Early on in my career in youth ministry, the time came for us to go on our summer mission trip. When it did, I freaked out because I realized I had no mission trip t-shirts.
As with retreat booklets, I thought that for something to count as a mission trip, it had to have a corresponding t-shirt.
So despite the fact that I have no drawing ability whatsoever, I dutifully sat down and designed a t-shirt for our mission trip team. I spent hours making a simple design: The outline of a body containing the names of everyone participating in the trip. I spent even more time stressing out about the t-shirt.
The day we left for our trip, I handed out the t-shirts I’d designed and forced our team to wear them so that we could arrive in style, proudly modeling our team unity. Amidst moans and groans, our teens reluctantly wore their t-shirts.
But I never saw anyone wear them after that day.
After that, I stopped designing shirts myself and instead bought professionally designed t-shirts.
One year, it was pink. (Imagine how well that went over amongst some of our students!) Another year, it was bright orange and featured a huge monkey on the front.
While buying professionally designed t-shirts allowed me to stop wasting valuable time doing something I wasn’t good at, it still didn’t make my teens want to wear our youth ministry shirts.
Then, I started work at another church. Shortly thereafter, I was informed it was time to order sweatshirts for our youth ministry. I thought to myself, “Oh great. Here we go again.”
Thankfully, rather than articulate my concern, I asked my student leaders where they normally purchased their shirts from. They told me about CustomInk.com and how easy it was to design shirts. In frustration, I cried, “Maybe for you… But it’ll take me hours!”
In response, my student leaders were quick to inform me, “You’re not designing our shirts for us! We’ll do it.”
And you know what?
Since that day eight years ago, I’ve not only stopped wasting my time designing t-shirts, I’ve also stopped wasting my time picking out professionally designed t-shirts that my teens still won’t wear.
Now, anytime we need shirts for something, I tell my teens, “Go to Custom Ink, create your design, and send it to me. Then we’ll choose which one we want to order.”
I’ll admit, there have been times when I’ve had to filter out some designs. For example: The year we went to a Native American Reservation on our mission trip, I eliminated a design featuring Jesus in a headdress.
But aside from having to eliminate a few inappropriate t-shirt designs, I’ve seen nothing but good come from having teens design our shirts.
I’ve gained time I can spend on other things.
Our teens have found a way to valuably contribute to and serve our ministry.
And perhaps most importantly, our teens actually wear the youth ministry shirts they create – loudly and proudly – at church, home, and even school.