Help Wanted!

I'm wrestling with these issues in our ministry right now. A few feel like age-old struggles that I should have figured out by now or that I should realize will never be figured out. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of them:

- How realistic is it to have a working 6 year teaching plan that corresponds with the high school ministry? It sounds great...to make sure we cover what we want etc. but also feels confining.

- Would you ever use sophomores or juniors in high school in leadership positions in your middle school ministry? If so, in what capacities? We currently only use seniors, but find ourselves turning away really great students who are younger.

- What's the longest series you've ever taught in your junior high ministry? Occassionaly we do six-week series (usually as part of a church-wide campaign), but they feel so stinkin' long.

- How much is too much to charge for Summer Camp? Currentyly, we charge almost $400.00 for 5 nights at camp. Attendance is down a little this year and I'm beginning to wonder if 'traditional' Summer Camp needs to be re-evaluated.

- How can the church break the cycle of overworking our best, most willing, volunteers?


Puddles said...

These are great questions.
Here are some thoughts on a couple.

Overworked volunteers:
Maybe a way to change is to keep tabs on how much they work and only allow them to use a certain amount of time for the year. After that, they cant volunteer even if you desperately need someone.

Summer Camp:
I think a lot are looking for an alternative. I just read an article that many churches are canceling camp because of the cost.
There has to be cheaper camps out there, or someone should start one.

Mike said...

-I'm not sure about the teaching plan as my High School pastor and I ony use a rough outline of what we want to cover and when.
-I do use Juniors and Sophmores as Small group co-leaders with an adult. They are still close enough to the kids to relate really well, but have a little experience to help them give good advice.
-Anything longer than six weeks and I get bored.
-We're in the same boat with Summer Camp. We were charging $450, dropped it this year to $400 through fundraising, but still saw a drop in participation. I'm starting to wonder about two mini-camps that we put together and are more affordable.
-In regards to burn-out, I encourage people take vacations from our ministry. It's a struggle for me to get new people in place, but it saves some great volunteers in the long run.

Darryl Nelson said...

Hey Kurt,
I feel your pain on the summer camp issue. We are getting ready to go to our Jr high camp this year and the biggest complaint i hear is about the price, and I'm only charge $170. I'm in alaska and a lot of the appeal of summer camp is going away because all of our kids are involved in fishing hunting , camping type stuff all summer long.

Let me know if you come up with any solutions. dnelson@ancbt.org

Grant said...

Thank God you wrote this.

It helps to know we're not alone.

Camp - this was the first year I didn't do a summer camp. Instead we're doing 2 retreats and a ski getaway (We're in Denver area so it's close and cheap for us.)

Summer is Film Festival time for us.

Volunteers - because we didn't do summer camps this year, I was able to give our volunteers basically June and July off. Told them I didn't want to see their mug until August 1.

Kurt - thanks for being vulnerable and open here for the rest of us.

Chris said...

Love the discussion!
- Teaching plan, seems to me that the teaching plan is necessary to keep us balanced and not headed of in one direction or the other, but holding religiously to that plan is not necessary.

- Summer camp, we took off on your idea of "cheap & easy" and we scrapped a camp for this summer and we are encouraging the volunteers to take the same time that they would have spent at camp and spread it over the summer hanging out with students. We are also doing the "On Location" series at our local park.

Jason Pauli said...

I like the idea of having a plan but I want to make sure the plan serves me and I don't serve the plan. It changes need to be made based on the needs of students, or the Holy Spirit itself, then they'll be made.

I try to use leaders in leadership positions. Every time I try to draw a line in the sand based on age or grade I see exceptions. When I hear a kid gripe I'll be honest with them and point out that I'm treating them as individuals, not as kids all in the same grade or age or whatever.

I'm really enjoying these comments about summer camp. I'd like to hear how camp has been going at the Young Life properties over the last decade. I wonder if they've had to deal with the price issue. It seemed like the last few years I was at one they were having a harder time filling camps.

Jeff said...

I think Jason hit it right on the head. There are always exceptions to an arbitrary age rule. Make it by application. Students need recommendations from parents, teachers, and youth leaders/pastoral staff to even be considered.

Of course, the "youth" leaders need to be supervised by youth leaders, but I don't see any reason why a potential leader from the youth should be disqualified because of an age.

In know how you feel about the pricing too. I had a grandparent tell me that they thought $300 for a five day mission trip was outrageous. Of course, I came back and told her that if price was an issue, I was giving $25 scholarships for every shift worked on our Habitat House, up to the full cost of the trip. Of course, then she told me that her granddaughter couldn't go anyway, because she had softball tryouts!

Jeff said...

I forgot a couple of things - why six years? Is this a teaching plan that goes from 7th through Seniors? Does everyone get the same thing each year - as in 2007-08 everyone goes through Matthew, 08-09 everyone goes through Mark, etc. Or is is that the curriculum is grade based, so no matter what calendar year it is, seventh graders always get the same lesson, eighth graders always get the same lesson, and so on?

I know from my background (Methodist and now Lutheran), that both traditions use the Revised Common Lectionary, which would seem to be confining to some. Early on in my preaching ministry (thank God that is over) I made a commitment to using the RCL, knowing that if I didn't have an objective means of choosing a topic, that I would gravitate to the same 5-6 topics over and over again. I didn't see it as confining, but as something that forced me to broaden my areas of preaching.

My solution to volunteer burn-out? Contracts, never longer than a year. If the volunteer wants to re-up for another year, they must sign a new contract.

Jason Pauli said...

Yeah I like the contract idea that Jeff mentioned. I've heard and read about them but never used them.

I would think it would offer a time of self examination on part of the volunteer and give them a nice, healthy, and "clean" way to exit if they thought it was time.

Loko Rocks said...

We currently charge $190 early bird, or $200 for our weeklong camp. We do offset some of the fees, supplementing the cost from our youth budget. We set aside an amount each year, and whatever it does not cover, the student pays. Camp and a ski trip are pretty much the only activities that we do that have a "cost" to them.

Anonymous said...

our camp...4 days bus/food/all activities was $180...check out green valley lake great camp (http://calvarychapelcamp.com/)

also we use upperclassmen (juniors and seniors)

6 yr teachin plan...?dang, I dont even use a 6 month teaching plan

Kurt Johnston said...

'Loko', so do you do a whole bunch of little, free activities or not much beside the two big trips? What does your typical Summer look like?

Jeff, your story about the Softball tourney raises another issue: It's not always about money, but priorities...maybe Summer camp simply isn't seen as super valuable/important in this day and age of year round sports


Kristi said...

So not sure if my opinion counts for much here but... These issues hit home and I have some ideas! I am 21 and very involved in the Jr. High Student Ministry of my church... I was a student leader and so I have a huge heart for them!

I HATE the senior rule! Mostly because I think every student is different and I also believe that serving/mentoring/leading is part of helping committed highschool students grow.

I spent most of my highschool years bored out of my mind in student ministry simply because I needed to be DOING something not just showing up for something. Right now I even have Freshman in my ministry who I let lead and build relationships with students because they have amazing potential (and are following God) and they need something to do with that energy.

I think all student leaders are great for some generic things... from 9-12th grade I think they ALL add energy to what we are doing, they are always good creatively for games and ideas and such and most remember really well what Jr. High was like so they can relate really well (and convince some of our kids that being a Christ follower doesn't automatically mean you never have any fun again!) In Teaching (small groups and such) postions older is usually who we end up usuing because they tend to be a little more sure of themselves and well, are on the back end of the life experience it takes to get through highschool not the front!

The only REAL problem I run into is the entry process I try to keep it almost by invitation only but it's HARD! Because well highschoolers like the excitement they see and if they have friends who are leading they want in too. ANY suggestions on that one????

Oh and we had to cancel camp this year and go with a "Beach Weekend" because of cost! Most of our parents already send their kids to 2 or 3 school related camps and REALLY don't wanna fork out 400 dollars for church camp!

Jason Pauli said...

Kurt that's what I've been asking myself since seeing the turn of the discussion here.

It's really worth thinking about. It may be... dare I even think it... outdated!

What would all those poor speakers and bands do all summer?

Brett Moore said...

All those speakers and bands would have to figure out another way to make 5 grand a week. Maybe Vegas???

The Reed's Adoption Journey said...

Not sure you want/need parent input but... It is a chunk-o change to plop down. You know the kids they want to DO it all. Beach,Mountain camp Gurly/Burly. I want My kid to have these fun times and create bond with fellow christians but i dont want to go in the poor house either. We had to opt out of mountain camp due to how much we were racking up. I do know she has LOVED mountain camp in years past, but.... I know in our Area (OC) its tough. High standards from SOME that can afford it but there are also those that can not. Where is the balance? What i DO know is that even if you spent every weekend just hanging at church and playing around and having quality time with the kids that is what is remembered. Not the cost or the bands but which leader invested in them and gives them time. I thank you for caring and pondering these things for MY kid.

swanzy said...

you've gotten a lot of input i will make mine short...

1. because of available funds i am both the ms and hs pastor at flamingo road church. my staff and i serve anywhere from 450-500 students 2 hs services and 3 ms services on the weekend. we synergize as many series as we can but it's not possible at least 2-3 series a year.
2. we use junior and seniors at our ms tables... i have had a one sophomore lead before as assistant table leader
3. 5 weeks on relationships
4. we charged $375 this year the most ever but our growth trend stayed the same.
5. argh! exactly! i am trying to incorporate parents for supportive one time tasks but it's hard at the rate we move to be that strategic, we create social in a box that we have pre-arranged that leaders can pick from every quarter. they just bring the kids together and follow the instructions

Kurt Johnston said...

Reed, I think I can speak on behalf of other JH workers who frequent this blog: We ALWAYS want the input of parents!

Swanzy, A friend of mine does the 'social in a box' thing with his small group leaders. GREAT idea.

Calvin said...

Kurt (and everyone),

Here are my thoughts:

6 year teaching plan - Probably not a bad idea. In a lot of ways I think something like this is essential to keep things moving smoothly and help the two ministries to work in tandem. I'd also agree with others, holding to such a plan in spite of circumstances that come along may be a bad idea.

Sophomores and Juniors - Hmmmm....juniors I would certainly use. Sophomores I'd probably deal with on a case-by-case basis. I think there are some sophomores who are really capable of leading, and some who aren't. As for what types of things I'd have them doing, again, I think that depends on the person.

longest series - Here I will be very different from everyone else. I've done a year long series with Junior Highers, and it was a hit. Given, the series had a lot of variety. We basically walked through the Torah. If I had it to do over again I'd shorten the Numbers portion by one week. I'd also probably shorten Deuteronomy by one week. I think Junior Highers can handle longer series, I think we just have to expect them to, and then give them something worth taking up so much of their time. You can't much beat the story that unfolds throughout the Torah.

Summer Camp - I've never been a big fan of summer camps. I have a lot of reasons for this, but a big one is cost. That $400 could go to a lot of things that would probably be "better" than summer camp. Having students raise/give half of that to a homeless shelter (orphanage, mission, etc) in the area and then going and volunteering at the shelter for four Saturdays in a row, coupled with teaching on the subject of loving others (or the Jesus Creed in general) on the Sundays would be excellent. You could also do something where after the trip to shelter (mission, etc) on Saturday, you spend Saturday evening sharing a meal and talking about the experience with students.

Overworking - I think this requires a lot of thought. I would say that the only real solution is to rethink how we do youth ministry all together. But, this comment is long enough, perhaps I'll post my thoughts on this on my own blog (http://randombloggings.wordpress.com), or in another comment sometime.

Jason Pauli said...


LOVE the parent input. Too many times we have to guess what parents are thinking.

Could someone elaborate on a what a "social in a box" is? I can get the general idea and like the concept. But what exactly is in the box?


Chris said...

Hey Kurt I appreciate your questions that you bring up. Being someone that is only a month into his first full time youth ministry position, I can see all of these questions being ones I have raised/will raise.

I do want to make a comment regarding summer camp. My teens here do go to a summer camp and I think the cost is in the $200 range. However, in the last few years I have really started to question if Camp is really a great resource anymore to helping teens grow. I find myself wanting to get to a point where we do more mission trips/activities over doing the typical camp thing. I think speakers/teachers talking at teens for an entire week does not have the same effect as us as a youth ministry community together going somewhere and serving others. Just some thoughts I have had.

P-Rob said...

Did a 10-week series once on the 10 Commandments. Wasn't sure we could keep the big mo' going the whole time but it worked. Students still remember the big ideas from the series, more than 2 years later. But 3-4 week is my typical MO.

We're at a camp this week that charges $180 per student. It's already a little high for some of our families because of the communities we serve.

I'd someday love to hear of a church that does a true K-12 approach with themes and curric. Yea, it seems like it could be a bit constraining. But I think our goal is to produce young adults who own their faith, so the integration of themes and big ideas and life principles needs to begin as early as possible.

Beth said...

Summer camp is expensive. I know it affects the number of kids who go. It does for me. I know there's also the competition with the sports camps and scouts camps too. Hard to gauge what the real reason is sometimes.

As a former volunteer I'll say make sure you give time off. Don't expect your volunteers to be there every week all school year. Give them a week off every month of something like that. I like the idea of contracts as well. I think specifying the amount of work and time commitment in the contract is a great idea.

Anonymous said...

As one of those sophmores, I would say definitely deal with us on a case by case basis or invitation only. If you did use them, that would give the Jr. Highers someone they know once the reach Junior High. Juniors,however are different. Most Juniors I know would be awesome leading a small group.

Travis said...

A few months late on this...

1. Summer Camp we had lower attendance due to students picking other activities. Cost was an issue for a few families but we gave them a break where possible. Camp was $250 for us.

2. We use high schoolers in our small groups. Our small groups meet in homes during the week and are adult led but many have a high schooler helping out with fun & teachings. We require the high schooler to be actively involved in the our high school ministry and a positive influence.

3. I agree 3-5 week series seem best. Anything over a month long gets old to me.