Category Archives: small town youth ministry

Book Review: Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell

I have worked in 2 rural churches and anyone who has experienced this unique ministry setting will agree that there are challenges that come with a rural setting. In some ways, working in a rural church can be easier, but Shannon O’Dell would argue that is simply if you do not want to make changes. He begins the book by stating a few of the “unwritten” rules about church life in rural America – all of them focused on the negatives of rural churches and the positives of non-rural churches. O’Dell himself had felt these rules to be true, until he moved to a rural town and experienced uncommon church growth as a senior minister.

Because I am a youth minister at a church in rural America, I was looking forward to learning from the pages of O’Dell’s book. Unfortunately for me, this book turned out to be too long and not as practical as I had hoped. There were many pages that I felt were repetitive or unnecessary to sharing the strategies he used to change a rural congregation. Throughout the book, I felt O’Dell was stretching to make acronyms fit or adding pictures within the chapters that did not fit with the content of the chapter.

I was able to come away with a few things to think about, but I guess I was hoping for more. Though I do not believe in a “one size fits all” style of ministry, I read on the back cover that this was going to be a blueprint for transformation. Though you may not find a blueprint for your ministry, this book can still be helpful for those ministering in rural America thanks to nuggets of information throughout. Plus, just reading the story of Brand New Church can bring you encouragement and hope – your congregation does not have to stay stagnant.

*this book was reviewed as part of the BookSneeze book review program*


Journey of Starting a New Ministry – month 1 (1 of 2)

The first month of a new ministry is very important. It is important for both you and the congregation. During this first month, you will be developing habits and routines which you will continue to use for a long time. You are beginning to set the precedent for what people can expect from you. The congregation will use these first four weeks to watch how you interact and listen to how you present yourself. The are interested in what you will bring to the ministry. Most of these people, even some of those who met you prior to being hired, have not had much time to meet you and ask you questions.

No two ministers will have the same first month at a new ministry. You might preach every week or not at all. You might not even be on stage during this month. You might teach multiple classes or you might be able to sit in and observe. You might have a death in the congregation or maybe its a wedding. You might start in the middle of summer or the middle of winter. Despite the fact that every start to a ministry is so vastly different, I believe there are some things that every minister needs to accomplish during this time.

Tips for Month #1:
1. Learn names
This goes for those who are good at remembering names and those who forget ten seconds after you are told. Knowing the name of a student or adult makes it much easier to start conversations. Plus everyone likes to know that you care enough to learn their name.

2. Implement office hours & your day off
As you are starting your new ministry, you are forming new habits and routines. One of those routines needs to be setting up, and following through with, the hours you will spend in the office and what day you will be staying away from the office. There is plenty of “work” to be done at the beginning of a ministry and you will leave many days knowing there is much more you can do. Do not let the feeling that you need to prove yourself keep you from setting up limitations.

3. Plan informal gatherings with youth
You need to get to know the students, and that will not completely happen in the classroom setting. So plan some time to hang out with them away from church. You can plan a day in the park, go out to lunch, plan a game night or just plan a day to hang out at someone’s house. Do not use this time to give a devotional or plan upcoming events, just spend time talking and listening.

4. Get to know the adults (parents, youth coaches, elders…)
Aside from the students you will be ministering to, you need to learn more about the adults you will be working with. Meet for lunch or stop by their house (call beforehand). Ask a few questions about their family. Learn about their passions and what drives them. Share your heart for ministry. 

Budgeting & Saving Money – 2 YM Today articles

A lot of ministries are either in the process of putting together their budgets for next year or they are in the process of tweaking the budget that got turned down by the finance committee. If you find yourself in one of those two places, I hope you will be able to benefit from some information I wrote earlier this year.

The great folks at YMToday took my youth ministry budgeting series and turned the information into two separate articles. If you would like to read the original series, just click on the link and read each blog post in the series. Or you can read the articles, which are broken down into budgeting and saving money.

Saving the Ministry Money

Creating a Budget

After reading the articles, I would like to hear what you think. What have you done to budget for the upcoming year? Is it dramatically different this year due to the economy? How have you saved money?

Free ebook: Tear Down the Wall of the Youth Room

Nick Arnold, from, has just released an ebook on connecting with students outside of the “church walls.”

Here is what Nick has this to say about the ebook:

Looking for a resource filled with creative ideas to build relationships with students? This is a free resource from Ministry Allies full of relational ministry ideas, including hanging out with students, working on projects together, going to cheer on other students together, and a ton of other great ideas.

You can get the eb00k by clicking on the link. Did I mention it’s FREE and full of great ideas.

(I had the privilege of being able to contribute a few ideas and comments to the ebook, along with a handful of other youth ministry minded people)

Book Review: Help! I’m a Frustrated Youth Worker! by Steven L. Case

A little while ago I posted about my connection to this book, and I said I would probably buy a copy and read it. Well, I got a copy and have read it and now I am sharing my review.

You do not have to be in ministry long to experience your first feeling of frustration, and you are not alone in that frustration. In Help! I’m a Frustrated Youth Worker! Steve Case offers some very practical advice for frustrated youth workers. He draws from his many years in youth ministry to provide a field guide for the youth worker struggling to avoid burnout. Not only does Case provide tips and suggestions for common frustrations, he also offers some of his own person stories as well.

Reading Help! I’m a Frustrated Youth Worker! is like being on the other end of an email conversation with Case. The book offers help and hope to youth workers who are frustrated, and I believe this is accomplished through the conversational style of writing. While reading one paragraph you will be laughing and the next you will tear up thinking about how you have been hurt by others. You will be drawn into the conversation, which adds to the usefulness of this book.

Having gone through a few seasons of frustration in my ministry, I identified with much of the advice offered. In fact, I wish this book would have been available when I first started youth ministry. Having this book back then might have helped me avoid a few mishaps. Case does not offer any quick fixes for the frustrated youth worker and I appreciate that, because there are no quick answers on how to deal with your frustrations in ministry.

Help! I’m a Frustrated Youth Worker! is a must read for every rookie youth worker. But, all youth workers will benefit from having a copy on the bookshelf, as a reference guide. During those times of frustration, you will find helpful advice in its pages.

My advice (rating) – go out and buy it (4 out of 5)

Youth Ministry Budgeting: The Process (3 of 5)

(This is part 3 of a 5 part series on youth ministry budgeting. See part #1 – stewardship and part #2 – categories, part 1 & 2 for more information on budgeting.)

What process do you follow when putting together your youth ministry budget? If you do not take your budget seriously, then I bet you do not actually have a process you follow. What follows is a 9 step sample process for putting together a youth ministry budget.

1 – Pray for wisdom.
As you begin the budget process, you need to take time to pray for wisdom. Pray for God to guide you, and the other leaders, as you budget for the coming year. Pray that the youth ministry will be a good steward of its resources. Pray for God to provide the ministry with the right people and supplies to reach students with the Gospel.

2 – Start early!
Give yourself plenty of time to complete the budget. You do not want to rush through this process. I would suggest starting about a month before it is due. This will give you time to go through this process without being negligent. The budget is not usually the part of ministry that youth ministers enjoy, but it is a necessary part of ministry. Starting early allows you to work on the budget little by little. But if you wait until the last minute, you will rush through it and be consumed with it.

3 – Pick your team.
You should not be the only person determining the youth ministry budget for your ministry. You will want to involve other people in this process for a few reasons. First, you do not want the ministry to get in a rut of doing the same things each year just because you did them the year before. Second, the youth ministry needs to be diverse, including things you would not have picked to include. Third, you do not have time to do it all yourself, nor do you want that pressure. Have your team work on the budget on their own and set a date to get together to compare.

If you are part of a small ministry, you might want to include everyone on your youth team. It will give the youth coaches ownership in the ministry. If you are part of a larger ministry, you will want to ask a few of the youth coaches to be part of the process. In a few cases you may only need to involve the paid staff in this process, at least until you have a version for everyone to review before submitting.

4 – Review last year’s budget
You will not want to skip this step. Take your budget from last year and look at what you spent and did not spend. Were there one time only purchases? Look for items that do not need to be included in this year’s budget and categories that can survive (still be effective) with less money. Once you have done this, you can then start adding items that are new for this year and increasing money in categories that need more.

Do not skip this step. To save time, you might be tempted to just add a certain percentage to each category or copy and paste from last year. That will not help your ministry be good stewards of your money/resources. When you start working on your budget early (step #1) you do not feel pressured to skip this review of last year’s budget. And you will notice that you like the new budget more when you review last year’s first.

5 – Determine categories
Once you review the previous year’ budget, your next step is to start putting together this year’s. You need to determine which categories from last year will carry over to this year and which ones can be dropped. After you compare your categories to previous budgets, you will want to look at the calendar for the year to determine what events are upcoming. This will help you know if you need to add a category to cover the cost of your ministry’s events. (Here are 10 possible categories to consider.)

Remember that your youth ministry budget will not look like the youth ministry budget for the congregation down the street or the high profile ministry in your town. You cannot compare the resources God has given your ministry with the resources God has given another ministry.

6 – Calculate 1st draft of budget
Once your categories are set and you know what you need to budget for this year, you are ready to calculate how much you expect to spend. There are two main ways to calculate your budget. One way is to estimate your costs based on the previous year. You would add a percentage to last year’s budget without checking actual costs. Or you can research all of the items needed, looking for discounts where available and carefully calculate the total cost. I recommend the second method.

As you calculate your budget, keep in mind the cost of some items will increase throughout the year. It will cost you more to rent a van this year then it did last year. Other items are set by your ministry. You decide how much to pay a band or a speaker for an event. There will also be budget items that will fluctuate constantly throughout the year, like the price of gasoline.

7 – Evaluate your stewardship
After you calculate a first draft of the budget, I recommend you stop and reevaluate the budget based on stewardship. How can your youth ministry be a better steward of its resources? Did you include items that are not really necessary? Are you wasting money or ignoring potential resources you have access to?

8 – Get together with other youth coaches and leaders
Now that you have your version of the budget complete, it is time to met with the other leaders who were work on their version. You need to compare the budgets and look for category differences first. Allow each person to discuss why they included or left off certain categories and then, as a group, decide what is best for the ministry. After the categories are finalized, you will want to finalize the dollar amounts. This may take longer, but it needs to be agreed upon by the entire team. As you finalize numbers, remind everyone that you want the budget to be the best overall use of your money and resources – it cannot simply reflect an individual preference by any leader.

9 – Finalize proposed budget and turn in
Then, have one person type up a final budget proposal to turn in. This is your final draft; the budget you feel your youth ministry needs to be the most effective it an be in the coming year. After it is finalized and typed up, turn it into the finance committee or whoever is in charge of approving budgets. Make sure you turn it in ahead of time, do not wait until the very last minute.

What would you add to the process? How do you handle your budgeting process?

Book Review: Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Oestreicher

I picked up Mark Oestreicher’s new book while at the National Youth Workers Convention a few months ago. I had been looking forward to reading this expanded version of a general session talk he had given the year before at the convention. Having heard the general session talk and read the numerous blog posts on this very subject, I had certain expectations of what I would find within the pages. For the most part, I was not surprised.

Oestreicher has been involved with youth ministry for almost 25 years and is currently the president of Youth Specialties. He has been around the youth ministry world long enough to know the good and bad, and to have been a part of both sides. Now that he mainly sits on the other side of the trenches, watching the youth ministry culture as a whole, he can see a little clearer the trends that have been happening lately and how they will/should move youth ministers into what he calls youth ministry 3.0.

Before jumping into what youth ministry 3.0 is, Oestreicher sets out to explore youth ministry 1.0 and 2.0. According to Oestreicher, youth ministry 1.0 was the era when youth ministry was focused mainly on the proclamation of the Gospel. Youth ministry 2.0 was the era when the main focus was programs. Youth ministry is not completely out of version 2.0, but there are some significant changes occurring across the youth ministry world. The biggest events, tools, or methods in these eras of youth ministry were reproducible. At least that was the thought among both the “big ministries” and “little ministries.” The larger ministries were busy sharing their methods with anyone who would listen (or go to the conference). And the small ministries spent a lot of time trying to copy the success of the larger ministries.

According to Oestreicher, one of the biggest changes in the youth ministry 3.0 era is that this “copy & paste” mentality has to go. In youth ministry 3.0, it is not about using the same method/curriculum/program as another church. The new era of youth ministry needs to be about being present within your own ministry context. Being present is the key word for this new ministry era. When a youth ministry is focused on what God is doing within their own ministry context, the focus is taken off of being like anyone else.

Oestreicher does not answer a lot of questions in this book, in fact he asks and leaves a lot of them unanswered. And isn’t that the type of book a youth ministry 3.0 youth worker needs to read? A book that does not tell you how to change 7 aspects of your current model to become a newer/better ministry. (I still believe we need youth ministry books that focus on practical application, they are just not the only ones we need) The end of the book contains three stories of youth workers who are struggling with this transition or attempting make this transition within their ministries. These stories bring encouragement and challenge the youth workers who read this book to step out of their current “safe” model of ministry and go where God is leading.

The best way to make the most of reading this book is to read it with a group of youth workers. This is one of those books that is a good read, but a great resource when you discuss its content with others. If you are a lead youth worker, get a copy for everyone on your youth team and take time to read and discuss. If you are a volunteer youth worker, then make sure the lead youth worker knows about this book. Youth ministries have been stirring for a few years now about changes that need to take place within the realm of youth ministry. Oestreicher has articulated these feelings rather well, and you would benefit from listening to his thoughts, along with the voices of other youth workers found throughout the pages.

My advice (rating) –
buy more than one and give out copies (5 out of 5)

Hello Winter… Youth Ministry Style

Sunday (Dec 21) was the first day of winter and that means youth ministries around the US (b/c those youth ministries in Australia, for example, are currently enjoying summer) will be transitioning to a winterized version of youth ministry. Some aspects of youth ministry do not change, but anything that involves the outdoors has to change. Here are some of my favorite winter youth ministry games, events, ideas and more.

Disclaimer: Yes, I am aware that my friends in places like CA, GA, or FL do not need to make these adjustments because it does not get that cold or snow that much. And for that I say “:-P”

Winterized Youth Ministry:
Free Version…
1. Sledding. Just take your group, or have them meet, to a local hill. You can spend hours just sledding down and walking back up the hill. You can do something organized like races or just let everyone do what they want.

2. Build Snowmen/Snowball fights. If you get enough snow, build snowmen. This would be a great opportunity for some good video and/or pictures of the group. Have a themed-snowman competition, see who can build the largest… The snowball fights will just come naturally.

3. Shovel snow. Take a day and drive around town shoveling people’s driveways and sidewalks. This is a great service project. It will help your group bond together, while doing people a wonderful service. Make sure you have enough shovels, gloves, hats, etc.

4. Outdoor Ice Skating. Depending on your area, this might be a great time to go ice skating or play ice hockey. This is one event that might just draw a smaller crowd, but it will be a fun day together.

5. Any excuse to serve hot chocolate. Find any reason to get the group together to drink hot chocolate. This might be a great addition to one of your outdoor events or just something you do as a stand-alone event. Make sure you have marshmallows (and I suggest the mini ones).

6. Special parties. During this season, most youth ministries will have their Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve parties. Maybe you should have a “_______” party (fill in with whatever you want) just to have a party. This is a great time to give the students something to do, since they can’t go outside. (obviously, be mindful of the family time activities this time of year)

7. Ice Sculpting. If you have a large amount of ice this is the perfect time to use it. Even if you just have a small amount of ice, set aside a time to let students sculpt it. Allow them to be creative and just make it fun.

Non-Free Version…
1. Skiing. Most students love to go skiing, but do not get to go often. Plan a ski trip with your group. Or if you live close to a ski resort, schedule regular days (or at least some days) that are official youth group ski days.

2. Indoor Ice Skating. Take the group to go ice skating at an ice rink. Depending on the size of the group you can get discounts or even rent the entire rink.

3. Broomball. Rent an ice rink for a few hours of broom ball. You play hockey with broomsticks, only tennis shoes, and a ball. It is a lot of fun. But be careful, as people will fall.

4. Trip to warmer weather. Take your group to warmer weather. Probably want it to be within driving distance, but I hear Hawaii is nice this time of year.

Those are a few of my ideas for a winterized youth ministry. What have you done in the winter that has worked or what other suggestions would you have? Leave a comment with your ideas.

Small Town Youth Ministry: Meeting Locations

Another benefit of working in a small town is the ease of meeting someone at a location. When I want to meet someone or a group of people for lunch, all I have to say is “Let’s meet at Subway” or “Let’s meet at the chinese place.” That is enough. There are not 2 of any restaurant, so just saying the name is enough. You don’t have to give directions. You don’t need to search a map online. You just know. It makes getting together with people a little easier when you don’t need to decide on a location.

Small Town YM: school sports

I have now seen a full year’s worth of small town school sports come and go. Over this time, I’ve made some observations about a few sports before. I can tell you I’ve gone to more sports this year than I ever have in ministry.

Small Town vs. Non-small Town

1. The basic sports are offered: football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball
2. Parents abound at these games
3. Students show up in full force to support their friends
4. Any sport played in the gym is going to cause you to perspire
5. Some middle school games seem to last forever

1. No track or cross country
2. More students who play multiple sports (some out of necessity, to have a complete team)
3. I know a lot more people at the games
4. It seems like more parents show up to watch their kids
5. Downtown businesses let people write “encouragement” notes on their windows

Neutral/Specific to this church:
1. I’m not sure if its the small town or what, but I seem to have a larger number of athletes in the youth ministry than I have before.
2. Just the other day, I was driving in a nearby town and saw some writings on their windows to show support for an upcoming homecoming football game. Only some of these notes didn’t seem all that encouraging or friendly (keep in mind they tried to have a tie-in between their business name and the saying)…

“Corner the bulldogs” (at a store called “The Corner”)
“Cruise over the bulldogs” (at a car dealership)
and my personal favorite…
“Break their ‘limbs'” (at the Willow Tree)

Going to a sports event in a small town changes my purpose. In the past, I’ve tried to go to part of the game (usually the end, because you don’t have to pay) and see the student and the parents if I can. Now, I have started going at the beginning and staying longer – trying to interact with the parents. Plus I get to see a lot more students who are not involved that I try to connect with. Then, you throw in that my family is there with me and I my goal is to spend time with them also.