Hoops Of Hope

Austin Gutwein, the 13 year old son of my friend Dan, started a really fantastic little ministry a few years ago when he was only 10. Hoops Of Hope is a one day shoot-a-thon that raises money for children across the globe that have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

What started out as one 10-year old boy shooting baskets to raise awarness has now grown into a nation-wide fundraiser that takes place on the weekend of Worlds Aids Day. This year, NBC is doing a 15 minute national news segment on Austin and Hoops of Hope. Sadly, since I'm at Y.S., I'm going to miss the event in our area that my wife heads up.

The next Hoops of Hope event won't be until next year, but I thought it was worth mentioning in case you are looking for a fun, easy, and impactful event for your students to partcipate in.


The Question Most Often Asked...

In the various conversations I engage in concerning junior high ministry, one conversation seems to pop up much more than any other:
When should we split our group into separate JH and HS ministries?

That's a GREAT question with no simple answer. But because I'm an admitted pragmatist, I offer my simple answer.

I think, as a general rule, you may be able to separate your ministry when:

1) You have the resources to do so. Resources mean the space, the budget, the leadership, the...well the everything it takes to run two separate ministries. If splitting means one group gets stuck in the janitor's closet because of space issues, then don't split. If it means one group doesn't have a leadership team, then don't split. If you have the proper resources, I believe it may be time to split the group.

2) Doing so will create momentum for both ministries. There is a point when staying together begins to kill momentum and forming two separate ministries would actually be a momentum boost for both junior high and high school. One momentum factor is attendance. Breaking a group of 25 into one group of 11 and one group of 14 may kill momentum for both groups. Most momentum factors are intangible and may be different for each group. But when splitting into two separate ministries would create momentum for both groups, it may be time.

So what do you do in the meantime? I suggest looking for strategic times for your groups to be together and strategic times for them to be separated by age. Maybe instead of having one fun night a month for everybody you offer two...one for JH and one for HS. Maybe you stay together during music and split up for the teaching time.

I may be one of the loudest cheerleaders of creating separate programs for junior high and high school students. But I'm also a fan of waiting until the time is right.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: Week One of 'Play It!'
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 26 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

Our attendance was a little bit down this weekend...likely due to Thanksgiving. We kicked off a fun new series called Play It! that takes a different board game each week and builds a lesson around it. This week we built our lesson around Scrabble and talked about the power of words. We had our annual Turkey Bowling competition which is always fun. My lesson was pretty strong and well received but a bit longer than our 20 minute standard....but students were into it. For something new, we had two sets of discussion questions before and during the lesson. Students just turned witht their friends and quickly discussed the questions we had up on the screens. We are going to do this for each week in this series to see how it goes. Our music on Saturday night struggled (but everything struggles a bit on Saturday nights...), but the band made some adjustments and music was really strong on Sunday.


The Down Side of Planning Ahead

In our ministry, we do a pretty good job of planning ahead for our weekend program. We know what we're teaching several weeks out and we make it a goal to have the entire weekend ready to go by Thursday afternoon. There are very few downsides. Except when I decide I don't like the lesson I prepared. My lesson needs to be turned in by Thursday morning each week so it can be printed in our little bulletin/handout thingys. But what happens every now and then, as it did today, is that when I go to look at it a couple of days later, I decide I want to change it. I can tweak some stuff, but the basic outline has to stay the same because it's already in print.

So, needless to say this weekend's lesson is one of those. It's okay, but I've thought of some better scripture references, a more creative outline etc. I'm sure it will be fine (partly because I'm convinced most junior high kids can't remember the lesson 30 minutes later...), but this weekend is one of the rare times I wish we didn't plan so far ahead so I could be more flexible.


Pretty Good Day!

It's been a pretty good day.
I've been saving up for a new t.v. for a couple of years. Saving and convincing my wife that we actually need one. Our television turns off randomly, jumps in and out of color...it's been faithful but it's old and ready for retirement.

So today, I bought a new one. I Hunted around for a good 'black friday' deal and ended up buying a 50" plasma that my father-in-law helped me mount to the wall. It took us the entire day to get the thing all set up, but right now I'm enjoying the fruit of our labor. I'm in a dark room with a warm fire watching 'Cars' with my son.

Funny...even though I've been saving and put this money aside, my wife insists that I just bought my Christmas and birthday present! She's got a point.


I'm Thankful For

-Friends...old, new, best, casual
-Family...rachel, kayla, cole, john, sheila, matt, kathy, rhonda, james and the rest
-Freedom...of religion, of speech, to be who you want to be
-Faith...especially that God allows it to be more of a journey than a destination
-Food...spaghetti, chicken, italian, chic-fil-a
-Football...playing it, watching it, cheering for the broncos
-Friday nights...softball, fun with the family, staying up late
-Fun...laughing, playing, hanging out, surfing
-Fulfillment...as described in john 10:10


Is It True or An Urban Legend?

I'm looking for your thoughts on this.

Do most churches really think that younger, cooler, hipper people make better junior high youth workers or do we just think they think that?

For years, I've taught others and have been taught myself that we need to de-bunk the belief that younger = better. Is it really a commonly held belief? I'm beginning to wonder.

This last weekend at Y.S. during my junior high ministry workshop I began talking about how young most junior high youth workers are....how parents and churches think younger is better...etc. As I spoke my eyes quickly glanced across the 300+ people in the room and I noticed something: There weren't a ton of super young people sitting in the seats. My hunch is that the average age of people in the workshop was probably early 30's. Now, early 30's is certainly young in my book, but hardly the 'stereotype' that so many of us have been trying to break!

Talk to me....


Wekend Wrap Up

I was at Y.S. over the weekend so I don't have all the information to plug into my normal weekend wrap up template. I talked to some of the people on my team and they said it was a really good, but busy weekend.

Some of the things that helped make the weekend busier than normal:

- we had a ministry fair as part of the weekend program
- we had a special offering as part of our building campaign kick-off
- we had our monthly student leadership program after Saturday night's program
- we had our monthly 'Route 101' (new believers/baptism/what's church all about) class on Sunday

Kayla, my 7th grade daughter, had a pretty busy weekend herself:
- She participated in a 30-hour Famine program hosted at a friend's church Fri-Sat.
- She went to student leadership on Saturday night
- She went to the junior high program on Sunday morning
- She went to the Route 101 class on Sunday afternoon
- She went to a meeting for a missions trip to Kenya on Sunday afternoon (yikes, my little girl is going to Kenya without mom and dad!).

All in all....not a bad weekend for me to be away! :)


A Fun Surprise

Yesterday, there was an unexpected delivery to the convention. Mark Ostreicher and I been working together to write a series of books for middle school students. The series is called 'The Middle School Survival Series' and the first two books are 'My Faith' and 'My Family'. They are short, easy to read books made up of 75 little 'chapters'. The great thing is that students don't need to read the book in any particular order...they can thumb through it and read a chapter that sounds interesting at the time.

Anyway, they weren't supposed to be released until January, but they came in early and a couple of cases actually got dropped off here at the convention. I've been excited about these because I really do think they are pretty good books to put in the hands of students. I spent about an hour reading through them last night because I hadn't looked over the manuscripts sent we finalized them several months ago. I know I helped write these things but they are pretty dang good! I think we really managed to hit the mark in creating something that parents and youth workers can put in the hands of their kids that kids may actually read!

The delivery was, in a neat way, a God-moment for the two of us because earlier that morning we had met for about an hour to finalize the topics and writing assignments for the next two books in the series. To be honest, I think we were both feeling a bit overwhelmed and uncertain as we prepared to head into the next writing season. A few hours later, the first two books arrived and we were reminded that this project really is one we believe in and are excited about!


OOPS...A Correction

In my previous post, I listed the title of my book incorrectly. The actual title is 'The Starfish And The Spider...The Unstoppable Power of LEADERLESS Organizations'

What I'm Reading

I'm currently reading 'The Starfish and The Spider....The Unstoppable Power of Leadership Organizations'. So far, it is an easy, interesting read that seems to have lots of ministry implications.


Simple Thought: Starting Off Right

Today, I'm teaching the first day of Doug Field's great critical concern course called "Starting off Right...Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry". It's a two day course and I have a hard time thinking of a better way for somebody to start their youth ministry career than getting a firm handle on some of the basics.

Here are my very simple thoughts how to get started on the right foot. Most of these reflect some aspect of Doug's notes.

I would say that these are somewhat in order...

1) Start with yourself first. Your ministry will flow out of your walk with God.
2) Build relationships with students. Always make people a higher priority than programs.
3) Get help. Recruit, equip, empower and encourage other adults to minister on your team.
4) Have a strategy. What will we do and why? What's our vision/purpose/mission?
5) Focus on a healthy ministry NOT a big one.
6) Hang in there! It takes time to build a healthy ministry and to become a healthy leader.


My Lucky Day!

Last night, my cell phone suddenly went totally haywire....it would shut down randomly, wouldn't hang up at the end of a call etc. I'm heading out to Y.S. and just can't be without my phone so early this morning I tracked down the guy at our church who handles all this technical junk for our staff and shared my delima.

He quickly assessed that my phone had fried and decided it was time for an upgrade. He unlocked some magical, mystery drawer and pulled out a brand new Treo. The thing is crazy! It has way more bells and whistles than I know what do with. I already had to ask my buddy Jaime to spend 20 minutes setting the thing up.

I am a little nervous though, because I recently read this article concerning 'blackberry thumb'. Hopefully there's no such thing as Treo thumb.


Google's First Listing

We're in the process of redesigning our junior high website, so I googled 'junior high ministry' and this website was the first junior high ministry listed (fourth total, but first actual youth group). Pretty simple, but I like the podcast, blog and campus update ideas.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: Week two of a two week series on the Bible called 'Check It Out!
'Fun Factor': Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Average
Length of Lesson: 12 minutes
Student Response: Average

A good weekend! Our attendance really seems to be up and down lately...this week we were a bit down. The best part of the weekend was that it was run almost entirely by two of our interns. One of them took point on programming the whole weekend while the other, did the speaking. The program was great, the speaking was great and the overall feel of the weekend was pretty good. We played a GREAT game that we stole from another junior high pastor friend called 'Pac Man Challenge' in which we blindfolded contestents and had them see who could get the highest score before being eaten. Sounds pretty basic, and it was, but our kids loved it.


Ramble, Ramble.

I've been stuck in one place for a long time today with plenty of time for my mind to wonder. Here's where it's gone:

1) I'm sad that so many of us in Christian leadership almost seem to thrive on talking about Ted Haggard's situation. Of course, good Christians like you and me don't gossip....we're just trying to figure out every sordid detail so we can continue to pray.

2) I heard someone say "...back in the 90's" today. Until then I hadn't really felt like the 90's were that long ago. Time moves fast.

3) What type of guy will my daughter fall in love with and wed some day? I mean, think about it...I'm going to 'adopt' a son into my family who is going to spend a whole lot of time around the Johnston's. I hope he's not a kook...even a Jesus-loving kook.

4) Really, who can possibly afford to go snow-boarding anymore? To take my family of four to the slopes for one day will set me back about $300.00. My kids really like going, but it may something the Johnston's just don't do.

5) Why do we argue about Theology so much? Why is it that this argument seems to attract some of the Kingdom's sharpest minds? Why not use those smarts for something that really matters? I guess that within itself is theological question.

6) Two superstars who seem to have slipped into oblivion: Jerry Seinfeld and John Elway. I'm all in favor of riding off into the sunset, but it's surprising when people actually do!


Law Suit

How about this for a funny law suit.
I must be tired this morning because I got myself giggling at the thought of the potential questioning of the plaintiff by the defense attorney:

Defense: "How doe this court know you are being truthful!"
Plaintiff: "Uh, because hips don't lie."


New Website

I don't think I've ever posted about Simply Junior High, but I'm going to now. The tiny little resource company that started about 6 years ago in my garage has slowly grown into a tiny little resource company that isn't in my garage any more. For almost two years, we've had a great partnership with Simply Youth Ministy. I create resources and they figure out how to get them into the hands of people who work with junior high students. Yesterday, they launched a brand new website and I'm really excited about it. There are lots of great places to get junior high and middle school resources. Youth Specialties and Group Publishing are two examples; and I'm excited that SJH is becoming another place people who work with this incredible age group can go to for support, encouragement, training and resources.



At the late-night Middle School Ministry Idea Lab on Friday night I wrapped up our time by asking people to share 'one big win intheir ministry in the past year'. After setting it up, I braced myself for what I was sure was about to come: Lots of reporting on superficial stuff like breaking attendence records or having a great lock-in etc. Instead, every single report was about some sort of 'win' that really meant something. Reports of students being baptized, hurting kids being reconciled, run-aways coming home and so on.

I was encouraged by what was, perhaps, the biggest win of them all: A bunch of middle school youth workers who understand what really matters!

I was a little disappointed in myself for expecting something less.


He Got Me Thinking...

Yesterday morning at the convention, I had an 8:30 coffee chat planned with Marko. I got to the Hilton about a half hour early because I wanted to hear a few minutes of Eric Iverson's workshop titled 'Missions Without Pimping The Poor'. I was interested in his workshop for two reasons: First, we are in the process of changing how we go about missions in our junior high ministry. I'm not sure, yet, if we will only tweak things a bit or if we will go for a more complete re-build. Second, any workshop with the word 'pimping' in it has to be checked out! I could only stay for about 15 minutes and was only able to hear his basic premise, not his recommendations for a solution. However, his premise really got me thinking.

Eric works for a para-church missions agency that last year brought in close to nine million dollars. Thousands and thousands of kids paying around 300 bucks a pop to spend a week helping the poor. His question to himself and to us was this: Do organizations like his actually NEED the poor to continue to exist so they can continue to make income as an organization? In other words: Are the poor simply beeing used, or pimped, by organizations as a source of income? Could we not come up with other ways to expose students to the needs of the world while actually solving some of them at the same time? That's when I had to slip out to meet Ostreicher...I never heard the rest of the workshop and will certainly purchase the recording. But, before I hear his answers and suggestions, I'm going to wrestle through the question a bit on my own.

Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Above Average
Lesson Topic: Week one a two week series on the Bible called 'Check It Out!
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Below Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 14.5 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

A crazy weekend! Some of us were at Y.S. and some of us were helping run the High School program because they were at Y.S. We also had to set up and man a whole bunch of little student atmospheres around the campus as part of our student zone building campaign.
Attendence was huge, our junior high worship team led worship in the adult services, and a few youth pastors from Y.S. dropped by to observe our ministry in action. John, one of our interns, did a GREAT job teaching a really tough topic. He was given the task of giving a fairly detailed overview of the 'facts and figures' of the Bible in about a 15 minute window!
A crazy weekend.....but a good one.


Y.S., Family, and Other Random Stuff

I'm heading out this afternoon to the Youth Specialties convention in Anaheim. Since this one is only 30 minutes up the road, my family is going to come along and hang out for most of the weekend. My daughter is on the junior high worship team and they have been asked to sing in all six adult worship services this weekend, so she'll head home a bit early.

For the past 20 years I've watched junior high kids live extremely busy lives from a distance but now I'm experiencing it first-hand. It's actually been somewhat fun because the vast majority of her business comes from youth group stuff, so it's kinda hard to complain!

I got a new car recently (not new, but new to me) and I'm already having car trouble. I've decided that I am the undisputed king of car trouble. I think it's just in need of a new battery which won't be too expensive or tough to replace.

Day two of our 'nobody has an office' experiment is in full swing. So far, so good. I'm posting this from my cubicle but will likely head over to the 'surf room' in a couple of minutes to get some real work done.


Simple Thought #6: The Political Climate

My dislike for it is growing every day. Not for politics or politicians or for our American system...just for the current climate. The John Kerry fiasco of the last 48 hours has been the final straw.
Was it a botched joke? Did he mean what he said? Did he apologize soon enough? Was his apology sincere? I don't know. What I do know is that I'm sick of 'em. I'm sick of liberals, I'm sick of conservatives, I'm sick of news correspondents, I'm sick of talk show hosts..I'm sick of the whole thing.


GREAT Story #2

The second fun junior high ministry story of the weekend is actually the setting of Jaime's golf cart story....our small group frisbee golf tournament.

Each year we host a big frisbee golf tournament for our small groups. We actually have several permanent 'baskets' on our property and have bought a few more portable ones so we have a nine hole course for this event.

My responsibility for the event was to sit at the Tee Box of one hole all day long. When teams came to my hole, I would give them a proposition: Before they saw my throw, they could agree to let me throw my disc on behalf of everybody on their team. After my throw, they would all run to that spot and then each person would throw their second shot, third shot etc. Every team took me up on my offer because most teams were made up of kids who really couldn't throw a frisbee too far, so getting some extra distance on one hole was a good thing.

The second-to-last group to come my way was an 8th grade girls group that was TERRIBLE! They were having fun, but frisbee golf just wasn't their spiritual gift. They quickly took me up on my offer and I lined up for my throw. The basket for this hole was about 100 yards straight ahead but protected by a few trees lining the left side. Up to that point I hadn't really gotten a shot very close to the hole and, actually, had tossed a couple pretty bad shots that may have done more harm than good for the kids on those teams (remember, if you said 'yes' to my proposition, you HAD to take my shot no matter where it landed). The girls were chearing for me as I threw the disc. It took off looking really good. About half-way there, somebody said 'that could go in!' As it passed the trees, my disc took a gentle turn left and dropped right into the basket. It was amazing....the girls were running around screaming, I was running around screaming. Every girl on the team got to record a hole-in-one for that hole. Very fun.

The funniest part of the story is that I'm really pretty poor at frisbee golf....but those girls will never know it!