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25 Jan 2024

How We Used Sidekick Polls at Our Mid-Year Training

By |2024-01-24T07:55:21-08:00January 25th, 2024|josh griffin, Mariners Youth Ministry, Sidekick Hero Blog|14 Comments

What a fun night! We just kicked off our 2024 Life Group session with a leader training night, and of course … incorporated Sidekick and it’s killer new live polling option.

We asked several questions, but this is the one that had the most buzz:

After we’d given an overview of our upcoming Asking for a Friend series, we asked which of the topics they were most nervous to cover or teach. The answer wasn’t surprising – in fact, it confirmed what we had guessed which ones they would be apprehensive about.

(click image to enlarge)

(click image to enlarge)

And here’ the killer twist … the poll results helped us knew where to spend our time during the training. The top 2 results got the rest of the time in the training. It was incredible … all made possible by a simple phone poll (using Sidekick, naturally). Just another way to use the incredible Gold+ membership presentation software!


11 Dec 2023

How a Silly Idea Called Llamabucks Changed Our Youth Group This Fall

By |2023-12-11T23:47:43-08:00December 11th, 2023|josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Mariners Youth Ministry, Youth Ministry Hacks, Youth Ministry Ideas, Youth Ministry Resources|7 Comments

Last week I had 11 students tell me last week’s memory verse from youth group.

Now, maybe that’s not the most incredible thing in your context, but I added a memory verse to our program over a year ago and this was exactly 8x the most we’ve ever had recite a verse from memory. Now, you could certainly chalk up part of that to poor leadership on my part for the past 365 days, and that’s certainly a contributing factor. But what accounted for the change?

Enter: llama bucks.

Back at Fall Kickoff we introduced a new currency in our youth group, playing off of a llama theme that has kinda taken over. No more prizes, just llama bucks. Serving? Get a llamabuck. Ask a great question in your small group time? Score a llamabuck.

SAY A MEMORY VERSE? Get a llamabuck.

And this thing has taken on a whole life of its own. Despite us having a really horrendous resume and zero experience in distributing an internatioal currency and inflation … we’ve given out thousands of llama bucks. And they can be used in two key ways:

  1. Use them in small amounts right away in the llama store outside the youth room to grab some Nerd Ropes or a Liquid Death (it’s just water people) or some JHM merch.
  2. Save up for the Llama-auction on January 13th, 2024. We have a big event planned with lots of fun, big items (most requested was an eBike, we’ll see, sounds expensive) but we’ll have fun items for students to bid on to use up their bucks.

Reward what you want to see happen in your youth ministry. Not a new idea, just our spin on it … and it’s crushing right now.


1 Aug 2022

Take Your Youth Service to the Next Level!

By |2022-08-01T06:59:13-07:00August 1st, 2022|Games, josh griffin, Teaching/Programming|7 Comments

So you care about programming your weekly youth group service? That’s a win… I LOVE programming! 

I’m especially passionate about programming a thoughtful and engaging youth service in the fall. It’s been my experience that a new school year is the best time to really invest in your weekly program – I like to capitalize on the momentum this season naturally brings!

Most youth groups use some sort of “order of service” to plan their program. There’s a kajillion names for this type of process, a “run sheet” a “flow” or maybe a “program sheet” or some even use a software program like Planning Center Online. There’s several ways to organize your thoughts – whatever works for you to keep everyone on the same page.



I like music playing and I’m always searching for a good playlist. Jump on Facebook in the Download Youth Ministry community group and ask youth workers to share their Spotify playlists and you’ll instantly have a TON of perfectly curated playlists. Or just open the app and search youth ministry and you’ll be flooded with suggestions from youth workers (who might be 10% cooler than you) and have given some time and thought into song selections that will work for just this moment.

On the screen

If you have a projector or TV, I like putting something on the screens for students to look at when they arrive. It adds to the room vibe and it allows visitors something interesting to look at. You can rotate different slides to either 1) promote upcoming events, 2) share some of your values, or 3) just to have some fun pictures of other teenagers connecting and having fun within your youth ministry. It’s attractive when teenagers can see teenagers smiling, laughing and having fun. Don’t be afraid to cycle through a bunch of youth group photos from the previous week.

Countdown Video

My preference is for the pre-service time to end with a countdown video that clearly indicates the service is about to begin. I like it because it’s the official start of the service as well as a reminder for everyone to “turn the corner” or grab a seat. 

Filling Your Programming “Buckets”

I would encourage your programming efforts to begin by defining what you want your service elements to include. Think of a programming element as a bucket—each one of the following elements is a bucket you could fill with different ideas. 

For example: 

  • a game bucket
  • a testimony bucket
  • a video bucket
  • a teaching bucket
  • a mixer bucket
  • a song bucket, so on… there can be many different types of buckets.

Once I know what my programming buckets are I can throw ideas in them as I find them. There are hundreds of different games and game types that I could throw in the Game Bucket, thousands of different songs in the song bucket, in the testimony bucket there could be video testimony, adult testimony, Christian testimony, a non-Christian testimony about why they don’t believe, a YouTube testimony of a famous athlete or movie star… you get the idea. I’m constantly throwing ideas into these buckets. I can’t get to all these ideas every week, but I have a program EVERY week so I need to keep adding to these buckets.

Then, since I have a ton of ideas to choose from my programming buckets, now I have to be selective based on my time-restrictions. How much time is my given program? The time-block is crucial and serves as my filter. I live by a simple time principle in that I’d rather leave students wanting more of a good program element than tired or bored of it… which means, I’ll cut things shorter and leave them wanting to get on to the next programming element. Youth culture is fast-paced, and it’s hard to hold the attention of teenagers for very long. Asking them to be part of a program that runs longer than an hour is asking a lot, so keep that in mind as you put your program together!

NOTE: If your buckets are on low or empty I’d encourage you to head on Download Youth Ministry to grab a game or a countdown. Truth be told, I mostly fill my programming buckets from downloadyouthministry.com since a membership is inexpensive and allows me to buy so many different items. I can even buy messages there for cheap. I like writing my own messages but I’ll definitely use someone else’s message as a trigger or starting point for my message. The way I think about it is that your ministry with students is unique to what only you can do, but programming ideas can come from the minds and experiences of youth workers all over the world. I want more time with my students and using other people’s stuff for programming saves me so much time. 

Service Flow

Now that we have our ideas and our time frame, the next step is to take some time to develop a service flow. I like to use a few simple templates for how the service should go.

  1. Countdown
  2. Opening Song
  3. Welcome
  4. Game
  5. 2 Min Connect Time
  6. 2 Songs
  7. Prayer
  8. Bumper Video
  9. Message
  10. Song/Response
  11. Dismiss.

Something like that would work. There’s no one way to do it, do what’s right for you! 

It may be best to slowly develop 3 variations of your service flow and mix it up every series or so. The key is that students and volunteers feel like the service is “safe” in that it’s something that they can invite their friends to, but also fresh enough that it’s not predictable—I like surprises to keep them guessing. Getting stuck in a rut is no fun for anyone and being predictable is just short of being boring. 

Remember, you’re in this for the long haul—you’re not just doing one service and that’s it. You’ve got this gig every week… every week! So, be desperate for good ideas. Beg, borrow and steal them… again, Download Youth Ministry is your treasure chest for amazing ideas that will fill every bucket.

The weekly program is the centerpiece of a lot of hard work and as soon as this week is finished there’s another one right behind it. But you’ve got it!

Want to get a hand on your programming for this week and many weeks after? Check out the Gold Membership Deal going on right now! Click the pic below to find out how to get the help you need for your weekly program!

Josh Griffin is a 25 year youth pastor veteran and co-founder of DYM. He’s the Junior High Pastor at Mariner’s Church and always 10 minutes late.

8 Jan 2022

Letter to Parents as We Start 2022 in Our Youth Ministry

By |2022-01-08T14:40:20-08:00January 8th, 2022|communication, josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Parents|51 Comments

I just sent out a parent email as we kicked off our new series, My Myself and iPhone. I couldn’t be more excited for this! If it helps/inspires/prompts you with a letter of some sort to your parents, here’s mine:

Hey JHM Parents!

Welcome to 2022! What an incredible and wild ride we had in 2021- we’re excited about the plans to help partner with you in building a faith that lasts in your teenager! Here’s some AMAZING opportunities coming up that will help you as a parent, challenge your teenager and I hope encourage both of you as you journey the New Year together:

FOR STUDENTS: JHM Life Groups Session 2 Kickoff
THIS Wednesday @ 7pm (for 10 weeks)
Students meet all together for a quick bit of fun and games then we separate all over the church campus for small group time to share God’s Word and share about our lives together. Throw in some snacks and a couple of caring adult leaders and you have the perfect Life Group night! Not signed up? Here’s a quick shortcut to get your student in a Life Group!

FOR PARENTS: Intentional Parenting w/Doug Fields
THIS Wednesday @ 7pm (all 10 weeks)
You do NOT want to miss this! You will walk away from these weekly sessions encouraged, engaged, and relieved! Doug and Cathy Fields share weekly (while the kids are in their JHM Life Group!) some strategies and ideas to be intentional, make memories and build a strong connection with your son/daughter in these challenging years. It’s in the Upper Room, right above the Mariners Cafe. Not signed up? Here’s a quick shortcut to get yourself in before it fills completely up!

THIS WEEKEND: Me, Myself and iPhone
THIS SATURDAY/SUNDAY @ all JHM services in the Youth Building
This Christmas I went from Xbox on my 4K television to our new Oculus Quest 2 VR headset then walked my dog (kinda really scrolled on my iPhone the whole time) then came home to watch a Netflix show on my iPad. I mean … there are LOTS of screens and LOTS of temptations and influences in our lives! The next 4 weeks we’ll dive into biblical principles that will help teenagers navigate screens – whether they have their first phone or not.

Let’s have a great 2022 together! As always, feel free to reach out if we can be of support to you in any way.

Josh Griffin
JHM Pastor
Mariners Church

7 Oct 2021

Mariners JHM Weekend in Review: Volume 9

By |2021-10-05T01:13:08-07:00October 7th, 2021|josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Mariners Youth Ministry, Teaching, Teaching/Programming, Youth Ministry Ideas, Youth Ministry Resources, Youth Pastor Life|5 Comments

Weekend Teaching Series: Fact or Fiction (series kickoff, week 3 of 5, Josh speaking)

Sermon Synopsis: This week I went after the FACT that friends are a BIG deal. Also, I got to assign the topics to everyone, so I definitely may have given “Is the Bible true?” to Tammy last week and next week’s “Is Hell real?” to Mandy. Hey, I was tired from a long summer! BUT, friends are super important and a topic we cover regularly for sure. This week we talked through the power of friends, the caliber of your friends and the quantity of friends needed to be successful in junior high.Kids always respond to this talk because it always seems to be a felt need!

Service Length: 65 minutes

  • Key Scripture: Proverbs 18:24

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This week we played a member-only mega hit game, the Fiesta Olympics. It was SO fun – in my review of the product I left some feedback to improve how we ran it this weekend, but it was STILL super super fun. A big departure from our normal screen games (which our kids love) it was more contestant on a game show type experience. SO great,

Student Involvement: We had a student helping lead/host the game this week, which was super fun. As always a robust team working the tech booth (this is a huge highlight in our ministry right now) and had a TON of cleanup this week. The game was more than a little messy … and amazing!

Favorite Moment: The Fiesta Olympics were SO fun! Burritos flying everywhere. SO SO good.

Up next: Fact or Fiction (week 4 of 6, Matt Mullins speaking)

5 Oct 2021

Mariners JHM Weekend in Review: Volume 8

By |2021-10-05T01:04:33-07:00October 5th, 2021|josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Mariners Youth Ministry, Teaching, Teaching/Programming, Youth Ministry Ideas, Youth Ministry Resources, Youth Pastor Life|9 Comments

Weekend Teaching Series: Fact or Fiction (series kickoff, week 2 of 5, Tammy speaking)

Sermon Synopsis: This week Tammy went after the topic of if the Bible can be trusted or not. As Christians we center our lives and worldview around this book – so how do we know it’s true and where did it all come from? Those are some big questions that our junior highers will ask (honestly most of them aren’t right now) but want to build and apologetic-based view of the Scriptures as a foundation for the questions and doubts that will arise in the future.

Service Length: 65 minutes

  • Key Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This week we played two DYM games – one was a huge hit – the Marvelous Marvel Emoji Hunt is an easy winner and really had some clever questions. I was a fan … and all of our students love Marvel movies for sure! And the other game was fine (I should have taken it to the next level) called Whatchu Know About Watermelons? game that worked but didn’t have the same pop of some other games we’ve played. If I had given it more thought, I would have had some free watermelon for everyone, or given a giant watermelon as a prize for the winner. THAT would have been hilarious. Next time!

Student Involvement: This week we continued to see students run the tech booth, lights, sound and even had a couple students greeting. Also, turning the room between services is presenting an opportunity to have other students serve getting their hands dirty as well. Man, junior highers sure can leave a mess behind!

Favorite Moment: I was off this weekend … so that was my highlight. Honestly, being able to trust someone else with the stage is so refreshing in and of itself. It isn’t easy being gone, but knowing a solid communicator is there and the heart of youth group is fully present makes me confident I can be away and get some time for myself, too!

Up next: Fact or Fiction (week 3 of 6, Josh speaking)

14 Sep 2021

Mariners JHM Weekend in Review: Volume 7

By |2021-09-14T09:22:34-07:00September 14th, 2021|josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Mariners Youth Ministry, Teaching, Teaching/Programming, Youth Ministry Ideas, Youth Ministry Resources, Youth Pastor Life|7 Comments

Weekend Teaching Series: Fact or Fiction (series kickoff, week 1 of 5)

Sermon Synopsis: This week was our summer camp reunion service, so it was packed and it was fun. We played the full summer camp video and had an absolute blast swapping stories and checking out the cast of the kid that broke his arm. Doh! We also had baptisms for the first time in 2 years, so the message this week was on baptism, why we do it and why it is important. We haven’t had any type of baptism class in a while, so I just decided to bring to the weekend to start our new series. It was incredible – 40 students got baptized this weekend. NUTS! Felt like literally years worth of baptisms in one evening … my heart is full!

Service Length: 64 minutes + baptisms

  • Key Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:17

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: We had some FUN this week – it was our week after summer camp so pushed all in with SEQUELS weekend! We played the super popular Ancient Artifacts Volume 3, which is now become a hilarious way for leaders and students to connect over long lost technology questions, and after a round of Impossible Shots for the new students visiting for the first time, played another great game that ends a trilogy. Copycats 3 is a hilarious game where students have to try to best reenact the silly cat .gif on the screen in front of them – the crowd votes for the best one. The game isn’t QUITE as good as the originals, but still did super well with our junior highers and would highly recommend!

Student Involvement: This week we had a full compliment of student greeters, the student band and kids moderating the online chat and running streaming. They’re doing an amazing job!

Favorite Moment: This week we had our highest attendance post-covid (or maybe it’s mid-covid, who knows at this point). GREAT seeing students come back, the momentum from summer camp and summer, we’re off and running again. YEAH!

Up next: Fact or Fiction (week 2 of 6, Tammy speaking)

8 Sep 2021

Mariners JHM Weekend in Review: Volume 6

By |2021-09-06T23:52:50-07:00September 8th, 2021|josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Mariners Youth Ministry, Teaching, Teaching/Programming, Youth Ministry Ideas, Youth Ministry Resources, Youth Pastor Life|2 Comments

You can download the weekend program
here to see if how we do it is helpful for you or
inspires you when you create something for your students!

Weekend Teaching Series: What I Wish I Knew in Junior High (series finale, week 6 of 6)

Sermon Synopsis: This week was the conclusion of our big summer series and the week before Summer Camp. It was a great weekend, lots of momentum and excitement for the week ahead of camp. Spooner taught on her junior high experience, capping off a great series that may become and annual event. She talked about the core of who we are on the inside – using the analogy of the earth’s crust, the core, etc. She had a ton of stories about her life in junior high, and it was a solid finale for our summer series!

  • Service Length: 62 minutes
  • Key Scripture: Philippians 4:5-9

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: Say What You See was a fun game we played this week, kinda of a puzzle game that kids seemed to really like. We played it “king of the hill” style so one contestant gets a chance to answer the screen first, if they get it wrong or don’t know, the audience gets a shot. Very fun, kids loved it. Our second game we played Name That Burger, which is a super simple game where it shows a burger on the screen and you have to identify where it came. Sounds simple … but it was pretty hard. See my review on the product page for more info on how I would improve the game if you want to play it in your youth ministry, too.

Student Involvement: This week we had a full tech team of junior high students and they ran Sidekick.TV for both the Pick Me [to pick random a student who checked in for the service] and Wheel of Destiny [to select their prize]. They also ran the live stream service completely with students on camera, lights, sound and the switcher. SO proud of them!

Favorite Moment: This week was our new Huntington Beach youth pastor got to share on stage for the first time. Spooner has been working with our JHM team this summer to get the “Mariners Youth Ministry DNA” before heading to HB to lead their youth ministry. This will be the pattern moving forward as new congregations (some churches called them campuses) and Spooner CRUSHED this summer and set the bar super high for future youth ministry leaders at our new congregations!

Up next: Fact or Fiction (series kickoff, Josh speaking)

7 Sep 2021

Mariners JHM Weekend in Review: Volume 5

By |2021-09-06T19:12:05-07:00September 7th, 2021|josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Mariners Youth Ministry, Teaching, Teaching/Programming, Youth Ministry Ideas, Youth Ministry Resources, Youth Pastor Life|0 Comments

Weekend Teaching Series: What I Wish I Knew in Junior High (week 5 of 6)

Sermon Synopsis: This weekend Mandy spoke about her junior high years and focused in on identity. She talked about all of the things she valued and didn’t value, and how she also felt sometimes that way about herself. She had a TON of ways to engage students, had some funny pictures of her as a junior high student (always a win). She works hard to create  lots of touch points and self-deprecating humor in her message, and could become a regular on the list of people who speak. So fun!

  • Service Length: 62 minutes
  • Key Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:17

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This week we played a SUPER game called Olym-Pics – where you are shown a picture and have to determine if the sport was/is really in the Olympics. They were just plausible enough to really fool a bunch of students and this was the hit game of the weekend. Perfect for the Olympic season and serious fun/chatter had by all. We also played a few quick rounds of 4 Corners Olympics Trivia which was good as well, got kids moving and in the Olympic spirit.

Student Involvement: This week we had 3 student greeters! Yeah, progress!! As always we also had a full tech team of junior high students and they ran Sidekick.TV for both the Pick Me [to pick random a student who checked in for the service] and Wheel of Destiny [to select their prize].

Favorite Moment: I’m a sucker for the Matt McGill sports instructional videos – they’re 3-4m of awkward fun – people think they were made recently and given this amazing late 90s vibe … but they’re actually FROM the late 90s and preserved perfectly. Stupid fun, and I’m here for it.

Up next: What I Wish I Knew in JH (series finale, Spooner speaking)

2 Sep 2021

Mariners JHM Weekend in Review: Volume 4

By |2021-09-01T00:21:15-07:00September 2nd, 2021|josh griffin, junior high, junior high ministry, Mariners Youth Ministry, Teaching, Teaching/Programming, Youth Ministry Ideas, Youth Ministry Resources, Youth Pastor Life|1 Comment

Weekend Teaching Series: What I Wish I Knew in Junior High (week 4 of 5)

Sermon Synopsis: This weekend we continued the What I Wish I Knew with our worship leader Bella Johnson talking about storms from her junior high years and the pressures on a young woman when she was growing up. It was a great message from her story that invited all students to realize that Jesus is with them in their boat and cares for them as the navigate the waters of their junior high years.

  • Service Length: 61 minutes
  • Key Scripture:

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This week we played a couple really fun games First up was Summer Games trivia getting ready for the Summer Olympics and also played the inspiring Matt McGill Sports Instructional Video each week (the 3 pack is just $1 and hilarious, cheesy, nuts) into our crowd favorite … Head, Shoulders, Knees, Cup. It’s SUCH a simple game and yet so perfect. We’ll play it again at Fall Kickoff for sure!

Student Involvement: This week we had a full tech team of junior high students and they ran Sidekick.TV for both the Pick Me [to pick random a student who checked in for the service] and Wheel of Destiny [to select their prize]. I’m proud of our tech students, they’re doing a GREAT job and even started their own Instagram, too!

Favorite Moment: This weekend the church janitor revealed his next creation – a Summer Camp promo animated video! He previously made the amazing Llama Countdown video (now available on DYM as well) and it made me SO proud. He’s SO talented! I’m hoping his stuff blows up on DYM and he can support himself someday with just his amazing creativity. I loved it! Easily my favorite moment of the week.

Up next: What I Wish I Knew in JH (week 5, Mandy speaking)

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