3 Ways to Beat the “Christmas Crunch”

By Ken McCoy


It’s the best of times, and the worst of times. Christmas.

For a youth leader, “the holidays” can be anything but. In addition to our “normal” jobs of planning and pulling off awesome weekly group meetings, directing a team of volunteers, going to church staff meetings, and leading small groups, we suddenly have to factor in special Christmas programs, “Winter Break” activities, Christmas parties, and more. PLUS, we really want to make the season special for our own kids and family.

The extra Christmas workload is enough to turn an enthusiastic youth leader into a “Bah, humbug!” Scrooge.

Just in time for the Christmas Crunch, here are three ways you can maintain your Christmas spirit in these two hectic weeks leading up to the holiday.

  1. Take advantage of Christmas music – Christmas music is one of the defining elements of the season. You hear it everywhere—in stores, on the radio, television commercials, and in church. Before long, Christmas music can lose its charm. Don’t let this happen to you. Get the FREE “Rockin’ Christmas Tunes” from interlínc (find out how on interlinc’s website) and you’ll transform your Christmas music experience!
  1. Remember the “Reason for the Season” – You and I both “know” that Christmas is far more meaningful than music, programs, parties, decorations, presents, concerts, and commercials that feature a big red bow on a brand new car in the driveway. Maybe you should check out the Bible study I wrote for the Disney movie A Christmas Carol—the animated one featuring Jim Carrey. (It’s also available on interlínc’s website.) You’ll be reminded of what “incarnation” means, what the incarnation meant to God, and what it means to us. I know that I need an annual renewal and sense of wonder about the tremendous gift that we celebrate this time of year. Once I have my head on right, dealing with the Christmas Crush becomes far easier.
  1. Let interlínc do the heavy lifting – The “Twelve Days of Christmas” freebies, available to Youth Leader Only members at interlínc-online.com, includes helpful resources like the “Really. A Virgin” article I wrote for the resources we built around The Nativity Story film, or the “Always Winter, Never Christmas” youth meeting/Bible study from interlínc’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe movie guide. You’ll also find a youth meeting guide for Owl City’s song “Light of Christmas” that features a VeggieTales video. There’s no reason for you to have to wrack your brain to create awesome holiday meetings for your group!

Yeah, getting through the next couple of weeks will be a challenge. I really do hope that your load will be a bit lighter from reading this article. I’m certain that God will use you and your efforts to encourage young people to worship the newborn king.

Merry Christmas!

3 Faulty Foundations

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Duffy Robbins’ book, Building a
Youth Ministry that Builds Disciples: A Small Book About a Big Idea from Zondervan/Youth Specialties.

Our mandate is to “go and bear fruit-fruit that will last” (John 15: I 6). Just as a gardener carefully nurtures the vines and a builder carefully constructs the tower, so must we in ministry give serious thought to how we build what the Designer intends. The apostle Paul underlines this mandate when he writes, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care” (I Corinthians 3: I 0).

To build the kind of youth ministry program that will result in long-term disciples, serious consideration needs to be given to the blueprint. When building efforts are based on the wrong blueprint-even if they’re done with great skill-the result is going to be unusable structures. One way to begin thinking about the blueprint of your ministry is to take this short informal survey. Answer yes or no to the questions below.

The Smorgasbord Approach

  1. Is a full youth calendar one of the main criteria by which you or your leadership team evaluate the ministry?
  2. Is great care taken to make certain there’s a broad menu of programs offered on a weekly basis?
  3. Is the main concern of the leadership to keep the kids “active”?

A yes answer to any of these three questions indicates that your ministry may be offering lots of selections on the menu, but no real plan for nutrition and disciple-building. It’s an approach that begins with the premise that kids are consumers and that if we want them to consume our youth program, we must offer a wide variety of spiritual and recreational products.

Nowhere in Scripture is there an emphasis on activity. The emphasis in Scripture is always on productivity. None of us yearns for more activity. What we yearn for, what we pray for, what we’re called to, is productivity.

The Bright Light Approach

  1. Is your program based around a young, athletic, hip Pied Piper whom “the kids really like”?
  2. Has this charismatic leader been slow to raise up and train other adult leaders so the program will have continuity if and when he or she leaves?
  3. Do people in leadership ever say something like this: “Okay, granted, our youth leader may lack vision, experience, and spiritual maturity. But he plays guitar; he’s got an outrageous sense of humor and massive facial hair; and you wouldn’t believe what the guy can do with his iPad”?

Yes answers to the above questions are a sure sign of an approach based on the notion that the brightest light attracts the most bugs. And since we want kids to swarm our church property, it stands to reason that we need to find our own resident “bright light.”

Perhaps the biggest concern with this approach is that it tends to balance the ministry on the shoulders of one person-which is kind of risky, unless that one person is Jesus. The Bright Light Approach to programming tends to breed mavericks and lone rangers-individuals who tend to shine better and brighter when working alone. Without the diversity and cooperation of a team approach, a youth program will be severely limited in the type and number of students it can expect to draw. A program that’s built on a personality can fall quickly when that personality is no longer present to prop it up.

The Bigger Is Better Approach

  1. Do you find yourself eliminating portions of the program that might have deeper spiritual impact because they don’t seem to “get as many kids out”?
  2. Do you find yourself asking, “How many?” more often than you ask, “How deep?”
  3. Would you honestly say that some of your programming choices are driven by competition with other youth ministries in town?
  4. Is your ultimate dream to have youth group meet in the Civic Center?

If this sounds like your youth group, you may be basing your program on the belief that the more kids we have under the roof of our church building or on the roll of our ministry, the more effective our youth program must be.
If youth ministry is only about numbers, then why not go all out and plan an evangelistic kegger? We’ve already seen that, in Scripture, the emphasis is far less on addition and far more on multiplication. When it comes to setting youth ministry goals, quality always takes precedence over quantity.

That’s not to say that numbers are unimportant or that large numbers are bad. This is not an argument between big and little; it’s an argument between deep and wide. On one occasion after I’d shared this concept during a seminar, a woman raised her hand to say how encouraged she was by all this “because we’ve really seen our numbers drop over the last six months.” That’s when I realized she hadn’t really heard what I was saying. I’d intended to make the point that our goal is to grow the group deep and that, in time, that depth would also grow the group wide. She basically walked out of my seminar thinking, “Well, we don’t have very many kids coming, so we must be doing something right!”

The fact is that some youth groups are small in quantity because they are low in quality. Sometimes our groups are small because we’re doing youth ministry badly! This is not a plea that we reach fewer kids. This is a plea that we don’t get so obsessed with reaching many kids that we neglect to nurture and equip the “few faithful” kids we have. (See 2 Timothy 2.)

Bigger isn’t better, and smaller isn’t better. Better is better.

This article originally appeared in YLO97

Made You Laugh

The Washington State School Shooting: A Veteran Seattle Youthworker’s Reflection

Guest post by Chris Renzelman

Most of you are aware of the recent school shooting in Washington state. In the midst of tragedy pause is always needed to assess what’s going on and what really matters. Such assessments can have positive results … this broadcast aired November 2 as a Town Hall meeting conducted by King5.com. It’s an excellent discussion with teens and professionals that provides insight and perspective.

Today is Red & White day in our state, the school colors of Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Community members lined the roadways in support of students returning to school for the first time in a week. The Seahawks hosted the football team to their headquarters and honored them with MP logo’s on their helmets and other gestures of support during Sundays game.

As a youth worker, it’s wonderful to see this broad expression of love and care for teens that’s our heart passion. Thanks to you for being faithfully on the front line. But as a youth worker even we can experience isolated thoughts that are not healthy, we too can find value in the support of others. Would you join me, as a youth worker in my fourth decade of ministry and one who has also lost a teenager to tragedy, to renew our hearts to the mission. Together let’s ….

  1. Pray with students about the matters in their world & on their hearts.
  2. Step into the dark corners of need with boldness & Spirit led power.
  3. Review the list of people you could be teaming with for support & impact.
  4. Remind yourself we have more than a job or career, we have a mission. These thoughts from Francis Chan remind us about what really matters.

Pressing on with you around what really matters.

Halloween Resource Ideas

102014_halloween_500It’s Halloween week, and if you’re looking for some fun and festive resources, we’ve got ‘em!

Check out some of our favorite “creepy” music videos, including “Zombie” by Family Force 5, “Monster” by Skillet, “Only A Ride” by Steve Taylor and The Perfect Foil, and “Paganini” from Andy Mineo.

Plus we found this fun behind the scenes of the “Zombie” video:

So what songs or videos would be on your “Creepy” playlist? Share with us in the comments.

It’s no TRICK! Join YLO this week and we’ll add extra TREATS to your first box. 

5 Ways To Build A Healthy Team

Guest post by Keith Cote of Lead222 | Wheaton, Illinois

Do you have enough leaders to accomplish what you are trying to do? Do you have too many small group leaders? Do you have to turn away leaders because you have nothing for them to do?

This article originally appeared in the Strategic Ministry-themed YLO97

Your team could probably use more leaders in key positions so you can reach more and lead more. This is illustrated in Scripture when Jesus said, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37-38) You may experience this problem as you look at your teams and ministries. You can see the potential, but there is not enough time or people to reach a place of unlimited impact!

Recruiting enough leaders — and more importantly, the right leaders — may seem daunting, but it is possible. Here are a few things to consider when you start to think about finding more leaders:

1. Pray. Ask God for His wisdom and guidance. When Jesus addressed this problem in Matthew, His first piece of advice was to pray: “Ask The Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”

2. Prepare. Be ready for leaders when they say yes! Don’t be like the guy who prayed for rain but never brought his umbrella with him. Have a plan in place for plugging new leaders into your ministry.

Get Keith’s and other articles on Strategic Ministry in the YLO Monster Box

3. Promote. Share the need and the vision, challenge people to take the steps needed to be part of the team.

4. Pursue. Recruit in places you have not tried before: go to parents, university students, and empty nesters. If you only pursue people in one place, you will only get people from that place.

5. Provide. A healthy and impactful environment will be your most effective tool for recruiting. Create a team that people hear about and want to be apart of. Maintain that environment through your leadership. A great place to start building into your team is by asking yourself and those on your team these questions:

  • How am I wired? Ministry isn’t a solo act. Figure out your gifts, passions, and personal style. This will allow you to be an effective member of a team working toward the same goal.
  • What is my role? Clearly understand what success means for your role on the team. This helps you to understand how you fit into the bigger mission of the ministry and church.
  • Does it fit? You need to ask this question of every new opportunity that comes your way. Determine if the role fits your schedule and season of life. Be honest with yourself and make sure you do not try to push through a role in ministry that is too large for you to handle.
  • Am I supplied for success? Do you have the information, training, and care to flourish in the role you’re being asked to fill? If you aren’t properly supplied, your potential for Kingdom impact can be limited.
  • Does this matter? Ministry is hard; when those moments come—and they will—when you ask yourself this question, the answer has to be more than “yes.” When asking “Does this matter?”, we need to see the faces and remember the stories of life change. That is what makes the effort worthwhile: lives changed!

If you pay attention to these areas, you will be on your way to having enough workers for the harvest. You will have plenty of healthy and effective leaders, gifted in the right areas, and positioned in the right places for the right reasons to help your ministry and church have unlimited impact.

Each edition of YLO includes articles to encourage you in your student ministry

Harlem Globetrotters New York Subway Takeover

Just Add Water?


When I was a rookie youth pastor, I had two, count ’em, TWO youth ministry books. One was Far-Out Ideas For Youth Groups and the other was Way-Out Ideas For Youth Groups.

Those two little paperbacks from Youth Specialties were all I had to go on that first year — except the dorky Sunday School curriculum that the church gave me each quarter which I promptly (and discreetly) threw away.

I might have done every idea in those two books. They were my main guides for creating a youth ministry. Sad, I know.

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The REALLY sad part is that I kept those books hidden. I wanted the kids to think that I was making up all those great ideas. I wanted them to think I was the greatest, the most talented, the craziest and the most awesome youth leader in the world. I did not want them to know that I had no clue about what I was doing. I didn’t want to let on that I had never been trained to be a youth pastor. So I kept those books hidden from the kids and continued to use those books as I tried to impress those teenagers to follow Christ and influence their friends to become Christians too.

What a dork I was!

That was a LONG time ago. I’m still a dork, but I’ve learned a thing or two about ministry with teenagers. I’ve learned that a youth leader can’t just take material and indiscriminately put it into play in their youth ministry. There is no “just add water” youth ministry material. All of the phenomenal resources that are available to a youth leader today require preparation, skill, work, and planning to utilize fully and see results in the lives of kids.

You need a clear strategy for your ministry with teenagers if you’re going to see real life change in your young friends and their families. There is just so much that you can do in youth ministry that you MUST have a way to choose what (and what NOT!) to do.

This issue of Youth Leaders Only has some help for you. You’ll find excellent insights from long-time youth ministry guru’s Duffy Robbins, Denny Miller, and Keith Cote. Their articles are actually excerpts from their books — so order their books and get the whole load of info!

Read the article “3 Faulty Foundations” by Duffy Robbins from YLO97

I really hope you’re not as dumb as I was, and keep this material squirreled away somewhere out of sight in your office. I hope you will use every bit of this material and share it with the other youth leaders you know. It’s too good a resource to waste—even if it does require more effort to use than “just add water”!

PS. (We are working on getting Denny Miller’s seminal youth ministry book, Changing Lives, into digital format. It’s currently out-of-print. We will let you know when it’s available and how you can get your own copy!)

Every edition of Youth Leaders Only features great articles to encourage you in your student ministry.

The Importance Of Eschatology



Guest Post by: Ken McCoy

When John wrote the book of Revelation, it became a source of tremendous encouragement to Christians. Much of Christianity was experiencing increasing persecution, false prophets were creeping into the church body, and the believers were growing tired and discouraged.

John penned that series of letters and visions from God so that Christians would understand that God was still in control and that He was truly providing for His people as He had always promised.

Throughout history, God had made promises to His people that He would provide for them a future glory and the blessing of being a part of His great plan, His great kingdom, and His great blessings.

Today, we are in need of the contents of this letter just as much as the first Christians were. However, the different attitudes of the two recipients are striking. Most readers in the early church were given this writing as a letter of HOPE in the midst of hopelessness and severe persecution. Today’s readers seem to be merely CURIOUS as to what’s in it and what it means.

Maybe it’s the comfortable lifestyle we enjoy, or that our casual relationship with God is not really a true relationship at all. Instead of Revelation giving us HOPE and CONFIDENCE in our Lord’s return, we merely want to UNDERSTAND the meaning behind all the symbols and the timelines.

Get FREE 16 page Youthworker Guide and Movie Clips to use “Left Behind” in your ministry

Eschatology, a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind, must help us draw closer to God and not merely question His plans and time frames. The image is one of a person shrinking behind a protector who is holding a weapon against an enemy. When we are faced with danger and are defenseless against our Enemy, the best place to be is behind the great Protector who holds a weapon to fight with. God offers hope and protection against Satan’s ultimate plans to steal, kill, and destroy— but we too often turn on Him, questioning His strategies and choice of weapons against Satan.

Eschatology should send us running to God with a fuller confidence in Him and His “rescue” of His people. It should help us diminish the immediate struggles of today by allowing us to see the hope we have as our reward in the future.

As your group prepares to watch this movie, keep in mind that there will be many unanswered questions about events and timelines. But as you lead your students through the studies, help them keep in mind the fact that God knows what He’s doing and He can be trusted. This should give us great comfort and encouragement to “press on” with the Gospel and endure persecution and opposition with a renewed hope for the future.

Rapture Grid

What I Learned From The Apple Announcement

I’m the guy who has the latest tech gadget. I actually had, and used, an Apple Newton back before there was such a thing as a Palm Pilot. I guess that qualifies me as an “early adopter.”

I’m the guy who can help you make your iPhone or Macintosh work for you. Because I don’t have a secretary or executive assistant, I’ve had to learn how to get the most from my personal digital assistants. As a result, I seem to be the person that people call when they need help with their Apple gear or software.

Yeah, I’m that guy. (I might be a geek, but I’m positively not a nerd!) So I, along with bazillions of others, was glued to my computer screen during this week’s Apple keynote address. I was dying to find out if they would announce the rumored “iWatch” device.

They did. And while I want one NOW, what they presented made sense for me as a youth leader. Here’s why:

It’s Designed To Be What It Is
The Apple Watch isn’t a tiny version of an iPhone. It’s a watch, designed to be very personal and helpful at a glance. People don’t stare at their watch—they glance at it. The same should be true of the various programs we run in our youth ministries; they should be designed to be what they are. Outreaches shouldn’t be worship experiences, which shouldn’t be discussion groups, which shouldn’t be… you get the idea. Check out the Create a Youth Ministry Environment article by Denny Miller in the current YLO97 for a deep dive into this subject.

It Works With The Whole Apple System
The information that the Apple Watch displays isn’t supposed to replace what you can get from your iPhone or computer, but to supplement it. An iPhone with an Apple Watch is more effective than either alone. Add a Mac into the system and everything works together seamlessly. So often I observe youth ministries that seem to be working at odds with themselves—or even with their church. We need to work toward a “system” that allows each program to function to its best and support the rest.

It’s Not Everything The Media Was Hoping For
Reading the stories leading up to the announcement, you’d think that Apple had a magic ability to create a wrist device that did everything imaginable. I’m sure that Apple tried and threw out ten times—maybe a hundred times—as many ideas as anyone else tried with their so-called smartwatches. Very few organizations know how to say “No” like they do. In our youth ministries, we too have to say “No” to many ideas, no matter how good, valuable, godly, or exciting they might be. We can’t do everything. We can’t please everyone. We have to decide what we want to accomplish, and then do only what we can (and should) do to accomplish that goal.

Yeah, I want an Apple Watch. Until I get one, I’ll have to keep focused on doing the best work I can to create the best ministry possible. You too?