Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I have mentioned here before that when I arrived at Tampa's Wesley Memorial UMC in October of 2001 there were some innate problems with the youth ministry.  I moved slowly the first year when it came to making drastic changes and severing ties with the past, but with the huge influx of new 6th graders in August, 2002 (see Monday's post), it was time to start swinging my axe!  Here are 4 of the traditions I found on my arrival that I decided to hack away at in order to take our ministry where I felt God was leading us to go...
    A trust building game in The Overflow.
  1. Meeting space.  We had no space of our own to meet in.  The Fellowship Hall was occupied by our children's ministry (more on that in a few) during the same time period on Sunday afternoons.  There were no classrooms large enough for us.  So for a number of years the student ministry had met in the church sanctuary.  From my first day on the job I was not happy about this set-up.  First of all, the space was too big.  Thirty youth in a room that sits 500 is just not a good match.  No matter how good a crowd turned out, it always felt tiny.  Also, I have always enjoyed wild and sometimes messy indoor games as part of my youth meetings.  I cannot stress enough how much trouble you can get in for throwing pies in the sanctuary.  And finally, it didn't feel like "our" turf.  There was nothing "youthy" about it.  All the pews faced forward, so group discussions were difficult.  It was a beautiful worship space for our church.  As a youth room it had serious problems.  There was, however, a large empty space in the back- The Overflow - that could be closed off from rest of the worship room.  And that became my target area...
    Worship in The Overflow
  3. Worship.  The tradition with the youth of WMUMC was that worship took place in the sanctuary, and it was the first thing they did at youth fellowship each week.  The music was led by a Praise Band consisting of a few students and some adults.  Joining us for this part of our time together were all of the kids and leaders from our children's ministry (they also joined us for snack time).  All of these things were problematic.  I wanted to be able to have worship to close our time together, or in the middle, or whenever.  The Praise Band was so loud and the room so large that you couldn't actually tell if anyone was singing or not.  Having the kids with us must have looked good on paper, but in reality it limited what we could do and it limited our flexibility.  I always (from Day 1 in 1978) wanted my students to arrive at youth asking the question, "What will happen today?"  The way we were set up at the time, the question was moot.  We had to do the same things at the same time every week.  Soooo....   I uninvited the children, with the trade-off that I would bring youth to do worship for their Promiseland Sunday School program every Sunday morning.  We moved to The Overflow, changed worship to the end of the program (most of the time!) and re-imagined the Praise Band with our newly arrived Contemporary Worship Leader, Jason Deese.  For the time being, I would go old school on them and lead music with just my acoustic guitar.  It was awesome- turned out this bunch could really sing!  Did anyone fight me on these changes?  Oh yes.  Did they work?  BIG TIME!!!
    The infamous 4-Way Grinder in action.
  5. Games.  As I have written about far too many times to count, I believe building relationships to be a huge part of student ministry.  So after moving from the sanctuary we began to play.  We continued the pre-youth outdoor football game that was very popular with the males (especially the adult male volunteers!) and added more wild, crazy, unusual group building games to the mix.  I must have had a dozen students say to me in those first few months something along the lines of, "WOW!  I never knew that youth group could be FUN!"  And then, just when they thought they had me figured out, I broke out the 4-Way Grinder.  Things were never sane after that...
    "I'm goin' to Graceland..."
  7. The Name.  The previous youth pastor had tagged the group with the name God's Property after the Kirk Franklin group of the same name.  While there was nothing wrong with the name, it just didn't pass my "WOW!" test.   Rather than change it or drop it right away, I just ignored it.  I never uttered those words in the first year.  They popped up on my office computer everyday (she had left under bad circumstances and taken some passwords with her...) but I just let it ride.  I built a website for our ministry at some point early on, and it was around that same time that I began asking for suggestions for a new name.  I received a number of suggestions, but after talking it over with our Youth Ministry Team and some of the student leaders I decided on Graceland.  I'll write more about that on Friday.
Change is always scary, but it is often the catalyst for growth and new adventure.  Such was the case with these changes, but they didn't come without a price.  There will always be people who oppose change.  But here is my student ministry leadership thought for today- If you are still doing everything the same way, with the same events and programs and the same names as your predecessor, then are you really necessary?  Very seldom can I say this about my life, but looking back at these changes I wouldn't do anything different.  We were ready for some "good times"...

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous3/30/2011

    You forgot about the refrigerator box racing! Haha awesome read!

    Zach Wehr

  2. Zach, I'm looking for pics of the 'fridge box races, but have not found any yet. But that was AWESOME! Thanks for your input!

  3. Anonymous3/30/2011

    graceland saved me, thankyou Carl.


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