Written by Aaron Helman

Last week we wrote about the model of Big Fun in youth ministry, why it’s not working anymore & how to fix it. In fact, you read it right here:

Why Big Fun Doesn’t Work Anymore and How to Fix It

This is part 2 to that blog post emphasizing in more detail the “how to fix it” part.


The crux of the original blog post was that teenagers today have more options for social entertainment than ever before.

If we’re selling our youth ministry to teenagers primarily because it’s going to be “fun”, we’re suddenly competing in a crowded field, and our competitors have a lot more resources than we do.

Of course, youth ministry isn’t supposed to be just fun. I wrote:

If you’re trying to persuade students to attend because it will be fun, they’ll compare   your program against a dozen other fun options and too often, you’ll lose out.

But if you’re trying to persuade students to attend because they’ll get to be a part of something that Matters, because they’ll be a part of something Real, and because they’ll belong to something Eternal…

…they won’t have anything else to compare it to.”

That’s the kind of philosophical advice that sounds really, really good until you have to actually figure out how you’re going to, you know, do it.

Thankfully, we’re here to help.

In this follow-up blog post, I wanted to go into more detail of how to put all of this into action.

So, here you go:


A friend of mine runs a mid-sized suburban youth ministry.

He is a phenomenal teacher and Bible study leader. He is a gifted counselor when he meets with students in crisis.

In short, his giftedness emphasizes the Pastor part of Youth Pastor.

A typical youth group meeting for him looks a lot like a typical meeting for a lot of youth groups.

There’s some hang-out time, they play some games, eat some food. Then they worship together, hear some teaching, and break out into small groups.

The day after youth group, he always posts a one-minute hype video about everything that happened at youth group last night.

It’s supposed to be a tool that makes more people want to come.

But what’s in that video?

  • A ten-second intro featuring the youth group logo, and truly epic build-up music.
  • Captured video of students playing shaving cream games set to pounding rock music.
  • Captured video of people eating pizza and making faces at the camera.
  • A few seconds of people worshipping at a stage, before it fades out to black and says, “Every Wednesday at 7:00”.

End video.

Now, none of those things are bad. There’s nothing wrong with games or shaving cream.

There is definitely nothing wrong with pizza.

But even though I know for a fact that this youth group features rich teaching and life-giving small groups, you wouldn’t know it from the video or the Facebook page.

“Big Fun” makes up 10% of my friend’s ministry and 80% of its marketing. If you’re on the outside looking in, youth group might look fun, but you don’t see meaningful.

And the worst part is that the fun at youth group doesn’t look nearly as fun as the fun at the Trampoline Park or the Paintball Fields or the Basketball Courts.

So, how could we make that video even better?


Imagine you’d just had a rough week at school.

You’re a 17-year-old junior and you’re caught in the pressures of choosing colleges.

You’ve got options about how to spend your evening, and just going to sleep is absolutely one of them.

Then your small group leader shoots you a text:

Hope you can make it to youth group tonight! We’re playing dodgeball! It’s going to be epic. 

Ugh. What does that even mean? Can any game of dodgeball really be that epic?

But what if the text said this?

I know you’re busy with college stuff, praying for you, bud. Hope you’ll be at youth tonight, I’d love to take five minutes to hear about your week.

That’s different. That’s an adult that cares.

You think the night manager at the movie theater wants to hear about your week?

Is the random person you’re playing video games with online taking time to pray for you?

These kinds of meaningful interactions probably already happen within your ministry. Now it’s time to emphasize them.

Your ministry isn’t going to the best entertainment option a teenager has in a week.

You’re not going to be the coolest social interaction they have all week, and probably your volunteers aren’t going to be either.

But your ministry can be the place where students are most cared for, where they feel most valued, and where they feel freest to be themselves.

Your ministry can be the place where students feel safest to ask questions, most supported in times of difficulty, and most prayed for in times of strife.

Your ministry won’t be the most fun, but it will be the place where teenagers discover who they are and “Whose” they are.

In fact, it probably already is.


This stuff doesn’t make for good video.

An authentic small group conversation really can’t be videotaped for public consumption, and if it was, it would look pretty boring, even set to the hardest Skillet track you can find.

So how do you attract students to something Real and Meaningful if you can’t capture it in a rad video or colorful flyer? 

You talk to them about it.

You send text messages like the one above and you teach your small group leaders and volunteers to do the same.

You train your students not to testify about how epic youth group is, but instead to testify to how it changed their life.

When you send materials home to parents, emphasize stories of lives changes, Truth shared, and God moving; not just the craziest games you’ve played in the last month.

Most of all, every time you communicate anything, ask yourself this question –

“Am I selling my youth group based on how fun it is? Or how much it Matters?”

Always choose the second.

Your youth ministry is already doing amazing and meaningful things.

Now you’ve just got to make sure you’re telling that story.


Liked this blog post? You’ll also like this one:

How to Make Your Easter Message Stick

Aaron-Helman-150Aaron Helman is on a mission to end youth worker burnout by providing the training and resources that you haven’t been taught… until now. Smarter Youth Ministry exists to help you learn how to manage their time and resources better so that you can do more ministry with less frustration. All of that having been said, you most likely know him as the creator of “Lamentation or Taylor Swift Lyric.”


10 Replies to “Do This Instead of Emphasizing Big Fun in Your Youth Group”

  1. Matt Holtsclaw
    • March 3, 2016

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m doing alot of these things but need to communicate them better outside of our youth group. This will definitely help. I’ve developed a Facebook page and am working on our website. But I’ve found texting students and thier parents work the best. It shows you are real and available. I’ve been in youth ministry for 16 years, and it is definitely different than when I started. Thanks again.

    Reply 1 Response
    1. Nick Diliberto
      • March 3, 2016

      Yeah, in 16 years there’s been quite a lot of change in youth ministry. Seems like a lot has specifically changed over the last 5 years. And it’s always evolving.

  2. Tshidi
    • March 3, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this information.. it came at the right time. I always thought our meetings were too serious but I realized from this blog there’s no time to waist by having fun but more time in allowing God do his work with the group.. thank you..

    Reply 1 Response
    1. Nick Diliberto
      • March 3, 2016

      Very cool!

  3. Gregory Anglen
    • March 3, 2016

    Excellent follow-up! I was (and still am) going to use your previous post as a topic of discussion when I lead out next YFC Youth Pastor’s Network meeting (Nassau/Queens County, Long Island group). And I was going to put together the follow-up discussion as to, “what now” myself. You saved me some time, these are great points I will incorporate! I am very tech savvy but social media illiterate… but I agree, I find the best way to connect with the students and parents is text. I had an 8th grader recently ask if we could start a youtube channel for the youth group. I asked her what we would like to see posted and her answer was very encouraging! No mention of all the fun and craziness, she wanted to see stuff of significance and shoot short vids of topics being discussed… stuff that she can share with her friends! She gets it!!! Thanks for helping remind us to find the balance! Fun is not a bad thing… fun at the expense of significance is!!!

    Reply 1 Response
    1. Nick Diliberto
      • March 3, 2016

      Gregory, that’s so awesome! Glad we could help!!

  4. Kelly Dean
    • March 3, 2016

    Nick, I’m just a mom who does monthly devotion times with my sons in their classrooms every month at a Christian school in Marietta, GA. I stumbled onto your material in some web search and I’ve been hooked ever since. This post is probably the best reminder I’ve gotten from this website thus far. Yes everything should have some fun rolled into it, but if we miss the opportunity to really give them a place to let down and connect, then we’ve missed the whole point. You are right about churches trying to compete in the world of entertainment. Especially with all the technology and time tweens and teens spend online and on phones, engaging with someone who cares face-to-face is more important than ever. Thanks for the great material you are putting out and I for one am soaking up every piece of it.

    Reply 1 Response
    1. Nick Diliberto
      • March 3, 2016

      Kelly, wow that’s really cool. Glad you found this blog post helpful. So true…being present in the lives of students is most most important!

  5. Jacob
    • March 6, 2016

    I had it put to me this way, “What you win them with, is what you win them to.” If you win them with fun, fun is what they come for and expect. If you win them with Christ, then Christ is who they come for and what they expect. No harm with keeping things fun, they are teens, but don’t be afraid to tread out of the shallow and into the deep end of the pool.

    Reply 1 Response
    1. Nick Diliberto
      • March 6, 2016

      Well said. Thanks for the comment!


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