It was a real privilege to interview Virginia Ward on the YS Idea Lab stage at NYWC Louisville. Virginia has a long history in youth ministry and she shared some key ideas for youth workers thinking about refreshing their youth ministry.

There is a ton of wisdom in this YS Idea Lab, but if you don’t have time to watch the entire thing, here’s one big idea that Virginia unpacked for us:

Refreshing a youth ministry is a 3 step process.

  1. Review
    Virginia outlined some really great ways that she invited her young people to be a part of reviewing the current state of their ministry. She surveyed students who had graduated, asking how youth group had helped them and blessed them. She also constructed focus groups with her current students and gave them permission to be honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those two groups gave her a ton of insight into the young people’s perspective about the ministry that she wouldn’t have known otherwise.
  2. Realign
    Once you’ve done a thorough review of the ministry, you’ll start to see elements or programs that have gotten off track and that need to be realigned with the original mission of the ministry. You’ll also find out what is right on track and it’s a great opportunity to celebrate those things with your leaders and students.
  3. Refresh
    This is where the action items come in. Virginia pointed out that it’s incredible important involved students in these action items. This helps you create a ministry with them and not just for them. In her own church, Virginia started a Peer Leadership Training program that equipped students that have been showing leadership qualities to take ownership of some of these changes. Some of the changes were more on the surface like painting or redecorating, while others involved an entire shift in programming. Having the Peer Leadership Training team involved in the process helped to make sure that the students were all on the same page with the changes.

The YS Idea Labs are filmed on location at the National Youth Workers Convention. Check out more YS Idea Labs HERE and register early for NYWC to save BIG: nywc.com.

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JACOB ECKEBERGER is the Content and Community Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him blogging about social media and digital strategy ideas at JACOBECKEBERGER.COM.

This is a piece written by Mike Yaconelli that we pulled out of the YS Vault because it is a perfect challenge for the upcoming year. We hope it helps you dream of all that God might do through you and your ministry in 2016. ysblog spacer

The tragedy of modern faith is that we no longer are capable of being terrified. We aren’t afraid of God, we aren’t afraid of Jesus, we aren’t afraid of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we have ended up with a need-centered gospel that attracts thousands…but transforms no one.

What happened to the bone-chilling, earth-shattering, gut-wrenching, knee-knocking, heart-stopping, life-changing fear that left us speechless, paralyzed, and helpless? What happened to those moments when you and I would open our Bibles and our hands started shaking because we were afraid of the Truth we might find there? Barclay tells us that the word used in the Bible for “Truth” has three meanings—a word used to describe a wrestler grabbing an opponent by the throat; a word meaning to flay an animal; and a word used to describe the humiliation of a criminal who was paraded in front of a crowd with a dagger tied to his neck, its point under his chin so he could not put his head down. That is what the Truth is really like! It grabs us by the throat, it flays us wide open, it forces us to look into the face of God. When is the last time you and I heard God’s Truth and were grabbed by the throat?

Unfortunately, those of us who have been entrusted with the terrifying, frightening, Good News have become obsessed with making Christianity safe. We have defanged the tiger of Truth. We have tamed the Lion, and now Christianity is so sensible, so accepted, so palatable.

Who is afraid of God anymore?

We are afraid of unemployment, we are afraid of our cities, we are afraid of the collapse of our government, we are afraid of not being fulfilled, we are afraid of AIDS, but we are not afraid of God.

I would like to suggest that the Church become a place of terror again; a place where God continually has to tell us, “Fear not”; a place where our relationship with God is not a simple belief or doctrine or theology, it is God’s burning presence in our lives. I am suggesting that the tame God of relevance be replaced by the God whose very presence shatters our egos into dust, burns our sin into ashes, and strips us naked to reveal the real person within. The Church needs to become a gloriously dangerous place where nothing is safe in God’s presence except us. Nothing—including our plans, our agendas, our priorities, our politics, our money, our security, our comfort, our possessions, our needs.

The two men on the road to Emmaus knew they had been with Jesus because their “hearts burned from within.” The impotence of today’s Church, the weakness of Christ’s followers, and the irrelevance of most parachurch organizations is directly related to the lack of being in the presence of an awesome, holy God, who continually demands allegiance only to Him—not to our churches, our organizations, or our theology.

We believe in a God who wants all of us—every bit of us—and He wants us all the time. He wants our worship and our love, but most of all He wants us to trust Him. We have to be more in awe of God than we are of our government, more in awe of God than we are of our problems, more in awe of God than we are of our beliefs about abortion, more in awe of God than we are of our doctrines and agendas. Our God is perfectly capable of calming the storm or putting us into the middle of one. Either way, if it’s God, we will be speechless and trembling.

Our world is tired of people whose God is tame. It is longing to see people whose God is big and holy and frightening and gentle and tender…and ours; a God whose love frightens us into His strong and powerful arms where He longs to whisper those terrifying words, “I love you.”


Back in pre-Internet day, newsletters—in the traditional sense—were one page or multiple pages filled with stuff you needed to know. In the digital or social age, newsletters can now be shorter. A newsletter can be a post or a series of tweets, pictures, or videos. Let me be perfectly honest: when I would create my epic, colorful, and artistic paper newsletters, parents didn’t read at least 20% of them. Parents reading a newsletter are like people who used to read a thing called a newspaper: some turn to the comics, some to sports, and some to obituaries. Something is bound to be overlooked or missed. That’s why I have created shorter but more frequent portions of content to send to parents

I had an email strategy, which was once a week. I sent semi-long emails with multiple links, announcements, etc. Today, I communicate with parents in a Facebook group. Whether you use social media, texting, or email, you still have to decide what goes into that “newsletter.” Using Facebook allows me to post one thing every day or a few things every day, depending on what’s going on in the ministry or life of the church.

I quit using email, because an email list is something you have to manage, parents change their email addresses, their work will not allow group emails to go through, etc. And tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a parent says, “Oh, I didn’t get that.” Social media means the content is there, it stays there unless I delete it, and it is seen by everyone at the same time.

Many newsletters have the throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach with very little intentionality. We can do better. If we think in terms of months and quarters and the needs of our parents, we can create a schedule of content we want to send to parents that parents would want to read. Posting a singular piece of content (an event, etc.) means there is no confusion about what you’re trying to say or how you want parents to respond.

Here are ten things you can use to create a content schedule for your parents:


This is the biggie, right? Parents want to know who, what, where, what time, and how much. These are necessary to be given in advance; otherwise parents get cranky, confused, and frustrated. Post one event with all the pertinent info a week to two weeks before the event and then the day before and the day of. Retreats or anything that require deposits should be announced months ahead of time with an occasional reminder.


I love posting articles. I can look back and see what I’ve posted and what was/is trending, and the articles remain there if parents want to go back and read them. Posting on current events or trends keeps parents in the know, and you look like a genius.


Sometimes I post a quote about parenting teenagers, about teenagers, or quotes from teens in the news. This is to provoke or evoke feedback. Parents can like it, comment on it, share it, etc.


Another thing my Facebook group has is polls. This gives me a way to ask questions and get feedback in real time. I may want to ask if they agree or disagree about something or which color T-shirt they like best.

Vision Casting

There are days I write about where I think God is taking us as a youth ministry. I share my heart and my dreams for their kids and ask for their prayers and their involvement. Example: Months before I advertise about the missions trip, I may post some quotes, verses, articles, or short devotions about missions to whet the appetite of those who have never been on a missions trip.

Prayer Requests

Simple: How can I pray for you and your family today?


Sometimes I post fun stuff like this music video by Bekah Shae. It’s meant to get parents up and moving and having a little fun, or maybe you want to post penguins escaping from a zoo and tag it #teenstryingtoescapehomework or something funnier than that (which shouldn’t be hard).

Picture and Videos

I always post pics or video after an event. Parents get to see their kids doing something silly or something profound. It shows that we had a good time and that there was a lot of energy.


Parents—like all believers—need encouragement. Why not plan a series of posts that have Scriptures about parenting, communication, listening, discipline, and other necessary parental skills.

Files and Forms

One more great thing about Facebook is that I can store files there and they are accessible at any time. If I’m not at my computer to shoot an email to a parent who deleted the other email I sent, before I download the form, I can redirect them back to the FB group.

Your Turn

How are you currently communicating with your parents? How is the response?

Do you have a content schedule, or do you just fly by the seat of your pants?

List three things your parents need or things you want them to know about. Using the ten items above, create a schedule of when you will send it or post it to your parents.

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paul turner_squarePAUL TURNER is a long-time youth worker, speaker, and blogger of all things youth ministry. He’s the youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Assembly in Birmingham, AL and writes regularly at THEDISCIPLEPROJECT.NET.

We are excited to be partnering with Dare 2 Share on a special opportunity for those impacted by the shutdown of Acquire the Fire. Learn more by reading the full press release below.

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Youth Specialties and Dare 2 Share Partner to Award Scholarships to Those Impacted by the Shutdown of Acquire the Fire 

(Minneapolis, Minn. & Arvada, Colo.) Dec. 22, 2015—Youth Specialties and Dare 2 Share announce that they are partnering to offer scholarships to individuals affected by the cancellation of Acquire the Fire’s Resilient events. Students, churches, and leaders who purchased tickets for one of Acquire the Fire’s Resilient events occurring Fall 2015 – Spring 2016 can apply for a scholarship to one of Youth Specialties’ PlanetWisdom events or one of Dare 2 Share’s Live It Up! events in 2016. Both events have multiple locations occurring across the US between January and May 2016.

“We know how impactful discipleship events are for young people, so we want to do what we can to help those affected by the unexpected cancellation of Acquire the Fire,” said Mark Matlock, Executive Director of Youth Specialties. “While we may not know the circumstances that led to the shutdown, we do know that we have the resources to help teenagers grow deeper in their relationship with God. We don’t want students to miss that opportunity.”

“We are excited to have Youth Specialties join with us on this initiative, “ said Greg Stier, Founder & CEO of Dare 2 Share. “Our desire is to see teens strengthened in their faith and trained to be able to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with their friends. This partnership is one way both organizations can come alongside youth leaders who are seeking to create transformational youth ministries, and offer them help in a difficult situation.”

pw application

Individuals interested in applying must show proof of purchase to one of Acquire the Fire’s Resilient events that was scheduled to occur in the Fall of 2015 – Spring 2016, and choose which Live It Up! or PlanetWisdom event they’d like to attend. While not everyone who applies will get a scholarship, PlanetWisdom and Dare 2 Share are committed to fulfilling as many requests as possible.

More about PlanetWisdom and how to apply for a scholarship

PlanetWisdom is a two-day regional event that is designed to empower middle and high school students to become thinking, growing and authentic followers of Jesus Christ. Students will have the opportunity to dig deeper into the Bible as well as reflect and engage both as a group and independently. It’s a soul-shaping experience that includes relevant biblical teaching, worship, laughter and fun. To learn more about PlanetWisdom and 2016 dates and locations, visit PlanetWisdom.com or call 888.346.4179. To sign up for a scholarship to PlanetWisdom, click HERE. 

More about Dare 2 Share’s student training conferences and how to apply for a scholarship

The D2S student training conference events are captivating experiences where real spiritual transformation takes place and ministry acceleration can occur within youth groups. These two-day weekend events help teenage students meet God’s grace and become passionate about reaching their friends with the gospel message. High-energy training, powerful worship, skits and drama, drive Biblical truths home, and outreach opportunities allow students to put into practice what they’ve learned. Teens come away energized as they witness the power of the gospel and ready to take the good news to their schools. To learn more about this year’s conference tour, Live It Up!, and 2016 dates and locations, visit dare2share.org/live-it-up or call 800.462.8355. To sign up for a scholarship to one of Dare 2 Share’s events, visit dare2share.org/atf.

About Youth Specialties

Youth Specialties is a ministry that equips youth workers and youth with relevant tools and training so today’s teens can follow Jesus. Youth Specialties’ events, services and resources provide opportunities for youth workers and youth to learn and connect with God and one another. Youth Specialties is headquartered in Minneapolis, and has over 40 years of experience in youth ministry. Each year, Youth Specialties serves tens of thousands of youth workers all over the world. 

About Dare 2 Share

At Dare 2 Share, we believe that the gospel changes everything. We train and equip youth leaders and their students to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to build gospel advancing ministries. Through training events, webinars, products and resources, we assist youth groups that want to see real Kingdom impact within their church and in their community. Dare 2 Share Ministries is headquartered in Colorado and has equipped over a million teenagers and adults to share their faith in the last 25 years.  

Youth Specialties Contact:
Tara Schlosser
Ph: 612.703.5789

Dare 2 Share Contact:
Phil Hildebrand
Ph: 303-319-6681

All of us at YS want to thank you for the incredible work you do. It means the world to serve alongside you as you help teens find and follow Jesus. So, no matter where you are, may the peace of Christ be with you and your family as you celebrate the birth of our Savior this season. Merry Christmas!


Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. 

—Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

Ben had it mostly right. He forgot “poor communication.”

As I begin the process of working with a church in their quest for a new student pastor, I begin with a site visit. I spend 24 to 36 hours on the ground, taking in the landscape, snapping some pictures, and listening to lots of people.

When I’m asked some variant of the question Whats one thing that can improve in the youth ministry? it’s guaranteed that someone (and typically many someones) will exclaim, Better communication!

Churches—and youth pastors in particular—have a bad rap when it comes to communication. One unique observation is that typically the longer the tenure of the youth director, the worse the reputation for communication— people just learned to deal with it.

Rather than a rant against the student pastor (or his/her administrative teammates), here are my quick suggestions to improve communication:

  1. Anchor everything in the Web!
    Make sure your church and/or youth website is the foundation. When in doubt, people know they can go to the web to find the most up-to-date information. The key: you have to commit to making sure this is the first place that you (the youth leader) put the information.
  2. Twice-a-Year “Year-at-a-Glance Gatherings.”
    As the school year kicks off, and as the new year kicks off, host an hour-long parent and student gathering where you speak about the curriculum, events, and direction. Always give a print piece that highlights everything on the calendar for a year from that date.
  3. Have at Least Seven Consistent Ways to Communicate.
    Yes, this may seem like a lot, but if you set aside 30 minutes of your week for this, you can get it all done at once. But because people all have preferred ways to receive information, you taking the time to offer it in a variety of ways will ensure that they have every opportunity to get it. Here are the options:
  • Email—Still great for many parents.
  • Social Media—Schedule your tweets/status updates for the week.
  • Announcements—Big church and youth group verbal announcements.
  • Texts and Group Texts—Both to parents and students.
  • Slides—Background slides on screens before/after services.
  • Bulletin—New people in your church still read these.
  • Flyers—Take-home print piece that goes on the fridge.
  • Trickle Down—Share with small group leaders who share with their groups.
  • Newsletter—PDF or print (or both).
  • Phone Calls— Sometimes it pays to pick up the phone.

In all the various forms of communication, I would emphasize that “all this information can be found at our website.” That way you create the habit for people to check the web first!

What are your suggestions for better communication?


ysblog spacerBRIAN AABY is the director of YS SEARCH & COACHING, assisting churches with personnel placement and provides coaching guidance for youth leaders. Brian served for 17 years as a youth pastor and then founded and led Youthmark since 2008. Brian speaks nationally at churches, camps, conference, and events. He and his wife, Elisabeth, have three children and reside near Seattle.

Every week we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week’s trending links include Cameron Diaz challenging the value of fame, advice for your family Christmas gatherings, dealing with angry parent emails, and plenty of fuel for procrastination.


A look back at a great post for the Advent season from Mike Yaconelli: “The Expertise of the Inept” — CLICK TO VIEW

We shared a collection of last minute Christmas lessons you can use right away: “Last Minute Christmas Lessons” — CLICK TO VIEW

Check out this Christmas wish list good for any youth worker: “10 Books to Get Yourself for Christmas” — CLICK TO VIEW


Cameron Diaz talks about fame in this video and sets us up to have some great conversations with students — CLICK TO VIEW

Walt Mueller wrote a great post for your upcoming family gatherings: “Christmas Communication: Insights as Your Family Gathers” — CLICK TO VIEW

DYM released another great podcast: “Your Angry Parent Emails” — CLICK TO VIEW

Art Bamford continues a series on digital media with Fuller Youth Institute: “Should I Buy My Teen an Apple Watch for Christmas?” — CLICK TO VIEW

Trevor Hamaker discussed how we might be sabotaging our ministries: “Is Your Mindset Killing Your Ministry?” — CLICK TO VIEW


How many hamsters can you fit in a toilet paper roll? — CLICK TO VIEW

Lebron James surprises a Special Olympics Olympian — CLICK TO VIEW

Christmas dishes from around the world — CLICK TO VIEW

Star Wars in 99 seconds — CLICK TO VIEW

Testing the Facekini — CLICK TO VIEW

We’ve pulled 3 Bible Study lessons from Steve Case out of the YS Vault as a gift for any youth workers scrambling to find a last minute small group lesson this week. Each of these Bible Study lessons are based off of a different Christmas classic that you can watch as a part of the small group time. Along with the quick synopsis of each movie, you’ll find a series of discussion questions, group activities, possible scriptures that you could tie into the discussion, snack ideas, and even some trivia related to each movie.

Download each Bible Study lesson by clicking on the links below:

A Charlie Brown Christmas – CLICK TO DOWNLOAD

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – CLICK TO DOWNLOAD

Frosty the Snowman – CLICK TO DOWNLOAD

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JACOB ECKEBERGER is the Content and Community Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him blogging about social media and digital strategy ideas at JACOBECKEBERGER.COM.

This is a piece written by Mike Yaconelli that we pulled out of the YS Vault because it’s such a great fit for the Advent season. We hope it brings you hope and encouragement this week!ysblog spacer

Everywhere we look, there are experts: Experts on the family, experts on childrearing, sex-education experts, money experts, church growth experts, mega-church experts, Bible experts, financial-planning experts, experts on the last time, theology experts, marriage experts, divorce experts, legal experts, moral experts, adolescent experts, parenting experts, medical experts, experts on dying, experts on youth ministry, experts on counseling, and experts on experts.

It’s no wonder that most of us feel completely inadequate to do anything other than cook breakfast, and even then we wonder if we shouldn’t check our menu with a dietician, a nutritionist, a vitamatician, and a chef.

Then we go to church, and we leave completely demoralized by the expert insights into the nuances of the original Greek and Hebrew, which are obviously out of our intellectual reach as laypersons; the clear and obvious principles of godly living that everyone should know, but of course, we don’t know; the unending litany of success stories that make anything that has happened to us pale in comparison. The worship band is so polished, the choir is so professional, the drama is so theatrical, and the multimedia presentation so state-of-the-art that we leave reaffirmed in our own incompetence. It is no wonder that you and I, the ordinary people of God, go to bed each night with a dull uneasiness, a gnawing ineptitude that is present when we drift off to sleep and there to greet us when we awaken in the morning.

We constantly hear complaints about the lethargy of the Church, the apathy of the congregation, the inactivity of the majority. Could it be that the collective passiveness of the church is the direct consequence of the expertise of the leadership? Could it be that the unwillingness to perform by the many is a natural response to the flawless performance of the few? Could it be that the authority of the expert has robbed the non-expert of any authority at all? Could it be that the unending parade of “heroes” has made it impossible to find the real heroes hiding in the ordinary and commonplace?

It is time for us to reclaim the glory of the common, the power of the plain, the authority of the unpretentious. It is time for us to reclaim the radical consequence of the Gospel—which is that the weak, the broken, the fragmented, the suffering, and the non-experts are the authorities of the Church. The miracle of the Gospel is that “the lost” are the ones who show “the found” their lostness; it is they who minister to the ministers. It is the blind who expose our blindness, the lost who expose our lostness, the crippled who expose our handicaps, the weak who expose our weaknesses.

There is an authority that each of us possesses that goes beyond words. It is the authority of our own conversion, the authority of our personal walk with Jesus, the authority of our past, the authority of our suffering, the authority of our failures, the authority of the nicks and bruises life has given us.

Every minute we live with Jesus, every week we follow the Master, every year we mark in the company of the Savior gives us a wisdom about life that transcends the expertise of the expert. Experience is more than a great teacher, it is a great resume that qualifies all of us to make judgments, decisions, and choices that we can trust and that others can trust. Even our failures can occur with passion and confidence because we know they are the fruit of our previous self, the evidence of our unknowing, the mistakes we need to make in order to know we’ve made a mistake, the necessary preface to new insights and awarenesses.

Jesus Christ has called us the Church. Our life in Christ is a light, a grain of salt, a place where the integrity of the Gospel is visible and knowable and touchable. People really do see Jesus in us, and Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said to His disciples, “Whoever receives you, receives me.” Wow! Talk about authority! Talk about being an expert! We each become our own little experts on the Christian life; we each develop our own unique expertise on a relationship with Jesus; we each become a consultant on intimacy with Jesus.

Our churches are full of those who have been battered and beaten-down, trampled and broken by people like me, the so-called “experts” of communicating the faith. How many of us out there are buoyed, at first, by those of us who can turn a phrase, manipulate words, weave a story, only to be let down, the moment we get home, by the realities of a life that doesn’t sound pretty or work perfectly? It should be buoyed by the everyday insights we are learning in the trenches of our own faith. We should trust the sacred intuition we have developed over the years of our walk with Jesus.

The power of the Church is not in its super-preachers, or its mega-structures, or its large institutions. The power of the Church is in its individual people whose sacrifices throughout everyday life have an authority no expert can match.

Every week we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week’s trending links include some wisdom about body image over the holidays, 3 tools to shape the future, helping teens with social media without going crazy, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination.


HEATHER LEA CAMPBELL wrote a great post on “Equipping Young Adult Leaders” — CLICK TO VIEW

Andy Blanks gives a great outline to use for upcoming small groups: “10 Christmas Story Takeaways Your Students Should Know” — CLICK TO VIEW


Leneita Fix shared some wisdom in “Christmas, Girls, & Body Image” — CLICK TO VIEW

Tim Gough walked us through some great ways to evaluate ministry: “3 Tools to Shape the Future” — CLICK TO VIEW

Brad Griffin wrote a great post to share with parents: “How Do I Help My 13-Year-Old with Social Media—Without Losing My Mind” — CLICK TO VIEW

Krista Steffen gave us a glimpse at how YouthWorks utilizes family mission trips: “Creating Space For Families” — CLICK TO VIEW

Darrel Girardier has a great conversation on his Ask Darrel podcast: “Are Facebook Ads a Good Idea for Churches?” — CLICK TO VIEW


Go To College with First Lady Michelle Obama — CLICK TO VIEW

“Downton Abbey” with American accents — CLICK TO VIEW

This Bald Eagle isn’t a fan of Donald Trump — CLICK TO VIEW

Alton Brown reviews Amazon’s dumbest kitchen gadgets — CLICK TO VIEW

BMX star Danny MacAskill rides across the rooftops of Gran Canaria with a GoPro — CLICK TO VIEW