Youth Specialties Blog

Trending This Week (Sept 26)

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 25 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include encouragement for when ministry gets stressful, characteristics of effective small groups, ideas to ask better questions, a short list of ministry "to-do's," and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Mark Matlock (@MarkMatlock) shares what he's most excited to be a part of at NYWC: "5 Reasons To Be Excited About NYWC" - CLICK TO VIEW

Steven Argue (@StevenArgue) puts some pressure on all of us: "It's Time to Define The Relationship With Our Emerging Adults" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Eric Woods (@EricDWoods) shared some encouragement: "Too much on your plate? Dear Youth Pastor, it's worth the effort" - CLICK TO VIEW

Our friends at YM360 (@YM360) wrote a great post: "7 Characteristics of Effective Small Groups" - CLICK TO VIEW

Terry Linhart (@TerryLinhart) put together a great post for anyone that leads a small group: "5 Instant Steps to Ask Better Discussion Questions" - CLICK TO VIEW

Josh Griffin (@JoshuaGriffin) reminds us all how important it is to take a breath: "Stop The Stress Before It Stops You" - CLICK TO VIEW

The good folks behind Youth Ministry Management Tools (@YMManagement) shared 5 Youth Ministry To-Do's - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

The most inspirational post-game football speech ever - CLICK TO VIEW

Tommy (from The Skit Guys) takes the phrase “pray without ceasing” seriously and everyone thinks he’s hallucinating - CLICK TO VIEW

In case you need to know what animals in sweaters look like - CLICK TO VIEW

"Shake It Off" is way better as an R&B song - CLICK TO VIEW

Coolest old guy ever - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 25 2014 | 0 Comments

It’s Time To Define The Relationship With Our Emerging Adults

By Youth Specialties on September 23 2014 | 2 Comments

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

Original photo by Michael Mistretta.

One of the most common questions I hear from church leaders is, “What are you doing for 20-somethings in your church?” You can ask a similar question, “What are you doing for teenagers in your church?” and the question just sounds different. The difference, is that first, youth ministry has a plethora of resources and expressions that youth leaders can tap into. Second, ministry to “20-somethings” lacks definition and churches often end up defaulting to familiar youth ministry models and metrics that miss this age period and bring leaders back to that common question again.

Questions often digress to blame. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear or read about “young people leaving the church” or how “youth ministry has messed up our young people,” or how “liberal colleges,” “gay agendas,” absent parents, the internet, lazy Millennials, or the iPhone has made them “spiritual but not religious.” Blame even leads to abandonment where churches are giving up on the Millennial generation and setting their sights on Generation Z, as a better bet on the future.

A way forward with “20-somethings” isn’t ignorance, nor blame, and definitely not skipping over them. I believe that if we are going to take people ages 18-29 seriously, faith communities must begin with defining the relationship–a DTR.


At one time or another, you’ve probably had to do this. It’s that moment in a significant relationship when you take a moment and ask, “Who are we, together?” “How shall we relate to each other?” “What can I expect of you, and you of me?” and “Where is this thing going?” Relationships that don’t have one (or more) DTRs live in ambiguity and eventually dissolve because no one is clear as how to relate, act, or anticipate. Ambiguous relationship = break-up.

Faith communities need to have a DTR with their 20-somethings before more blame is launched or another program is created. We can spend more time reflecting on this in my YS seminars in Sacramento and Atlanta. In this brief post, I offer three things to ponder:

Let’s call those in their twenties Emerging Adults,
not 20-somethings

Realize that the ambiguity of this label isn’t a reflection of them, but the church’s lack of understanding them. I call them Emerging Adults (cf. Arnett, 2004), because it is a name of movement, grace, and purpose. Those in their twenties are emerging–still trying to figure out love, work, and belief in a world more complex than when others were their age. We can serve them by recognizing this as a significant formational time, not limbo. They are also emerging adults–there is a telos, a goal, called adulthood. Churches having a DTR with Emerging Adults means to recognize them for who they are and for the support they need as they practice becoming adults.

Is the church willing to have this kind of relationship with them? It’s the difference between good news and bad news.

Let’s commit to supporting Emerging Adults’
formation forward, not backward.

If we take time to DTR, we may recognize that much of our programming for Emerging Adults is nothing more than older-person youth group with the same music, messages and activities that have graduated from PG13 to R. When we look at this through a relational lens, however, we realize that these kind of programs fail to establish a new kind of vision for how Emerging Adults relate to their faith communities. If your Emerging Adult ministry looks like youth group, you are reinforcing the kind of relationship you want with them–adult to adolescent, which is a regressive relationship and “formation backward. Formation forward vision gives Emerging Adults opportunities to grow a self-authoring faith and contribute to and through their faith communities.

Let’s embrace all of Emerging Adults,
not just the parts we desire.

In any relationship, you can’t choose what part of a person you get. Still, it often feels like churches want Emerging Adults’ butts in the Sunday morning seats but not their hearts, their minds, their lives. The reality is this–faith communities that truly want Emerging Adults, will also want their questions that challenge the community’s assumptions, their ideas that make others uncomfortable, and their gifts that bring new light on tradition. Churches must DTR by saying to Emerging Adults, “We want you, all of you.” Anything less communicates, “We really don’t want you at all.”

It’s time to DTR with our Emerging Adults. Let’s recognize their journey to adulthood. Let’s support their formation forward. Let’s accept all of who they are.

Let’s continue to explore this in Sacramento and Atlanta! Grace and peace.

Steven Argue is a pastor and theologian in residence, serving on the Ministry Leadership Team at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He teaches youth ministry at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and serves on the Advisory Council for the Fuller Youth Institute. He loves running, eats vegetarian, and tweets #RunningThoughts. You can hear Steven speak at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta.


By Youth Specialties on September 23 2014 | 2 Comments

5 Reasons To Be Excited About NYWC

By Youth Specialties on September 21 2014 | 0 Comments

Each year, thousands of youth workers from all across the country get together for these crazy gatherings called the National Youth Worker Convention. It’s a unique time for a truly unique kind of person—the youth worker. NYWC is a time when youth workers are challenged, encouraged, and supported in their ministry of leading students to find and follow Jesus. There’s plenty to be excited about and to increase that excitement, Mark Matlock, the executive director of Youth Specialties, wanted to share 5 key things that he can’t wait to be a part of at NYWC.

To learn, share, and create with like-minded people.

There are many events about leadership, but NYWC is all about youth ministry. It’s good to be with people who share a passion to help teens find and follow Jesus. Long before I was involved in leadership at YS, NYWC was an incredible time. Not only were the seminars and Big Room gatherings inspiring, but the in-between spaces also became huge moments in my life. I can remember running into Doug Fields for the first time in the hallway and in the less than five minutes we talked, his personal words led to a significant change in the direction of my life. I’m never surprised any more when I hear others share similar, unplanned, sacred moments that have taken place all throughout NYWC. Bring people together and good stuff happens.

This year, we’ll be offering three types of personal consultation for anyone interested. Youth Ministry Architects will be present to help consult with you on any issues related to the design of your youth ministry program. We have a team of spiritual directors available to work with you individually to slow down and experience God while you are at the convention. And this year we have a team of YS Coaches onsite to assist with one on one coaching for your personal development. It’s all part of your registration so take advantage of that help!

To be stretched.

I rarely come away from NYWC feeling completely validated… and that’s a good thing! There is always someone who annoys me with their perspective or their practice of youth ministry or someone who is doing a much better job than me in something. This uncomfortable feeling is why I have always loved NYWC. Whether I agree or disagree with those around me, I always feel like I’m moving forward in my own journey with Jesus and I leave the conference wanting to be different. Personally, I rarely grow without some discomfort. I know it sounds weird to have to pay money for an event and potentially feel uncomfortable, but growth just doesn’t seem to happen any other way.

The new schedule.

(Check out the new schedule for NYWC Sacramento HERE and NYWC Atlanta HERE.)

Our new schedule has given us an opportunity to create new spaces and learning environments. One of those spaces that I’m really excited about is YS Explores in Sacramento and Atlanta, which we plan to make a recurring feature at NYWC. It’s not a seminar or a Big Room, but a large gathering for the all attendees to explore a subject from multiple perspectives. This year YS will explore the idea of outreach: How do we reach teenagers who don’t know Jesus? Presenters include youth ministers doing some amazing things around the country to engage teens with Christ outside the walls of church. You’ll hear from Dave Rahn, Jeremy Del Rio, Paige Clingenpiel, Amy Williams, Greg Stier, and Brock Morgan on topics like reaching teens in crisis with Google Ad words, ministering to teens in prison, how to form school partnerships, and more. This session will give you food for thought and space to gain vision around what you can do to reach teens.

We also have several great pre-conference Intensives in Sacramento and Atlanta to go deeper in topics like youth ministry management and teens and sexual identity with experts from around the country.

The Family Rooms.

This year, we continue to build on the legacy of the Family Rooms we launched two years ago. For those who haven’t yet participated, this is a time when we gather in circles of six to learn, share, and create together. As a part of the Family Rooms in Sacramento and Atlanta this fall, we’ll be having conversations around why the church needs youth ministry. Together, we’ll share stories and insights that will help us strengthen the role of youth ministry in our churches and communities. I am very excited about this year’s conversations, so make them a priority! This is not only a time to receive, but a time to give to others as well.

Worshipping together and spending time with God.

Regardless of everything else that happens at NYWC, I walk away feeling like I have had time with God. NYWC has become so important to youth workers for their spiritual rejuvenation. Joining together and singing and praying with thousands of youth leaders does something to the soul. For me to get away, fill my tank with new ideas, and be stretched by good thinkers is all good, but (for me) spending time with God, outside my normal context, impacts me deeply. In this environment, Jesus changes me… It’s mysterious and I’m not exactly sure how, but He does.

And, with all this in mind, I am praying that your life will be changed too. I personally invite you to join us this year in either Sacramento on Oct. 2-5, 2014, or in Atlanta on Nov. 20-23, 2014.

It’s not too late to join us for NYWC. We would love to see you there and honestly, it won’t be the same without you. Visit for more info. 

By Youth Specialties on September 21 2014 | 0 Comments

Trending This Week (Sept 19)

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 18 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include a warning against labels, reasons why you should start fundraising for summer events now, a critical look at your capacity for quality relationships, signs you've waited too long to network, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination.

Blogs From This Week

Crystal Kirgiss (@CrystalKirgiss) takes a look at the history of adolescence: "Is Adolescence New?" - CLICK TO VIEW

Stephen Ingram (@StephenLIngram) shares some encouragement: "The Blessing of Small" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Leneita Fix (@LeneitaFix) has some great advice: "Be AWARE Of Labels" - CLICK TO VIEW

Jason Sansbury (@JasonSansbury) takes time to share practical reasons why you should start fundraising for next year: "5 Reasons to Start Summer Fundraising in the Fall" - CLICK TO VIEW

Mike Suit (@MikeSuit) invites youth workers to think critically about how much they can give to all the different relationships they have: "Your Role" - CLICK TO VIEW

NNYM (@NNYM) wrote a really thought-provoking piece: "4 Signs You've Waited Too Long To Network" - CLICK TO VIEW

Jen Bradbury (@ymjen) shared a great post about the difficulty of spouses being pulled into ministry: "Two for One" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Tiny Hamster VS Hotdog Eating Champ Kobayashi - CLICK TO VIEW

Band kids have their own version of a lightsaber battle - CLICK TO VIEW

A guy races a subway train and… ties. But it’s still fun to watch - CLICK TO VIEW

Bryan Cranston Performs One-Man MLB on TBS Postseason Show - CLICK TO VIEW

This guy pretends to be the one behind “Humans of New York” and it’s hilarious - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 18 2014 | 0 Comments

Is Adolescence New?

By Youth Specialties on September 16 2014 | 4 Comments

We are excited to share this post from Crystal Kirgiss and we're thrilled that she'll be at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta

Original photo by Shanna Riley.

Last year, a blogger wrote about adolescence, calling it a “modern plague” that – (thank goodness) – has a cure. He said:

“Back in the old days, there were two types of people in the world: children and adults. You were a child, then you became an adult. ...Adolescence is a state of the art modern innovation, like crack-cocaine and chemical warfare.”

And just like that, he eradicated youth ministry as sacred vocation, effectively smithereening (real word) it into a juicy pulp of cultural repulsion. Thank you for that.

This blogger’s view of adolescence is what academics like to call a “recent social construct,” and it’s a familiar one. Most of us have heard it. Many of us have read it. Lots of us have studied it. Some of us have taught it.

So it might come as a surprise that it’s not entirely – or even mostly – accurate.

True, some aspects of the adolescent experience are recent, and certain societal characteristics of it have shifted over time – just like with every other life stage and every other major identity demographic. But adolescence, understood as an in-between stage of life bridging childhood and adulthood, is not a new idea. Not by a long shot.

During the murky intertestamental period, Aristotle described adolescence as a time of strong passions, fickle desires, moodiness, hot tempers, hopeful dispositions, surprising courage, a hesitancy to accept rules of society, exalted notions, know-it-all-ness, and a focus on peer groups. During the time of Polycarp and Irenaeus, Claudius Ptolemy determined that the third stage of life – adolescence, following infancy and childhood – was controlled by Venus, the planet of love, desire, and sexual gratification. Tenth-century thinkers identified adolescentia as one of four distinct stages of life, following childhood, and preceding adulthood and old age, lasting from the early teen years to the mid-twenties. (Here is just one example of this illustrated theory. Image from Byrhtferth's Enchiridion, as illustrated in the Ramsey Computus, Oxford, St John College, ms. 17, fol. 7v.)

Preachers of old worried about young people who knew all the stories and ballads about Robin Hood but couldn’t remember the Our Father. They bemoaned adult men who wore their hair long, their hose tight, and their tunics short – like adolescents – because if they didn’t set a good example, who would? English dictionaries going as far back as 1538 included entries for adolescence, defined in one as a yonge man, whiche is yet growynge, in another as the age betwene childhoode and mans age, whiche is betwene 14 and 21, and in yet another as the Flower of Youth; the State from Fourteen to Twenty-five or Thirty in Men, and from Twelve to Twenty-one in Women.

They may have talked and dressed differently, sang different songs, learned old-fangled math, and been less attractive to the economic powers-that-be, but adolescents have always been to a certain degree the in-betweeners. And adults have always been the ones to define and control the in-betweeners, in part by placing immediate limits on their allowed freedoms, and in part by determining and sometimes delaying their entrance into full and independent adulthood.

Adults have also had consistent worries and fears about adolescents (their proclivities for sex, drinking, carousing, dancing, dicing, and all manner of naughtiness) alongside opposing envy of adolescents (their health, beauty, passion, energy, and all manner of awesomeness). This tendency to either idealize or demonize adolescents should sound familiar. They are either Katniss Everdeen, savior of dystopia (and the box-office), or “a modern plague,” bane of society (and the blogosphere).

Where does that leave those of us who love and are committed to adolescents? Are we ministering to a freakish-construct-of-contemporary-culture or to a designed-masterpiece-of-sacred-creation? Are adolescent angst and identity confusion (to the extent that they actually exist) merely negative consequences of our own era’s making, or is the adolescent experience of growing out of childhood and into adulthood a natural and common process?

These questions matter. If we accept that adolescence is both new and man-made, then what hope do we possibly have for successfully guiding them through a natural stage of development and into a life of mature personhood and deep faith? Why even bother?

But we do bother...because it’s anything but a bother to do so.

Eugene Peterson writes that while infants are God’s gift to younger parents, adolescents are His gift to middle-decades parents, when there is sometimes stagnation, letdown, and disappointment as the “ideals and expectations of earlier years are experienced as fatigue. ...And then God’s gift: in the rather awkward packaging of the adolescent God brings into our lives a challenge to grow, testing our love, chastening our hope, pushing our faith to the edge of the abyss. It comes at just the right time” (Like Dew, Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager, Eerdman's, 1994).    

At just the right time, indeed, not just for middle-decade parents but for youth ministers of all decades.

(For further information or reference citations, email Crystal at

Crystal Kirgiss has worked with students for more than 25 years. She earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University where she lectures and studies the history of adolescence. She writes the “Guys” and “Girls” columns for Youthwalk magazine, was part of the core writing team for The Way Bible, and is the author or co-author of 11 books. You can hear Crystal speak at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta.

By Youth Specialties on September 16 2014 | 4 Comments

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

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