Small Groups: Quick Tips

IMG_4988I’m of the belief that there are some who are just naturally intuitive in how to lead a small group, but a much larger portion of the youth ministry leadership population need some training and experience; either way, I hope these quick ideas may be a blessing to you and your leadership of a small group.

Opening Questions: Because the goal of a small group is often community, take some time to get everyone to talk so that when the conversation gets a little more serious, all participants will already feel more comfortable speaking. [Questions like “If you had to be in an existing reality TV show, which one would you choose? Why?]

Don’t Rescue The Silence (too quickly): Leaders/Facilitators often fear silence. When you ask a question, don’t rescue the group by providing the answer; some are processors and are willing to speak, but just need time to form their thought (likewise, don’t correct the answer, even when wrong, rather, ask the rest of the group, “what do you all think of that answer?”).

Know Where You’re Going, But Allow Alternative Routes: If you’re studying a passage (or using a curriculum) know the major areas you want to touch on, but know that your group may have an alternative route to get to the destination. Allow for rabbit trails (some of the best learning can take place by allowing students to ask questions or tell stories that take you a different direction).

People Watch: Shepherding a group requires great attention to the dynamics of those gathered. Notice the silent one (he or she may be screaming something by their non-verbals). Pay attention to those who sit together and those who may seem to avoid each other– catching these things early (and naming them privately) may lead to greater dynamics later.

Change-Up: Every so-often break the routine and do something completely different. For me, this means I take the group on an experience instead of just doing regular group [examples: meal night, people watching project at a mall, serving project, athletic event of someone in the group].

Speak It Into Existence: There are times when a group simply needs to hear that you love them and believe in them (even when they are acting unlovable). You give permission to them by naming the fact that you love being with them and that you see them maturing.

Keep It A Safe Place: Unfortunately just about every environment a student enters has the potential for harm. You have the opportunity to establish a group as a place of refuge! Encourage them to avoid the foolish chatter & jokes and establish an affirmation environment.

What other quick tips do you have for successful small group leadership?


Jalapeños & Jesus

My son, Will, and I had just finished playing baseball this last weekend and did a quick stop at the store to get a few items for our homemade pizza night.

“Hey bud, what do you want on our pizza tonight?” I asked.

“Pepperoni and a lot of Jalapeños” he announced.

pizza-macro-shot-1312231After a minute or two of silent thought, he explained. “Dad, I used to like spicy stuff because of how much I love you… I really wanted to be like you. Now I love spicy stuff just because I love spicy stuff! I mean, I still love you, but I love spicy stuff on my own now too!”

I loved this; it was encouraging and convicting at the same time.

You see, though it wasn’t my goal to get Will to love Jalapeños (or other spicy stuff), it happened because he was willing to try the stuff that his Daddy likes. In the last couple years, Will has gone from a few drops of Tapatio on his burrito, to pepperoni pizza covered in Hot-Wing sauce and Jalapeños. He can’t get enough spice!

My quick-jaunt home from the grocery store that evening had my mind spinning. My prayer is that Will (along with my daughters, my 8th grade guys and other people I get to “do life” with) will emulate me in a way much greater than taste-bud satisfaction. My hope is that he will see the way that I prioritize my love for God, His Word and His people and begin to try that as well.

I long for a similar spiritually spiced-up conversation:

“Hey bud, what do you want do tonight?” I will ask.

“Let’s talk Scripture, let’s share Jesus with those who don’t know Him yet and let’s serve the community” he will announce.

1415262_bibleAfter a minute or two of silent thought, I imagine him saying, “Dad, I used to like Jesus and His stuff because of how much I love you… I really wanted to be like you. Now I love God, His Word and people just because I love Jesus! I mean, I still love you Dad, but I love Jesus and people on my own now too!”

Finally, on Sunday, at Subway, Will went through the line and confidently proclaimed his veggie choices, “I’d like both banana-peppers and Jalapeños”

May his love (and our love) for Jesus be proclaimed just as confidently!

You MAY Want to Add These To Your Calendar

The month of May is proving to be a pretty fantastic month of ministry opportunities. Not only will I have a couple trips including a site visit for next years National Youth Workers Convention, but there are a couple local Pacific Northwest Events I am a part of that have me pumped.

I think you (and many others from your church) should join me:

Youth Specialties Team Training, May 1-2

UnknownThis is the ideal setting to get your team talking! Not only does YS bring in great content/speakers, we give your team time to discuss and apply. One of the most prominent things Youth Pastors/Directors identify as a need is more/better lay-leadership training.

My buddy Josh Griffin (from Saddleback Church) is one of the presenters in Seattle this year. I think Josh is one of the best in the business!

The timing is perfect— it’s only a Friday evening and goes through Saturday mid-afternoon. But more importantly, I think the timing (calendar) is perfect— you can use this as an opportunity to recruit your program-year staff for next fall. Give those new recruits some great training that they can test over the summer before you kick-off next fall. Click here to register your team.

Mission51 Retreat, May 8-9Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 10.51.06 AM

This 24 hour retreat is chock-full of ideas that help you and your students engage in real conversation with those who may not yet know Jesus! Rather than calling it an evangelism training retreat, I see it as a cultural engagement training.

The Mission51 Retreat— training for the 51 weeks of life outside of the trip— is a fast-paced 24 hour onsite-event; meaning: you and your team stay at Grace Church in West Seattle (Friday night) and all three meals are provided on Saturday as part of the training! To register follow the instructions on the flyer here and contact Nathan.

Something for your team. And something for teens!

Join me in May!

Getting Unstuck In Small Group

Maybe you’re a small group leader who is struggling in your leadership? Maybe it’s the unique blend of personalities? Perhaps you weren’t given much training? Sometimes you just need a bit of a spark to ignite the group.

IMG_3849Here are three ideas I have used that can help get the proverbial ball rolling with a small group.

Opening Questions

Each week after some hang time we transition into the “study” time by doing an “opening question.” Most of the time these questions are random and fun. The point is to get every student to feel comfortable talking in front of the rest of the group. Though silly, it really does accomplish the goal. Here you can establish the principle that whomever is speaking should be respected and heard.

Sample questions (just ask one per week):

If you could permanently close a fast food chain, which one would you abolish and why?

If you could be in a sitcom or cartoon (as yourself), which one would you be in and why?

Occasional Intentional Experiences

Instead of a regular “bible study” or “cell group” night— take a 745195_30615584field trip. Shared experiences outside of the norm create a sense of anticipation. Whether it is a service project or a meal out  use it to teach a principle, learn a spiritual application or to simply get the students to think differently.

Sample experience: Take your students to Target give them a list of the others in your group and a total imaginary budget of $X (figure about $30 per person, but tell them a total, rather than a per person) and tell them they have 30 minutes to write down what they’d buy for each person in the group and why.  Meet at the food court or Starbucks area of the store after the fake shopping and have each student share what they would have bought for each person and why. You’ll likely have some times of laughter, and be blessed by some heart-warming thoughtfulness.

Show and Tell

IMG_3763Everybody remembers the anticipation of Show and Tell day in Preschool and Kindergarten! On occasion (maybe once a year) you can use this in small group. Have students bring an item which is significant to his/her spiritual life. I have seen students bring something from camps, elementary Bible club or a picture from a mission trip. Even if a student forgets, you can always grab a Bible and the student can share a favorite verse and the story behind why it’s important to him/her.

What are some other Small Group ideas you can share to help a group try something new?

Do You Really Trust Your Students?

I don’t get it…

  • One scored six goals in a world cup game.
  • They’ve written world famous operas, inspired nations to battle victories and created the social networking phenomenon.
  • In athletics we’ve seen total dominance from some: a Heisman trophy winner, a Daytona 500 driver and one was arguably the best gymnast ever.933623_72957083

I’m talking about teens.

  • Educators push them to take AP Physics and Calculus.
  • They hold down jobs and we trust them to watch after our own children.
  • They create art, perform, bake, dance and defend our nation.

But in the church…

  • We ask them to listen to us (Sunday morning, mid-week and in small group).
  • We buy them endless amounts of pizza in the hopes they’ll come back.
  • We beg them to bring a friend to the camp that we planned for them.
  • We tell them to sit still while the Pastors and adults speak at them.
  • We tell them they are the next generation of leaders, but give them little to lead.

693583_54538565It’s time we (the church) take the governor off their accelerators! Jesus gathered a group of ordinary young adults (most of them teens), mentored them and entrusted them to start the church. Students can/should lead in ministry. This statement causes angst among many. Some hear “student led” and become anxious, they fear chaos will ensue. Others read it and are threatened, “but how will I use my gifts?” Even teenagers may read it and have their doubts, “We’re too young, we don’t need more on our plate!” Semantics play a role as well; what if we redefined “leadership” as a person who is leading in his or her area of giftedness? We need teen leaders in music, mercy and mission. Teens who are exercising their giftedness in administration and teaching are equally important.

How are you helping a student discover, develop and use his or her gift within the context of ministry? IMG_2503

Students are ready, capable and already leading in so many other realms, it is time (again) for the church to give them room to operate while adult mentors walk with them as coaches and cheerleaders!

Hangin’ With The Sevies

During some of the 2015 weekends I will play a little catch-up from 2014 (I took a one-year blog writing sabbatical).

One highlight from the summer of 2014 was the transition into working with the younger students at Faith (my church). For a couple years I worked with the college age students. We encountered a bit-of-a-storm as an overall church, which caused me to pour more time into eldering/consulting. During this time I sort of faded away from that hands on ministry with the young adults.

Last summer I jumped back in with the youth group and had a blast building relationships with these great students.

By fall I was co-leading the 7th grade guys! My hope is that I’ll get to stick with these guys all the way through (and beyond) their graduation! It’s been a blast. A few snaps of the time thus far.

IMG_2952 IMG_3028 IMG_3009 IMG_3070 IMG_3090 IMG_3094 IMG_3102 IMG_3104 IMG_3120 IMG_3123 IMG_3406 IMG_3413 IMG_3896


Curb Appeal: Don’t Let Your Resume Kill You!

Yes, I know that three quarters of the country was in a deep freeze at the time I wrote this post. But in our part of the country the sun is out, the lawnmowers are already humming and spring is in the air.

1150489_74226404-1Houses will soon be on the market as many potential sellers are looking to improve the curb appeal of their home.
Similarly in the youth ministry world, spring often seems to be a time for change. How’s your curb appeal? Whether you’re being pursued by a church, graduating soon and prepping for the job hunt or you’re simply one who always want to be prepared— your curb appeal is found in your resume.

In some ways I am a bit like relator. Instead of assessing the curb appeal of a home, I have to quickly judge the curb appeal of a resume. In my role as Director of YS Search, I get to help churches find the right personnel for their open ministry position (think E-Harmony for the church and youth pastors). After the opportunity profile (for the church) has gone live (hundreds listed on the YS Job Bank), I begin to receive inquiries from scores of interested applicants. This is where I begin to look at the curb appeal of the minister.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.54.46 AM

Similar to the curb appeal of a house, the judgement of a resume is completely subjective. I will simply point out a few of the things that I believe help the curb-appeal of a resume.

  • Use the resume to tell your primary ministry story (a reverse timeline, listing most recent/current experience first).
  • When listing your employment, don’t just list all the duties/responsibilities (readers know the main duties of a Youth Pastor already), list the specific accomplishments which happened while you were serving (i.e. “preached in main church service eight to 10 times a year”  or “established parent meetings on a quarterly basis which grew from five in attendance to 45 on average by year three”).
  • When listing jobs, don’t list irrelevant positions; on ministry resumes only list ministry positions held (even if it was as a volunteer) or jobs which were in a similar field.
  • A small section listing your hobbies, passions or personal interest usually adds a bit of character and personality (but keep it short/appropriate).
  • Education does matter (list your highest level completed), but few resume readers are interested in course titles or weekend seminars you’ve attended.
  • Proof it, proof it, proof it again and then have someone else proof it (typos and small mistakes kill)!
  • One page resumes are ALWAYS the ones I like most. Remember, it’s curb appeal, not an interview and/or an essay.

627671_38576907I am certain that when purchasing a home, my wife and I passed by several homes that were gems on the inside— it’s just too bad the owners didn’t put just a little more effort into the curb appeal, we could have discovered the true worth.

Want to talk resume or how to better prep for a ministry position? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me!

The What Ifs in Life!

1430509_78858177Yes, I am a HUUUUGE Seahawks fan. Of course I have asked the obvious “what if” questions about Super Bowl 49.

I can guarantee the coaching staff and players are asking that question more than me, a fan.

We can look back and get caught up with the woulda-coulda-shoulda scenarios… but what could be better is to use our history to help others forge forward by not repeating the things we would have done differently.

youth_pastor_what_ifs_brian_aaby_750x180I am excited by the response it seems the Youth Specialities blog is receiving after my post “5 Youth Pastor ‘What ifs'”

I’d encourage you check it out… maybe a few of them could help you as you forge ahead!

As I contemplate the question, “what if the Seahawks didn’t try a pass over the middle from the 1 yard line” perhaps you can get me out of that funk by posing a better ‘what if’ question?

What are some of your “what ifs” in ministry?

Death, Taxes and Poor Communication — The Certainties for a Youth Pastor

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. 24 to 36 hours on the ground taking in the landscape, snapping some pictures and listening to lots of people.

When asked some variance of the question “what’s one thing that can improve in the youth ministry?” It is guaranteed that someone (and typically many someones) will exclaim “better communication!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChurches, and Youth Pastors in particular, have a bad-rap when it comes to communication. One unique observation is that typically the longer a tenure of the Youth Director the worse the reputation for communication— people have just learned to deal with it.

So, instead of a rant against the Student Pastor (or his/her administrative teammates), here are my quick suggestions to improve communication.

http://www.legendswebdesign.com1. 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 (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 parent & student gathering where you speak into the curriculum, events and direction. Always give a print piece that highlights everything on the calendar for a year from that date.

http://www.legendswebdesign.com3. Have at Least Seven Consistent Ways To Communicate: Yes, this may seem like a lot, but if you prioritize 30 minutes of your week, each week, 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 go on the fridge
  • Trickle Down — share with small group leaders who share with his/her group
  • Newsletter — PDF or Print (or both)
  • Phone Calls — Sometimes it pays to pick up the phoneOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

What are your suggestions for better communication?


Because I took a full year off from blogging, there were a number of things that I truly missed posting about. So, I figured, from time to time I’ll play a little catch up!

IMG_2713One HUGE highlight of 2014 was my Daddy/Daughter trip with Halle.

Background: At age 5 each of our kids was able to go on a trip to Disneyland with Mommy. All three of our kids made special memories with Elisabeth as they sort of put a capstone on that prior-to-school age of life.

At age 12 each of our kids gets to pick a place in the United States where they get to go with Daddy. Kid-choice, really cool. This was something that Elisabeth’s Dad did with their three kids and a tradition that I was all-too-happy to carry on!

Similar to age 5, we feel like we are capping off an era (elementary age) and launching a new stage of our relationship with our kids, young adulthood!

IMG_2688So in June, Halle and I used airline miles and Expedia (condo and car package deal) to spend five nights and six days in Kapaa, Hawaii. Wise choice Halle!

I cherished every minute of that trip.

If you’re a parent, consider doing something like this (doesn’t matter where you go, even if it is just a series of daytime activities out of our own home). We laughed a lot. We had silly conversations and deep meaningful conversations. We built memories that I will forever thank God for!

IMG_2714 IMG_2726 IMG_2739 IMG_2750 IMG_2756 IMG_2764 IMG_2772 IMG_2778 IMG_2788 IMG_2792 IMG_2811 IMG_2826 IMG_2828 IMG_2841 IMG_2846 IMG_2848