The Welcoming Team

Some ministries have a real sense of welcome but often ministries miss the mark on this one. Often times the leaders are busy getting the service or meeting ready instead of being available to welcome people as they arrive for your event. Whether it is a church service, a ministry meeting or an event in your church you need to have a welcoming team. Perhaps in your ministry you have a dedicated group of people who are part of your welcome team or maybe you don’t. Either way every church and ministry could improve their sense of welcome.

There are two important principles that should drive welcoming in your ministry:

  1. Everyone is responsible for creating a welcoming ministry
  2. You need a specific group to enhance the welcoming procedures

Before we get into the role of an effective welcome team, I want to shift your thinking a little. Instead of thinking of the usual welcomers who just hand out bulletins before the service, could you think of your welcome team as customer service staff? Rather than recruiting people who can smile and shake hands, could you recruit people who will go the extra mile and help people feel a part of your community. A member of the welcome team should never say “I just hand out the bulletins ask a staff member”. Perhaps you might need to privately call them the customer service team so that they know they are not just welcoming people but serving the people who attend your church or ministry events.

So what should this customer service team or welcome team do? Is it just about a friendly smile on the way into church or into your ministry event? The welcome team should do much more than smile and hand out bulletins. They should make people feel welcome, look out for visitors, locate toilets for people, explain the children’s ministry to parents, connect young people with the youth ministry and even help people find a seat if needed.

Here are some important things for the welcoming team to focus on:

  • Be available 20 minutes before the event – whether people arrive late or on time at your church, your welcome team need to be there before anyone could turn up. Someone is always running early and these are the people the welcome team have the most time to talk to.
  • Look out for visitors before and after the event – the welcome team should be looking out for visitors who are not familiar with how your church or ministry does things. They can look lost, unsure of where to sit. Visitors will check out your notice board more than the regulars do. Many visitors to churches and ministries make a first impression based on how they are welcomed and whether the first people they meet are open or closed to new people.
  • Be available 20 minutes after the event – if the welcome team do their job of connecting with people before the service then they are the best people to follow them up after the event. If your welcoming team think their role is about handing out bulletins then they tend to check out once that task is done. The welcome team needs to see their role as beginning before everyone arrives and finishes after everyone has left.
  • Focus on parents – having kids and working in youth ministry I really believe that our churches need to engage children and youth. Yet the reality is that parents drive children and youth to and from church events so make them feel welcome. At your youth events have someone on your welcome team that welcome visitors and some who talk to parents. The more you can engage the parents the more they will support your ministry. For sunday services the parents are often the most confused as to where there kids need to be or how the service engages kids so be available to answer their questions.
  • Help with logistics during the event – great welcome teams will also assist with moving and seating people during the event. Perhaps you need to arrange more chairs or simple ask people to shuffle in to free up seats. Perhaps you need to help move children in and out of the children’s ministry. The welcome team should be looking out for how they can help during the event not just before the service.
  • Know about future events – the welcome team will often be asked about the events in the bulletin or on the notice board so find out about other events in your church. The welcome team should never say “I don’t know about that ask a staff member”. When someone is part of the welcome team it is like they are a staff member.

There are many unique things that churches do for their welcome teams. Some have fancy tshirts, special name badges or set up special visitor desks. Often the welcome team at children or youth events also need to collect forms, sign people in or collect money. All of these elements are unique to your ministry and church setting so be intentional about tailoring the welcome team to your setting. Irrespective of your local context it still doesn’t change the fact that your welcome team are there to serve the people attending your church not just hand out bulletins.

Please leave a comment with tips from your welcome team.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

What was Youth Ministry like when I began in 1991?

Youth Ministry in 1991Recently I was presenting a workshop at a youth ministry training event and I began by telling the participants that I started in youth ministry in 1991.  About half of the participants in the room indicated that they were born after 1991 and most of the others were very close to the same age.  While I was running the workshop I became more aware of how different youth ministry was when I began over 20 years ago.  Young culture and Church culture have changed so much in the last 20 years that I thought I would share some of these with you.

Now before we go any further this is not a historical overview of how youth ministry has changed in the past 20 years globally or even nationally.  I will share a few observations from the youth ministry in my church back in 1991 and if you were around youth ministry in 1991 please leave a comment to share your observations as well.  If you weren’t even born in 1991 then read this as a history lesson.

  1. Led by Parent Couples – when I first started in youth ministry every youth ministry had a parent couple attached.  These were a married couple, or several married couples, who would oversee the youth ministry.  In my youth ministry they trained and support the youth leaders, helped workshop youth talks and run the finances.  As a young person we felt safe knowing that parents were looking after the “hard stuff” like finances so that we could have fun.  In 2013 it seems that parent couples have almost disappeared from the youth ministry landscape.  I know some youth groups in 1991 that had to take a break until a parent couple could be found, something that would seem unreasonable in 2013.
  2. No professionals – in 1991 I don’t remember any professional youth ministry staff.  Knowing the history of youth ministry that I know now, there were a few professionals around but they were rare.  Youth ministry was a volunteer ministry that was often peer led.  In 1991 I never ever thought that I could spend 20 years of my life getting paid to lead youth and young adult ministry.  In 2013 the “high” turnover rate that some see as a problem stems from the era of the 1980’s and 90’s when everyone volunteered for 1-2 years as a youth leader then moved onto the adult congregation of the church.
  3. After church on Sunday night – in our location and many other churches in 1991 youth group was on a Sunday night after our 6pm Church service.  Back in those days many young people were still going to church on a semi regular basis so linking youth group with the church service seemed like a natural thing.  In fact in 1991 it was easier to recruit youth group members from the church congregation if the two were linked.  In 2013 the biggest question many youth ministries face is the opposite question, how do we get our youth group members to join our Sunday congregation.  In 2013 youth group is often set in concrete on Friday nights as though that was how it has always been done.
  4. Keeping young people in church – when I started in youth ministry in 1991 many youth would stop going to church about 15-18 or Year 10.  So youth ministry was a way of keeping young people coming along to church.  In 2013 youth ministry seems more about starting young people coming to church as most young people stop going in the children’s ministry age group, if they were ever attending.
  5. No mobile phones – In 1991 a friend of mine showed me his dad’s mobile phone and it was as big as a brick.  Only business people had mobile phones.  Young people not only didn’t have smart phones they didn’t even have mobiles.  Youth Ministry was the time to catch up with people for the week and if you missed youth group you missed a week of connection with your peers.  If you missed youth you may have missed news of a party or social outing and there was no way to catch up.  In 2013 if young people miss youth group they can catch up with all the news, gossip and party news within hours via Facebook or SMS.
  6. Film Cameras – this might sound really old fashion but only a few young people had cameras at events and it would take a week or two to send the film photos off for developing.  In 1991 there was always a physical photo wall or photo album put up three weeks after youth events to show what had happened at the events; it was a real way to keep the memories alive.  In 2013 the photos go up on Facebook and Instagram as the event is happening and are forgotten about within days.
  7. Youth Culture – in 1991 in my area there were the metal heads (Heavy metal music), wax heads (surfers), skateheads  (skateboarding) and nerds (those who weren’t part of the other groups).  Whilst I admit that I was a nerd, it seemed that there were only a few youth subgroups to fit into.  In 2013 the youth culture has split the youth subgroups in to thousands.  The music industry alone has thousands of music styles that weren’t branded this way in 1991.  Youth clothing has become more targeted in 2013 and costs a lot more money.  In 1991 if a young person had slashed jeans they weren’t $250 designer jeans, they were the cheap jeans showing signs of being old.

This is just some of the ways that youth ministry was different when I first started in 1991.  My hope is that some of my colleagues who were around in the 1980’s/90’s might add a comment with their observations from that period.

Whilst the specific details might vary from location to location in 1991 they also vary from location to location in 2013.  Rather than this being a post of the golden era of youth ministry from the good old days, I just want this generation of youth ministry leaders to recognise that ministry changes and that is OK.  Many of the things that some youth ministers think we have always done in youth ministry are in fact new additions that have improved or complicated youth ministry.  It is OK for youth ministry to change, in fact I hope that youth ministry continues to change and adapt as young people change and adapt to the culture around them.

Please leave a comment.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald,

How many people does it take to start a youth group?

How many people does it take to change a light bulb? This is often a joke told where the answer gives an insight into a particular stereotype. Whenever I hear this joke, I wondered how many Catholics does it take to start a youth group? Whilst I am sure that there are many humorous answers that we could give if we were telling a joke, the number one issue that people ask me about is how many people do you need to start a youth group?

Let me tell you my answer with a real life story, you may even guess the group.  About five years ago three Catholic young men were interested in starting something in their parish for young people. They wanted to lay a solid foundation for youth ministry in their parish and “get it right” from the start. So they decided to come together every Thursday night for prayer, to ask God for guidance, vision and direction.

Their next step was not to launch into a mega ministry or try to entertain the “youth”, the three young men thought “who can we invite into this group for prayer?” As they added the next person then the next person, the group began to grow. This was training the group in the evangelical spirit which characterises the group today. Not “Evangelical” by denomination but the group has a heart for evangelisation or to put it simply they want to share this with their friends.

Five years later those three young men have gathered 50 or 60 other young people to meet for prayer on a Thursday night. The group looks different from what it did five years ago but the element of prayer is still present. If you ask me what makes this group successful, the prayer element and evangelistic spirit would be it.

Sometimes as an intern, volunteer or youth minister, you may want to copy the program of a successful youth ministry that you admire. Instead copy the heart and culture of the ministry. Many people think that Hillsong is successful because of their music, yet it is the culture of small group discipleship that drives the ministry. Some people might thing the group mentioned above is because they have a supportive Priest, but it is more than that.

So next time you ask yourself how many young people does it take to start a youth group, know that it only takes three.


This post first appeared in February 2010 and people still ask me about how many people it takes to start a Youth Group.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald,

The Reformation and the 12 tribes of Israel

When the Israelites left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they were one people.  When Jesus sent out the 72 to preach the Gospel they were one Church.  In the Book of Numbers we read that Moses ordered the people of Israel into 12 tribes ready to enter the promised land.  In the book of Acts we read that Peter and Paul are ordering the Church ready for Mission.  So where did it all go wrong?  Why do we read in the Book of Judges that the tribes are at war and one tribe is almost wiped out?  Why do we read the books of history and have a church that is so fractured that some branches are almost wiped out?

It seems that we have become used to the history of Israel as we read the Old Testament.  We know that the tribes have come together, worked together and survived many attacks from other nations.  Yet we also know that in some periods of the Old Testament the people of Israel were fighting against each other.  In Judges the tribe of Benjamin are almost wiped out and God has to give them wives to keep the tribe multiplying.  In Samuel the Kingdom is divided into Israel and Judah.  We also know that the theme of exile runs through the old testament but that God always remains faithful to His Promises.

So it seems to me that the Reformation both in Europe and in England were like the tribes of Israel splitting in the promised land.  Once the Israelites and Christians moved from being the people of God into Geopolitical nations all the trouble started.  Is it just me or does this feel a little bit like the Book of Samuel where God says that it is not good to have worldly kingdoms for God is our King.  Whilst I am no Church history scholar it seems that many difficult times in Church history have been tied to political forces.

In January 2012 the Tablet published two articles about the formation of a joint commission between the Vatican (Catholic Church) and the Lutheran World Federation.  The commission will look at a joint statement on the history of the Reformation in preparation for the 500 anniversary of the Luther statements in 1517.  In the articles it acknowledges that in the past both churches have blamed each other for the Reformation, yet now they recognise that both sides had a hand in the split.  It seems that it became Geopolitical, the tribe of Vatican were at war and split with the tribe of England and the tribe of Germany.

In recent years as the Church has lost it hold on almost every Government in the World, it is becoming easier for the Church to reunite as the people of God.  Instead of seeking to become one Church under one banner (such as Catholic), perhaps we should learn from the bible.  The 12 tribes of Israel is an example to us all that the Body of Christ is made up of many parts, each with its own special role.  Lets not try to be the same but seek unity as the Body of Christ.

5 things I’ve learned from the Hillsong Church

Recently I moved to Melbourne from the North Western Suburbs of Sydney. It surprised me to hear people comment about the influence of the Hillsong Church here in Melbourne, especially their music. It seems that in Melbourne, as in Sydney, many people don’t agree with everything Hillsong does, yet people do admire or envy their influence, size and growth.

Given that I used to live in the same suburb as the Hills Campus of the Hillsong Church, I have picked up a few good ideas about ministry from their church. Whilst I have attended many services at Hillsong and have attended three of their conference, I have never been on staff or been a leader in the church. This post is an “outsiders” perspective on a church which I admire and respect.

So unlike the critical tone that I sometimes hear in some circles about the Hillsong style, I thought I would share five positive things that I learnt from the Hillsong Church:

  1. Worship should move people: I often hear people criticize contemporary worship music for relying on lights and “rock music” to influence people. What I have learnt from Hillsong worship is that worship should move people; it should stir up a response. What ever denomination you worship in, the worship should not be something you do but a total experience of the power and love of God.
  2. Preaching should be passionate: I often hear people criticize evangelical preachers for getting “too worked up”. It is as though the preaching of the Word of God should be restrained and formal. Yet I have noticed that even secular public speaking has become more passionate and less formal. Which ever denomination you preach in, it should show a passion for God’s Word that inspires and motivates the audience.
  3. Giving should change the world: I often hear people criticize contemporary churches by saying they only want my money. Before leaving Sydney, my local parish church asked me to increase my giving by $5 a month for new air conditioning. At the same time the Hillsong church was raising money to help fight trafficking of sex workers in Greece, help fight teen drug addiction and build churches that reach non believers. Several years ago Hillsong raised over a million dollars to build a church in Iraq. In which ever denomination you give money to, it should help change lives not build more Christian castles.
  4. Events should shift thinking: I often hear people criticize contemporary churches for running “slick” events like they are rock concerts or corporate motivational speakers. In the conferences that I have attended run by the Hillsong Church I have been presented with some great speakers that help shift my thinking. I have heard talks from people that I have disagreed with, but it shifted my thinking. In which ever denomination you run events for, don’t just go through the motions of “how we have always done things”; create dynamic experiences that shift the audience in their thinking.
  5. Influence brings criticism: As you can gather I hear people criticize “big” churches or big events a lot. Perhaps it is the “tall poppy” syndrome but people like to comment on how other churches have got it wrong. If we look at the fact that in Sydney alone Hillsong would influence over 20 000 people every weekend, that kind of influence is going to attract attention. Add to those numbers the campuses they have in London, Capetown, New York and several other cities it seems that the Holy Spirit must be present in their ministry. Given the Great Commission (Matt 28) calls us to reach all the nations, I have to admire a Church that has that much influence.

Whilst this post is not meant to be a leveled evaluation of everything that the Hillsong Church does, I did want to change “usual” commentary that I hear to admit that I have learnt something from Hillsong. I would encourage every ministry leader, in what ever denomination they lead in to at least see what they can learn from a church that is influencing the world.

Please leave a positive comment about what you have learnt about ministry from the Hillsong Church. We have all heard the criticism so please add to the positive conversation rather than post more negative thoughts. markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald