The value of positive stories

Woman on ComputerLeaders spend most of their time either casting vision or solving problems.  Casting vision involves sharing a positive vision of the future for your ministry even though you haven’t got there yet.  Solving problems means taking a weakness in your ministry and looking for a solution even though it means dealing with negatives.  So telling positive stories from your ministry reminds people of the positive elements that they have already accomplished.

People can’t spend all their time living in the future or dealing with problems.  Our volunteers in ministry need to be constantly reminded that all their hard work and effort is achieving something.  Sharing positive stories helps to remind people of the things the ministry has already achieved in a hope that more success will come in the future.  Positive stories can remind people serving in your ministry why they do what they do. 

Several times a year you should hold celebration nights where people in your ministry share their positive stories with each other.  There is nothing better than hearing people share a story in their own unique way.  Get each person to share a story from their perspective which not only gives a different perspective on the ministry but it also helps you get to know their style and personality. 

So here are five questions to ask at your celebration nights to draw out positive stories from any group:

  1. What are the highlights from our ministry?
  2. When did we have a win? ask people to articulate how they think they have achieved part of the vision.
  3. What have you learnt?  Focus on what you will do better in the future rather than the mistakes of the past.
  4. Who are we proud of?
  5. When did you see someone grow?  This is perhaps the most important question because it is others centred.

In my 20 years of ministry I have witness many times of celebration where people have shared their positive stories.  A few times have been whilst at a conference and our team have shared what we think we are doing right based on the speakers at the conference.  Often the positive stories come out over a meal when the ministry team have more time together.  The best celebration night I have ever been to involve everyone dressing up for a night of awards and storytelling; the night provided an hour of “open mic” time for people to share their stories.

The difficult in ministry is that we get so busy that we forget to share the positive stories until it is someone’s farewell party.  We forget to thank our team members until they leave.  Or we wait until the end of the year Christmas party to thank people for their hard work.  Wouldn’t it be great if we thanked people and shared the positive stories from our ministry once a month?  Imagine how much momentum it would build if we shared the positive stories a lot more than we reflected on the struggles.

So make a commitment to share the good news of your ministry within your church, after all we are meant to be people of the Good News.

How to start something new in your ministry

Starting something newAt the start of every year churches seem ready to start something new.  The New Year brings a new season in your ministry rather than more of the same old routine.  Perhaps there is a ministry that was needed last year that you didn’t have the energy for or perhaps there wasn’t space in your program to start something new.  With the New Year comes new energy and we all think we can take on more projects.  So if you find yourself thinking this way this post will help you through the process.

With over 10 years experience in ministry consultancy, most people underestimate the time and effort it takes to start a new ministry.  Many ministry leaders hope to get something started with a few weeks preparation when really it takes months to prepare for a new start.  Recently I was reading a 2012 strategic plan for a church which included plans for a start up ministry in 2014.  In ministry we have to cautious of being inspired to start a new ministry on our holiday and hoping it is fully running the second week we get back.

As many of us begin our ministries after the long summer holiday break, here are a few tips to starting something new in your church this year:

  1. Narrow the focus – once you start planning to begin something new everyone wants to be included more than you had planned so you have to keep a narrow focus.  So a new junior high ministry shouldn’t include senior students as participants.  The new music team should also double as a bible study.  Don’t try to bite off too much when you first start a new element within your ministry; you can always broaden the focus later but it is harder to cut back as you launch.
  2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – there is such a tendency to launch something and work out the details later.  If you don’t prepare fully then you won’t be ready when you launch which will turn visitors off.  When we were starting a junior ministry in one of the churches we took six months to prepare even though we had 20 young people ready to go.  We needed time to prepare the first six months of talks, themes and research appropriate activities.
  3. Ride through the dip – six months into every start up the ministry hits a dip in numbers or energy, perhaps due to a lack of money, leaders or participants get bored.  What will be the dip in your ministry?  Seth Godin in his book “The Dip” believes that most start ups fail because they don’t know how to ride through the dip; those that ride through the dip are the ones that succeed.  Perhaps your dip will come in six weeks perhaps it will come in two years but you must ride through the dip in energy and numbers to be successful.
  4. Marketing is important – In his book on Church Marketing, Richard Riesling says that marketing is managing perception.  With any new element in your ministry you have to manage the perception that others have of what the ministry is about.  In the start up of our junior youth group we called it Blaze to evoke the image of a faith that is on fire for God; and we didn’t mention or offer pizza even once.  Mange the perception of your new venture so that people know this is long term and not a flash in the pan idea.
  5. Who will lead it when you are gone – perhaps you don’t need to answer this question before you begin unless you are planning on leaving within six months.  But from the very beginning you need to start training and preparing your replacement.  In fact sometimes other leaders won’t put their hand up until you are a success so start anyway.
  6. Have fun – starting a new ministry is a lot of work but it is so much fun.  Everyone gets excited and there is so much enthusiasm towards something new.  Enjoy this time and have fun serving your ministry.

It is important for us to be looking ahead to see how we can start something new this year that will meet the needs of people next year and into the future.  We can’t wait until our current programs fizzle out before we look to the horizon to see what is next.  Perhaps this year is a year of transition for you and your ministry, I hope and prayer that God leads you where you need to be.

Please leave a comment about how you have started a new ministry.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

Youth Ministry and the disposable razor theory

We all know that young people are growing up in an era where new consumer products launch or are updated on a constant basis.  With the launch of the iPhone 5 last week there will be millions of consumers desperate to get of their current phone contracts just so they can have the latest phone.  In the current marketplace we see many good products relegated to the scrap heap every month just because the latest version is released.  We can trace all of this back to the theory of the disposable razor.

Traditionally a man would buy one high quality razor to shave their face every morning.  The good blades would last a lifetime, which the manufacturer thought was bad for business.  It was in the interest of the manufacturer to make blades that needed replacing so that people would have to buy more product.  Thus the creation of the disposable razor blade; a company would make more money over the long term selling thousands of cheap items than selling one high quality razor.

Fast forward through the years and we see that many products lowered their quality so that people would have to buy more products.  Many products developed component parts that needed replacing so as to sell more products; before digital cameras Kodak made more money from selling film than they did by selling cameras.  The disposable razor theory originally applied to low cost and low quality items.  In recent years the disposable or replaceable concept has been getting more and more expensive. What do people do with their old mobile phone when they buy the new iPhone 5?  When did a $700 phone become as disposable as a $2 razor blade?

Young people today want the latest technology which is totally understandable.  If I needed to buy a new phone or laptop then I would buy the best I could afford too.  However, the rate of change in consumer products is creating a transient culture where young people move from product to product without much loyalty.  Whilst the disposable razor theory was always about products it seems that it is now affecting organisations also.  Sporting clubs find it harder to keep junior players for more than a few seasons.  Scouting groups find it hard to attract young people because it asks for a weekly commitment rather than random participation.

In the Church we too are affected by the transient culture emerging in young people.  The Church is just one organisation dealing with the rate of change in our culture.  Perhaps like some other organisations we have been caught out ‘selling’ the same products in a marketplace that wants change.  If young people update their phone every two years, is it unreasonable to think that they expect some change in their church experience every two years?  If the fashion and music scene changes every six months is it unreasonable to think that young people might expect the look and feel of their church experience to change every six months?

I don’t think anybody ever thought that the disposable razor theory would ever apply to the Church, is it possible that this is what we are now seeing in youth and young adult ministries?  Is it possible that young people are so used to the rate of change that they expect change all around them?  So what should we do about this in our churches and ministries? If we look at Apple, they win the customer by changing the product.  We can’t change the Gospel, but that is not the ‘product’ that we are selling.  We are selling programs and activities in order to win people to Christ.

In our ministries, perhaps we should think about the packaging of our message and line up some ‘disposable razors’.  Here are a few examples:

  • A short course on a topic that is the hottest issue within the community
  • A few camp options within the year from overnighters to week long camps.
  • Opportunities to visit other churches for guest speakers or worship nights
  • Change the theme every school term
  • Have two to three options for high schoolers rather than one youth group for Year 7-12.

Yes this is harder for the youth and young adult ministry but can we really bury our head in the sand and keep everything static?  If we don’t make our programs the disposable razors the risk is that Jesus becomes the disposable razor and young people move onto another spirituality.  We can keep doing what we have always been doing or we can decide to work with young people as they are developing.

My hope is that together we can improve our ministry to youth and young adult to see more ‘customers’ being won to Christ.  If Apple are able to keep winning loyal customers then surely we need to as well, perhaps we need to be a bit more thoughtful in how we can win loyal followers of Christ.

Please leave a comment

Mark McDonald, mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, markoffaith.net

Does your ministry have the X Factor?

Let me start with two stories:

  1. Megachurch – one Sunday I attended a the evening service at a “megachurch” to hear a speaker that they had flown in from the United States.  With great facilities, an awesome worship team and a special preacher I knew the night would be great.  When I entered the Church I was touched by the warmth and buzz amongst the people, everyone was so friendly.  By the time I took my seat at least 20 people had greeted me.  When the worship started it was amazing, not just because of the show (as the critics like to call it) but these people were passionate about praising God.  After an amazing sermon I left on a real high.  When I got home my wife asked me “how was it?”  I replied “they really have it, something amazing is happening in that church.”
  2. Small Church – one Sunday night I attended a small young adult ministry with maybe 20 people.  The space was a borrowed venue and didn’t really work for the group.  When the service started the mood in room changed and this small group of people seemed to be doing something big.  It felt like the service was part of God’s bigger plan for His Church.  When I left there I thought that the small group of young adults really had something, they had it right.

Sometimes we can walk into a ministry as a guest and sense something straight away.  Perhaps you get a positive sense from the minute that you walk into the room or maybe when you meet the people.  Often it doesn’t have to do with the physical space but what seems to be happening spiritually in a ministry.  Some people call it the “X factor” and Craig Groeschel uses the term “it”.  Some people have “it” and other people don’t have “it”.

Would your ministry as it stands now have “it”? Does your ministry have the X Factor?

Sometimes we fall into one of two pitfalls about our ministry:

  1. Why do they have it?  We look at the church up the road or in the next suburb and envy what they have.  We look at their bigger numbers or bigger budgets or bigger facilities and wish we had what they have.  We think that it is what they have that makes them better and it is what we don’t have that makes us struggle.
  2. Why don’t they have it?  We can look at the church up the road or in the next suburb and wonder why they are struggling.  “It is so easy” we tell ourselves and we think the other churches just doesn’t get it.  We think it is what we have that makes us better and we judge them by what they don’t have.

In his book “It, How Churches and Leaders can get It and keep It”, Craig Groeschel reminds us that every church has the Holy Spirit.  However some churches are able to take what God has given them and make it spectacular.  It is the same with musicians who have the X Factor; anyone can play music but some singers have that extra something that sets them apart.

So here are six suggestions, based on Groeschel’s book, on how to get it and keep it:

  1. Vision – without a vision a group will perish.  The same is true with your ministry.  If you want to get it, the X factor, then you have to know where you are heading and why.
  2. Divine focus – Groeschel suggests that if you chase two rabbits you will miss both.  If you want your ministry to grow then you have to narrow the focus.  Ask God for divine inspiration about what your ministry should really focus on.
  3. Camaraderie – those ministries that have it, the X factor, have a friendship that draws you in; you want to be a part of their group.  It is important to be serious about sharing life together and having a lot of fun together as well.
  4. Innovation – these ministries with it, the X factor, don’t make excuses as they find a way to do ministry with what they have.  God often directs by what He doesn’t provide.  Turn what you don’t have into an opportunity and a strength.
  5. Failure – Groeschel says that failure is not optional, it is essential.  Those ministries that have the X factor try things and are prepared to fail in order to be effective.  When a ministry plays it safe you can tell and people don’t join ministries that stagnate to play it safe.
  6. Outreach – ministries that have it, the X factor, don’t want to keep it a secret they want everyone to know.  These ministries will reach out into their community rather than looking to keep their current members happy.

The most important thing to remember is that it is not about the building or the budget.  In his book Groeschel says that the days when his church met in a double garage with no money were some of the best ministry they did.  When a church gets better buildings and resources it can think that it can buy its way to success.  The Holy Spirit can’t be bought, it comes to those who believe the Gospel and have a heart for sharing this Good News.

My prayer for you is that your ministry can get IT, the X factor.  And if you have the X factor my hope is that you can share it around because there are a lot of ministries that would like some.

———-

For a sample of the “It” talk by Craig Groeschel at the Global Leadership Summit click here.

markoffaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith, MarkofFaith, markoffaith.net

Where are you heading? Vision Part 1

Andy Stanley wrote that the end of a God ordained vision is God.  So if you are heading towards a vision then you want to make sure that it is God ordained.  You want to make sure that you are doing what God created you to do with your life, in order that you can come closer to God.  The reverse would be true as well; the end of your vision is you, because it is you that set the direction and it is you that chose what was important.

In ministry we can often get lost in a minefield of vision, which is ironic because vision should be crystal clear.  The reason that we get lost is because we don’t know whose vision to follow:

  • Senior Minister – any Senior Minister has their own reason for being in ministry and they have the greatest say over what is seen as important in your church.
  • Elder’s board or church Council – are the church leadership team really discerning God’s ordained vision for your church or is it vision by consensus?  Sometimes church boards are made up of people who are just “helping out” and have no clue what God wants for their church, other times a church board is filled with the most gifted people.
  • Finance Committee – a good finance committee works out how to achieve the vision that God has ordained, yet in some churches the Finance committee determines what vision the church can afford.  If God ordains the vision then God will provide, don’t settle only for what you can afford.
  • The Ministry – we often are look for the new vision for our ministry as though it is separate from the vision that God has for our Church.  Don’t let your ministry be heading in a different direction from the rest of your Church.

So how do you know which vision to follow?  We know from scripture that people without a vision will perish so which one do we pick?  It is important to reflect on these key things:

  1. Branding is not vision – sometimes we rush into a vision statement because we need to brand our ministry.  A good vision can take at least six months to discern, most likely it will take around 12 months.  A vision is going to set you heading in a particular direction for the next ten years where as your branding will only last 2-3 years at best.  If you like a particular style of marketing or branding then run with it but don’t confuse branding for vision.
  2. You are not your ministry – it is important for you to separate your own personal vision from that of your ministry.  God wants you to do something with your life that may be different to what God wants from the ministry you serve in.  In reality the ministry should keep going long after you have left the position but God still wants you to build the Kingdom even though you move onto the next position.  Don’t confuse what you want to do with your life with where God is calling the ministry to go.
  3. Ministry has its season – perhaps you don’t know where your ministry is going for the next ten years but you can discern where you are heading for the next season.  In youth ministry it is sometimes difficult to have a vision beyond five years.  In University ministry students move on every 3 years so a vision must accommodate each season being quite short.  If you are called to lead for a season then pursue the vision as best you can and leave God to work out the next season.
  4. Ideas come with a strong vision – when you have a strong vision of where you are heading over the next 10 years then usually you are full of ideas.  People who run out of ideas are either run out of vision or are heading in the wrong direction.  One church used the phrase  “no rowing ministry” to describe when the wind has changed direction but we row the boat where we want to go.  If your vision is God ordained then the ideas will come.

A practical example

There was a Church that started a youth ministry by asking the young people what they wanted.  The answers that the young people gave were passionate and exciting but they were all ideas of things they could do rather than a vision of where they were heading.  The leaders called me after six months to say they had run out of ideas.  When I asked them about their vision they clearly didn’t have one; they only had a list of ideas for fun youth nights.

After focusing them on discerning a vision and asking them to think about where they were heading they came up with a list of what they wanted young people in their ministry to be like.  In the end they clarified a vision around helping young people to know Christ.  Over a year later they were still going strong and they were developing more leaders and they were full of ideas.  Where there was no leadership towards a vision the group almost collapsed but when the leaders had a strong vision of where they were heading then the group thrived.

So where are you heading?

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith

Young People are the future of the Church

For over 20 years, Youth Minister have been arguing that the youth are not the future of the Church, they are the Church of today. Frankly, it hasn’t worked, young people are still leaving the Church, youth ministry budgets are still low and staff levels have either declined or stayed the same. The “Church of today” mantra hasn’t worked. What if we return to the motto of “young people are the future of the Church” would it work any better?

Here are a few questions we might ask our Parish Council, Vestry or Elders board if young people are the future of the Church:

  1. Senior Minister:  if you had to recruit your next Senior Pastor, Minister or Parish Priest from within your own people, are you developing future leaders?  Do you have enough good Christian young people entering theological education so that your next Senior Pastor is a great God honouring leader?  Who is your Senior Minister personally mentoring to take over their job in the future?
  2. Youth Pastor: if you had to recruit your next Youth Pastor from within your own people are you developing young people who have had a positive experience of youth ministry?  Do you mentor young adults so that they feel supported enough to take on a leadership role in future years as the Youth Ministry Coordinator?  If young people drop out of Church between the ages of 10-14, perhaps the 14 year old who just gave up on your church was your future Youth Pastor walking out your back door.
  3. Parish Council: if you had to recruit your next Elders board, Vestry or Parish Council member from within your own people would it be possible?  Are there young adults coming through your church who honour God with their lives and in the future could stand for leadership in your parish?  If you are not forming young people in your church today then the future of your Parish or Church leadership team is not looking good.  Perhaps the young people sitting in your church today who are bored and making paper aeroplanes out of the bulletin are thinking the last thing they want to do with their life is serve the Church.
  4. Financial Partners: nobody likes to mention the fact that the Church has always needed, and will always need, people who earn income in the world and donate it to the Church.  Are you investing in young people teaching them to go into the business world and be the best they can?  Because one day those young people will earn a pay cheque and make a decision on how much they give to the Church.  If they skip youth ministry and stop coming to Church, pretty soon your church will have fewer and fewer financial partners.  Perhaps the 14 year old who walked out your back door never to return was going to become the key financial partner in the future of your parish.

If we truly believe that the young people are the future of our Church wouldn’t we do things differently?  If your church had to recruit all its future leaders and financial partners from within your church wouldn’t you take the young people more seriously?  It is my opinion that many churches don’t think the young people are the future or the present of the Church, they are someone elses problem. Many churches are doing nothing hoping that someone else is forming great leaders they can steal/employ years down the track.

Absolutely we should see young people as the Church of today, but if we are serious about them being the future of our Church then let us invest far more into youth ministry than we currently are too.  Please a comment or share your thoughts below.

markoffaith mark of faith Mark of Faith

Sometimes in ministry we need to “Pay it back”

Have you ever heard the term “pay it forward“? It is a term that often gets used in ministry circles to encourage us to sow the blessings we have received from mentors into the next generation.  We receive so much from the mentors who formed us and we pay it forward to those that we mentor.  But do we ever pay back those who have mentored us with a thank you?  Ministry can be such a thankless task that occasionally we need to thank those who mentored us along the way.

Recently I was working with a great young leader, asking him about his journey of faith.  He had a great outlook on ministry so I asked him about his role models and he was able to list four or five men who had mentored him.  These were youth group leaders or young pastors in his Church.  It happens that I know some of these men and I bet they would love to know the fruit of some their work.  More importantly that experience made me reflect on the people who I needed to thank for sowing into me.

St Paul talks about watering seeds that other have planted and to recognise that God does all the work.  Sometimes in ministry we seemed to be doing a lot of sowing and watering without much growth.  In many cases we never see the fruit of our labour because God plants the person in another ministry or another church.  We can go for years without knowing what we have achieved.  If you find yourself in this situation here is three things to do:

  1. Create a culture of Gratitude:  instead of waiting for someone to thank you for your ministry, start thanking those who serve  with you in ministry.  Thank the volunteers who serve every week, thank those who pray for the ministry and thank those who financially support your ministry.  Don’t forget to thank the people above you, your Senior Minister, Parish Priest, Vestry, Elders board or Parish Council.
  2. Thank your Mentors: think of all the people who have mentored you and sown into your development. Write them a little thank you note, message them on Facebook or email them.  Whilst it is nice to send them a card, just thank them any way you can.  Often we still look up to our mentors and forget that they are real people who get disheartened just like we do.  If you appreciate your mentors by thanking them it will help them stay strong in their ministry too.
  3. Love your Family:  often our family are the forgotten heroes of our ministry.  Perhaps your parents took you to church as a child, supported your faith or paid for you to go on camp.  Maybe your relatives encouraged your development as a teenager.  Maybe your wife, husband and kids have allowed you to go to one more ministry event.  Love your family first and thank them for the support they give you.

We should take the blessings sown into us and pass it forward to the next generation.  But don’t forget to pay back the mentoring, love and attention that you received from others.  Learn to pay it forward and pay it back.

markoffaith mark of faith, Mark of Faith

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.

Are Ken Moser and Tim Hawkins similar or opposite?

Recently I attended a training day with Tim Hawkins where he encouraged youth ministry leaders to preach the Gospel, break open the Word with young people and see discipleship as the key.  Then I attended a lecture with Ken Moser where he suggested that we should do Christian things in youth ministry such as preach the Gospel and break open the Word.  Whilst I thought they were similar in their core message it surprised me that at least one training college sees the two as polar opposite models of youth ministry.

From my experience of youth ministry these two “experts” are in the same ball park, they are both focused on preaching the Gospel.  Sure they have had to differentiate their model, either because context or to sell books, but they are very similar.  When you contrast them to a Taize style youth ministry or social justice youth ministry, Ken and Tim are no different.  It is like Ken and Tim are different Rugby League teams with different styles of play but compared to Motor Racing they are the same.

In my opinion Ken and Tim support a “Jesus preaching, bible believing” style of youth ministry that puts them in the same group.  Your style of preaching doesn’t make you polar opposites.  Whether you allow fun at your youth group or you are more serious doesn’t make you polar opposites.  At this point I want to recognise that the two models are not identical, there are differences.  I just don’t think they are opposite models for youth ministry.

Why is this important to write about?  Rather than becoming a fan of the Tim Hawkins model or a fan of the Ken Moser model we should become fans of Jesus.  I know that sounds obvious but when we spent our time comparing and contrasting two models of “Jesus preaching, Bible believing” youth ministry we are no better than the people who spend all their time arguing of the virtues of the football team they support.

So having met Tim and Ken personally I like a bit of both of their youth ministry styles.  I like that they point young people to Jesus and encourage leaders to break open the Word of God.  I will continue to learn from both men as I grow youth ministry in my context, I hope you can too.  Learn from both styles of youth ministry rather than picking one over the other.

Don’t get trapped within a Youth Ministry Cohort

Have you ever had a bumper group come through your youth ministry?  I mean a group that is firing on all cylinders.  This group volunteers for everything, invite their friends, engage in worship, pray regularly, take an active interest in the youth ministry and everything is going very well.  These can be the golden years or dream years for the youth ministry.  You seem to connect with this group, you make friends more easily and they really seem to understand you.  In simple terms a cohort is a group like this that moves through your ministry in a group, they join and leave together.

Leading this cohort in youth ministry is what we dream of, it makes it worthwhile.  But the trap is that this group grows up and moves out of your ministry into the next group, which you don’t lead.  Perhaps you have never seen this happen, maybe you have.  In the youth group that I attended, the dream cohort were finishing up just as I joined.  It seemed that just after I joined everyone got too old for the group and left, leaving all of us a little deflated.  In fact these dream cohorts can create such a bubble in a group that when it bursts, they all leave, the group can’t go on.

Recently I put this question to Tim Hawkins from St Paul’s at Castle Hill.  Whilst Tim has been in Youth Ministry for a long time, he has led cohorts through St Paul’s for 18 years, so I thought he would have experience in this area.  Well Tim’s advice was really really simple.  He said:

“You gotta keep thinking of who is coming next”

Sounds so simple that everyone would do it.  But here are several practical tips that Tim mentioned:

  • People in Children’s ministry should keep an eye on birth announcements, these are the couples who will be bringing their kids to children’s ministry in a year or two.
  • People in Junior high ministry should be looking at the years 4,5,6 who are getting bored in the children’s ministry and are ready to move on.
  • People in Senior high ministry should be looking for the next Senior who can learn to lead at their youth ministry nights and be trained to run small groups.

Whilst we are all tempted to look for a complex plan, it seems from Tim Hawkins that it is as simple and as complex as keeping ahead of the game.  It might be hard and repetitive work but the alternative is having to rebuild your ministry from scratch every time a dream cohort leaves.  So who is coming next in your ministry?  Do you need to start recruiting for the ministry below you in the age cycle so you have a pipeline coming into your ministry?

What are your youth ministry tips for avoiding “Cohortism”?