Comments

Spiritual Parthenogenesis

By Youth Specialties on September 09 2014 | 0 Comments

We are excited to share this post from Mike Clifford and we're thrilled that he'll be at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta

Original photo from Brian Talbot

In the natural world, there is a phenomenon called parthenogenesis.

Parthenogenesis is the process where an organism asexually reproduces due to environment or lack of a mating partner. Commonly known as cloning. Rather than having an egg from one parent and sperm from the other, certain organisms can simply duplicate their cells to create exact copies of themselves.

This is possible in a number of invertebrates and insects like aphids and water fleas. It has also been known to happen in some amphibians and reptiles. Komodo Dragons even.

Although this is a tremendous feat that sci-fi movies have tried to duplicate for years, it’s not the most effective form of reproduction.

Asexual reproduction robs the new organism of diversity and variation. Because standard sexual reproduction incorporates the inherited genetic code of two different parents, the offspring has the chance to integrate both sets of successful DNA. In theory, the offspring is stronger and more fit than both parents.


Think of this in Christian Formation. We know we are being formed by something: our families, friends, interests, studies, etc. Everything in the world around us shapes how we think and live.

If we spent our whole lives only taking in one teaching or strain of thought, we would only be as effective as that one idea can be. This would be the equivalent of spiritual parthenogenesis. Not bad, yet there is a better way.

Now, imagine if we were to take on as many ideas, teachings, and experiences as possible. It would strengthen our understanding and ability to think about the world around us.

In Christian formation we are learning to think and see the world as Jesus would. We must realize that not everyone perceives life in the same way.

“There are as many denominations as there are Christians in the world” – Dallas Willard.

No one author, speaker, preacher, or idea has the exhaustive understanding of the depth of Christ’s revelation of his holy and glorious AbbaWe are strengthened as we encounter various ideas and thoughts, ultimately submitting to our master teacher, the Christ.

We are in need of dedicated Christ followers who understand more than their particular Sunday morning experience. We need Christians who understand how the good news shared around the world impacts all of humanity.

We have the opportunity to glean as much knowledge as we can about the environments and people around us, and with the Holy Spirit alive in us, help His kingdom come on earth as it is in the Heavens.

Mike Clifford holds a bachelor’s degree in zoological sciences from Friends University, and a master’s in organizational development. He is the curator for the Christian Spiritual Formation Undergraduate program at the Apprentice Institute and he also leads worship, teaches workshops, and creates and implements partnerships with churches and various organizations. You can hear Mike speak at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta!


By Youth Specialties on September 09 2014 | 0 Comments

Mark Matlock reviews “The Remaining”

By Youth Specialties on September 08 2014 | 0 Comments

The Remaining is the latest in a line of movies based on Christian themes. There is no doubt that Hollywood has figured out that Christians are willing to come out for movies that promise what many Christians hope for in a film, an opportunity to share the Christian faith with their friends and neighbors.

If you haven't seen the trailer yet, you can watch it HERE.

The Remaining differs from most Christian films I’ve seen to date. The film is a supernatural thriller bordering on the horror genre and that alone is unique. I am presented with many films to screen each year, and most of the time my kids (teenagers themselves) have no interest in them. Talking them into viewing The Remaining was different; they were intrigued and easily persuaded to watch with me. I had no idea where the evening would take us as a family, and in all honesty I was surprised.

Let me explain…

The Remaining is LOOSELY based on a rapture-like occurrence. This is important to understand. I interviewed screenwriter Chris Dowling, (no surprise he’s been a youth worker in his church) who affirmed my hunch. The film is not meant to be an accurate portrayal or interpretation of The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The Remaining is a teen oriented, supernatural thriller capturing the events of several lives in the aftermath of a worldwide catastrophe. It is filmed as if in real time, piecing together footage that you assume might be from a cell-phone camera or a GoPro.

Some who hold to eschatological views other than a pre-tribulation rapture may struggle with the film’s premise, but so will pre-tribulationists. If you think of The Remaining more as a movie about faith and authenticity rather than the actual events of scripture, then the movie becomes much more palatable for the theologically minded. It’s a solid scare flick of good quality that teens will most likely want to watch, and it will raise questions—loads of questions. At least it did in my house, and I believe movies that raise questions are always good.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the film. Let’s just say that the characters that “remain” do quite a bit of soul searching regarding the nature of their belief as they try to survive the aftermath of unimaginable events.

Our family munched popcorn, jumped and screamed in all the right places and finishing the film satisfied. Everything tied up in the end a little too neatly for my taste, falling prey to the problem facing most faith based films. But I watched a pre-release of the film a few months ago, so they may have tweaked the ending.

Paul wrote to the Romans that faith comes by hearing, something in all my years of evangelism I have found to be true. My example and witness is essential, but at some point, faith comes through hearing the good news. This is a dilemma for screenwriters. Movies are better when they “show” rather than “tell”, but at some point, dialog takes over. Genuine coming to faith in Christ is hard to show visually, and never feels “right” in most cinematic expressions, even in other genres.  I would have been fine if they’d left things more open ended, but I am sure they felt they had to “land the plane” with more clarity. In talking with Chris Dowling about his approach to screenwriting, I got the impression the editing process may have gotten the best of the intended script.  

The movie ends and the first thing my daughter asks, “Is that the way it’s really going to happen?” My daughter, who doesn’t often initiate conversations like this, engaged me in a dialogue that lasted several hours and continues to this day. I can’t remember the last time that happened. We didn’t just discuss eschatology; we talked about authenticity and true faith. Many of the characters struggle with this question throughout the film, and I could see that my daughter and son were really intrigued by it. Were they afraid of being left behind? Was fear motivating our discussions? I couldn’t determine and I’m not sure they could either. Afterall, this was just a thriller, not a movie necessarily about Christianity. But I do know that they were very interested in the difference between going through the motions of faith and being true believers. What followed is a fairly intimate conversation I think I’ll keep within our family’s circle of trust to save my children any further grief I’ve already heaped upon them by bringing them into this review. But as a youth worker and father, these are the conversations I long for with my children and teens.

Can I guarantee that the same will happen for you? No, I can’t. But I did like the direction this movie was taking faith based films and I see a long line of them coming out in the future. I hope they continue to improve and become more appealing to those outside the church as well. I think it’s important to get behind our brothers and sisters in Christ, like screenwriter Chris Dowling, who are in the mainstream media. Hopefully their success will give them more opportunities to refine their craft and continue making films that have a deeper subtext.

Most likely this will be a movie teens inside and outside the church will want to see. It’s scary and that is always appealing to the risk taking, thrill seeking side of adolescents. It’s best if we are ready to engage their minds after they see it.

If you do have conversations with your students about The Remaining, check out the discussion guide that AFFIRM films put together for youth workers. You can download it for FREE by clicking HERE




 Mark Matlock is the Executive Director of Youth Specialties, the founder of PlanetWisdom, an author, a long-time youth worker, and a semi-retired illusionist. 

By Youth Specialties on September 08 2014 | 0 Comments

YS Idea Lab: Intergenerational Youth Ministry

By Youth Specialties on September 07 2014 | 0 Comments

Wayne Rice is the co-founder of Youth Specialties and has had such an incredible influence on the world of youth ministry. In this YS Idea Lab, Wayne shares about the importance of intergenerational ministry and some ideas to help make it happen in your church: 

In case you don’t have time to watch the full interview, here are a few key points that Wayne dives into:

- Everyone worships together. You’ve got to get the old and the young into the same room to learn how to worship alongside one another. 
- Make an effort to give the spotlight to all generations. Bring members of different generations upfront to represent all different ages. 
- Create intergenerational gatherings. Find ways to get different generations together so they can get to know each other and learn from one another.  
- Make an extra effort for those individuals that don’t have a family. Utilize the intergenerational events to provide a family for those that come to the church without a family.  

Check out more YS Idea Labs HERE.

By Youth Specialties on September 07 2014 | 0 Comments

Trending This Week (Sept 5)

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 04 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include thoughts about students becoming leaders, "doing time" in youth ministry, a really encouraging TED talk, ways to support your pastor, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination.

Blogs From This Week

The videos from our Sticky Faith Family Google Hangout with Kara Powell and Brad Griffin are live and easy to share with your team! - CLICK TO VIEW

Matt Larkin (@MattwLarkin) wrote a GREAT post for youth workers at smaller churches: "Embracing Where You Are At" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Jason Sansbury (@JasonSansbury) wrote a great post about students becoming leaders: "Somtimes a Lost Sheep Becomes the Shepherd" - CLICK TO VIEW

Amy Jacober (@AmyJacober) shared some firm words about a calling to youth ministry: "Did My Time as a Youth Pastor" - CLICK TO VIEW

Elle Campbell (@ellllllllllle) gave us all some encouragement by passing along a great TED talk: "Every Kid Needs a Champion" - CLICK TO VIEW

Mike Tucker (@FFTMike) tweeted out a list of ways youth workers can support their pastors: "Ten Free Ways to Appreciate Your Pastor... Without Making it Awkard" - CLICK TO VIEW 

Kara Powell (@KPowellFYI) wrote a great post that you can forward on to the parents of your students: "You Get What You Are" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Run, Walter Run! - CLICK TO VIEW

Exiting a pick-up truck with some pizzazz - CLICK TO VIEW

Instructional videos for kids. This first one: “Changing the Toilet Paper” - CLICK TO VIEW 

A Dad pranks his son and it's glorious - CLICK TO VIEW

A “magic trick” that’s more annoying than magic - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 04 2014 | 0 Comments

Sticky Faith Hangout and Q&A with Kara Powell & Brad Griffin

By Youth Specialties on September 02 2014 | 1 Comments

We had such a great time in our Hangout with Kara Powell and Brad Griffin discussing the newest resource "The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family." To make it easier for you to share with your youth leaders, we split up the video into different segments that you can pass along to your team for a bit of encouragment and thoughtful discussion. 

And don't miss the 5-hour Intensive with Kara and Brad at NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta on "Sticky Faith: How to Help Teens Maintain Their Faith Long-Term." 

Here's the interview portion of the Sticky Faith Hangout:

Here's the Q&A portion of the Sticky Faith Hangout:

There were a couple questions that we didn't have time to get to so Kara and Brad graciously sent us their response to those questions as well:

There is a concept about parents "stepping off the pedestal" that I think relates to the idea of parents feeling intimidated.  It would be good to have Brad and Kara address this concept. 

All of us fear failure. Parents tend to wear it like a favorite sweater. We are so afraid to be wrong about our kids, and especially in front of our kids, that we trade honesty for a false perception of flawlessness. When our parenting gets called into question, we wrap our sweater tight in defense and do what we can to stay on the pedestal in front of the kids and whoever else might be in the conversation. Stepping down—or taking off the sweater, to stick with that metaphor—means being honest enough to admit to our kids that we were wrong, that we made a mistake, and to ask them or others for forgiveness and restoration. While it’s terrifying for most parents to do this, in our interviews we found that parents who regularly practice saying “I’m sorry” with their kids build surprising bridges to share more openly about other life and faith struggles, too.

I had a mom recently approach me with suspicion and concern that her kid's Youth Leaders know "all of these secrets about our kids" that we don't know. Unless it's a mandated thing to report, I typically keep struggles/challenges that kids are facing between myself and them. Should there be more partnering with parents in these situations, or should I be content that they "told somebody." Does this make sense? 

If a parent has a concern about secrets, it’s important to hear that parent out and determine where the source of those fears resides. What youth workers often fail to understand is that their relationships with kids often feel threatening to parents whose adolescent children are pulling away from them emotionally. A parent looks at the hip young small group leader with whom her daughter is suddenly spending more time, and perceives this as a threat to her own once-close relationship. That stirs up fear, resentment, and can easily lead to suspicion. Take some time to listen to the parent who raises those concerns, and use it as an opportunity to encourage them and reinforce that your hope is to complement, not compete with, their family relationships. 

On the other side of this question are the confidentiality issues. Just this weekend, we heard a youth pastor in Michigan share with his volunteer small group leaders a few helpful tips when it comes to confidentiality. First, if you hear something serious enough that you feel like a student is in real danger of doing harm to themselves or someone else, absolutely speak up and involve parents and professional help. Second, when a student shares something in confidence that is destructive but not imminently life-threatening, this takes some careful discernment to walk through. In these cases we still need not to leave parents in the dark, but rather to cue them that something is going on with their son or daughter that’s concerning. You want to respect your relationship with the student, but also uphold parents’ trust that you’re keeping the student’s and the family’s best interests in mind, and you’re ultimately not part of that family. Encouraging parents to have hard conversations is absolutely a feature of partnership.

Don't miss the 5-hour Sticky Faith Intensive on helping teens maintain their faith long-term at NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta

By Youth Specialties on September 02 2014 | 1 Comments

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