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How To Build Small Groups From Scratch

Posted by Justin Knowles

I don't know. I was hoping you can tell me. Coming from Saddleback HSM where small groups was a set part of the culture in the student ministry where I got to mess around with, try new things, and experiment a little bit because they already had a solid structure for small groups and a solid system for how they managed and trained volunteers. If you want to know how to run an effective small groups ministry well, go see what they do.

Now in my new position, things are rolling and are going great, but there is no small group structure at all. they have some small groups that meet, but they will be the first to tell you that they are just kind of random and no real direction. I love the fat that even there is no real structure, there are still volunteers and students who see the importance of meeting in a small group together. 

So what do you do to build a small group structure for when there is none? I'm not sure, but I'm hoping my time running the small group ministry for Saddleback HSM can help me. I just met with one of my staff members and a volunteer who has begun a small part in trying to organize what small groups we have going on now. We talked about the following things to help launch our program:

It's going to take time: The fall is already here. We are going to move forward with things already planned because there is no way to do an overhaul in time. But we can work with what we have now so next year when we focus on small groups specifically and have time to develop what we want, the current leaders will be veteran and will be able to set the tone. Building a healthy small groups structure will take time. Lots of time. Be patient and be consistant.

We set goals: If there are no goals you cannot measure if you are growing or not. What do you want to see in your small groups ministry? What are the steps you need to take to make sure you reach those goals? Make a list and start chipping away at the practical steps. If you want more volunteers, turn into a college football recruiter and seek after people. If you want to help leaders know how to lead an effective discussion, help them understand how to do so. Our goal for this year is to effectively train and care for the leaders we have now. Meaning, we want to set clear expectations, set curriculum, and have training and meetings to care for them.

Expectations of leaders: Expectations are huge. If they are a leader, do they need to be both a small group leader and be at services with you when you meet? Can you do one or the other? Are meetings mandatory? If there are clear expectations leaders will know what they are signing up for and what it is they are actually supposed to be doing when they are there (There is a really good 5 Minute Youth Minsitry video here on the site with Doug Fields and Mark Mattlock on volunteers).

Leader training: Leading a small group is more than just getting together. Sometimes most leaders think they need to be able to preach and teach for 30 minutes in a group. They get that at services. Small groups are about facilitating discussion and allowing students to answer good questions. Not everyone knows how to lead a small group. So we need to train them on how that happens. 

Systems to support groups: If a new student wants to sign up for a small group, how are they followed up with? How does someone get info about the group? How do you know what groups are available and when/where they meet? Thinking through this on the front end will help you do it effectively when it grows. 

I love trying to start things from scratch. I love the challenge. This will be a fun and long process and I'm excited to see how God will move. I believe small groups is where it is at and how students will grow an established faith where they can be real, authentic and honest with things happening in their faith and life. 

The Unusual Suspects for Teen Depression

Posted by Rachel Blom

Depression has been in the news a lot lately, especially since the tragic death of Robin Williams. I for one am glad that this devastating mental illness is no longer a taboo, but is becoming more and more accepted, if not always understood. 

A recent article in Seventeen magazine made me once again aware that there are some unusual suspects for teen depression. Too often, we think the teens who are withdrawn, on the 'outside', are the ones at risk for depression. They may be, but this article portrayed three young girls who seemed to have it all until they suddenly committed suicide. They were good students, academically succesfull, with a bright future ahead of them. Only afterwards did their family and friends find out about their secret struggles and depression.


Type A personalities are high risk for depression because of their need for perfection. One of the girls mentioned in the article was a straight A student and an acomplished athlete who was on track for some prestigious scholarships, yet she feared failing more than anything. The sheer pressure of keeping that perfect life was too much for her.

When you assess your students for possible signs of teen depression, look deeper that the perfect outside. It may be the perfect student, the popular boy or girl who has it all, who may need your help the most.


The New IMPACT Serving Wall in HSM

Posted by Josh Griffin


I posted a picture of our brand new IMPACT wall on Instagram this past week and had quite a few people asking for more details on it. Thought I would share, so here goes:

1) IMPACT is the name that encompasses all of serving in our high school ministry. When we talk about IMPACT, students know it is about getting involved and making a difference in someone's life.
2) The IMPACT wall is a way for students to see what opportunities in a self-service, low pressure way. No one mans the wall, but we try to have someone close in case they have questions.
3) The wall is divided into 3 parts - serving in HSM, serving in our church and serving around the world. All of the content under those categories can change based on new ministries, seasons and availabilty of leadership to run the groups.

We're all about getting students to serve - this is one way to show that value as well as point interested students in the right direction.


Killball Promo Video for Saddleback High School Ministry

Posted by Josh Griffin

Taffy made this simple and fun video to help promote the best event of the year. Man, killball is the best. If you want to do a similar event with your students, get the Dodgeball Event Kit right here on DYM.


5 Minute Youth Ministry: Mark Matlock on Youth Ministry Volunteers

Posted by Josh Griffin

Here's a fun little video with Doug Fields and Mark Mattlock on how to help our volunteers succeed. Great, quick content here!


Be AWARE Of Labels

Posted by Leneita Fix

Expressions-16As youth people we are interacting with all different types of students all of the time.  All we know is what we encounter when they show up.  There are portions of their stories they share, which are small snippets and views into their lives.  Yet,  I am struck with how little we actually get to truly see into the heart of a student. 


This hit me recently on three occasions. 

  1. Interacting with a student I had never met who shared her whole story with me at a church picnic.
  2. Spending a weekend with a small group of JH students who gave me insights into their thoughts on life.
  3. My own child struggling with some relationships.

It hit me in each scenario that there was a layer of the students I hadn't seen previously upon just "seeing" students.  

Let me work backwards in each of these scenarios.

My child:

What's REALLY going on:

The last 7 months have been REALLY hard on her.  It began when my husband had to move states without us to start a new ministry job and we had to finish out the school year apart from her Dad.  When we "finally" were all together we had to move houses three times until we were able to find a place of our "own,"  two weeks after school started. The current house has had a lot of issues so we are  still not fully "in."  We moved back to an area we had lived in 2 1/2 years ago.  This should make it smooth right?    No.  Upon returning a "friend" told her that when she left the first time,  "A lot of people were really glad you left because they didn't like you. But, I'm glad you're back."  She never knew that people didn't like her.  She doesn't feel like the people on her sports team like her now.  She is having a hard time navigating new teachers with different expectations from her last school.  On top of all of that our new house?  We serve in an inner city neighborhood with a lot of "struggles" of it's own.  She doesn't feel like there is really anyone to talk to about how she really feels about the reality of where we live being different from friends who live in the suburbs.

What others SEE:

A JH age student who is barreling through life.  She is clinging too tightly to friends who knew her.  So much so they feel smothered right now.  So much so they are moving on and asking for space.  She has become selfish and wants her way most of the time.  At home her emotions are all over the place and this is coming out in some settings where she feels "safe" like sports practices and youth group.


Small group of girls:

What I learned:

In spending time with the JH girls group I learned they are struggling with not wanting to  grow up and feeling lonely.  Some come from blended families and are navigating how to "feel like they all belong together."

What I saw?

A group of girls who were silly, brash and wanting to all "have their own way."  We had to figure on more than one occasion how to get everyone to work together.


Girl I just met:

What I learned:

She has had a horrendous year being diagnosed with a chronic illness, moving states,  and the death of a parent.  It didn't take long for her to spill her story of loss and disappointment.  I also learned as her remaining family moved in with grandparents,  her living parent is ill,  and this is the first time in her life she recalls living in a house.   At some points her family has been so poor they have lived five of them in one motel room.

What We See:

A really dramatic young woman who might have been a little too at "ease" with sharing difficult details of her life. She was obviously hungry for attention and trusted adults more than her peers.  She was desperately afraid of being made fun of.  


Are you catching the pattern here?  It's so easy to dismiss our students with a label based on the presentation of themselves they give us.  I could easily call any of these students,  "dramatic,"  "emotional" or even "difficult."   What I am wondering is how often we are willing to stop and get to know what's going on beyond the surface.  Could it be "more" than "just their age?"   It takes A LOT of work to look beyond the surface and ask others to do the same.  Could we be coaching them to navigate life a little better than they are? I'm not saying they are reacting well,  but perhaps they (and their parents) could use some help? Their peers don't know to stop and say,  "Hey,  is something else going on here?"  I do wonder what friendships would look  like among teens if we taught them to be supportive instead of focused on self preservation?

We are only a month or less into the school year.  Let's make sure we aren't just dismissing students based on the behavior we see.  Instead let's make sure to get beyond what we "see."  Let's help them learn to navigate life a  little better.

How do you dig deeper with students?

Topics: student mnistry

How to Take Sick Pics with Colton and Matt

Posted by Josh Griffin

Just a fun video to celebrate the end of summer and have a little fun.


HSM Teaching Series Fall 2014

Posted by Josh Griffin


This Fall in our high school ministry we're taking on some great new topics and passages of Scripture. Here is what we're teaching on at Saddleback Church this Fall:

A 3-week Jesus series to start the school year
Worship Together Weekend
HSM Fall Kickoff & ICON series (week 1 of 3)
ICON series (week 2 of 3)
ICON series (week 3 of 3)
A 3-week series on making wise choices: friends, decisions & words
Worship Together Weekend
Wisdumb (week 1 of 3)
Wisdumb (week 2 of 3)
Wisdumb (week 3 of 3)
Worship Together Weekend
Shortcuts (week 1 of 3)
Shortcuts (week 2 of 3)
Shortcuts (week 3 of 3)
Christmas (1-off)
HSM's 2nd Annual Christmas Program


DYM Book Club: 10 Most Influential Books

Posted by Rachel Blom

It's been eerily quiet in the DYM Book Club these last summer months, but we're back!

As anyone who is on Facebook may have noticed, there's a post that keeps popping up where people share 10 books that have been most influential to them. I'm usually not a fan of being 'forced' to do anything (I can be grateful for three things every day without people telling me to, thank you very much!), but I love this idea. It's given me interesting insights into the kind of books that have touched my Facebook friends, influenced them. 

And I'm not the only one who thought this was interesting, as Mashable shared some fascinating data compiled from all these top 10 of most influential books Facebook update. OK, so Harry Potter makes it to the top spot, which may anger some Christians. But God's Word still makes it to number 6, which suprised me in a good way. Plus the top 25 or so contain some true classics.


I thought it would be great to share some of our own most influential books here as well. They can be fiction or non-fiction, Christian or not, youth ministry related or completely something else. The only criterium is that these books have influenced you in a big way, have touched you, or have stayed with you affter reading them.

So here's my Top 10 of most influential books in random order (I'm excluding the Bible though, since I consider that to be in a class on its own! I've also excluded fiction because I could make a top 10 of that all on its own, I love books so much...)) and I hope you'll share yours in the comments or in the DYM Book Club Facebook Group!

  1. The Power of Focus  - Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt
  2. Contemplative Youth Ministry - Mark Yaconelli
  3. Building a Discipling Culture - Mike Breen
  4. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die- Chip and Dan Heath
  5. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work- Chip and Dan Heath
  6. The Grace Awakening- Charles Swindoll
  7. Conspiracy of Kindness- Steve Sjogren
  8. The Ragamuffin Gospel- Brendan Manning
  9. Heaven- Randy Alcorn
  10. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels- N.T. Wright

I could have easily listed 10 more books that have impacted me, but let's keep it at this for now. I'd love to see your lists!

(Photo Credit: Kate ter Haar)

POLL: Does Youth Church Leadership Support the Youth Ministry?

Posted by Josh Griffin

I get a chance to talk to youth workers all of the time, and one of the recurring themes of some of my recent conversations is the support of the church. This is a struggle for all youth workers at some point in their ministry, there's often so many iniatives or ministries that youth inistry can feel left behind. How is your current situation? Vote now!


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Josh Griffin


Josh is the High School Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. He’s the co- founder of DYM and is the father of 4 who speaks a little, writes a little, Twitters a bit, and blogs a lot.

Doug Fields

doug_fieldsDoug Fields is a 30+ year youth ministry veteran who is the Author of 50+ books, Founder of Simply Youth Ministry, Speaker, Pastor, Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth & Family at Azusa Pacific University, and a Partner in DYM.

Rachel Blom


Rachel Blom is from The Netherlands originally and has youth ministry experience in several countries, both as a volunteer and on staff.

Matt McGill


Blogging with eternal wisdom. Matt McGill is the visionary behind Download Youth Ministry. He convinced his 2 friends Josh and Doug to partner with him and create this whole place.

Justin Knowles


Justin Knowles is the Lead Next Gen. Pastor of Christ's Church of the Valley in San Dimas, CA. He oversees Jr. High, High School and College ministries at the church.

Colton Harker


Blogging about his First 2 Years in Youth Ministry. Colton is just starting out in youth ministry and blogs about what he is learning along the way.

Christopher Wesley


Blogging serving at a Catholic Church. Chris Wesley has been in youth ministry for over 9 years as the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Maryland.

Jen Bradbury

Jen-BradburyJen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She's the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She also blogs regularly at ymJen.com

Neely McQueen

Jen-BradburyBlogging about girls' ministry. Neely McQueen has been working with students for over 15 years. She works in Student Ministries at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, WA.

Laneita Fix

Jen-BradburyAuthor, Speaker, Director Ministry Development for Asian Youth Ministries. Love 22 years of working with youth and equipping others in the trenches in youth ministry.

Geoff Stewart

Jen-BradburyGeoff Stewart serves the Jr/Sr High School Pastor at Peace Portal Alliance Church in Surrey B.C. and doesn't appreciate the jokes about being Canadian (unless they are funny of course).

Kara Powell

Jen-BradburyDr. Kara E. Powell is executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. A 20- year youth ministry veteran, she speaks regularly at youth ministry conferences and is author or co-author of a number of books and volunteers in student ministry at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA.

Walt Mueller

Jen-BradburyBlogging about youth culture and current events. Dr. Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, a non-profit organization serving schools, churches, and community organizations across the U.S, Canada, and worldwide in their efforts to strengthen families.

Duffy Robbins

Jen-BradburyDuffy travels the world speaking to teenagers and people who care about teenagers. Both in the classroom and in camps, conferences and seminars, he's well known for his insights, inspiration and humor.

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