Friday, October 9, 2009

The Next Big Thing

Early on in my ministry I began to understand that the missing link in most youth ministries at the time was communication.  Letting students and parents know what was going on, what was coming up, and what they needed to do about it was a new concept in the fly by the seat of your pants world of youth work.  Sometime in the year after David Stone turned me on to the concept of Wholistic Youth Ministry (that is ministry to the whole person- body, soul, mind and spirit) I began to actually plan months in advance for YFYF programs.  As part of that planning, I began doing a monthly newsletter that we mailed to the home of every youth on our roster- active or not.  The first objective of this newsletter was to inform.  My theory was that it would inform much better if it was actually something the students wanted to read, so I set out to make it creative and exciting.  Missionaries use the quote "empty bellies have no ears" to explain how hard it is to share the Gospel with a starving person until you feed them.  No matter how great a youth ministry you build, it is worthless if no one shows up.  So we needed to excite them! I used names of active youth in the articles; I hid inside jokes and contests in the body of the letter; and I tried to give catchy, creative names to everything I could.  For instance, one Sunday a month we would go to a local fast food restaurant instead of just having snacks.  We just said we were going to Burger Doodle, and that name stuck no matter where we went.  We also tried to keep sameness, tameness and lameness (with apologies to Jesse Jackson) out of our ministry.  We hoped the kids were never quite sure what would happen each Sunday afternoon.  I soon discovered it was working.  We were almost hip!  Do you know how hard it is for Quakers to be hip?  Students who rarely showed up for YFYF were talking to me about the newsletter.

The second objective was to get them excited about things that were still to come, things that we wanted them to look forward to.  I began to think of this as the ministry of The Next Big Thing.  Did we have a trip coming up in a few months?  Were we going to see Ghandi or having a Marathon soon?  Did we have a Polaroid Panic planned or a guest speaker coming?  Anything I could think of that we could plug as a way to keep students anticipating was featured in the newsletter.  This, in turn, forced us as leaders to plan in advance.  It all seems so basic now, but at the time youth ministry was just coming of age and this was pretty radical stuff!  And it worked...

Over the years the methods of communication changed.  There would be summer booklets, telephone hotlines (like 847-XLAX in Kissimmee) and websites.  But they all served the same purpose- to keep parents and students up to date, and to hype The Next Big Thing.  I was always looking for ways to inject my sense of humor into these things, and in the early New Garden Friends Meeting years I did it by ending each newsletter with "and remember..."  I looked back through some of those letters, (Yes, I still have them- I know, I am pathetic!) and here are some of the actual things I wrote for those students to remember:
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away...but an onion takes care of everybody!
  • It is better to give than to receive...unless,of course, you are Darek Newby!
  • He who lives in a glass house...should dress in the bathroom!
  • A bird in the hand...BITES!
  • March 20-26 is International Youth Leaders Are Great People Week.  It is also International Pickle Week.  So in another YFYF first, we proudly bring you International Buy Your Youth Leader A Pickle Week!  We prefer dills!  And a happy April Fools Day to all of you!
  • A day without sunshine is like...NIGHT! (Thanks, Steve Martin)
Those early days were exciting, and I will never forget what it was like to grow up right along side my students.  I owe that group so much.  They taught me so much about communicating with youth.  But I still had lots to learn.  It would be several more years before I figured out that if I made a newsletter the right size to fit on the back of a toilet, even more people would read it!  Until next time...

And remember:  This blog is like toilet paper.  You may not need it every day, but it's always here- and if it's not, you will really miss it!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading,and thanks for your comment!