The Power of Ice Cream

I’ve been a high school small group leader for the past eight years and I’m always amazed by the power of a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. There are always those weeks during the year when you run out of energy, time, or the capacity to plan for your weekly lesson. I think we can all admit to being there at some point or another.

On those nights I’ve adopted the rule that instead of faking it to make it, I surprise my group with intentional fellowship. I’ve usually seen something on Instagram or Twitter in the past week or so that’s made me cringe so I try to rope that topic into the night in some form or another. But take note, it’s all done with Ben & Jerry’s being at the center of the table with multiple spoons in each pint.

These nights have ended up to be some of the best. The vulnerability that comes out as we sit eating our favorite flavors in sweatpants, is amazing. I’ve had girls open up about secret relationships, addictions and even frustrations and hatred aimed at people around the table. Most of these nights I sit back and let the students pastor each other and that’s what I love most!

It cost a few extra bucks but it’s totally worth it. You’ll laugh, make some new memories, and break ground on the real stuff happening in the lives of your students. So bust out the ice cream and see where the Lord guides the night!

The First Night

I will never forget December of my freshmen year of high school. I grew up in a Christian home and attended church every weekend and midweek every Wednesday night. However, as a teen I never enjoyed it. This is the story of the night that changed, and I changed, for good.

On a Wednesday night I walked into a new friend’s home. What I experienced next was radical to me; something that all of our students should feel. I was in the youth group of my friend’s church, but we were in her house. I was greeted with kind words, open arms, and leaders who intentionally got to know me that night.

Within twenty minutes I was braiding some girl’s hair while talking about Manchester United with the guys. I don’t know how it happened as I was an extremely shy introvert growing up, but it did. Now as I adult I look back and know what I experienced that night was the love of Jesus flowing out of his people.

That’s how our youth groups/small groups should look and feel. What if every group was a place where students felt so loved that they couldn’t help but bring their friends to group? And then what if those friends felt the love of Jesus so they became committed to followers and invited their friends?

The ripple effect of having a welcoming, friendly, family-like youth group is astonishing. It doesn’t require money or flashy programs. It just requires the love of Jesus being rooted in the hearts of students. It’s been sixteen years since that night. The small group leader  I was assigned to that night is still involved in my life! She’s one of my best friends, as is that friend who invited me to group the first night.

This leads me to two questions I hope readers will reflect on:
1. Is your youth group a place where visitors see and experience Jesus through your students?
2. If not, what needs to change?

Let’s have a conversation about this. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. What works for you? Do you have questions about how we do Life Groups at Saddleback Church? I’d love to chat back and forth about this.

Print Your Own T-shirt Night

For my day job, I own a company that prints T-shirts, signs and stickers. Something that gives me a lot of joy in youth ministry is getting to use my vocation to benefit my students. I keep a T-shirt printing press in my garage so once a year I can let my Bible study students print life group shirts. The shirt always has four elements:

  1. A cool design
  2. Every student and leaders’ name
  3. Our Bible verse for the year
  4. The year we printed the shirts

Here’s a picture of this year’s shirt design

You don’t need a printing press to do this project. You could easily do this with great results using iron-on paper to transfer the design onto the shirts. The fun is in your students doing the shirts themselves and having matching shirts unique to your group.

If you would like to customize this design for your own ministry, it’s available for download from the vym store (linked below).

I Gave Up and Was Better For It

This one was very difficult for me to do. This year I started over with a new group of Freshmen. Their parents were very cordial and involved, in a healthy way. Several of them offered to send desserts or help out in any way we needed.

I absolutely love making desserts. I actually have a philosophy on the subject. Nothing happens in my Life Group by accident, unless it’s a God-thing. I believe desserts should be amazing and homemade because it may be the only homemade dish a student gets in a week. It also shows a level of caring if it gets dished out into a students bowl by a leader. As the saying goes, “The way to a [student’s] heart is through his stomach.”

I very reluctantly took parents up on their offer. I even setup an online calendar they could sign up on for our weekly desserts… hoping they wouldn’t. They did. I haven’t provided any desserts this year.

One week a parent sent 5 glorious dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. All of them got eaten. My boys were bouncing off the walls. Sometimes a well-meaning mom will send store bought cookies. That’s not what I would prefer, but the benefit far outweighs the let down.

Here’s why this is the best thing ever: By allowing parents to have some ownership in Life Group, I have a greater opportunity to get to connect with them and know them better. Youth ministry done right includes not just the student, but the family connected to the student. Knowing the families better means I know the students better.

Small Group Culture Legacy

This is a follow up to my last post about meeting with the new small group leader my recent high school graduates have. Their new leader has the same passion I do for seeing the boys grow spiritually. We even have some of the same personality traits. We’re both kinda shy until you get to know us. For that reason, they are having trouble connecting with the guys like I did over the course of 4 years.

Here’s what our conversation helped me realize. While I did a great job of loving the guys, teaching the boys the Bible and Christian living, I didn’t set them up well for what comes after they leave my group. I knew it would be a struggle whereever they went because they would never find exactly what we have. We have developed traditions, and a unique culture.

I emailed the boys after I met with their new leader. I gave them some tips on how to connect with them. During my meeting with their leader, I also gave him some ideas for how to replicate the connections I had with them, and even gave some insight on the personality of each of the boys.

This whole conversation made me realize something that I will do from now on. Instead of hoping my boys land in a good situation whereever they go after my group, I will teach them how to take the culture of our group with them. They will, rather than look for how they will be served by their new ministry, learn how to recreate what we have in our group in the new group they join after high school.

By doing this, they will be trainers that will help other leaders develop the relational skills and traits we develop in the 4 years they are with me. Here’s the benefit, by taking this approach I am not only teaching my boys how to love God and live for him, I’m also teaching how to take our culture with them and develop it in others. I am teaching them to be teachers of healthy small group culture. This will also greatly reduce the likelihood they will graduate from their faith when they graduate from my group.

I highly recommend my leaders do the same with your students. Think of the impact you’ll have on people you’ll never meet by teaching them to take your unique culture with them. That’s for sure leaving a legacy. After we’re gone from this earth, we can still make an impact that way. I love that potential.

To read about the culture I develop with my students, download Volunteer Youth Ministry, A Roadmap For Effective Leadership