Are we equipping kids and youth to engage the world?

As followers of Jesus we are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-18)
We are a part of this world, this culture, and cannot be separated from it – it is the water we swim in. At the same time, we belong to Jesus and we are a part of His Kingdom, which is not of this world.

If in our kids’ or youth ministry (or adult ministry for that matter!) we are trying to separate people from world and protect them with platitudes, Christian circles and discussing only in-house issues we are not serving them well or helping them grow to maturity in Christ. It will not go well for them when they encounter the real world or hardship! Further, it is not going to help them connect with people that have not been a part of the Christian subculture. It is not ultimately going to help their own faith or someone else’s faith.

Without realizing it our ministries we often encourage kids/youth to lead a double life – one life at church/youth group and another life at home, school and in their neighbourhoods.
We encourage this advertently or inadvertently
by only celebrating what happens in our ministry not in the community,
by encouraging kids/youth to only hang-out with Christians,
by talking about issues that are irrelevant to the rest of the world,
by encouraging them to miss out on other events/sports for the sake of the ministry,
by labelling certain things “bad” without nuance or discussion etc.
What if instead we celebrated kids/youth being the light in the world and equipped them to live their faith everyday, everywhere?

Here is my hope:
We would be leaders, mentors and parents that support and equip our youth/kids to know how to live in the real world, prepared for complexities and challenges.
Often kids/youth are in better positions than us to join God’s work in the world. They are a part of the culture and have lots of connections in their neighbourhoods. IF they have been prepared to recognize God’s work around them and have been given the tools and encouragement to engage thoughtfully with the real world, watch out world! We’ll see them join God’s transformative work in the places where they live, work, study and play.

My prayer is our youth/kids would…
• be in the world and know how to reflect Jesus in the world.
• be in the world, but know how to think rightly about what is going on. They’d be able to discern what is reflecting the messed up, distorted part of our fallen world and what is reflecting God’s goodness in the world.
• be in the world, but asking the tough questions.
• be in the world, knowing their deepest, truest identity is as a child of God.
• be in the world, showing and telling the Gospel in today’s culture
• be in the world as God’s light in places where they live, work, study and play.

Let me give one example of how we can equip kids/youth with tools to do this.
One big area that can lend itself to these conversations is media.
It is estimate that teens spend an average of 9 hours/day on media!

In talking to kids/youth about this I’ve stolen a line from Walt Mueller and talked about “using your head to guard your heart” (Here’s a great resource from him.)
Rather than mindlessly absorbing the messages coming at us, we talk about stopping and examining the messages coming to us in ads, songs, TV shows, movies, tweets, Instagram pictures, facebook feeds, YouTube video, snapchat… and compare it to God and God’s ways.

Look at an ad, YouTube video or song together and talk about it.
Ask these questions:
1. What’s the main message/topic?
2. How does the video/song/post/media make the person watching it feel?
3. Are they trying to make you feel, act, think, talk or live a certain way? What are they suggesting?
4. Are they suggesting a certain way to happiness/fulfilment?
5. How’s that line-up with who you are?
6. How’s the line-up with who God is and God’s best?
You could add more questions.

A song that is getting old now (2004), but it helpful, is “Cult of Cool” by the O.C. Supertones. It is a Christian song talking about not letting consumerism suck you in and make you believe its lies. Playing this song and giving kids/youth the lyrics can lead to an interesting discussion! (See the lyrics here)

One more resources – here is a youth group lesson about social media from the “Ministry to Youth” website. 

Friends, leaders, parents – help kids and youth be thoughtful engagers in this world!
We believe God is using kids/youth to join Him in changing neighbourhoods!

-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood


How to shrink your church or ministry

How to shrink your church or ministry:
1. Never change.
2. Keep to yourselves. Do not build any bridges to the community.
3. Make people fat on sermons/study and forget the vitamin A (application).
4. Never experiment, just stick to what you know.
5. Exist for yourselves, to keep each other happy.
6. Keep everything you do within the four walls of your church. Make your focus the one hour on Sunday.

Of course, the opposite is true, if you desire to reach more or new people with the Gospel.

This past week I was visiting three different ministries that were all asking the same question “How do we grow?”, that is “How do we grow in numbers?”, “How do we reach more people, particularly the younger generation?”
One was a conference where the average age has kept creeping upwards, and a sea of gray hair dominated the audience. Yet, for the first time they were experimenting with running a retreat for pre-teens simultaneously.
One was a small church where the youngest people were in their early sixties, but they were asking how they need to change to connect with the younger generations.
One was a kids’ club with eight very well cared for kids. The leaders met with Andrew and I after the program and their big question was “How do we grow?”
I love the attitude of these places! All are willing to ask, “Is there something different or more we need to be doing?” I love their willingness to ask the difficult questions. I love their hearts that want to reach more people.

I can hear you asking already – “Is it about the numbers?”
Yes and no.

No –
We cannot underestimate the value of pouring into a few lives, extremely well. I was particularly impressed with the kids’ ministry we visited this week. They had eight kids and three leaders (usually they have four leaders, one was sick). It was so clear those kids knew they were loved, known and cared for by the leaders. The leaders and kids see each other regularly, not only at kids’ club, but also out in the community where they look out for each other. I kept thinking about the Hemorrhaging Faith statistics, the high number of kids who grow up in the church, but leave the church by the time they are young adults. I was thinking about how connected these eight kids were: to seeing faith lived out in the community, to peers in the club with them, to opportunities to share their own questions, to leadship opportunities…and I thought these kids, with this many adults watching out for them, will not be one of those statistics.
I’ve seen plenty of kids, youth and adult ministries with a lot more numbers, but also with a lot less effective transformation, community and discipleship.
It isn’t all about the numbers, it’s what you are doing with those numbers.
How are you being faithful with what God has given you?
And yet, those leaders, were desiring to see more kids come.

Yes –
It is a good desire that they want to see more kids come.
Of course we’d want more kids to have this same support of caring adults, a loving community, a place to come to know God, a place to develop their faith…
Of course you want to see more people come to your church/ministry, especially if your desire is for those people to know the God who loves them, journeys with them and has a mission for them. It’s growth for a reason. It’s not flashy growth or gimmicks to get growth. It’s multiplying what is good and trusting God for the growth.
Each number, each life, matters to God and to us. So we should be multiplying!
Faithfulness also looks like following God to find lost sheep. Faithfulness looks like making changes to remove barriers from new people, new generations coming to Christ.
Faithfulness looks like doing everything you can for the sake of the Gospel and trusting God for the growth.

Yes and No
I love that these churches/ministries are asking for growth. We’re made to grow. We should desire to see God transform more lives.
This isn’t a bigger is better blog.
This is a faithfulness blog.
We are called to reach the people around us. We are called to pass on the faith to the next generations. We are called to share the Gospel and make disciples.
We are invited to leave the 99 and find the 1 who isn’t with us any more or never was with us.

How do you grow? How do you reach new people?

1. Change something – If you want to reach people you are not currently reaching you’ve got to do something different. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. What has become a barrier to this generation, particularly the young generation, connecting with your church/ministry? Where can you change to create greater relevance to every day people in your community? Some examples might be – change your on-line presence, change your formality, offer a new option for worship, change the ages represented on the platform, change where you meet, turn a program into a inter-generational experience…

2. Build a new bridge – Where can your church/ministry build a new bridge into your community? Are their existing connections from church members to schools, boards, city councils, camps, people groups, sports teams, food banks…? How could you be a support, resource or blessing to these connections? How can you build a bridge so that a new pocket in your community could see your faith in action? They might not be ready to come check out your church, but you can build a bridge to them and start a connection. Another question to ask is whether it is time to build a new bridge with another church – to share a youth ministry, to combine in running an Alpha program or to talk about amalgamation.

3. Equip – Equip people to live out their faith. Have clear applications from sermons/studies that help people connect Sunday to the rest of the week. It’s not enough to tell people – tell them, show them and give them practice in living out their faith when…there is an argument in their home, when their neighbourhood is going through a rough patch, when their health takes a turn for the worse, when their workplace becomes toxic, when they are trying to talk about God to their kids, when they are trying to talk to their kids about hot topics… Also equip people to personally invite others and talk about how Jesus is making a difference in their lives. Help people know how to line-up every area of their lives with the ways of Jesus and call them to live that out daily. Make it clear that belief in Jesus leads to changed living in all areas of life. Your community will notice changed lives.

4. Try a new experiment – if you want to reach new people, try something new. Call it an experiment and try it – try involving the church in the community parade, try sitting around round tables on a Sunday, try having a free BBQ in the park, try having a grandparent/grandchild day, try having a party for the new Canadians in your area… Experiments give us permission to try and assess the results later.

5. Have a crystal clear passion for a cause – we live in a world where people are keenly aware of the struggles and challenges of those in our community and world. They and we are often overwhelmed in discerning what to respond to and how to respond well. Give them a cause to focus on and an avenue to help. Let your church/ministry be known for making a difference in one area, and invite others to join you in that cause, even before they know what they believe about Jesus.

6. Invite everyone to join God in changing their neighbourhoods – Everyone is a minister. Train people to show and tell faith in the places where they live, work, study and play. Your greatest evangelism tool will not be a program, it won’t even be Sunday morning. Your greatest evangelism tool will be people in your congregation showing and telling the Gospel to others they know. Your greatest advertisement will be the people in your ministry telling the story of what a difference the ministry has made in their life. Equip people to share, in relevant and personal ways, with those they are already connected with in their daily lives. Imagine if everybody in your congregation became the “minister” to those around them in the places they go – journeying with the people around them in their life through their questions, struggles and faith journey. If you have eight people actively joining God in their ordinary lives every day, you are way further ahead then having eighty people whose faith is not evident beyond an hour on Sunday. Get people out of the four walls of your church and help them to see they are all ministers and ministry happens through them every day. Christianity was never meant to be contained within walls, it is a movement – unstoppable, every-growing, life-changing movement. Invite people to be part of the movement, with God, every day.

Help us out, what other advice should we be giving these churches/ministries that want to grow, for the sake of the Kingdom?


20 ideas on how to make gatherings more engaging and less like a spectator sport

Leaders, like us, are a funny bunch. We set-up our gatherings like a spectator sport, then we complain that people act like consumers. Well, if you want to change the results, you have got to change the equation.

Whether you are thinking of your Sunday morning gatherings, youth group gatherings, young adult gatherings or children’s ministry gatherings – change it up, my friends.

Why is this so important?
People come, not just to hear from you, but to truly engage with God and with community. Seriously. Otherwise, they really can stream a better version of you.

Here’s the top reasons people gather:
• To experience God for themselves.
• For community, to be connected to others on the journey.
• To be equipped for the journey, so that they can be a part of something bigger than themselves and be a part of making a difference in the world.

Too often I’ve led gatherings where:
• People have heard about God, but not experienced God.
• People have skimmed community, but not experienced authentic connection.
• People have heard about the difference someone has made, but are not invited into change or making a difference themselves.

I’ve got to change the equation.
We’ve got to change the equation.

Here are 20 things you can add into your existing gatherings to become less a spectator sport and start turning people towards fuller engagement.

1. Give homework – seriously, give people something they’re expected to do during the week and talk about it when you gather again.

2. Invite responses from people – ask a question, throw out a poll question (raise your hands), invite people to repeat a phrase, invite people to say “Oh ya” every time you say a certain phrase…

3. Change up the delivery to interview style or panel style – change the delivery style and do a panel or interview or skype call or… Our teens still haven’t forgotten the relationship panel we did.

4. Invite tweets – invite people to tweet responses, thoughts or ideas during or after a sermon/devotion/story. Invite people to tweet (or write down for non-tweeters) one take-way form today or one action step they will take.

5. Stories / Testimonies – get different voices and background sharing. Get other people to tell their story (of coming to faith, of what God is doing in their life today, of a point you are illustrating, of how they are showing and telling the Gospel to neighbours etc.) Get them to share their story live or on video.

6. Engage all the senses – how can you invite people to see, taste, hear, smell and touch that the Lord is good? Illustrations don’t just have to be spoken stories. Use drama, including costumes and props, to engage people in a fresh way in a Biblical story. I still remember the Sunday, when I lived in Scotland, and a preacher brought in manure to illustrate a point.

7. Introduce different styles of praying in your gatherings – allow pauses in the prayer for people to pray silently, try some liturgical prayers or responsive prayers, pray in small groups…

8. Change up the seating now and then – gather around round tables instead of in rows, put the seats in a circle, block-off sections, invite people closer…

9. Expect people to see God in their lives – Regularly ask “Where did you see God at work this week?” or “How did you join God this week?” When you start asking it regularly people will ask it of themselves, their small groups and their families/friends regularly.

10. Give pause at the end of your gathering for a response – Try something like, “Just take a moment before we close our time together to sit in silence and capture your thoughts on what you heard from God today.” “Take a moment and tell God what you’re thinking at this moment.” “Pause now and decide what you’ll do this week as a result of what you’ve experience in our gathering.”

11. Invite creative response – There are so many ways to invite people to engage in responding – post-it notes, adding to a communal painting, getting something from under their chair, molding a piece of clay, taking a candle, giving 5 people a “high five” and learning their name, posting on social media…

12. Read – inviting people to read off the screen in their native tongue. Yes, that means you have different languages up there. Give clear tools and challenges for people to read their Bibles on their own during the week.

13. “Turn to a person beside you” – Invite engagement in partner discussions. “Turn to someone sitting next to you and tell them one way you’ve…”

14. Eat together – Have a “Who’s coming to dinner?” day, where you have people lined up to welcome new people to their home after your gathering for a meal. Another option is to bring back the potlucks!

15. Follow-up questions – Give people questions to engage the days topic around the lunch table or in their small group that week.

16. Invite discussion – Interrupt the sermon/devotion with a discussion question after every point.

17. Change the regular gathering time to a serving time – Serving = worship. Invite people to gather to serve together, have an arranged list of serving opportunities.

18. Mingle the generations – Invite different ages to mingle, by saying something like “Find someone that is two decades older or two decades younger than you. Then ask them ‘What was their favourite toy when they were a kid?’ or if they are a kid, ‘What is their favourite toy?’”

19. Expect the gathered to scatter – Make it clear that your expectation is that everyone who is gathering is also participating with God’s work throughout the week. For example – Do you expect people to also be in a small group? Serving somewhere? Talking about faith at the dinner table? Serving others at their work/school? Make one or two expectations clear so people know the gathering isn’t the be all and end all.

20. Give people a question for the hand shaking time – change it up, instead of always saying “turn around and say ‘hi’ to someone this morning” say something slightly related to your topic for the day or for your “hook” for the day. For example – “Later we’ll be chatting about courage, so, take a moment and tell 2 different people the most courageous person you know and what makes them so courageous.”


I’ve got to change the equation.
We’ve got to change the equation.

Let’s create gatherings that invite engagement. There are no spectators, only followers with Christ.

I invite your ideas! I need your ideas!


Get out! 7 steps

Get out! – 7 steps to get into the right harvest field

This blog is a follow-up to the guest post from Dan Pyke last week “What if we’re not harvesting the right field?” Also mixing into my thoughts for this post are the Simpson Lectures happening this week. Anna Robbins has been challenging us to see we, Christians in North American, are most definitely not in exile, in fact we are Babylon, the privileged and, too often, have been and are, the oppressors. This calls us to own our story and calls us to deep repentance. I highly recommend you listen to the lecture series, they are stimulating lots of needed conversation. The lecture series will be available to watch here:

With all these thoughts mixing together. I’ll try to get down how we start connecting with the “right” harvest field (I’d appreciate your input.) In other words, how can we be in the world, knowing God is already there. The truth is we are already there. We are in the world, we are a part of the culture. We are them. And they are us. So how can we see God use that reality, not as an us going to “conquer” or tell everyone the “right” way to live, but as us being in the community and being God’s salt and light.
Currently, we seem to make three errors. (I’d recommend reading the classic “Christ and Culture” By Niebuhr to explore various approaches to culture.)
One, we remove ourselves from our wider communities and stay in our holy huddle.
Two, we become like the culture and never speak about our world-view and faith.
Three, we yell at culture hoping they will somehow, someway act like us.

What if we are already there?
What if we are in culture, in the right harvest field, we need to trust God is already there working?
What if we are already there, we just need to change our attitude?
What if we are already there, we just need to be the church where we are, instead of just being the church during our sacred times?

Here are some suggestions for being in the right harvest field, right where you are:

1. Repent – Anna faithfully called us to this. Agree with God and ask for His forgiveness for the wrongs done in the past and the wrongs being done now, for our collective sins. I agree with God, we, I, have wronged the aboriginals, the blacks, the poor and have neglected the call to be an ambassador of reconciliation. I need to repent and trust God will show what is next. We/I have not love our neighbour, welcomed the stranger or sought God’s reconciliation in the world. We/I have stayed in our huddles at church, at school, at home. Reflect. Repent. Do not move on quickly.

2. “You are here” – take stock, examine where you are and the privilege you have. Ask questions like: Where do you go every week, who do you connect with in the course of a week, what’s your story, what the story of the groups you belong to (the good, the bad, the ugly), where are you privileged, where have you felt under-privileged, what do you need to repent of individually and collectively?

3. Listen – seriously listen – listen to others stories, listen to what’s happening in the community, listen to our history, listen to the voices of others who experience and background is different than yours, listen to the outsider, listen to a new pocket of society your church could be connecting with, listen to the younger generation. Invite others to tell you more about their life and reality. Get out of the Christian huddle and listen.

4. Recognize God’s already at work – Invite God to open your eyes to see how He’s already at work in the world, in the places you go each week, in the people you are meeting and in your community. God has given you connections and interactions throughout your community. He is already at work in those connections. Invite God to use those connections for His glory.

5. Be normal – Hang out with normal people. Christians, me included, can be weird sometimes – just sticking to our own crew, using our own insider language, only hanging out with each other, unsure of how to act… Please, start hanging out with normal people – eat lunch with normal people, hang-out with those from various backgrounds, ask to hear peoples’ story, connect with others at the rink, invite in people that are not a part of your Christian huddle…

6. Serve others – What have you already got? Look over #2 through 5, you have a lot! Use your connections, assets, privilege, and influence you have to serve others. This is not in an “I have better and know better than you so I’m going to help you” way, but in a “let’s journey together” way, with an attitude of humility. Use your privilege to serve others and fight injustice systems.

7. Show up – show up at the places where your community gathers. Show up where other parents show up, on their turf (i.e. I’m not talking about at the church). Show up where others with similar interests gather. Show up at the tables where decisions are being discussed and made in your schools, community, province and Nation. Show up and trust God to build connections, friendships, and conversations and trust God for His redeeming work in our world.

Will you join God in changing Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time?
God is already at work in your neighbourhoods where you live, study, work and play.
Join God.

If your looking for very practical ideas on how to do this, these two previous blog post could help:
25 missional experiences everyone should have before they are 25 (If you are older, you can catch-up!)

25 ways to be good news to your local schools

-Renée @r_embree

What if we’re not harvesting the right field?

Dan Pyke is a friend of mine. He’s got a heart and life that overflows with Jesus, I wanted you to meet him. Dan, like so many of us, is wrestling with what it actually means to be the Church today and how we help each other live on mission with God, not just on Sunday’s, but all the time. How do we actually join God in what He’s doing in our neighbourhoods? Dan is a husband to Lachelle, and Dad to Rhailyn, Kendrick and Della. He’s the Pastor of Youth and Children at Douglas Baptist Church in New Brunswick. Dan’s posting this same blog on his blogspot today:

Dan has an important question and challenge for us today. What if we’re not harvesting the right field?
Here’s Dan:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” [Matthew 9:37-38]

This verse is a significant reference point for frustrated pastors and leaders looking for additional volunteers. We’re buoyed by statistics that tell us that an individual is most likely to “make a decision” for Christ before the age of 13. Armed with that statistic and this verse, we’re convinced that the Church is being disobedient in their failure to volunteer and lead our youngest generations.

But what if we’re not harvesting the right field?

My farming knowledge is admittedly limited, but because of my wife’s family, I have the opportunity to watch and learn. My children get to spend lots of time at the farm. There are times to plant the seeds, to care for the fields, and to harvest the crop. If my father-in-law went to a barley field to harvest soybean, or went to harvest in the spring instead of the fall, his efforts would be wasted. Are we spending time in the wrong field, or at least at the wrong time?

In the context of this verse, Jesus is travelling through various cities and villages, proclaiming the Gospel and healing all kinds of diseases. He is encountering people at their point of deepest need, and is moved to compassion by what he sees. Compassion is one of my favourite words, because it refers deep in the gut; it’s a gut-wrenching feeling.

Can I be honest? When I look at youth and children in my church, I don’t feel compassion for them. I love them, but I don’t feel compassion. They are in families bringing them to church; being raised by parents who at some level recognize the importance of pointing their children to Jesus. I’ve learned that my influence will never outweigh the influence of those parents (and it shouldn’t!). God put us in families and not in youth groups (Praise the Lord!). They are in churches, and these parents need to be reinforced by adults across all generations. The youth and children need to be continually reminded that they are loved and cared about, and frankly, I think we need to do better at this.

But that doesn’t drive me to compassion.

What stirs compassion? Walking through the high school, knowing that most of these students have no awareness of who Jesus is, and knowing that our Christian students huddle in classrooms. I have compassion for those students who don’t know Jesus. I have compassion for the girl who told my daughter not to say “Jesus” because it was a bad word. Compassion mounts in me when I walk downtown and see people walking who likely don’t know who Jesus is.

Why do we spend so much effort and attention on children and youth programs that are only reinforcing the values that the children are already receiving from home? If we really experienced compassion and wanted to labour in his harvest, would we not do things differently? How will we reach children and youth who don’t know Jesus? Outreach programs can be great, but we also need to think about their parents.

I don’t know what this looks like. Maybe missional communities, small pockets of people committed to living out the gospel together? New locations, without the burdens of mortgages or ongoing maintenance costs? Relational opportunities instead of burdensome programs? Coffee shop or pub meetings instead of “come-and-see-us” events? I’m becoming less convinced that the system we’re running is actually having Kingdom Impact. I certainly don’t feel like I’m gathering a harvest. Am I spending time in the wrong field?


What do you think? Add your comments below or tweet Dan @danpyke

I’m working on a follow-up blog post for next week on how we take steps into the harvest field – into our neighbourhoods, rinks, schools, coffee shops, gyms, workplaces… So, if you have ideas…

-Renée @r_embree