Monday, November 22, 2010

So...Cookies vs Coke

At the start of the year we held a parent reception at the launch of a new year of Student Life Groups.
My brief was fairly simple..."Create an environment to allow parents to connect with ministry staff and each other, hear the vision for the year ahead and pray for their students"

My budget was around <$1 per person and I had about 24hrs to pull it together.

Some of my team were convinced that we need to provide a snack (preferably cookies) for parents. My reluctance was that to make cookies or cupckaes look appealing you need a lot (either quantity or budget) and then you are often left with a ton of excess food.

We had hot weather at the time of this event (thanks SoCal) so I landed on a simple soft-drinks reception outside. Attendance for these type of events are difficult to predict but excess drinks can either be returned or stored for future use.

I borrowed some kiddie pools form childrens' ministry, filled them with ice and added bottled soft drinks. We made centerpieces using balloons left over from another event. I bought all those soft drinks that people love but never buy (people went nuts over an ice cold coke in a glass bottle) which made it a pleasant treat for parents on a warm evening.
Add in lots of cheap bottled water, some up-lighters, chilled music and some grade signs made out of photographs of students (frames borrowed from adult ministries) and you have a reception.

The highlight was parents gathering up in groups based on their students grade and praying for our ministry, for their students relationship with God and for the year ahead. It was super powerful.

Here's a few guidelines I loosely stick to for this kind of event...

1. Keep it simple - you don't need to put on an elaborate song and dance just create something that appears professional and thought through.
2. Keep it short - parents are the busiest people I know, acknowledge that and don't keep them longer than they want to stay.
3. Show you care - make it heartfelt, be ready to work the crowd and be available not just for formal questions but be personal.

Monday, November 8, 2010

So...Life Group Retreat

Last Friday we held a Life Group Retreat. "Life Groups" are our version of small groups for high school students named to emphasize the importance of sharing life together.

The retreat was simple. Leaders register their group and each leader really planned the overnighter for their own students (transport, games, dinner, activities, Etc). I provided hotel accommodation that is located close to places to eat and things to do. We ran a very short program at the beginning of the evening to give away a few prizes and to help those newer leaders feel supported and not on their own.

Purpose: To provide an environment for Life Group Leaders to spend quality relational time with their students. Primarily aimed at Freshman or newly formed groups to give them a good head start in relationship building.

Cost: $49 per student (Leader cost covered by student fees)

Accommodation: 4 people to a room, I chose a RedLion hotel where 95% of all the rooms are identical with 2 Queen beds. Pool, fire pits, lounge/lobby area.

Meeting space: Complimentary use of meeting room (I brought my own PA system)

Catering: Groups arranged to meet for dinner on their way to the hotel Friday night, this was not included in the $49. Hot Buffet breakfast included in rooms rate.

Transportation: Groups arranged their own transportation to and from the hotel (30mins drive)

A few thoughts...

1. If we do it again I would rename it "Life Group Overnighter" or "Life Group Hangout" or something that gives a better indication of the low-key nature of the event and doesn't encroach upon our programmed events (like Winter Camp and Summer Camp)

2. It is worth shopping around for hotels and a personal visit will help.

3. Check if the hotel has a rewards program.

4. When you submit the room list, request that girls and guys are on different floors.

5. As trip leader arrive hours earlier than the students/leaders, you will have to reorganize a few rooms around and fix a few errors.

6. Be proactive. I usually check with the front desk during the evening/night to see of there have been any problems. This gives a good impression and helps you head off any potential problems early.

7. Keep the programmed part of the event short. We met together and played a quiz that gave everyone the chance to in something for their group (ranging from a giant bag of popcorn to a deck of cards). Students will be hyped up to stay in a hotel so anything more than that will be tough. It's just a chance to check everyone is ok.

8. Keep your guidelines to minimum. If you are asking leaders to run the show for their group...let them. My only rule was to respect the hotel and follow their leaders direction.

9. Give leaders contact cards. I have a cell phone designated for events so that I can leave the ringtone on LOUD all night.


Thought this was an interesting Guest post by Geoff Stewart (Student Ministries Pastor at Peace Portal Alliance Church) on (by boss's blog)

GUEST POST: To Subsidize or not to Subsidize

November 6th, 2010

A common challenge we face as youth workers is the decision of whether or not to subsidize an event or trip. The reasons for doing this could include, keeping the cost per student down, allowing more students to come or perhaps paying for a single student that cannot afford to come at all. There are a couple of things we should consider before do so.....

To read more click here

Saturday, October 30, 2010

So...the storeroom

After hosting a successful event last night (our third annual Pumpkinfest) I was reminded of certain items that are valuable to have in storage to be used for events. If you're anything like every church I know you are limited on storage space but if you can find a shelf or two, here's what I would suggest putting on them...

1. Mason jars, these are great for serving drinks, filling with candy, using as centerpieces (we've filled with them with coffee beans before), use them as a vase, fill them with colored water or gels, you can use them to hold pens or collect donations. Hugely versatile, fairly hard wearing and pretty cheap.

2. Rope lights. Definitely not the cheapest thing to have in storage but they are often more affordable than Christmas lights (with individual bulbs), easier to store because they don't get tangled and give a great effect. For Pumpkinfest we used orange but you could buy white to up-light something or line a table with them or even snake them around food on a buffet.

3. Whether you run large events or small events, often or frequently you should consider putting together an "Event tub". Mine has staple guns (which go missing frequently), flashlights, zip ties, caution tape, rope, tape, duct tape, box cutter, glue, permanent markers. It doesn't need to have expensive stuff in it but just basic tools that are super valuable during set up. Try not to pull form this stash between will be grateful you didn't during event set up!

4. Cash boxes. This is fairly obvious but they are expensive (for something that you rarely use) store them well, borrow them if you can.

5. Halogen work lights. Again not the most inexpensive item but worth the investment over time. We use them at evening check-in, to light up signs, to flood light areas and even to create a more intimate environment by pointing them at the ceiling or wall etc. We also use them for work projects on various mission trips. The one pictured is the type I use but you can buy the same set without the tripod which is much easier to store and more durable.

6. Flashlights. Depends on the events that you run but you can often pick up packs of mini LED flashlights like these cheaply at hardware stores (Home Depot often sells packs of 10 for around $15). They're great for leaders to use during a dance party or outside...and judging on the number that go "missing" at every event, they are probably a great volunteer appreciation gift too!!

7. Galvanized tubs. These are fairly inexpensive and you can fill them with ice for drinks, or put candles in them, use them as a drop point for info cards and even store event equipment in them.

8. Hurricane lanterns are pretty cheap (especially online) and with some tiki torch oil are a great addition to a check-in table. They give a little functional light but are perfect decor for many evening outdoor events.

9. Burlap. This is pretty inexpensive and really versatile for table decor especially used with Mason Jars.

10. Extension Cord. You can never have enough of these and multi-socket adapters. They aren't cheap but if you can keep a few long cords (50ft-100ft) stashed away it'll save you in the long run. Put one or two in your event equipment tub.

Any other "must haves" or items that you are pleased you kept and use frequently? I'd love to add to my storeroom!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Inspired by my last post I started thinking about budgeting....

Here are 25 of my thoughts about event budgets...

1. Nobody will care about your budget, until you overspend. The details of your pre-event budget are for your benefit, to help you succeed and to show your lead Pastor that you have things under control. In the same way nobody will help you protect it either. When you land the budget well, it will be perceived as a team effort; when you don't, expect to take the brunt of the fallout.

2. Start with the big ticket items. I always begin with accommodation, food and transportation.

3. Round up. Always.

4. Be realistic. Despite what your ideal price point is, if it can't be done for $x then figure out what it can be done for. Prepare your team leader with this news BEFORE heading into the event.

5. Factor in tips. When booking charter buses I always ask for the tip to be added to the contract (usually $50 each way per bus). It's one less thing to worry about on the day and another charge that can mount up.

6. Check Toll fares (if applicable). Avoid them if you can but make sure that you drivers know that!

7. Ask questions BEFORE signing a contract. When booking a venue for a large event (like camp) you are likely to be booking a year or so in advance. Putting thought into program and schedule in at the same time will help you in the long run. You will be able to ask about A/V rental, seminar rooms, parking costs, damages policies. Don't feel like you're being a nuisance, remember, you are the client.

8. Add a line for staff costs. You may think that you can do without it, and sometimes you can, but if you have a team of staff or volunteers working till midnight trying to put little Johnny in a cabin with his friends you may want to buy them Starbucks...budget for it!

9. Gas price. Work out your mileage, figure out the gas price then add at least another 50%.

10. Be strict. If you delegate out sections of your event (Chapel program for example) give that team a strict budget (keep a secret buffer if you can)

11. Think about whether you need to make a scouting trip before the event. You may need to factor in money for this as well.

12. Do your research. If you are thinking about providing a "takeaway" at your event (perhaps a water bottle or wristband with the theme Bible verse printed on it) then figure out a realistic cost, don't just guess.

13. Look for fixed cost items (rather than costs related to group size). If you can find items or activities that are a fixed cost this will help you as once you reach your target number, additional registrants will be bonus.

14. Factor in leader/volunteer cost. If you cover the cost of volunteers at your event, make sure you factor that in early.

15. A large event needs a buffer of 5-10% of the total budget. This will hurt to add but it will hurt you more if you don't. If it's the first time you've run this event or the first time at a new venue make your buffer ~10%, if you've done it before you might get away with ~5%.

16. Once you have you cost per person, look at what the most attractive closest number is....if your cost is $300 could you get away with $299? If your cost is $354, consider going to $359.

17. Remember scholarships and prizes. If you (or your lead Pastor) like to give away a ticket to camp figure out where that money will come from. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you wont do this if you know that in 6 months time you will!

18. Use cash. When we are on a mission trip we often take cash and avoid using credit cards. Once the cash is gone then you're done. The downside of this is you have to keep receipts.

19. Office Supplies. Sounds trivial but if you want everyone to write a prayer request on a post-it note and stick it to board you'll suddenly find yourself buying post-its and sharpies...these costs mount up.

20. Think about printing costs. A camp notebook might be tradition, but do the printing costs and labor involved outweigh the benefit? If the majority of your students doodle in them and throw them away, consider writing a "Camp daily" and post it through the dorms every morning. It'll give you more last-minute flexibility and save you on expensive printing and binding costs.

21. Combine costs. Is there any other events on you calendar (or another ministry's) that could benefit from sharing a cost. Could the Junior High ministry use your recreation equipment and would they be willing to split the cost?

22. Beg, borrow (but probably avoid stealing). Does the children's ministry have equipment you can borrow?

23. Check and account for any "hidden" fees. I used online registration for Summer Camp last year without confirming the processing fee for credit cards. We assumed it was around $1 per person, it actually came to about 3% of all charges made (a difference of over $3000)!!

24. Negotiate discounts early. Last Summer we spent around $2000 on Pizza at Little Caesars (this was budgeted for) in appreciation of our business they gave me an anticlimactic free pizza(!), when I asked for can of coke they obliged and charged me an additional $0.80!!! Negotiate, get it in writing if you can.

25. Review your budget constantly. Your projected budget is only the beginning.

Let me know if you have any more to add!!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

So...The big 5 of Youth Ministry Events

I currently work on the High School Ministry team at Saddleback Church. My primary role on the team is that of "Event Coordinator". I love pretty much everything about this role. Much of the organization and big picture thinking of events comes naturally to me and so, even though I feel like I'm making it up most of the time, I thought I'd start sharing some of my learnings here.

So..what are the big 5 of Youth Ministry Event Planning:

1. Know the purpose of the event

Why are you doing what you are doing? You need to figure this out early on. It may be an event that you've come up with yourself or one that you're planning for another team member. If it's the latter, ask! If it's the former, check that there is a point and it isn't simply something that you will find fun (though hopefully that will play at least a part). Write a mission statement, one sentence that sums up the event that can come back to to help you stay on track.
Even for a simple parent reception ask yourself what the intended outcome you hope to meet parents yourself, present something to them, help them connect to each other, honor them as ministry partners or just take a moment to pray.
Never put an event on the calendar simply because it was there last year.

2. Know WHO the event is for.

Parents, Students, Staff, Volunteers, Newcomers, well connected students, Christians, the whole youth group...
This is vital. If you plan a camp and invite non-Christians then your teaching must reflect that. If you want to run a discipleship retreat, figure out how to attract the specific demographic you're after and tailor the retreat for them.

3. Work out a budget
Do this early on. Don't fall into the mindset of "money doesn't govern my ministry" because in many situations (like on the paper report you present to your senior pastor) it does!
Start with the big costs like Venue, Transportation and catering and then add in the next level of costs like a guest speaker etc.
Remember to ask questions when booking all of these, never assume anything - your budget will hate you for it. Check what you should tip a bus driver (I always ask to have the tip included in the contract), factor in room tax, check to see what A/V equipment is available and whether there is an extra charge. Don't feel like you're asking too many questions, remember, you are the client!

4. Promote
Be strategic. If students don't know about it, then they wont come to it. Promotion is the first step to success, it takes time, effort, energy and enthusiasm. A good promotion campaign is effective and forgotten once the event is done. A poor one is disastrous. Be creative, be clear and once you've grabbed their attention make the next step as simple as possible. Consider online registration (but factor in a cost if there is one).

5. Get the team on board
You may have come up with an incredible idea for an event that you want to reveal at the last second. But if you keep your cards close to your chest you will struggle to pull it off. Share your ideas with your team (whoever that is: paid staff, volunteers, parents), get them excited about what your planning. Give them chunks of the event to own. Delegate as much as you can of the big events. Share the vision, don't assume the team is on board...nobody is as excited about your event as you are and it's your job to change that.

Monday, May 24, 2010

So...Lost finale

At our lost party we had three challenges...
1. Compete in a Lost trivia quiz
2. Design a Lost themed shirt
3. Write a Lost themed poem

Here is my poetic entry...

Ways to die on LOST
If you managed to live through, a crash killing your friends
Don’t rest on your luck, there’s more ways to end
You might fall from up high, that’s gravitational law
Or you
could be destroyed by a fast meteor
You could fall from a building or jump from a freighter
a lack of a constant will help
you meet your maker
by Poison gas or perhaps Dynamite
from explosive C4 or a simple fist fight
A freighter might blow up, you could be held under water
or an aeroplane engine could lead to your slaughter
Gunshots and Strangling, Stab wounds a plenty
Or kinda less glamorous, pushed off a balcony

Impaled on a knife in a kitchen appliance
C-Spine injuries beyond
medical science
Drowned in pool or be hit by a car
be trapped in a small plane that fell just too far
You might be Buried alive or Impaled on a stake
killed by a smoke monster or simply punched in the face
A nose bleed might get you, or a mean polar bear
A Flaming arrow might hit you as it flies through the air
If you escape Land mines and axe wounds discretely
Your Heart still might give in and just stop completely
It seems there a many dangers about
Things that will make you scream, struggle and shout
There is still some hope, after all’s said and done
You just CANNOT die when you’re hit on the head with a gun!

I didn't win the poetry contest but was voted best shirt, I might even post a picture of my shirt depicting the simultaneous existence both on and off the island.

Monday, May 17, 2010

So...I'm an Uncle

My brand new niece was born on Saturday May 15th, 17:39pm (GMT), 6lbs 4/ 2.84kg, 48cm

Lucy Elizabeth Collings...Isn't she the cutest thing in the world?!?!?
We've never met (and wont be able to meet for a few months yet), but I love her already!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

So...the Styrofoam Cup

When I fly alone, I rarely talk to anyone. In the airport I drink coffee, read and peruse through various stores (carefully pacing myself during long layovers). On board the aircraft, I will exchange pleasantries with the people sitting near me on my flight but I will avoid being engaged in an actual conversation if I can help it. I request an aisle seat, I wear headphones and generally watch TV for the whole flight. I've always found it difficult to sleep on planes. All this lends itself to many hours of reflection and inner thought. I discuss things with myself. I silently comment about the people I watch. I complain inside my mind about interruptions to my media of choice. I replay conversations and revisit situations.

The turning point is when the flight attendant serves drinks. It seems that there is something about coasting along 37,000 feet above sea-level that triggers a mysterious mechanism in the universal passenger subconscious that makes salted peanuts the most desirable entrée this side of In & Out cheeseburgers and a half-cup of Canada Dry the finest carbonated beverage on (or above) planet earth.

But I always ask for coffee on the plane partly because I enjoy coffee but mainly, and this is a little odd, because drinking a half-serving of substandard coffee from a Styrofoam (UK: polystyrene) cup always provides me with a sober moment of reality and perspective. In those few moments of lukewarm enjoyment I always find myself staring at the bottom of the cup after every sip. I laugh at myself for the things I once thought mattered, I recall dreams and plans that I made days, weeks, months or years ago but that never came to fruition. I think of the future, the opportunities ahead. In just a few moments I realign my concerns and desires. I feel as though the world stops for a moment, a moment that is always contemplative, serious but tremendously positive.I'm left staring at the bottom of the empty, coffee stained Styrofoam cup. I smirk, breathe a short laugh at myself and then get back to not talking to people.

I wont share my thoughts of that recent moment here but will perhaps encourage you to take a Styrofoam cup moment every now and then.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I don't work on Mondays and today was a perfect day off.

The sun shone all day, I read a book, watched TV, listened to music and spent a lot of time outside. I enjoyed drinking ice cold water dispensed directly from the fridge with my own choice of cubed or crushed ice. I loved that the only sound I could hear was the water feature in the back yard. I even remembered to switch my phone alerts to "sabbath" so that I didn't get email alerts.

The last few years has taught me that I could live anywhere in the world, wherever God leads me to serve Him...but there's definitely some great perks living in California!

Sunday, May 2, 2010 registration

We've just about got through the first weekend of Summer Camp online registration. Here's what I've learned...
  1. Technology is your best friend when it's working and your worst enemy when it isn't
  2. Life demands too many passwords and usenames
  3. No matter how many possible scenarios you prepare for, there will ALWAYS be a student or a parent that will present just one more
  4. A paperless registration process is incredible, despite the minor hiccups we've had, the set up looks clean and professional (and I'm not carrying large wads of cash and checks around with me)
  5. Online registration seems to encourage people to email questions rather than speak to someone in person or by phone, allowing me to respond within hours
  6. NOBODY enters telephone numbers in the following format (xxx)xxx-xxxx which is unfortuante because that's the only acceptable format for our system
  7. Old people type SUPER slow
  8. Young people assume that every monitor is a touch screen, despite the presence of a keyboard
  9. Despite all the fancy programs we have installed on our computers, the easiest and quickest way to get an image onto a screen is good ol' fashioned Powerpoint.
  10. Sitting on a bar stool but working on a regular height table is a very quick way to develop pain in your neck and spine

Overall I'm super happy with how it's going, just a few kinks to iron out and then keep praying for those sign ups to start pouring in!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

So...being disorganiSed

I like to be organiSed, possibly a little too much. I think this is one of the reasons I work well running large events. I like order and systems and plans. I like things to match in some way or another, I like symmetry and patterns.

We just finished installing shelves into our new closet space...I really want to buy new matching storage stubs but I also enjoy not spending money frivolously so haven't.

Last month I led a mission trip to New Mexico and we took 200 people, out of the four charter buses, one was slightly older and different....that was irritating.

When I helped lead a Summer Camp many years ago (FAB for those reading who remember the LCET days) and as a gift one of the other leaders arranged all the coloUred cups in such a way that each table had their own coloUr rather than a mismatched non-complimenting array of bright tones...I almost cried it was so great.

I could never wear socks that didn't match, one year for Christmas I was given a set of 7 pairs with the days of the week on. I hardly wore them because I could never find the right day.

There's no real point to this post other than I was thinking about this yesterday as I was working to get our Summer Camp registration online (solely online, there is no other way to sign up). It's up and running but I had to ask about a million time for "one last change" which I'm sure was not only annoying for the IT guy but was killing me for being so disorganiSed.

And this is only the beginning! Summer Camp only 8 weeks away and we have the possibility of taking 700 people so it's going to be a busy few weeks! I might need to get some matching file folders or something to help me through!

Monday, April 26, 2010

So Mother's Day...

There are a few differences to get used to when living in a different country to where you grew up. Some of these are easy to adapt to (driving on the right or using dollars instead of pounds for example). Other differences are much easier to when Mother's Day is.

In the UK, Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday of Lent (March 14th 2010) and is traditionally the Sunday where people would meet in their "Mother Church", the cathedral of the diocese. More recently, it has adopted the name and nature of the US equivalent.

This year in the US, Mother's Day is May 9th. So my usually dependence on Greeting Cards advertising is not helpful.

So inspired by Allison's recent blog post, I have purchased a belated UK Mother's Day gift (or an advance US Mother's Day gift) from Charity:water.

I'm not asking you to give, but I would encourage you to poke around their website.

So the result of my musings...

I have posted very rarely over the past few months. One of the reasons for this is that I have felt the need to process what God is saying to me before I can really develop some answers to my previous posts. Below is an overview of where God led me as I thought and prayed through the questions...Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing?


My purpose is to glorify God through my thoughts, words and actions, to maintain and develop a deep personal relationship with Him and share His love with the world.


Identity: spending quality time with God

Integrity: maintaining God’s standards in life and leadership

Growth: continual learning and developing

Leadership: being an effective steward in ministry

Discipleship: nurturing others

Fellowship: sharing life with others

Encouragement: empowering others

Appreciation: showing gratitude towards others

Awareness: being aware of the needs in my immediate surroundings and the wider world

Advocacy: supporting and standing up for the broken, the needy, the hurting

Action: more than just thought and reflection, being someone of action, making vision a reality and meeting needs head on


As I continue my walk with Christ I dedicate myself to the following six principles:

In my life I will honoUr His authority

(by nurturing a deep relationship with Him)

In my service I will glorify His name

(by working selflessly and sacrificially to lead others to Him)

In my witness I will declare His grace

(by outwardly expressing my faith to the world)

In my leadership I will fulfil His mission

(by steering people towards His purpose)

In my relationships I will reflect His love

(by generating opportunities for fellowship, accountability and discipleship)

In my community & world I will be someone of action

(by turning vision to reality, plans into programs and by meeting the needs that God places on my heart

Sunday, March 21, 2010

So...back from Kenya

I want to write a debrief of our short mission trip to Africa. I want to explain how I feel when I'm in Africa. I want to describe every detail, every smile, every laugh, every story of hurt, of hope, of perseverance. I want to share a message of hope and faith from a country with so little. I want to verbaliSe what God has done in me through this trip to Africa, how He picked up where he left off when I was last there 8 years ago. I want to tell you about the role I see myself having in God's plan for Kitale...

That's what I want to do, but I don't have the words.

The words of the previous post to this one, that I wrote many months ago, echo in my heart...

Who am I?
Where am I?
What am I doing?