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Every Youth Worker Needs: to be able to write postcards

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

Most students seem to have one preferred method of communication – text messaging. Many students (as well as adults) use their cell phones to send more text messages then to make phone calls. I know several students who spend 100% of their time on their cell phone just sending text messages. The youth culture is becoming (some areas have already become) focused on instant communication sent using technology. This attachment to technology is exactly the reason why every youth worker needs to be able to write a postcard.

The goal is to regularly connect with students and parents through a postcard. Remember that what you write on one side can (and will) be read by many more people than just the intended audience.

Benefits of writing postcards
1. Shorter length.
A postcard only has a little room for the message, so you do not feel pressure to write more than a paragraph. This allows you to focus on one key point. There will be times that you struggle to even write a postcard, imagine how you would feel if you needed to fill an entire page. You can keep your message short and not feel the need to stretch it out just to fill a certain space.

2. Shows importance.
A written postcard shows the recipient that they are important enough for you to take the extra time to hand write the note and not just send an email. People are accustomed to receiving emails, text messages, and phone calls. Taking the time to do a little extra will reinforce that the person has value as an individual. Writing a postcard is a great way to rise above the normal.

3. Big impact.
Writing a postcard does not take a lot of time; therefore, you get a lot of impact for a small amount of work. You can write three or four postcards in 15 minutes, but the impact will last for years. Remember that emails are quickly deleted or left to collect digital dust, but a hand-written postcard will be kept by most students. And when they find your postcard while cleaning up their room, they will remember more than just the words written – they will remember your impact.

Tips on writing postcards
1. Use printed address labels.
I have found that using printed address labels for most postcards does not take away from the personal touch. (Plus if you are the lead youth worker – making these labels available to your team makes it even easier for them to write postcards.) You can print both the recipient’s label and the return address label or you can just print the return address label. Using labels saves a few minutes and helps you keep track of who you have and haven’t sent postcards to lately.

2. Use 4×6 pictures as the postcard.
People love to see pictures of themselves. Why not, turn a picture into a postcard? This works great when you are writing about a specific event. Not only are you able to speak into the person’s life, but you are also giving them a very tangible memento. Before digital cameras became so popular, it was fairly easy to just use one of your extra printed pictures. Today, you have to go and purposely have the picture printed. This might seem like extra work, but I think it allows you the ability to choose a great picture (and the ability to edit it when needed).

3. Find funny or unique postcards.
Using pictures of the students is great, but sending funny postcards can be just as good. When you are traveling, keep an eye out for unusual postcards. Find postcards with funny pictures that remind you of a student or two. You can find some great postcards at very touristy stores. My favorite postcard was bought from a Hallmark that was going out of business. It said “welcome” on the front and looked like a miniature version of a welcome mat, complete with artificial green grass. I used it to send to visiting students as a follow-up to their visiting our group.

4. Block out time to write.
Schedule time each week to write a few postcards to different students. I have found that if I do not plan on writing notes to students, it will get pushed off. The more I push this task to the bottom of my “to-do” list, the more unlikely I am to do it at all. The easiest way to block out time to write postcards is to find fifteen minutes in your schedule each week. It might be right before your weekly staff meeting, first thing Monday morning, or after you get back from lunch. It does not matter when you schedule postcard time, but you do need to make time for it.

5. Track each sent postcard.
Keep track of who you send each postcard to. I use a printed sheet with each student’s name, but you can use excel or another youth tracking software, too. You can track on a monthly basis, but make sure you keep your old records. Use this information to make sure you write at least one postcard to every student on a regular basis. Along with postcards, make sure you are making other contacts with the students and their families.

6. Be specific.
Write an encouraging message or talk about something you saw them do. Do NOT use the postcard to simply promote an upcoming event. This shows that you are more concerned with their attendance than anything else. It is much more effective to keep the note simple and related to one specific event, action, or attitude.

Hand-written postcards are a great youth ministry tool. When was the last time you sent one?

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

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Every Youth Worker Needs: Less Sarcasm

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

If you would have known me in high school and college, you would have a hard time believing I wrote the title of this post. Allow me to explain to you, in one sentence, what I mean. I used to be extremely sarcastic. It was simply “who I was” and how I interacted with others. In fact, it was so extreme that I lost a college roommate because he thought I was too sarcastic. We had many (probably at least one a week) conversations over my use of sarcasm and his belief that I used it a little too much. I defended myself back then and despite trying to refrain around him, I did little to change my sarcastic attitude.

Then there came this point where I actually regretted who I had become. For many years, the one word that described me was “sarcastic” and sadly, this followed me into my first ministry. It was years into my ministry before I realized just how my sarcasm was negatively affecting the students and the ministry. As easy as it was for me to be sarcastic – it was pretty second nature for me – I knew I needed to put a stop to it. I don’t remember if I ever sat down with my youth ministry team, the students or the families and told them that I was going to be less sarcastic. I don’t think it was as important to tell people as it was to actually change my words and attitude. And as I changed into a less sarcastic person, I could see visible changes happening within the group.

As I changed, I saw a vanishing of the distance (caused by my sarcasm) between myself and some of the people I was trying to minister to. I wonder what “could have been” during the first two years had I learned sooner. From my experience, I have seen four negatives to using sarcasm in your youth ministry.

4 negatives to using sarcasm in youth ministry.

1. Students do not know when they can trust you.
Okay, so that might be a strong, and over-the-top statement that is not true all the time, but I think its still worth thinking about. When a student asks a question or makes a statement, are they worried about what you will say in return? The more you use sarcasm in your responses, the less students want to open their mouth and say anything. Students need to know they can trust your response to their thoughts and emotions (the stuff they say and do expresses these two) and that your response will be positive or at least neutral, not damaging.

2. Someone (usually a student) gets their feelings hurt.
Sarcasm is known for being “biting.” In my experience, any time it is used it results in hurt feelings. Its not the person using sarcasm that is hurt, nor those who hear it, but the person to whom it is directed toward. As a youth worker, more often than not, we tend to direct sarcasm at a student. And when this student laughs we think we have accomplished the exact opposite of hurt. In reality, we are only fooling ourselves. No student walks away from a sarcastic remark without feeling some level of pain, especially if they respect the person who said it.

3. It neither lifts up or encourages.
Youth ministry needs to be a safe place for students to be. When sarcasm is acceptable and prevalent within a youth ministry, it seizes to be a safe place. Throughout the Bible we are told to encourage each other and lift each other up. Sarcasm hinders us from showing the love of God to those who need it.

4. Simply put, it is cheap humor.
There is no way around this one. If you are looking for a cheap laugh, say something sarcastic. But is this what our youth ministries need? I don’t think so. If you want to be funny, put more effort into it. And remember, you do not need to get a laugh every time you talk to someone. Your ministry is about connecting students with a loving God – not making jokes or getting students to think you are funny.

There are still occasions where sarcasm flows from my lips, but it is much fewer and far between. Not to mention, it is very rarely around a student. Yet, the very fact that I still have moments of sarcastic behavior means I need to be intentional about taming my tongue (see James 3:1-12, especially v. 10). I encourage you to take sarcasm out of your talks, out of your conversations with students, and allow your words to be an encouragement to those students you are ministering to.

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)