We're two months away for one of my most favorite and most necessary events for student ministry, the 2017 National Youth Workers Convention. It's time to start talking about the convention and what I'm looking forward to most!
One of the things that you have to know about me is that I am a huge supporter of the National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC), hosted by Youth Specialties. I attended my first convention in 1999. I had just accepted my first, full-time position as a Youth Director, for a church in the Pittsburgh, PA area. I had heard about NYWC, but hadn't yet had the opportunity to attend as I was just a kid getting started in student ministry.
The convention that year was held in two locations, the first on the west coast, the second in Cincinnati, OH. I attended the convention in Cincinnati.So I, along with my wife and our newborn son (Nate was our second son, by the way. Our first born who was already a year old stayed with some friends.) made our way to Cincinnati not sure what to expect, but excited nonetheless.
It didn't take me long to realize that NWYC was going to become a very important part of my ministry and my life. 18 years laters, NYWC is still an important part of both my ministry and my life.
Each year, as the convention approaches, I share a few things about the convention that I love, recommend, and look forward to the most. So in keeping with my tradition, let me share three things that I absolutely love about the National Youth Workers Convention.
Get More With Intensives...
I sat through my first Intensive in 2000. It was awesome. Then, I believe, the Intensives were 6 hours, and spanned two days. An extra fee, Intensives are designed to give attendees a long, deeper, more detailed look into various aspects of student ministry. Topics vary from year to year, but help to train up the youth worker by providing specific, helpful and practical information that really works when applied to your ministry. Led by experts, real youth workers with real experience, Intensives offer not just information, but the opportunities to ask questions, get help and really process the material so that it's something that you can use.
Over the years I have taken Intensives for worship and worship leader, culture, message prep and writing, and speaking/teaching. They have been some of the most important parts of understanding student ministry, youth culture and the role of the youth worker.
If you have not taken advantage of the NYWC Intensives, I would highly recommend that you consider registering for one of this years offerings.
Here is a quick list of topics and presenters for 2017...
Take Time to Rest and Reconnect...
Rest is a good thing. It's a necessity. A biblical mandate. The problem is, youth workers don't rest enough. There is always something that needs to be completed, a student that needs to ministered to, and a technical issue with the VCR in one of the Sunday school classrooms. When all is said and done, we don't rest well, if we rest at all.
I loved Mike Yaconelli, co-founder of YS and NYWC. I never really had the opportunity to talk or know Mike, but every year at the first general session (now called Big Room) Mike would address and welcome the convention. It was the same speech every year. But it was one of the first times someone told me that it was okay to slow down, even stop and rest.
The convention is a placed filled with resources, exhibits, training opportunities, and possibilities for networking. But, NYWC is also a place to rest and be renewed. It's a place where you can choose to sleep in, go to bed early, or just sleep all day. It's a place to disconnect and relax, to do something fun, explore, or just be. NYWC, in wanting to give you access to some of the best resources, speakers, trainers, coaches, and entertainment, also cares about your spiritual well-being. You are encouraged to take a step back and evaluate your faith journey. We work all year to disciple and serve and teach and lead our students, too often at the cost of care for our own hearts, our own growth, our own relationship with our Savior. NYWC is a place where we can reconnect with the Lover of our souls.
NYWC offers youth workers an opportunity to visit the Sanctuary and Prayer Chapel to pray, sit, be quiet, and to be renewed. You can visit with one of a number of spiritual directors who are there to care for your soul. If you're married, NYWC is an opportunity for you and your spouse to enjoy some time alone. Take advantage of your hotel stay. Have a date night with dinner and explore a new city. Sit up late and watch a movie. Order room service and have breakfast in bed.
Rest. It's important. It's a necessity. It's good for you.
Get on the Right Track...
Sit in on any of the 90+ seminars and you will walk away with valuable information, tips, tools, and resources. But if you want some specific help in a particular area of ministry, you might want to consider taking one of the NYWC Tracks.
Tracks, like the Intensives, are designed to offer youth workers specific information on a given topic. These tracks are led by our youth experts who know and serve in the related areas. Go a little deeper. Ask questions. Hear practical, hands-on and effective tips that will help you in your ministry.
This year, NYWC is offering 3 Track topics;
Be sure to look these Tracks up in the schedule and think about how they might help you and your ministry.
Whether you are a long-time NYWC attendee or maybe thinking about attending for the first time, let me invite you to join us this November in Memphis, TN for the Nation Youth Workers Convention! Early-bird pricing ends on October 5th, 2017.
Visit the NYWC website today for more details and to register for the convention.
This year, I will be helping out as a volunteer, serving at the HUB. If you have any questions about the convention or needs while in Memphis come by and see us. If you found this article helpful, please stop by and introduce yourself to me, I'd love to meet you.
If you have something you love and look forward to at NYWC, please share it in the comments below. What you love could be the very thing that someone else needs to hear to help them make the decision to join us this fall!
The National Youth Workers Convention
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 25 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently the Student Ministry Director at Hickory Church, located in Western PA. Jay has been married to Amy for over 20 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.
In the past I have used the following ideas.
1. Bulletin Inserts
On the last Sunday of each month, I provided a printed calendar insert as part of the worship bulletin. This calendar included dates, times, and locations for upcoming gatherings, activities, or events for both the Middle School and High School ministries. In addition to the monthly calendar, event inserts will appear at least 2 weeks prior to the event date. These inserts provide the basic information of time, locations, and cost, along with a short summary of the event.
2. Big Screen Announcements
If your church uses a projector and screen for announcements and worship, be sure to get you ministry information on the big worship screens! I tried each week to have at least one slide with information on upcoming youth ministry opportunities. Aside from promoting your upcoming events, this is a great way to keep your ministry in front of the entire congregation.
3. Facebook and Other Social Media
Social Media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, are still popular avenues for communication. However, the trends are beginning to fluxuate as more and more adult are signing on to Facebook while more and more students are leaving Facebook for Twitter and Instagram. If you have plans to use social media as a way of connecting and communicating, take a couple of weeks to do a little research to find out who uses what. Once you know who is where, you can tailor your content appropriately. The only other caution I would give is to be sure you investigate the media outlet before you commit to using it. Like anything else on cyberspace, there is always the potential for danger. Understand how the applications work, how to properly safeguard them, and have a plan for how you will manage the content and feedback.
4. The Youth Ministry Website
I started my first website for a youth group back in 2000. It was all html coded. it was rough on the edges, but it worked. Today, websites are still a valuable tool for dispersing infomation to your group. The possibilties of what you can do with a website still amazing me. But I have seen a shift in how youth ministry sites or pages are being used. Early on, they were the hub of current materials and information and included things like calendars, pictures, videos, leader materials, parental forms, and mission statements. Today, I see more and more youth ministry page become static pages with an introduction of the group and an invite to come and visit. Nothing wrong with that. But if you intend on having a website, create a plan and purpose for what your site will be and how you will use it. With todays availibility of social media apps, I don't think too many students are check out websites anymore. So think about whther or not you want to invest the time and resources into a site. You might just want to have a simple page added to your church sites which directs students to a different venue that your group uses.
5. The Weekly Podcast or Vlog
When I originally released this article, weekly podcasts and/vlogs were the latest thing. Youth workers were posting all sorts of creative videos and pocasts with everything from devotional thoughts to weekly announcements and reminds. I think these too and becoming part of internet history. Today, you might have better luck with current media options that allow you to post quick videos such Instagram or Vine. On both of these apps, you are given about 15 seconds to say what you need to say.
6. Fliers, Posters, Brochures
Not everyone runs to the internet for the latest youth ministry news. There are those who still find the simplicity of the pen and paper to be the best way of communicating. Thus, fliers, posters, and brochures will never fall out of style. Just about every thing I do, or have done in student ministry, comes with a flier, poster, or brochure. Like the bulletin insert, these printed promotional
materials provide the date, time, location, cost, and summary of the event. Leave a stack on the churches welcome table, hang them around the building, decorate your youth room with them!
7. The Evolution of Texting
Texting has evolved to an artform of communication. It remains as one of the primary ways students communicate to each other. In the last couple of years organizations such as Simply Youth Ministry (Group) and Youth Specialtites, have launch services where you can create text directories and blitz both your student and your parent population with text messages, up dates, news, and reminders. Knowing how much my own kids and my students text, if you have the resources for such service, you might want to take advantage of them. If not, there are still ways of creating a texting chain that won't cost you or your budget a thing. But that's another blog.
8. Smail Mail
When an activity or event is announced, I have always created a flier that can be mailed to the home of each student on our mailing list. Usually addressed to the student, I try to encourage parents to be sure that you read the contents of the mailing before the mail is lost in a bedroom closet. When communication is intended for the parents, address the labels as, “To The Parents Of...” This indicates that there is important information within the mailing and hopefully they read the paperwork.
9. The Weekly Email
Not as popular as it was a couple of years ago, the email newsletter can still be a helpful way of communicating with parents. it takes a little bit of time to put together, but if it is helpful to parents, it might be worth your time.
10 . The Phone Call
With all the other forms of communication, I believe the best is still the phone call. When all else fails, you know you can communicate well by placing a quick phone call. But that goes both ways. Create a policy where parents know how and when to get a hold of you. Be available to answer questions. And be sure to return messages.
However you choose to communicate, take the time to get to your the parents you serve and find out what works best for your particular ministry. What might work for the guy at the church down the street might not work at your church, so get to know your parents. Once you have determined how you will communicate, be as consistant as possible. And with that in mind, don't bite off more than you can chew. Start simply and let the needs of the ministry drive you in how you develop additional outlets for info!
While not fool-proof, having the calendar ready in advance helped to navigate a number of would be calendar conflicts and set us up for a good year of ministry. Sure there were the eventual conflicts, cancelations, postponements, and rescheduling. That's going to happen. Ministry is alive and breathing and there will be conflicts. But if you can reduce those conflicts, well, ministry becomes a little easier.
This past summer, later then usual, I sat down to work on the upcoming calendar. I gathered the school calendars, the athletic calendars, and the previous years calendar and I set to work creating a working ministry calendar for the current school year. It was hard work. I spent time praying, asking God to direct the year. I made phone calls, researched venues, talked with trip coordinators, and recruited a team of parents to give a final thumbs up. Then in August of this year, we rolled out our student ministry calendar at our parents meeting.
At a staff meeting in early January, we pulled out the church calendar and looked at January through April. Within a matter of minutes, I saw my well thought out calendar go from a work of art to a mess of conflicts and potential cancelations. While it could have been worse, I have at least one full month of student meeting that were going to need to be completely rescheduled. Completely rescheduled!!
My first thought...this wasn't fair! I spent hours, days, WEEKS working on my calendar, why should I have to be the one who has to change everything? Hey, I'm human. But fortunately, my years of experience spoke up, and I began to see not the conflict, but an opportunity.
There will always be times in our ministries where our plans will collide with the rest of the church. Since most of us work in smaller churched where space and people are shared, we will always run into conflicts over dates, times, rooms, and even people. But here are three quick reminders to help us as we work through the pitfalls of calendar planning.
1. Plan in Advance!
I like to look at the entire year. It helps me think about activities, themes, teaching series, and the types of trips we will take. I find that I have the time to make sure what we're looking to do aligns with our purpose and direction. I am able to ask questions, bring in ideas from other church leaders, parents and students. I can set aside budget money, or look for new sources of support to cover costs. (This proved super helpful this past year in that I was able to go before our Stewardship Team and share some plans we were making for the new year, while identifying some new costs and expenses. That meeting led to a significant increase in funds to help cover those new costs. I'll share more in an upcoming blog post.)
Your plans don't have to be concrete. They can be flexible and tentative, but do your best to be as accurate and complete as possible. And that leads us to our next thought.
2. Be Flexible!
Yes, it is super helpful to give parents a yearly ministry calendar, but the reality is, that calendar is going to change! So make it a tentative calendar, subject to change as the year moves on. Let people know that there will be changes, cancelations, postponements, and reschedules. And ask that they be as flexible as you will be when this conflicts arise.
3. Communicate the Change!
When conflicts arise, remember to communicate the changes. Notify parents and students of the conflict, give a short reason for the change and update them with the necessary information. The trick, however, is in HOW you communicate. Hopefully you have a communication plan in place that helps you disseminate information. So whether it's through email, a newsletter, a text message, or by making 50 phones calls, make sure you are communicating the change.
For me, I am replacing most of my March and April. And instead of complaining about the conflicts, I'm looking for ways that the conflict might bless or add to our overall ministry strategy. In some cases, the conflicts are because of congregational activities that the students might not otherwise participate in. So instead of separating our student ministry out of the event, we're looking to become part of the event with the hopes of building a stronger bond between the student ministry and the congregation! And that, I believe, is a great thing!
What struck me about the video was his assessment of the Millennials. Simon suggests four characteristics that millennials deal with; "failed" parenting, technology, impatience, and environment. Please take a few minutes to watch the video below.
As I watched Simon describe his four characteristics of parenting, technology, impatience, and environment, I found myself agreeing with his assement. The realities are "failed" parenting, increasing use of and addiction to technology, lack of patience, and the lack of conifidence in social and corporate settings are trends that we have seen in our student ministries and community families for a number of years now. But is it just the Millennials?
As a youth worker of 25 years, I noticed the shift a number of years ago. And now I'm asking, how much are we part of the problem?
For example. There was a time when we wouldn't allow students to bring their cell phones on trips or retreats. We wanted the students to be free of distractions, available to connect and relate with other students and leaders, and avoid the stickness that comes when students call home because they were a little homesick.
But sometime in the middle of 2000 to 2010, I remember sitting in a youth worker training seminar talking about the changing culture of our students and hearing the presenter say that forbidding students to bring their cell phones wasn't good for the student. Instead, we should allow students to bring their phones because they offered the students a sense of security. The presenter actually suggested that the cell phone was like an extention of who they were and to lose their phone would be like losing a part of themselves.
And as a parent, I despise the idea of the "everybody wins, here's your participation trophy" mentality! Having four kids who are very athletic and play multiple sports, we've had our fair share of losing seasons. To give a kid a trophy even though he lost or came in last, is absolutely ridiculous.
And yet, more and more organizations, both sporting or otherwise, are subscribing to the idea that everyone gets something so that no one "feels" bad, but that everyone "feels" good!
But I think this goes beyond just the idea of a millennial issue, and more of a heart issue with every generation.
Books by Simon Sinek.
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Let's rethink our decisions when it comes to the availability of technology. Yes, I am one that deeply believes in the value of technology, but as a tool for life and not as a way of life. Having 3 teens with smart phones and tablets, I am all to aware of the dangers of unlimited access. To enhanse the problem even more, 3 of our 5 have been given laptops from the school for their studies. That would be great if the district had a more comprehensive plan for the technology, but the reality is, they now have a new device to watch videos, check social media, and surf the web with. And let's be honest, not only are they doing it at home, but their doing it at school as well.
But it's not just parenting and technology.
As a youth worker to youth workers, if you served students between 2000 and 2015, we are just as quilty as the parents. Because for many of us, we have created a student ministry bubble within our churches that has supported the same kind of harmful thinking. We have catered to our students in creating attractional, entertaining, and consumer driven ministry models that have separated an entire generation from the the large body of the church.
Over the last 20 years, we have become super influencial with our students. Students listen to what we say. They watch what we do. And they make life changing decisions based on the influence we've had on their beliefs, principals, practices, life styles, and purposes. I'll talk more about this in an upcoming blog series I am researching and preparing for about student ministry and the church. Look of it starting in 2017.
We have created the problem.
Now it's time we change.
I see Simon's first two charactistics as the problems that have produced the issues of impatience and inability to deal with the social and work environments. But I believe that we can, and we should begin the discussion of how we can start to resolve the problem. Relying on corporate American to deal with our failures as parents or youth workers, or teachers, or community leaders, or coaches, or whoever else has helped to raise this or any generation, is foolish and expensive. Instead, let's own the fact that we have helped to create a big problem, and take the time to begin to make it right.
What does that look like?
That's the question. And while one blanket solution might be the most desired response, I don't think there is one. But I do think there are solutions, and these solutions are going to be unique to the problems and challenges each of us face.
To parents, we are going to have to ask ourselves some tough questions. To youth workers, we will have to recognize our part in this. And together, we might have to make some significant changes in order to right the ship.
But what do you think? In Simon Sinek's assessment on the Millennial accurate?
Do you think that it should fall on corporations to adjust their practices in order to accomidate this generation?
Do you think the problem reaches beyond the millennials, and reveals a deeper heart issue within people?
I'd like to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 25 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently the Student Ministry Director at Hickory Church, located in Western PA. Jay has been married to Amy for 20 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, a vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.