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Author Archive | Colton Harker

Titanic Dodgeball

Titanic Dodgeball

Looking for a fun game to play this summer? Well my friend Travis and I might have one for you!

We made up a game called, Titanic Dodgeball and it was SO MUCH FUN! It is perfect for any outdoor summer event!

Here is what you need:

-1 Inflatable pool (we used one that was 12 ft. wide)

-3 Yoga Balls

-1 Long Rope (we used a 40 ft. rope)

*Event Hack: If you don’t have a pump to fill your pool/yoga balls/etc., use a tire pump from your local gas station

Titanic Dodgeball 2

Here is how you play:

-Fill up your pool only about a foot or so and surround it by a rope (about 15 ft. from the pool).

- Create as many teams of 3 or 4 as you can. Have each of them come up with their team name (each team is a “ship” so we had all of their names start with “s.s.”).

-The game takes place in a series of 30 second “rounds.” In a round, one team gets into the pool and all of the other teams surround them behind the rope perimeter and try their best to throw the yoga balls (icebergs) and the team in the pool (the ship) and try to sink it (eliminate every player).

-A team can earn points in two ways: 1) If they hit one of the team members in the pool. 2) The team in the pool gets one point for every team member left after the 30 second timer runs out.

-If a member of the team in the pool gets hit, they must leave the pool and watch the destruction of their ship. However, if one of their team members catches a ball, they are allowed to return to the pool and rejoin their team.

-If someone in the pool catches a ball thrown at them, the person that threw it has to sit down and can not participate for the rest of the round.

-At the end of the round, write down the number of points earned by each team

-The game ends when every team has had a round in the pool.

-The winner will be the team with the most amount of points earned throughout the game!

Does your youth group have a classic game that they love? Please share it! We several park days on our calendar that could use some creative games!

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First 2 Years: 4 Things My Small Group Students Taught Me (pt 2)

Small Group 2

A few weeks ago, I ended my four-year small group journey with 11 of the best young men on the planet. They were the first group I have ever led, so naturally I have been processing so much about the experience. Through that, I have been able to write down and organize all of my thoughts, feelings, and lessons that I have learned along the way. I thought I’d share some of my most impactful ones with you guys. The first being, learning to have fun!

I am not fun. I will be the first to admit it. In fact, it is actually the first thing I tell the students in my cabin at camps. I am a rule follower through and through. So you can imagine my anxiety when I realized that I got the rowdiest group of students in my Life Group. And I know people often think, “oh, my students are the craziest.” But mine actually were. From almost burning down our cabin at winter camp, to being the only kids to get hurt at our weekend retreat, my guys quickly became known as the most rambunctious group of students in our ministry. I went crazy.

There were actually several nights that I went home after small group and was hurt and frustrated by the actions of my guys. I felt so disrespected and completely defeated. I had no idea why they were not engaging in group and how they couldn’t take anything seriously. Here is what I learned, it wasn’t all their fault… it was mine too! My Life Group program was SO BORING. My lessons were too long, I had too many rules, I didn’t pick my battles, and I just had no room for fun or laughter.

Once I started to change that around, I noticed HUGE changes. I would end group early to save time to just play together. We would spend some nights just getting ice cream and playing handball at elementary schools. We just had fun. Through that, we started being able to find compromises. We had a struggle… they wanted to rebel from my strictness and I wanted to force them to take things seriously. Once I loosened up, they tightened up.

My Life Group taught me such a valuable lesson, not just for ministry, but for life. To have fun. To not take everything so seriously. To break the rules every once in a while. To look the other way. To laugh a ton. And to make incredible memories. They truly revealed a big new piece of relational ministry and made me a better pastor through it.

By this time, the majority of schools should be out for the summer, meaning the end of small groups for many of us. As I continue to write these, share your experiences. Share a funny story or even a lesson of your own!

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First 2 Years: 4 Things My Small Group Students Taught Me

Small Group 1

This week, I had my last meeting with the small group I have lead for 4 years. These 11 guys were my very first small group and have become some of my favorite people in the world! God really blessed me with such a great group of guys, so obviously it has been a roller coaster of a week, being so a happy for them and excited to see where they go, while also being so sad to see them leave! They have grown and learned so much, and so have I.

This has been a week of reflecting and processing where I started and where I am now. When I started with them, I had just turned 20 and was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I’m 24 and working for a church that I love so much. It has been a crazy journey that all started that first night when I thought I had it all figured out… I quickly learned I had NO idea what I was doing.

Over the years, I’ve made some not-so-shiny mistakes and have had some incredible victories. I have learned so much and still have no idea what I’m doing… but I’m getting there. As I continue to process my four years with them, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned along the way.

Throughout the week, I’ll be posting several of the things God taught me about small group ministry and I’d love for you to join me. Comment on these posts with some of your favorite small group stories or share a lesson that you have learned about small groups.

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The Wrong Way to Approach the Poor

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 12.54.08 AM

With summer right around the corner, many of us are preparing our ministries for local and international missions. A big component many of those trips include is caring for the poor, something that can be tricky to do correctly. Our heart is totally there, but our methods can sometimes be a little misguided. Chase Miller wrote and incredible article on Relevant about it called, “The Wrong Way to Approach the Poor.” Here is one of my favorite parts:

Don’t Let Pity Be Your Motivation

Believe you me, the last thing that poor people need is your pity. Your friendship? Absolutely. Your prayers? Without a doubt. The problem is, when we approach someone with pity and then stay at that level, there is never any mutuality to the relationship. They remain a specimen, a project, if you will.

Look at Christ’s example of the Good Samaritan—his first response for the downtrodden man splayed across the roadway was indeed pity. That’s probably why he stopped in the first place. Yet the next phase of their interaction was far beyond pity. It was intimacy.

The Samaritan cleaned and bandaged his wounds, gave of his time and talents, and invested himself in the wellbeing of his newfound friend. Pity by itself allows us to keep people at arm’s length, never developing the reciprocity and meaningful exchange that characterize a real relationship.

I love that he discusses the fine line between compassion and pity. The change in our heart may be subtle at first, but once we switch to pity, our ministry is impacted greatly. If your ministry is doing any missions this year, make sure you read this article and consider adding some of this to your training… especially if your students don’t interact with the poor that often.

Are there any other tips that you would add to the list of “How to not approach the poor”?

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Summer 2014 Mix

Summer Mix

Summer is right around the corner, which means teenagers across the nation are putting together their summer playlists. Our ministry has put our own summer mix together and we use it as our pre-service music (you can follow the playlist here).

If you aren’t using Spotify, I would highly recommend that you get an account. We use it at everything we do. While Pandora is a good alternative, we love the freedom Spotify gives us to choose exactly which songs we want played. And, since it is a profile based program, Spotify is a fun way to connect with students by seeing what music they are listening to and sharing bands and songs! So fun!

Has your ministry put together a summer playlist? Share a link below!

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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How to Teach When You Want to Scream


I will be the first to admit that I struggle with patience. As a leader, it is one of the biggest qualities that I pray for. Most of the time, I can bite my tongue and be a good sport, but when someone causes a big problem at an event I am running or with a project I’m in charge of, I’m not always at my best, to say the least.

In order to tame myself and help build people up, I have trained myself to take a deep breath and ask two questions before I confront people that have made a mistake:

Is it worth being said?

Are you confronting this person because you can use it as a teaching opportunity, or do you just want to “let them have it?” Unfortunately, many of us tend to identify with the latter. I mean, it feels good, right? It helps us feel like there is a little bit of justice. We think, “They totally deserve it.” But where is the grace in that? Why are we forgetting that we are capable of mistakes as well? Most of the time, the person knows they made a mistake and us coming up to remind them of that won’t make it better. Don’t confront unless you have an opportunity to teach someone or to help him or her grow.

How am I going to say it?

The first question doesn’t mean anything unless you have the tone to match. One time, one of the team members that runs our computer graphics accidentally deleted the teaching video from our computer. We had to improvise and had almost a minute of “dead time” where nothing was happening on stage. It was ROUGH. After the service, I knew that this was a teaching opportunity and that a conversation was needed. But my tone did not back up my intention. I used phrases like, “How did this even happen?” and “Why didn’t you check the playlist before service even started?” I hurt her feelings and made her feel totally dumb. As soon as I left, I knew I needed to apologize. It was a wasted opportunity to improve her as a team member and encourage her at a time when she didn’t feel great about herself.  The way you say it is radically important.

Surely I’m not the only one who has struggled with this. Spend some time to reflect on how you handle those situations. Do you show grace?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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First 2 Years: The Church is for “Bad” Guys Too

Bad Guys

I recently had a really troubling conversation with someone about a former friend of theirs. Their friend made a really big mistake and it cost them severely in their marriage. The way that they were talked about and the way that they were abandoned by so many of their friends broke my heart and I was puzzled why it wasn’t breaking the hearts of their friends. Or their church. It seems as though people only see them as their mistake. People only saw them as a bad guy.

When it comes to man, I’m not sure if there is always such a thing as “good” guys and “bad” guys – it isn’t that black and white. We are all broken people living in relationship with one another. We are bound to make mistakes and damage those relationships in the process. But our action, our sin, does not define us. It isn’t fair to deem a person wholly good or wholly bad.

Our actions sure have consequences, but those consequences should never be abandonment from the Church. The Church isn’t just for the people that have been hurt, it is for people that have hurt others as well. I think that what we all forget is that we are all one sentence, one action away from becoming a “bad” guy ourselves. We are all capable of moral failure. Don’t ever forget that.

Think about yourself, your ministry, and your church. How do you think about others who have sinned? How are you teaching your ministry to love those who are hard to love? Do you, do your students, does your church, fully believe that the Church is for everyone?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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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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