More Than Just a Hangout




Meeting up with a youth for the first time can be somewhat intimidating. You want them to be part of your group,  hope they like you and you’re trying to make a great impression.  Seriously, sometime I feel more pressure than I did when I first met my wife. Maybe you are meeting with them because their parents wanted you to meet them first, or they have been around group but haven’t really connected with anyone and you want to help. Whatever the reason, knowing what to say and what to do in those conversations can make a lasting impression.

Make a Connection

     By making a connection to the life of a youth you show that you are interested in them and care. This may take asking questions about what they like to do, favorite activity, future goals. Start sharing some of yours too; it is not an interview, but a conversation together. Remember to have fun and laugh. Some of the first questions that I ask may seem silly but they help to ease tension and break the ice. Ask them about school, who there best friend is (sometimes it is easier to talk about other people than it is to talk about ourselves), what is there favorite type of movie, or what they are currently binge watching on Netflix.

Do Something Together

    Don’t just have this conversation sitting at the kitchen table or in your office. Go out and do something together. Go hiking, out to lunch, grab a coffee, or even play catch with a football. We can create barriers when we sit across from someone, barriers of authority and division. Yet, when we do something alongside one another, barriers begin to fall and genuine relationships begin to form.

Invite Them to What is Next

    After you meet with the youth, exchange numbers with them and invite them to the next event. Attend the event with them, have them sit with you and show some excitement that they are there. After the first meet up, text in a few days and just see how they are doing. Follow up with any questions they asked or any part of the conversation that was left opened. You are trying to build a relationship that will allow you to help them grow in faith and in life. Don’t just hang out with them once and bail, but be consistent with your time and presence in their lives.





As we wrap up the basic youth needs, look for ways that they are all connected. The last three of the basic youth needs are products of the first five. They may be able to stand alone, but when they are in context of other basic youth needs they can flourish. Here are the last three:

  • Discuss conflicting values and discover their own values
  • Feel pride of competence and mastery
  • Expand their capacity to enjoy life and know that success is possible

If youth feel a sense of safety and belonging in a group…

…then, they are able to discuss conflicting values and discover their own.

If youth are able to contribute meaningfully to the world around them…

  …then, they can feel pride of competence and mastery.

If youth are able to develop significant relationships, gain control of their lives, feel safety and security and be part of a group…

…then, they can expand their capacity to enjoy life and find success.

These basic youth needs are not a tiered to-do list. They are connected and feed off of one another. Look for the connections and patterns between them all and you find that when you can group a few of them together you will have most influence in the life of a youth. How can you create safe spaces among groups for youth to discuss personal values? What type of activities can you set up for youth to give back to the community and contribute meaningfully? How can you walk with youth in such a way that they are able to find success and joy in life? As a caring adult how can you call out the essence of youth that you work with all the time and be a champion for theme?

Think about the events and moments that you have seen great connections between youth and the adults who work with them. I am sure they met many of the basic needs of youth, most likely not on purpose.

Some of these are no brainers for people who work with youth. Yet, when we can create strategies to foster the development of these basic needs we can create better programs, include more youth, influence more families, develop deeper relationships and love people better.

Just One.



It only takes one caring adult to change everything.

One caring adult can impact a youth in such a positive way that it changes the trajectory of their lives.

In social work circles there is a common test to understand the impact of trauma on a young person’s life. It is called ACEs, adverse childhood experiences. They say two is a lot. I have 10, but the story doesn’t end here.

There is also a measure of the resiliency that a youth has. If the youth has a higher resiliency score they lessen the negative impacts that trauma causes on youth.  I have all of the resiliency measures. See, resiliency beats trauma every time.

What is awesome is most of the measures of resiliency are something one caring adult can give to a youth, or help them to access. They are things like showing value in school, having someone to talk about how you feel, having someone know what makes you happy or sad, telling them what they are good at and someone for youth to inspire to be like. You can do all of that for a youth.

Think back, who was that one adult for you? Was it a coach or a teacher? Or was it the parents of one of your best friends? Maybe it changed over the years. You can give back to youth right now in the same way.

It is one of the basic youth needs, to simply have a significant quality relationship with just one adult. Josh Shipp, and our friends at Orange, get this. Leverage everything you have as an adult to impact the life of just one young person. There is power in it.

It can change everything.

You can change everything.

Brains behind the Fun

#misfits, adolescent, students, Uncategorized



Orange Conference is coming!

Seriously, I look forward to this all year.  Orange definitely knows how to throw a party. There is great music, lots of fun, and ton of wisdom thrown at you.

That’s what I love about Orange. They’re smart and know what they’re talking about.

As someone who has been to countless training’s by leading experts in fields of youth and child development, education, psychology and sociology, Orange blows me away with their information. The “It’s Just a Phase” materials are an awesome resource that blends so many areas of knowledge into one place. I often find myself in a training at some other conference and I can say “I know that already.” The reason I can is because Orange has been looking at best practices and how to integrate those into their resources for years.

They are great people that want to partner with you to see kids come to know Jesus and to see your ministry flourish.  Orange is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be the church to our neighbors and to one another. The best speakers assemble at Orange conference to inspire and inform us all in the best way to walk through life with our youth. They want to see us be in the fight with them.

And it’s not too late. If you’ve never been to Orange Conference make it a priority for 2018. If you have, who can you bring with you to share the experience with? Here’s a secret you can save $70 on the conference if you sign up by December 14th.

What are you waiting for? Go! You’ll be able to take your ministry to the next level with the wisdom that gets shared at Orange Conference.


#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, purpose, students, Uncategorized


Sometimes youth simply need space to figure things out on their own. Come on, this one shouldn’t be a surprise to you. Think back to when you were a teenager. No matter how many times someone told you not to do something or warned you about the “severe consequences” of this or that, chances are you still did it.

One of the basic needs for youth is to “experiment to discover self, gain independence and to gain control over one’s life.” In other words, youth need space to try to figure out who they are.

This can be very difficult for some people, especially parents. Hopefully, a trust has been formed through giving youth the other basic needs that you can put some slack out on the reigns.  Think about it for a moment, you’ve helped give you safety and structure, given them a place to belong and helped them develop self-worth; they should be getting a great glimpse of their identity.

Youth will try to test that out. This is the experiment phase as adults we dread for our young people. They can engage in risk-taking behavior, question their faith, question authority and in their journey of self-discovery have the potential to miss the mark completely.

It takes caring adults to walk with youth in these moments. Adults who will act as waypoints when youth lose their way; to be a lighthouse calling the ships back from sea.

I love the stories I’ve heard recently about parents creating codes with their kids so the kids can have a way out of a tough situation. The teen will text their parents, older siblings, or even you, the code word and in response they would call the teen saying that they are coming to get them it is an emergency, or some other excuse. See, youth often know that they may not want to be in a situation, they need that independence to make that choice themselves, and sometimes they just need an escape plan. This plan works great because the teen has an escape but feels safe because the parents establish trust enough not to ask the teen questions and punish them. What steps can you take to help the youth around you get a sense of independence?

Hang tough as the youth who you work with are on this journey of self-discovery. Call out the greatness you see in them. Walk with them in the messes they make and help them figure out how to clean it up best. This is how teens learn to handle all the stress, poor decisions and chaos that life can throw at them. It is scary, but love them and pray like crazy.

Do Something

#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, Student Ministry, students, Uncategorized



When I talk with youth workers about how to engage youth I talk about the BIG 3. These are three questions that youth wrestle with:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where do I belong?
  3. What am I to do?

The first question deals with identity; the second, community and the third question deals with purpose.

A basic youth need is to develop self-worth through meaningful contribution.

For youth workers that means to help youth find their voice, find their passion and get involved. Youth should find their purpose and figure out how to use that purpose in a way that is bigger than themselves.

This contribution often looks different for each youth. It is unique because of who the youth is and where they feel they want to get involved. Maybe it is a local youth council, volunteering at church or at a community center,  or being part of school activities.

Youth simply need to know that they can contribute something to the world. That who they are, and the things they can do, matters to the world around them.

Not sure how to get the ball rolling in helping youth get plugged in somewhere? Ask them some good questions, what they like to do, what are some of their talents and passions? For instance, if a young man loves basketball try to see if he could volunteer to coach young kids.

You are a great resource for youth because you are able to see some of these connections better than them and have your own social network to tap into to get them involved. As you walk with youth help them to leave a mark on the community they are a part of.



eleven dustin and mike group hug stranger things

As people there is an innate desire in us all to feel like we belong to community;  to feel like we are part of a something bigger than ourselves. People call them by different names whether it’s tribes, small groups, or clubs we all have this same need. The first basic need for youth was a feeling of safety and the presence of structure. The second tackles the desire in us all to experience belonging, to have group membership and be actively engaged there.

I think of the kids in Stranger Things that always stick together and formed bonds with one another. If you have never seen the show I suggest you watch it just to see the bond between friends. When things get scary they count on one another, they laugh with one another and they challenge one another to be better. Relationships matter and they especially matter to the youth we work with. A successful program is one where everyone belongs and they feel like they matter there.

In groups that I have been a part of that have seen this success, these programs have these things in common:

Youth Show Up for One Another

When one youth is going through a tough time, other youth rally around them for support. They go to sporting events to cheer one another on. Youth know that other members of the group are there for them and can help them when they need it.

Respect and Care for One Another

Youth demonstrate that they respect one another. They listen to others perspectives and share opinions and beliefs. They feel safe within that group to share deep things and know that other people won’t ridicule or manipulate them with that information. Sometimes, respect looks like caring for someone enough to challenge them to be better.

Celebrate One Another

Youth love to party and have fun. Youth who are feel that they belong often celebrate with one another. Whether it is a birthday party or congratulating someone on a great test score, youth look for ways to encourage and celebrate with the other people in the group.

In your programs and events take some time to think about how you can promote a sense of belonging in the youth that are present. Is there a particular youth that needs this feeling more than others? Can you set up some veteran youth to make new, and younger, youth feel welcome?





We all want to feel safe. I know people who have to pick exact seating in restaurants just to get glimpse on who walks in, just in case.  The feeling of safety is a big deal. It is one of the basic needs for all youth; the need to feel safe and have a structured environment. Who knew that youth need structure, it goes against all of our preconceived notions. We have made it seem that all teenagers are rule-breakers, risk-takers and want nothing to do with adults. We remember times when the youth we work with yell at us, fight with one another or just do risky things. What if all that negativity happened because they did not have factors in place that allowed them to feel safe and set expectations and structure?

A great way to make sure there is a sense of safety and structure is to think through and implement great systems and procedures. Think through what youth should be expecting to do at any given point in a program. Then think, how do they know they should do it? Get into a routine in the planning of group meetings and program events. The routine helps establish those expectations and answers the question, what next? Get in systems for everything you can, from attendance, to ending group, to going over guidelines. Before I start every group I start with the main tenets that I go by of safety and respect. These two are huge in keeping conversations on topic and group running smoothing. Talk through what things are appropriate and not appropriate. If something comes up you are not sure of, communicate.

Communicate expectations to everyone, often. Parents should know routines and expectation just as much as the youth. If you are having trouble with one or two youth particularly, communicate with the parents about it and try to find some solutions. Let parents know about how volunteers are trained and recruited. If you can communicate structure and expectations of a situation or event, youth rise to meet those expectations.

When there are adequate structures in place, youth know what is expected of them which helps them feel safe.


#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, life, purpose, Student Ministry, students, systems, team building, Uncategorized


As youth workers we often get the privilege of watching a youth grow over multiple years. Friends over at Orange have broken these down in what they call Phases. Each phase has unique strengths and challenges for that age group.  Youth are often asking similar questions and have similar concerns that are unique to that particular phase. Many moons ago, Dr. Gisela Konopka, helped pioneer the way for youth development and helped generate eight basic needs that all youth need to develop in a healthy way. Over the next few weeks I want to look at each of these basic needs, why they are so important and ways that you can help youth that you work with meet these needs. The eight basic needs for healthy youth development are:

  1. Feels Sense of Safety and Structure
  2. Experience active participation, group membership, and belonging.
  3. Develop self-worth through meaningful contribution
  4. Experiment to discover self, gain independence, and gain control over ones life
  5. Develop significant quality relationships with peers and at least one adult
  6. Discuss conflicting values and navigate their own values
  7. Feel pride of competence and mastery
  8. Expand their capacity to enjoy life and know that success is possible

Before we dive into the how we can help youth attain these important developmental needs, we should evaluate where we are currently.

First, when you think of youth development what do you think of? What does it sound and look like?  what experiences are important? What do youth value? What does it feel like? Jot some ideas down and hang it up somewhere.

When you were a youth, which of these were important to you? They all have an importance to the eight basic needs of youth.


Finally, what is your program doing right now to meet some of these needs?

When we are able to help meet the needs of our youth, we are able to better walk with them through their lives. As we look through these basic needs, we are able to improve our practices and our programs to allow for youth to have a place to belong.

Start the Conversation about Mental Health


Desperate Man Suffering Emotional Pain, Grief And Deep Depressio


Talking to teens about mental health can be awkward. There are some personal questions to ask we are not sure we would even answer and may even feel unequipped to handle such a conversation. Netflix shows like ’13 Reasons’ and ‘To The Bone’ can heighten the awareness of mental health and have brought up conversations about mental health. By no means is this blog the ultimate answer to having these conversations but should be a starting place for your organization to look at how these conversations take place and why they are so vital to the well-being of the youth that you work with.  There are a lot of great resources online to help navigate these conversations and promote mental health in the youth that you work with. Get informed, get trained and promote the mental health of youth just as you would promote other types of health. On the bottom of this post are some resources to start you off with.

Take Notice

    While it is good to talk and inform youth about general mental health, there are specific signs to look for if you feel something is going on with a youth specifically. There may be a dramatic loss of interest in things that youth were typically involved in, a loss of appetite or over eating. Feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, feeling hopeless and alone can all be warning signs that something is up. Other things to look out for may be that they start to have trouble in school, work or having trouble thinking and with their memory. As a youth worker you are often in close proximity to the lives of the youth that you are working with. If there are dramatic changes in behavior, attitude or outlook, or even there is a major life event (major for the youth, not just from your perspective), check in with them and start a conversation.


    So you took notice that something might be off but you are not sure where to start. Simply start with the things that you have notice have changed. Their demeanor, their lack of appetite or general mood. People often drop the ball in these conversations because of stigmas related with mental illness but simply asking if they are feeling depressed, angry, unstable, suicidal may open up the conversation to find real help. Listen to the youth, no really, listen to them and what they are communicating to you. Don’t just wait for your turn to share an experience or give advice, simply listen. Ask them what they feel they need to help them get better and support them along the way. Normalize what they are going through. Youth often feel isolated and stigmatized by being “not normal,” but reassure them and walk alongside them.  Don’t minimize what they are going through. Mental illness is real and its impact is real. Don’t blame others, the youth or compare them to someone else. Keep it positive and focused on the youth at hand and what they need to get well.  Working with youth to help them share with their parents and supporting them through the conversation may be a next step if they are not your child.


    Learn about mental illness and resources out there. Point youth, and their families, to professional. Chances are you are not a licensed counselor or psychologist. Don’t pretend to be. Help parents and youth come up with a plan to see a doctor and to get help. Your job is to support the youth through this journey not to fix them.

Check up on your own mental health. Take a mental health screening. Ask yourself how you are doing lately and take an inventory of stressors and life events. Learn about personal wellness strategies for yourself and be a role model for the youth that you work with.

Teens you work with are going through a lot, understanding the impact of mental health and starting a conversation could change their life.

Talking To Teens

Talking about Mental Health

Mental Health Screening Tools

Stress Management

Wellness Tips