Author Archive | Colton Harker

Youth Group Personality Test


You can’t log onto Facebook right now without seeing someone post the results of some personality quiz they took online. We thought we would capitalize on that fad and create a personality quiz of our own: Which HSM Team Member Are You?

Through the quiz, we are able to connect with our students in a really fun way. It has been so much fun to see students come up to team members and say, “I got you on the quiz!” or post a screenshot of their result on their Facebook page or Instagram! It helps add a connection (as small as it may be) to our adult leaders and serves as an opportunity to meet new students! It also helps outreach a little to unchurched students. The idea was that this could go viral and that students would post their results on social media—and it worked! The response we got was overwhelming! So by them sharing the link, their friends have an opportunity to take a quick test, have a quick laugh, see a face/get a name of someone that they can meet, and get more info about our ministry.

It worked so well for our ministry and can be a fun thing to do in yours. Uquiz is a free online quiz creator that helped us put together ours. They make it super easy to create and share. So the next time you get your team together have them fill out a quick survey and put together a quiz of your own!

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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Comedy… Where is “The Line?”


“The line” is such an important thing to keep in mind. Comedy has gotten darker and more risky over the last few years which means that many youth pastors have an ongoing question in their minds, “How can I stay relevant without crossing the line?” I’ve had a ton of friends forget to ask themselves that question and ultimately, it cost many of them their jobs. It’s hard to say specifically, “This is where the line is,” because it changes from church to church. But as you think about where yours is, keep these things in mind:

Use your head. If you have to ask yourself, “Is this crossing the line?” then  it probably is. If you know that you don’t have the best judgment, then make sure you ask someone you trust before you show a controversial video or post a questionable graphic.

Be sensitive. NEVER make any jokes about rape, disabilities, depression, homosexuality, abuse, etc. Your jokes can easily alienate you from a student struggling with very real and tough things. There is no way that a student wants to talk to you about struggling with same-sex attraction when you just made a joke about gay people.

Know your church. Sometimes, the things students find funny and the things that the elders and parents at your church find funny don’t line up. While it can be a pain when we think that some of the people at your church “don’t get youth ministry,” really try to pick your battles. Is your joke worth the parent phone call or the stern meeting with your senior pastor?

What tips would you suggest?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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The Perfect Order of Service

Perfect Order

I think the template for the perfect universal order of service doesn’t exist. I do believe that the perfect order does exist on a case-by-case basis. Sure there are similarities in the order in which our ministry does things, but we like to see every program like it is its own monster. We first write out every element that we want to include in the service and then we put it together. Our average service contains these elements: a message, a funny video, an announcement video, an opening song, 1 minute meet and greet, worship songs, a game, and a welcome/announcements.

This is the order that we would most likely put it in:

Opening Song (cover of a popular song or song that relates to the message)

Funny Video (either one we made or one we ripped from YouTube)

Welcome/Announcements (2-3 announcements max/sometimes done through video)

Announcement Video


1 Minute Meet and Greet

2 Worship Songs (usually these are fast and fun)


2 Worship Songs (slower and more reflective/Pray and dismiss)

That is our basic order or service. When putting our order together we always keep a few things in mind:

Transitions. You always want to try to avoid any awkwardness during your services. Some of the most uncomfortable moments are when you are getting to the next element, like switching from band to announcements or announcements to game. We use program elements to serve as natural transitions. For example, we use the videos as time to switch people and sets on and off stage, same for the Meet and Greet. Bad transitions also happen when you make a sudden change in energy. Try to avoid going from a high energy moment right into a serious one. Ease it in.

Timing. Is it too long? Too short? Always plan out roughly how long your service will be. We are usually generous with our estimations because things usually take up more time than we originally thought. But stay somewhat true to your timetable. You never want your service to drag, so remind the people involved to keep it interesting but tight.

Risks. Every innovative idea started with a risk. If we aren’t taking programming risks, we’ve settled. If you do the same order every time, your students will get bored and you will too. If you aren’t inspired by your program, they won’t be either.

Mix it up, have fun, keep it tight!

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: The Three Things I Thought I Knew

Thought I Knew

The past six months or so have made up one of the most transforming seasons of my life. The Lord has taken almost everything I thought I knew and turned it upside down. He had me ask myself some really tough questions and put me into situations that were way out of my comfort zone. Of course when you are in the middle of it the season seems crazy, out of control, and totally overwhelming, but as I start to come out of it I am seeing the incredible things that the Lord taught me. The way I see myself, the way I interact with Him, and the way I do ministry is completely different now. There are so many things that He has taught me recently but I thought I’d share my top three with you.

Myself- I thought I knew my strengths, my weaknesses, my spiritual gifts, and how I related to other people. I thought I had myself figured out—but the Lord disagreed. He made me face the parts of myself that I didn’t want to deal with and had me take risks that I thought I’d surely fail. However, in the midst of my journey, the Lord revealed to me gifts I never knew I had. He showed me the depth of my mercy for other people and the passion I didn’t know I had for different parts of ministry. I feel like I have started to come into my own and He continually reveals that to me in the fruit of this new perspective

Faithfulness- It’s in the middle of a hard season that the Lord shows you the clear difference between your will and His will. Naturally, I didn’t want to face any of this, but I knew that I was exactly where He wanted me. As tough as it was, God truly revealed to me the blessings that come along with faithfulness. I have learned so much, have had incredible ministry moments, and have been given opportunities that I never thought I’d receive. Overall, the Lord is good and will surely reward your faithfulness.

Community- I thought I had a good understanding of community. I considered myself a good sharer and wasn’t afraid to ask for help with day-to-day tasks. But what I started to learn was that when it came to the things that mattered, the last thing I relied on was other people. I hated talking about what I was feeling, how I was processing, or even saying that I needed something. The thought of being vulnerable and admitting that I wasn’t in control was the most terrifying thing I could think of. But I’ve learned that He uses people in your life to reveal pieces of Himself and things He wants to teach you. God has placed some of the most incredible friends and mentors in my life that have helped me learn to experience emotions and ask for help. It’s still scary and it’s still uncomfortable, but I now know that it’s not going to kill me.

As youth pastors, we will surely go through dark seasons. We will be tired, confused, and want to give up. But let me assure you that God is good and faithful. He will redeem the messy parts of life and, in time, reveal incredible truths. So take a deep breath and as hard or impossible as it may seem, place your trust in Him.

Have you gone through a similar season? What has the Lord revealed to you?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: How to Feel Welcome

Feeling Welcome

I think the problem that we sometimes run into when trying to solve things like creating a welcoming environment is that we miss the target because we aren’t looking at the root of the issue. The actual root of the issue is the social need that isn’t being met. Some of the biggest needs that teenagers (or people in general) have are to be seen, to be known, and to belong. If you can create an environment that helps meet those needs, you’ll have a student that sticks around.

Seen- One of the most important elements of your youth group should be an at-the-door greeting. For a brand new student to be welcomed before they even set foot in the room is huge. Even though the greeting wasn’t incredibly personal, it tells the new student that someone noticed them. Try to include some way of getting their contact information so that someone can follow up with them later in the week. A simple phone call or letter saying how excited we were to meet them means the world!

Known- I would hate for our only interaction with a new student to just be an at-the-door greeting. We push our adult leaders and student leaders to be caring for new students or students that just aren’t connected yet. That means the new student isn’t sitting by themselves all service, that there is someone at this church that knows their name, their school, what they like to do, etc. That connection is essential for creating community within your youth group.

Belong- Keep in mind that new students are from all walks of life. Some are all-in with Jesus and some have yet to meet him. When you are onstage make sure they know, no matter what they are struggling with or what they believe, that they belong in your ministry. Invite them to events, tell them about small groups, and invite them to camp. Let them know you want them there.

What do you do to make your youth group welcoming?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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We Are Young & Free Documentary

By now, most of you guys have heard the incredible album, We are Young and Free, by Hillsong Young & Free. The title of the album totally fits the feeling of the music. It is fun, honest, vulnerable, and full of life! We play a couple of the songs on our weekend services (Wake and Alive).

The album was written in partnership with the youth ministry of Hillsong Church in Australia.. The ministry cast a vision of a concept called Young and Free, an evangelical effort based through art and relationships, which became a global hit. It is truly incredible to watch flesh out. If you have 30 minutes on your hands, take a look at the documentary they made about the making of the album and the overall movement. It is at least worth skimming through. I learned a lot about creating an environment, feel, and culture. I’m super inspired and already dreaming about what this looks like in our ministry, especially as we start planning our summer.

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: Don’t Follow Your Heart


I sat down with a student recently who wanted to leave our ministry. She said she didn’t really “feel” anything at HSM anymore and explained that it was because she “wasn’t getting fed.” She went on to say that she had been listening to a lot of Judah Smith sermons that she loved and wanted to find a church with speakers like that. Now I am just as big of a Judah fan as anybody else,  but I wanted to go a little deeper with her. Once we really got talking I told her to tell me what the last Judah Smith message she listened to was about. She had a really hard time articulating an answer for me and it turned out that she didn’t really remember. The thing is, she didn’t remember what the message was about, she just remembered how it made her feel.

I think that story is a representation of a ton of teenagers and young adults all across the country–even the world. You see tons of them going to several different churches for worship nights, speakers, etc. all because they are addicted to this emotional response. Students are terrified of the moment where they might not feel anything, because if they don’t feel anything, God must be distant from them. Students have the temptation to evaluate their relationship with the Lord based on how their heart feels. What they forget is that the Bible says the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things (Jer. 17:9).

This can manifest itself in something called the “camp high,” in which students come back from a winter or summer camp and feel “on fire” for the Lord. They commit to making all of these changes when they get back home and, when the feeling goes away, many fall back into old habits because the new ones are hard to keep when they don’t have that fire in their heart.

We need to focus on teaching students about this. It is so important that you talk with them about their feelings and emotional health. Being in the middle of winter camp season, we have a great opportunity to address this with students. A HUGE piece of volunteer camp training we often miss is teaching how to handle things like “cry night.” When a student starts crying, our volunteers should be asking them about it and unpacking it. Students are rarely challenged to identify the emotions they are feeling, so instead of coming to and understanding of their feelings, they are only left with the memory of it.

Have you noticed this in your youth group, too? What are you doing to tackle the topic?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: Christian Clubs

CO Blog

A few years ago we got frustrated with the status of some of our Christian clubs. It seems like they had just turned into a group of high school students that met on Wednesdays to eat pizza and listen to a 10-minute talk. The clubs rarely saw any growth and weren’t really known for anything but being pretty cliquey. So about a year ago, we decided to ramp up our campus outreach efforts and work more directly with the student-led clubs. What this meant was we needed to push them to fulfill more purposes of the Church on their campuses. Here are a few things that have happened:

Worship- About 3 times a semester, a few of the local clubs put together a worship lunch instead of their normal program. They get a few singers, a guitar player or two, and lead their students to encounter the Lord during their break. They do such a great job! One club even puts together a PowerPoint with all of the lyrics!

Serving- We have had clubs looking for the specific needs of their school and the unique ways that they can serve. One of our clubs (named Cookies and Christ) made the entire football team cookies and gave them out to each player in a bag with their name and jersey number on it right before a big game. We had another school serve their ASB team during the busyness of the homecoming season. We also did a sticky note project at a ton of our local schools. It has been fun to see what they come up with!

Evangelism- We want our Christian club leaders to teach their students how to evangelize at their school. I think too often we just say to our students, “go evangelize,” but they don’t really know what to do with that. So empowering our club leaders to empower their clubs allows for some really cool life change. They have put a focus on relational evangelism this year. The results have been huge–one our clubs has even doubled in numbers!

What are the clubs at your local school doing that are breaking the norm?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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5 Questions to Ask Before Posting to Social Media


I came across this awesome article that was posted on Relevant. It can be super easy to make a weird choice about what we end up posting on social media and the result can really bite us on the butt! This article covers multiple dangers of posting. Here is my favorite point from the article:

4. Is this a moment to protect?

When my son crawls into my lap, he doesn’t want me to take his picture and shoot it across Facebook. He doesn’t care who else thinks I have a cute kid. He just wants me to hold him and see him. To feel his soft, chunky arms and to focus on the way his eyelashes move when he blinks.

When we interrupt lunch with a friend in order to quote her on Twitter, we invite hundreds of people into a conversation that could have been sacred; and we miss the sweet memories that may have formed had her words remained simply between the two of us.

Not every great moment needs to be shared. In fact, some of the best times are most enjoyed privately. If we suspend the present in an attempt to capture its beauty in 140 characters or less, we sacrifice our experience of the moment itself. We also rob each other of something that has been lost in our digital age—keeping a handful of memories between us and those we are closest to, or even just between us and God.

Especially with Instagram, I don’t think we do a great job at protecting moments. Posting during those special moments in our youth ministry keeps us from being fully present, but sometimes we feel this odd need to–but why? I think we often say, “I want to share what God is doing in our ministry,” but we really need to be examining our hearts with that. We need to make sure we aren’t posting things to say, “Look how great my ministry is,” “Look what I did,” or “Look at how much students love me.”

In the pursuit of protecting moments, we find that we really need to be protecting our hearts. There is probably a follow up blog coming up about this soon.

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: You Own the Small Group!


Once a year (usually around the new year), I throw a wrench in our small group calendar. Adapted from our You Own the Weekend series, I dedicate a month or so to have my small group be run by the students!

It is one of the most fun things that my group does and we look forward to it every year! I group them into pairs and assign them a passage of scripture (usually there is a theme, like parables or miracles). When it is their week, they are responsible for several things: bringing the snack, running “highs and lows,” leading the lesson, and overseeing prayer requests at the end. Of course I help prep them during the week leading up, but once small group starts it is all them!

Here are a couple reasons why I keep bringing it back:

-It is fun! You Own the Small Group (YOTSG) is a blast and allows students to express themselves and their creativity. Last year, when a group was teaching about the vine and branches, they brought in this HUGE tree branch, shears, fruit–everything! While it was super messy, it was super fun! The things that they do when they teach help make some really special memories.

-It helps the group. If you have ever worked in customer service, you find yourself having extra patience and saying thank you much more often when you go to restaurants. You do that because you know what it is like to deal with how crazy customers can be. This is the same principle. After leading their week, students know what it is like to try to get the group to listen and respect each other and how hard it can be to get people to participate. Students come out of it being a more productive and well-behaved student in group. It pushes them to take ownership in the group.

What are some things that you do to mix up small group?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: 4 Secrets to Listening Better


I’ve been really passionate about listening recently. Mainly because there aren’t that many people that do it. One problem is that I don’t think people know how to listen well. The other problem is that I don’t think people understand the power of listening well. I used to think that I was a great listener until I had two incredible and life-giving conversations with a mentor of mine that changed everything for me. Not just in how I encountered my own brokenness, but in how I encountered the brokenness of others. Here are four of the qualities I have noticed in great listeners:

Be slow to speak. We are in ministry for a lot of reasons, one being our addiction to life change. We love seeing students’ testimonies unfold before our eyes. But the problem with that is we sometimes try to cut corners and expedite the process. When students tell us about an issue, we can be quick to give life advice and layout a plan to make it all better. But most times, people are just looking for someone to listen to them. Let them ask you for advice. Have them talk far more than you. Some of the best conversations I’ve had were with people that spoke maybe 15% of the time.

Make them your world.  One of the most valuable things you can give someone is your time, but we cheapen that gift when we aren’t fully present. Whether it is checking your phone every five minutes or thinking about what you need to get done next, it can be such a struggle to make someone our world for just an hour. You want someone to open up to you? Be all in.

Ask Questions. Two of the biggest needs teenagers (and people in general) have are to feel known and to feel understood. One of the best ways to help meet these needs is to ask intentional questions. Ask questions that lead to discovery and for you to better understand them and for them to better understand themselves. In the midst of tragedy most people aren’t great at identifying their thoughts and feelings, so ask questions that help navigate them towards some kind of clarity.

Find the “why?” There is always a reason behind what we do. Never settle for what’s on the surface. It is impossible to compartmentalize our lives. Everything is connected to everything. So when something like an anger issue surfaces, the actual problem isn’t the student acting out, the real problem is something much bigger.  Find that “bigger” thing.

What are some qualities that you would add to this list?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: 3 (More) Onstage Rules

Onstage Rules

A few months ago, I wrote a post on 5 “rules” for being onstage and I thought I had to give it an update.

Have Fun. Having fun isn’t something that you do just for you, but for the audience as well. If you’re not having fun, they aren’t having fun. Sometimes I think we focus way too much on trying to be funny when we need to be focusing far more on having fun. When you play games, keep in mind that you are creating memories with your youth group. Laugh with each other. Don’t freak out when things don’t go as planned. Turn those mistakes into moments. Laugh at yourself, laugh at the hiccups, and just have a great time.

Timing is Huge. When you are onstage, you have to be paying attention to the clock. I think we will agree that we would never want our stage time to “drag” or be boring. A great way to avoid that is to time things out. Always look out for ways to “tighten up” your time by cutting out unnecessary sentences and filler talk. Have a rough idea of how long the segments of your stage spot should take. For example, if you’re doing 3 announcements at the open of service, know roughly how long each will take. (Note: Unless we have a video to go along with it, a single announcement for us rarely lasts more than 30 seconds). For things like games, always be thinking about pacing–never spend too much time on any one part (explaining rules, intro-ing contestants, etc.). When in doubt, feel it out. Feel the mood of the room, if you feel like you are losing them, wrap it up!

Be Mindful of Your Body (Follow-Up). Look out for your nervous body habits. Everyone does something without thinking about it. A lot of people do “pretzel feet,” which happens when they cross their legs while standing. Do what you can to prevent any distracting body movements. For example, if you are sitting on a stool for something, make sure it isn’t a spinning stool. It is incredibly tempting to move back and forth and spin on something like that. Those body habits seem harmless, but they can be distracting and keep us from fully engaging. Be aware of what you are doing. If you don’t know what “your thing” is, ask a friend after you get off stage or even ask someone to record you.

What are some things you would add to the list?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First Two Years: Caring for Graduated Seniors

Recently, we started doing something that we didn’t put a ton of effort into in the past: taking care of our former students. Our team has all been through college and we know that your first few months can be really tough. There is a brand new community, new expectations, and new stresses that can be really overwhelming. We know that there is no harder time than finals season, so we thought that it would be the perfect time to send them some love. We sent them a fun, delicious, and (hopefully) helpful care package. This surprisingly cheap project has made a huge impact with our students and I thought I’d share it with you!


In our care packages we sent:

-Various Candy (chocolate, candy cane, Sour Patch Kids, etc.)



-A coloring book (with crayons)



-Scantrons and Blue Books

-Reusable water bottle

-5 student-written sards

-1 card from the HSM staff

Surprisingly, we were able to buy all of this stuff (besides Scantrons and Blue Books) from the 99 Cent Store. If you don’t do anything else, at least send the cards. We didn’t just send a card from our team, we had 5 students write to each graduated senior about the impact that they made in each of their lives, reminding them of their continuing legacy in our ministry.

Caring for your graduated students is incredibly important. It allows us to support them in a time when they might feel alone, it allows us to encourage them in a time when they feel overwhelmed, and it allows us to love them when they need it most!

What are you doing to care for your former students?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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Saddleback HSM Student Leadership Application

SL Graphic

We just started accepting Student Leadership applications again and we could not be more excited! For the last 2 years we have been using the same application, so we decided to give it a face lift and add a few things we thought were important. We made the mistake last time of making our application on Photoshop, so editing it was a total pain! This time, we made it on Word. It’s pretty long, but it separates the serious, committed students from the “on the fence,” floater students. I am so excited to see who might be joining our Student Leadership team this next year!

I attached two versions of it to this post, the PDF and Word.doc. Depending on what version of Word you have, the formatting might be a little off when you open it, but feel free to edit or mess with it and make it your own! The PDF one, however, should be formatted perfectly!

HSM Student Leadership Application (PDF)

HSM Student Leadership Application (Word)

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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Saddleback HSM Weekend In Review: Volume 232

WelcomeWeekend Teaching Series: Fact or Fiction? (Series Finale, Week 3)

Sermon in a Sentence: Is Christianity the only way?

Service Length: 76 minutes

Understandable Message: We closed our series off by having Brett Kunkle speak to our students about salvation. Like always, he was incredible! He equipped our students with valuable knowledge, resources, and tips on how to have productive conversations with classmates, parents, and others that don’t share the same beliefs about salvation. He had a perfect combination of logic and heart. Loved it!

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: We continued our series of videos that highlights volunteers in our ministry. For this weekend, we featured one of our awesome small group leaders, Cory. We had a whole bit about him building an IKEA shelf—he was hilarious!

Music Playlist: Let It Be Known, Tear Down the Walls, and How He Loves

Favorite Moment: To raise awareness for World AIDS Day, we showed a quick informational video. The cool thing was that the video featured Kay Warren explaining our church’s heart behind serving those with HIV/AIDS. It was so great to see “Big Church” make a video just for student ministries. I loved that our students got to hear directly from our pastor’s wife!

Up next: Armed and Dangerous (One-Off)

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