Archive for the ‘fun’ Category

instagram picOne of the best tools ever created for middle school ministry is Instagram. I realize that apps like Instagram can be cool for a couple years and then be sent off to grandma’s farm in the country where they can run and be free of all pain from their old-ness. But for right now in the present reality of middle school ministry, I believe it is the best app available. If you have even 5 students in your group who have Instagram, you should have an account specifically for your ministry. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Middle schoolers love Instagram. I don’t think I need to explain this one, but with the explosion of the digital age, everything is in picture form. I once heard a youth pastor say that they were trying to be counter-cultural and fight against the popularity of Instagram… To which I replied, “Huh??” This isn’t a sin issue. This is a cultural engagement opportunity. I love posting pictures of our students worshipping or verses we talked about in the sermon or students simply having fun at church. When students are rushing down their photo feed, they are bombarded with negativity and judgmentalism. Then they see that one picture from the middle school ministry, and they are reminded in the middle of the day about who they are. As the church let’s offer redeeming images for students to see and celebrate.
  • Students love to see themselves in pictures. It makes me laugh everytime when we post a picture to our ministry account of nearly 300 students, and that one student will make a point to comment and say, “I see me!” I mean, honestly, we all love to see ourselves… But throw in the insecurities of the middle school age, and they love it even more. It helps give them an objective look at who they are when they’re not talking selfies.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the screen-shot/re-post. Okay this one is simple. Remember how we used to hand out physical pieces of paper and tell students to invite their friends to an event? Now, it’s as easy as posting a graphic of an upcoming event on Instagram. Tell students – heck, even make them do it in the middle of your program – to “screen-shot” the picture of the event, then re-post it under their own account. In the span of under 5 minutes, your students just invited hundreds of their friends to your event… And more importantly, they didn’t leave any of those paper fliers crumpled up in the hallway that you’ll have to clean up later. We just did this with our big outreach event called the BASH, and over 500 students came. (We had 400 last year when we didn’t use Instagram… 25% growth is a big deal, people!)
  • Building the hype & anticipation before an event is just as important as the execution of the event. I borrowed this idea from Michael Hyatt in his book “Platform.” Instagram allows you to take sneak-peek pictures (or videos!) of something from your programming hours or even days ahead. When you do that, you begin the epic experience for the student in advance. By the time they arrive at church, they are already sold on whatever you have planned. Last year I posted a picture of Honey Boo Boo on our Instagram account and said, “What does Honey Boo Boo have to do with LIFT tomorrow? You’ll have to be here to find out.” (It was for a silly game we played). One of our students got so excited about it that he brought two friends with him. They told me that they had always thought church was just boring. Hmm…
  • It creates memories. We don’t allow our middle schoolers to bring their phones or iPods to overnight trips. But we unleash our leaders to take plenty of Instagram pictures. I love the 5 hours immediately following the end of our event when our middle schoolers rush to Instagram to like and comment on every picture we took. Many of them re-post those pictures to tell their friends about their experience as well. Creating memories is a vital piece of faith formation. Instagram just helps out a bit. (Side note: When we take pictures at overnight trips and post them to Instagram, this also creates a great opportunity for parents to feel involved and informed about what’s happening. The introduction of Instagram Video was a huge win with our parents as they got to see their kids worshipping!)

I could go on and on about the reasons I believe Instagram is a vital app for all middle school ministries. But I’ve decided to make this a multiple-part post. Stay tuned for more thoughts later this week. In the mean-time, what did I miss? Why else should a middle school youth worker use Instagram?

P.S. Want to see more ways that I use Instagram for our middle school ministry? Check out


This year we wanted to introduce some of our middle school ministry staff to the students in a fun, unique way. So we took the #Vadering fad and put a little twist on it. (If you don’t know what it is, look it up on Instagram/Twitter. Students love it.) The students got a huge kick out of this video. After we showed it, we had the whole room (300+ people) Vader each other (Vaders on the left, victims on the right) and took a picture. It was an epic middle school moment. My favorite days in middle school ministry are when I can somehow sneak Star Wars into my job.

P.S. My favorite part of the video is the surprise cameo appearance by our senior pastor, Jon Weece, at the very end. I love serving at a large church where the head guy isn’t afraid to get silly for the middle schoolers!



I received the above comment yesterday on our middle school ministry Instagram account, and it made my day. Why? Because I spend time every week trying to think of the next “crazy thing” we could do in our weekend services that could help create an environment where unchurched students feel comfortable. This past weekend it was called the “Impossible Shot,” where one-by-one students had one chance to throw a roll of toilet paper from the stage through the toilet seat (hooked to the end of a pole) in the back of the room. I strongly believe that having fun is integral to the discipleship process in middle school ministry because it brings down walls (and I’m not just talking about the literal church walls that end up with holes in them…). This comment reminded me that everything speaks in our ministry… So whether you are a youth pastor, a volunteer small group leader, or even a parent – remember that having fun with your middle school students creates memories and environments that they will want to return to and ultimately hear more about Jesus.

What’s the latest “fun” thing you’ve done with students? What fun element are you particularly proud of from your experience?

Recently I was talking to a few other friends who are doing middle school ministry, and in the midst of sharing some ideas of things we’re trying, I shared a creative idea we tried in the past several months. It worked really well for us, so I wanted to share with you all.

Before I begin, I have to confess that my inspiration came from Pinterest. There are actually amazing ideas for churches on Pinterest. I basically found a holidays page and adapted one idea into a youth ministry challenge. So before any guys start judging me (all out of fun I’m sure!), get on there and look around, and TRY not to be inspired!

LIFT Bucket ListThe idea is called the “LIFT Holiday Bucket List.” (LIFT is the name of our middle school program.) Basically, it was a fun ongoing challenge to students to complete a list of holiday activities between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. The challenges were designed for students to have fun and also to serve others. Here are a couple examples of Holiday Bucket List challenges we used:

  • Create an epic blanket fort
  • Rake the leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor
  • Have a 3-movie marathon
  • Serve a meal at a homeless shelter
  • Give a secret Christmas gift to someone
  • Create the coolest Christmas ornament
  • Scrape the ice off your parents’ car windows

This was a huge hit with students! But the most successful part of the whole challenge was the photo-sharing. We told students to take pictures as they accomplished items on the Bucket List and tag it with the hashtag #LIFTbucketlist on Instagram. If students didn’t have Instagram, they could post to our Facebook page or e-mail them to us and we would post with our @LIFTscc account. But I would venture to guess that 90% of our middle schoolers have Instagram.

On our last Sunday before Christmas, we had a pre-service and post-service slideshow of everyone who had posted a picture with #LIFTbucketlist (which was 100+ at the time). It was really cool to see students get excited about their picture on the big screen. Some of our Life Groups even accomplished bucket list items together, which created great memories!

If you want the file to our version of the Holiday Bucket List, send me an e-mail at and I’ll share it with you! Also, search Instagram for #liftbucketlist to check out a few of the pictures that were posted! (Most of the profiles are private, so you will probably only be able to see a few, but you’ll catch the drift!)

Have you tried anything like this in your ministry or with your kids? Comment with any ideas you’ve had!

Every once in a while I hear something that gets my brain buzzing about middle school ministry, and even more scarcely I actually have a unique idea of my own. Some of these may need full blog posts, but others just need a “simple thought.” Thus, here is the inaugural “Simple Thoughts” blog post.

  • Today we had an extended time of leader training for our volunteers in student ministries. For the last two hours Brooklyn Lindsey joined us and shared some of her own thoughts. We were definitely spoiled to have her at Southland. One of the things she said that stuck out to me was a good, simple reminder: Middle schoolers don’t need us to be like them; they want us to like them.  While it’s important to get excited for the things that are special to our students, we don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not. I have never been (and will never be) a big video-game guy. If I try to carry a conversation about the newest video game, whoever I’m talking to will quickly realize I have no clue what I’m talking about. I simply need to be me but also validate the middle schooler’s experience and excitement.
  • We did the Interlude dance during leader training today… and it was amazing. Even though Brooklyn was introducing it to some of the crowd, I’ve made my leaders do it at our middle school services many, many times (side note: I really do mean it when I say “made.” For some reason, some were reluctant to dance!). I think they finally appreciate how much fun it is! It’s become our own little tradition. I’m wondering how valuable it is to have these traditions with our leader teams. As we create “backdoor community” with our volunteer teams, we have to play together and celebrate traditions like a family. (Also, if you haven’t introduced the Interlude dance to your middle school ministry, do it.)
  • I am finally taking some vacation time starting this Thursday. I am definitely ready for some rest. This has been one of the busiest ministry seasons since I started doing youth ministry, and I’m excited to sleep in and read a lot of books. At the end of my vacation I am going to the Middle School Ministry Campference in Indiana on October 26-28, and I could not be more pumped. I have nothing but good things to say about this event. If you are in middle school ministry, either get there this year or put it on your schedule for next year. Let me know if you’re interested in coming this year!

Last week my wife relayed a story to me that happened at our Sunday morning middle school service. Nicole (my wife) met a girl who was there for the first-time and (most likely) was there because her parents made her. She had a pretty sour demeanor, arms crossed, not interested in what was happening. She kept asking my wife when “class” started. Nicole continued to assure her that our middle school service is nothing like a “class,” and in fact, what we were doing in the moment was all part of the experience. Between the Interlude dance, the French Fry Fling game, and the rocking worship by our band, this girl was clearly confused. She had her paradigm of church in a small little “box,” and our version didn’t fit in that box.

Oh, we still had a 20 minute message that morning and discussion groups to debrief what students learned. Discipleship is at the top of our list of priorities. But what if we understood “fun” as an integral part of discipleship? We intentionally plan our middle school services with something familiar or fun at the beginning so new students or un-churched students start to relax and receive what’s coming from the stage a little more easily. When students feel like they can participate right away with what’s happening, it gives them the confidence to know they can participate in the teaching elements as well.

In a previous blog post, I talked about the five needs of every child: structure, nurture, challenge, engagement, and… oh yes… playfulness. It’s not just a want; it’s a need. It answers the question: Am I delighted in? Do the students in your ministry feel delighted in while they’re at the Father’s house?

I had a Christian Education professor in college that always said the same thing at the end of class on Fridays: “Work hard, pray hard, and play hard.” I always thought it was kind of funny that my college professor was coaching me to play hard over the weekend. But because of their wisdom, I think I developed a deeper theology of fun. I started to understand that “fun” wasn’t a creation of mankind; rather, it is a creation of the Father, an important part of being made in the image of God.

This Friday we are throwing a massive middle school party called the Bash. And yes, there will be a dodgeball dome, a mechanical bull, a tomato sling-shot, a slam dunk contest, and much more. I can’t wait to worship God and delight in Him as He delights in us… as I get thrown from the mechanical bull.

How fun is your ministry? How fun is your parenting?