Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Who Wants To Be a Thousandaire?

It is difficult now to remember just how insanely popular the prime time version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? was when Regis Philbin debuted it in 1999.  It was on several nights a week, and USAmerica became obsessed with the show.  As with so many things in our culture, the show was just begging to be copied and integrated into student ministry- so that is exactly what we did!

We picked a Sunday evening well in advance and advertised that we were going to playing Who Want To Be a Thousandaire?  Wesley Memorial UMC didn't have any cash to give away, but we would have many levels of prizes, starting with a milk shake and moving up through CDS, dinner for 2, a new Bible, individual trips and the "million dollar" prize of an entire free year of youth ministry activities.  That included a free Mission Trip, free New York trip, free Night of Joy and and any other trips we took.  Free meals at events like SHO-Time.  Free everything.  If you used it all, it would be worth close to $2000 by our estimate, so it was a huge prize.  Kids got excited.  We also let them know well in advance that all of the questions would be based on the Bible.  They needed to know the books of the Bible; the parables of Jesus; the great Old Testament stories; the 10 Commandments; the Beatitudes; and the Christmas and Easter stories.  I found a few resources with questions, but wound up writing them all myself.  Just as on the show,they would get harder the deeper into the game a contestant went.

We also tried to make the game seem real when we played it.  We used lighting, sound effects, video and everything we could think of to make it special.  One of our Youth Counselors played the Regis role (except when we played in Waycross; I did it then- see picture).  We picked contestants at random, then allowed them to decline if they didn't want to play.  Each player got 3 lifelines- ask an adult, poll the audience and 50/50.  It was quite an event.  Everyone had a blast, and we gave away a lot of great stuff- but no one ever won the big prize.

If you are looking for a way to get some of your "fringe" students into the Bible and to pump up some excitement for your youth meetings, I highly recommend this event.  And yes-  that's my final answer!  Blessings!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Memories of An Old Dude- ME!

A Praise Band in 1982...
For the vast majority of the years from 1978-2007 I worked for churches and religious organizations. I witnessed a lot of growth and a lot of changes during those years. I was a part of one of the first generations of career youth pastors. Up until the late 1970's, youth work was something you did on your way to something else.  Can you believe that once upon a time people thought the only difference between being a youth pastor and being a senior pastor was age?  Most full-time youth leaders were hired as Associate Pastors or Directors of Christian Education and then thrown to the wolves, regardless of their gifts.  I was around when pretty much the only resources for youth leaders were the Ideas Books.  I was there when youth groups were after-thoughts for most churches, with no budgets and no staff.  I witnessed youth ministry become a priority in many churches, with all kinds of money thrown at the ministry. With one move in 1994 I went from a $800 budget to a $12,000 budget- for almost the same number of youth!  I worked at one church for $50 per month and did not get paid during the summer, because in those early days most student ministries shut down for those months. During those years I worked at a summer camp.  I served as the regional youth ministry resource person and event planner for Quakers in New England in 1985-86, serving over 80 churches, and was paid $14,000 for the year. In 2000 I took a position at a church in Illinois that paid me over $70,000 for doing less work than any other position I have ever held.  And now I am seeing churches cut staff and budgets as the economy impacts ministry.  At least 2 of the positions I once held no longer exist.  We have come full circle.

When I started there were no cell phones, no VCRs (yes, I said VCR!), no PCs and no cable TV.  We did have CB radios (Breaker 1-9, this here's The Bandit!).  The only CCM artists I had ever heard of were Amy Grant, Keith Green, Larry Norman, Don Francisco and some lady named Evie.  A Praise Band was called a guitar.  I watched as the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention went from a once a year event with about 600 in attendance to the multiple city, many thousands of participants events we see today.  In those days Doug Fields was just a guy in Jim Burns' youth group.  When I started, GROUP was a magazine for the students in your youth group- and that was all.  No work camps and no magazine for leaders- just a long-since extinct event for students called the National Christian Youth Congress.  There is no truth to the rumor that Moses was in my first youth group- although Duffy Robbins once told a seminar I had been his youth pastor.  He also told them I had been his mother's youth pastor.  Seriously!  But you get the point- I have seen a lot.

Youth Ministry has certainly changed a lot in 30 years, and many of the changes have made student ministry much better and helped us have a greater impact in the lives of the youth we serve.  But sometimes I think we have changed simply for the sake of change.  We have bought into new ideas without prayerfully considering their full impact; we have been guilty of being trendy. We have chosen what "looks good" over what works.  In my humble opinion we have too often chosen program and style over relationships.  In any case, today's youth pastor needs to be aware of their heritage.  I hoped this helped a little bit with that journey, and I will continue to remind us of how things "used to be."  Blessings!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Digital Scavenger Hunts

Everyone drinking from the same cup
The Scavenger Hunt has been a part of youth group activity since Grog the Caveman first had the group from T-Rex Baptist Church go out to look for fire and wheels- but it is still a winner.  It has taken many forms over the years, but my favorite has always involved some sort of pictures.  In my earliest years we did Polaroid Scavenger Hunts; we then moved on to Video Hunts and finally to the more modern Digital age.  These are not only a riot for youth and adults to be a part of, they also provide you with great promo pics for the present and excellent blackmail pics to use years later!  There are 1000 ways to do this event, but here's what worked for me...

  • You'll need to make an educated guess at how many students will show up, and have more than enough vehicles with adult drivers to safely transport them all.  The more teams the merrier!  You can either let students divide themselves up and pick a driver, or (and I love this one) let the drivers "draft" their teams.  That adds a "mixer" element to the event.  And, needless to say (and yet I am saying it!) every car needs a camera that will allow you to download the photos easily at the completion of the event.

Team with local Baskin Robbins
  • Make a list of pictures they need to take in the allotted time (usually 2 hours).  Make sure you have more things on the list than they can possibly do in the time period.  Some items should require specific locations; others should ask for pictures of specific actions.
  • Give each picture opportunity a point value.  The more "unusual" the photo, the higher the point value.  For instance, a picture of the group in front of another church's sign might be worth 50 points.  A picture of the group carrying a total stranger across a street might be worth 500. This system helps insure you will get more of the best pictures, and also reminds the teams that this is NOT a race.  It's about points.  
  • To provide a little intrigue I always made one of the highest value items getting a pic of ANOTHER one of the groups taking one of their pictures.
  • Involve the community.  Send them to church member's homes, local restaurants and anyplace else where the activity will generate some buzz for your youth ministry. 
  • To keep things lively, offer a seriously good prize to each member of the winning team.  And to keep things on schedule, give serious point penalties for every minute after the events end time that a team returns to the church. 
  • Entire Team dressed the same.
  • Have an adult on stand by with a vehicle at the church in case anyone has car trouble or an emergency.  Make sure their cell number is printed on the official event list.
Guys in women's clothing @ JC Penny's!
That should be enough to get you started on one of the most fun events you will ever do!  Just remember that the key to the entire thing is being wildly creative with your list of photo opps.  Do this once and do it right, and I give you my personal guarantee that the 2nd time you do it you'll need twice as many cars and drivers.  "If you take pictures of them, they will come..."  Blessings to you!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Youth Ministry 101- Visiting With Students

Back in the 1980s I wrote a regular column for a publication under the name of Bubba, and called it Greetings From Stumpy Point.  Stumpy Point was a small, fictitious church where Bubba was the youth pastor.  If you've ever struggled with communicating with your students one-on-one, then Bubba actually had some good advice to offer.  Here's one of my favorite columns from 1989:

Hello again, Grapevine readers!  Do you often feel uncomfortable trying to visit with your high school or middle school youth?  Sometimes we get the picture in our minds that when we are one-on-one with our kids we need to be doing one of three things- evangelizing, counselling or advertising.  We don't want to miss a chance to lead them to Christ, to turn their lives around or to promote our youth groups.  And certainly all of those things are important.  But none of that is really visiting with your youth.  When you visit you should talk about the things they want to talk about in a setting that they are comfortable in.

Here's an example of how NOT to visit!  About a year ago I asked one of my high school guys, Elroy, to come see me at the church.  He stopped by, came in my office and sat down.  He looked like a man before a judge about to be sentenced.  For the next 45 minutes I talked about my youth program and how it could help Elroy.  He blinked and nodded a few times and then left quickly when our time was up.  It took me almost a year to get Elroy to come back.  But I learned from my mistakes, and after a few more disasters I figured out that my office was not the right place.  It was MY turf.  Visits should take place on theirs!  So now I do most of my visits at Bart's Burger Doodle over a milk shake.  I have learned that the true value of one-on-one time with youth is not in what I say, but in what I hear!  - Bubba

Make sure that in addition to seeing your students at church that you see them on their turf- school, home and places they love to hang out.  It will change your relationship with them and open doors for you to share Jesus in a whole new way.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mystery Trip Model #2

I told you Monday of our first FUMC-K Mystery Trip- a ridiculously crazy 1996 trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.  In 1998 Jerry Hanbery and I (see picture) decided to do it again.  This time we would replace the wackiness of 18 hours in a van with a more creative approach. This time it would be a middle school only adventure, and our theme would be "Crazy Times."  And this time, Jerry and I had a serious plan...

We loaded up the vans at 7 PM on Friday, July 31st and hit the road.  This time there were no leaks;  no one on the two vans had any idea where we were going.  We headed north on the Florida Turnpike, and the kids were buzzing about where they thought we might be headed.  We then turned north on I-75, headed towards Ocala.  I was driving the always-iffy blue van, and I had the lead.  The blue van's issues played an important part in our plan.  About 4 miles south of Ocala, I "noticed" that the van seemed to be running hot.  I pulled off the side of the road and Jerry followed me, getting out of the white van to come assist me as I checked under the hood.  We had taped a baggie of water under the hood, and when I poured it on the engine (out of sight of the youth) steam went everywhere.  Jerry and I did some serious moaning and complaining about the "stupid blue van" and then returned to our vans, telling the students that the van was over-heating and that we were going to go ahead and stop for the night so we could try and get it fixed.  We stopped at several motels and I went in to see if they had any rooms (I had a great time telling the front desk clerks what we were doing so the youth could see me having conversations with them), only to return and tell the group there was no vacancy.  The youth were now getting a little nervous.  We finally found rooms at a Super 8 Motel (where, unknown to the youth, we had reservations!) and settled in for the night.  I held a meeting at which I informed the kids that I was going to try to get the van fixed, but that I did not know what the following day would hold.  We might just have to stay in Ocala. I drove off to get the van fixed while they enjoyed the pool.  I was not back when Jerry sent them to bed.  They went to bed grumpy.  It was perfect...

The following morning we woke everyone up early and told them to get ready, the van was fixed and we were leaving!  We hurried them, half-asleep, onto the vans and hit the road.  We were hoping that they would be too groggy to notice that we were now heading south on I-75.  And for a while, they were.  Slowly but surely, they begin to notice something had changed.  We stopped at a Burger King for breakfast, and the questions began in earnest.  We got back on the road, and finally some of the youth began to guess our final destination- Busch Gardens in Tampa.  And then- as if a fog was lifting- they began to realize that the entire "breakdown" the night before had all been planned.  We had fooled them completely, and they could not believe it- and a few were not real happy about it.  Jerry and I were giddy- we thought it was one of the best things we had ever done!  We went on to have a great day at the park, and a wonderful weekend, including a great time of worship on Sunday morning.  We wanted to make it memorable, and we had.  It was just one more time when a wild and crazy idea helped some students discover the presence of Jesus in their lives.

If you want to plan a Mystery Trip for your students, here are a few tips:

  • Be outrageous with your planning.  Stay away from normal.  The idea is to blow their minds!
  • Give out as little info as you can get away with before leaving.  Parents blab!
  • Don't bait and switch.  If you advertise it as a wild and crazy weekend of fellowship, don't take them someplace and try to make them memorize Lamentations.  Know your purpose- and in the case of a Mystery Trip, the purpose should be FUN! 
  • Make sure when you return that you let your youth tell lots of stories.  The students who missed this trip should come away feeling like they never want to miss a youth event EVER AGAIN!
I found out a few years later that there were a couple of students on that trip who NEVER got the message that the entire first night had been staged.  I found out when one of them asked me, "Where were we going to go on that Mid-High Mystery Trip before the van broke down?"  And the Oscar goes to Jerry Hanbery and Carl Jones...  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mystery Trips (Vol. 1)

I've told you about Mystery Events and Gorilla Kidnappings- now it's time to share with you a couple of ideas we had for a bit more elaborate mystery event- The Mystery Trip!

Creativity is such an important part of student ministry.  As a youth worker you are constantly striving to come up with ideas that have a WOW factor.  You want to keep students a bit off-guard, wondering what you might come up with next.  You are always seeking new ideas, or at least ideas that are new to your group.  Summer is always one of the best times to really cut loose with wild, wacky & insane ideas.  You find should always push the limits of what is acceptable and what is possible, all because you have to get them to show up before you can share Jesus with them.  And every now and then, you cross the line between the creative and the insane!  Here's one example...

On August 2nd, 1996, the student ministry of the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee went flying over that line.  As part of our summer ministries, we decided to do a Mystery Trip.  Students could sign-up, pay their $35 and have absolutely no idea where they were going.  We would give parents the information when they arrived at the church on the day of the adventure.  There was a tremendous amount of excitement generated by this new event, and about 25 of us (see group photo at top) prepared to share in the mystery.  The only people who knew where we were going were Jerry Hanbery (my intern) and myself.  We had decided to take the group to Myrtle Beach, SC.  Many of the students had never been, and we were planning a major trip there in the summer of 1997.  A weekend in MB seemed like a wonderful idea for an adventure.  And it was- eventually.

We left the church at 7 PM on Friday, August 2nd, but we had to wait for someone to finish their participation in a fashion show at the local mall, so we wound up sitting in the mall parking lot until around 8 PM.  During this wait, Kendall Crotty began to pass the word around that we were going to Myrtle Beach.  His mom had ratted us out (why is it always the parents who screw up mystery events?)!  Before we ever began our Mystery Trip, the mystery was solved.  That was the first bummer.  The second bummer was that I had been to MB a hundred times in my life, but never from Kissimmee, FL.  It's a long way.  A very long way.  About 9 hours.  I'll let you do the math, but suffice it to say that we arrived at the Days Inn in MB in the very early hours of Saturday morning.  We arrived, checked in, and went to bed.  It was noon before we were up and about and enjoying the sun and surf.

We had a great weekend.  We played together, ate together, visited the Myrtle Beach Pavilion together and worshipped together.  We spent 18 hours in vans to spend 30 hours at the beach when we lived in Florida; that was the insane part.  But we had wanted a memorable event, one that the kids would talk about for years to come- and we got one!  We had titled the weekend Live To Tell after the Geoff Moore and the Distance song for two reasons.  One, our theme for worship was that our lives should tell the people we meet that we were followers of Jesus.  Secondly, we wanted them to know that this weekend was about survival; that they had lived, and should spread the word that strange and wonderful things were happening in the youth ministry of FUMC-K.  On both counts the weekend was an amazing success.  It is safe to say that in those years Jerry and I were often wrong, but we were seldom boring...

We did another Mystery Trip a couple of years later that was not as insane, but was much more dramatic.  That story, and some tips on how to make your trip succeed, are coming Wednesday...  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid!

In a previous post I told you about some mystery events we planned for my youth ministries over the years to keep the students on their toes.  Today I want to tell you about a little more elaborate event we pulled off three times at three different churches- and all with astounding success!

It all began in High Point, NC in the late 1980s.  I was looking for a way to help some of our less committed youth feel more a part of our student ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting, and I wanted it to be something with pizazz. A few years earlier I had read of a group that organized a "kidnapping" of some youth on a Saturday morning, and from that a plan began to brew in my brain.  I advertised to our kids that something big was going to happen on a particular Saturday morning, and that is was crucial that they be at the church by 7 AM. If they weren't there, then they needed to Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid!  I called a few parents of students I felt confident would not show up and arranged to arrive at their home early on the specified date.  The plan was simple.  We would awaken the "victim" with loud noises and then take them away for breakfast with our group.  We intended to startle them and make the moment memorable.  To insure those things, I rented a gorilla costume.  One of our high school guys, Jamie Robinson, wore the costume with great joy and did a wonderful job of grabbing our unsuspecting students and hauling them away.  It was awesome. And effective- although as you can see in the picture, Keri Vinson did take his head off!  Several of the kidnapees went on to become important members of our youth family.

I decided to repeat the adventure my first summer at FUMC-Kissimmee. This time the targets would be our newest group of 6th graders who were just joining the youth ministry.  Jerry Hanbery, who would later serve 4 years as my summer intern, was so excited he showed up at our house next door to the church around 6 AM.  My wife was not amused.  Jerry had gone with me to pick out the costume he would wear, and so instead of a gorilla this time they kids were grabbed by Chewbacca!  For reasons I cannot fathom, I have no pictures.  But again- it was AWESOME!!!

I set it up once more in 2005 while serving Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa.  This time the event featured a member of our Youth Ministry Team, Josh Shapiro, wearing a PINK Gorilla suit.  It went a little less smoothly because a couple of the parents had blabbed and because one of the kids slept with a gun next to his bed! It ended on a high note when we stopped by the home of Travis Aiken.  Travis was a regular who had not shown up, so no one at his house knew we were coming. It caused quite a scene, and Travis attempted to beat up the gorilla- but it was all good!

The Gorilla Kidnapping event is a winner in so many ways.  It allows for great promotion and anticipation, for extreme creativity, and for a very exciting Saturday morning with your students.  I would encourage every youth pastor to try it at least once.  Just make sure and tell the parents to keep their mouths shut...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mystery Events

With apologies to Rev. Jesse Jackson, I have often said that three of the enemies of a thriving student ministry are, "Sameness, Tameness and Lameness."  I'm not even sure how many of those are actual words, but they do serve to get my point across. If your youth know what is coming all of the time, they will become complacent and perhaps a bit bored.  One way to spice up the summer calendar is to schedule some random Mystery Events.  I tried to do this at least once a summer to keep the kids on their toes.  Most times the events were small and not a big deal, but the youth always loved them.  Here's the publicity for one such event, taken from one of my Summer Brochures:

On Saturday, July 19th, Carl and a few of the Youth Counselors are going to a late movie.  You are invited to join them.  What movie, you may ask? HA!  That is information you cannot have.  Which theater?  More information that is for us to know and you to find out!  Simply meet at the church at 8 PM, bring money, bring your friends- and bring a parachute.  We will have you home by midnight- or sooner if you forget your parachute!  Here's one hint about what we will be seeing: It's a movie. We'll see you at the Late Show!

We always had a nice turnout and had great times at these events, which also included mystery meals, mystery games and mystery visits to the houses of our students.  We also took two completely wacky and insane mystery trips (those stories another day).  And then there was the most infamous of all the mystery adventures: Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid!  Few tings I ever did in youth ministry generated as much buzz as those three Saturday mornings.  Come back Friday to get the details...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Marathons

Another simple fellowship event that can be done most anytime during the Summer is a Movie Marathon.  There are a million different ways to do an event like this, but here's how I usually did it.  I would pick a date and a location (generally the youth room at the church) and announce we would be watching 3 movies back-to-back-to-back.  I liked to do it during the day, because that is when the most students are bored silly.  We would provide pizza for lunch, popcorn for a snack and plenty of beverages.  All the youth had to do was show up, no reservations required.  It was free (although you could charge if you need to).  And we saw some AWESOME movies!

Movie selection is key.  You know your kids and your church, and I would never tell you how to go about choosing which DVDs to view.  But I would suggest that they be somehow related so that you have a theme.  We did a Star Wars trilogy day (back when there were only 3); we did a Pixar movie day; we did a "Sports Movie" day (featuring Cool Runnings, Angels in the Outfield and Remembering the Titans); and we did a Goofball Comedy day with Wayne's World, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Monty Python's Holy Grail.  We even did a Tom Hanks day, but I don't remember what movies we used. If I was doing one right now I might do Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, or a Bill Murray collection.  That's just me.  You have to choose based on the taste of your group and what you feel is appropriate.

Whenever possible we also did things to make the event special.  For instance, the day we did Star Wars one of our parents (who was a sound engineer for the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular @ Disney's Hollywood Studios) brought in some huge speakers and hooked them up so that the bass from the films would shake the youth room.  It did- just ask the rest of the church staff who had offices one floor below us! :)  Or invite the students to dress as a favorite character or bring related toys.  Be creative, and the youth will love it!

One other thought- a movie does not have to be The Passion of the Christ to contain significant moments that can open a discussion about faith.  There is theology in most eveything. Perhaps the most theological movie I have ever seen is Pleasantville. So if you want the films to lead to deeper discussions, just choose wisely.

So there you go- another low preparation, low cost, high fellowship value event that will have your students buzzing and get them off their couches and into your youth room- which means more "face time" for you!  As for me, I think I'm going to have my own Movie Marathon this summer.  Lord of the Rings trilogy, here I come- AGAIN!  Be blessed my friends!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Great Race

Almost a Pyramid!
If you are looking for a summer event that will draw a crowd and put a quick end to those old "church is boring" rumors, then The Great Race is for you!  It's simple to put together and loads of fun.  It works for any size group.  And it's time tested.  We did them when I was in high school- you know, before electricity!  :)

Here's how it works.  You put together a relay race featuring 10 to 12 events, and divide your youth into at least 2 teams.  The larger your ministry, the more teams.  Each team then decides on a team member to complete each leg of the race.  Pretty standard stuff, right?

An actual Pyramid!
Here's what make it interesting- diversity.  You can have a couple of events that require athletic ability, such as a distance run or a free-throw shoot.  But then, you just need to go crazy.  Use the old "eat crackers and whistle" routine.  Have one event be singing one of your favorite youth group songs from memory while being blasted with a water hose.  Use brain-teasers and math problems.  Have someone chug a Coke and belch.  Be as creative as possible- and as inclusive.  Try to have an event for everyone.

Eating Contests are always fun!
And then have a big finish.  Make each team gather at the finish line and accomplish some things together as a team.  I usually gave each team a bucket of water, a tiny paper cup and a 2-liter bottle and made them fill the bottle by passing the cup back (always touching EVERY team member) to the bottle.  I always had them make up a team cheer (with movements); and the finale was for each team to build a pyramid using all team members.  Great moments, great memories and great photo opps!

So there you have it.  Many of you are far more creative than I, so add your own twists and have a Great Race this summer.  Here's my guarantee- have this event once and your students will make certain it becomes an annual event!