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Author Archive | Kara Powell

The Mistakes We Make When We “Partner With Parents”

Last week I had coffee with a youth leader who was interested in learning how he could better “partner with parents”. As he kept repeating that term during the course of the conversation, I realized that my understanding of “partnering with parents” seemed different than his.

So I asked him what he meant by “partnering with parents”.

“Well, we have so many needs that parents can help with. We need drivers and food at our events. I’d love to see more of them get involved in our ministry.”

As I told him, that is indeed a slice of what it means to partner with parents. But it’s not the whole pie. In fact, I’d make it a pretty small slice.

In my opinion, the biggest slice of “partnering with parents” is helping them, not getting them to help us in our ministry. Parenting is a fabulous adventure, but it’s so hard. My job is pretty demanding but it’s a piece of chocolate cake compared to being the parent I want to be.

As youth leaders, we can help parents by:

  • Sharing ideas on how to discuss at home (or on the drive to or from church) the Scriptural messages we talk about at youth group (which means we have to let parents know the themes of our talks and small group meetings).
  • Spreading what we know about youth culture with parents. Every parent I know is wrestling with how to navigate technology at home; we as youth leaders can help them know what technology means to kids and give them some ideas for boundaries and best practices at home.
  • Communicating far in advance about our youth group activities. Youth leaders make parents’ lives far more challenging when calendar communication is last minute and inaccurate.
  • Encouraging kids to build bridges with their parents, or at least see events and family interactions through their parents’ lenses.

What are some of your best ideas to help parents win with their kids?


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People Support What They Create…At Least Most of the Time

This week I have the chance to co-teach an intensive at YS National Youth Workers Convention with Brad Griffin on Sticky Faith. In the intensive, we’ll spent the first six hours talking about what needs to change to build long-term faith in teenagers.  Then we’ll spend the last hour discussing the harder question:  how can we make these changes in our youth ministries and in our churches?

I love sharing with churches that want to make change this leadership principle:  people tend to support what they create. 

As we’ve seen with over 100 churches who have walked through our Sticky Faith Cohort, when it comes to bringing about a new culture or a new program, we leaders make a mistake when we figure it out on our own and then present it to our students, parents, leaders, and supervisors.

We think they are going to be impressed by our ingenuity.

Instead they feel left out of the process and are more likely to resist the change.

So let me ask you a few questions:

  • What’s the next medium-sized or big change you need to make in your ministry?
  • Who do you MOST need to collaborate with you on that change?
  • How can you involve that person NOW in the planning process?

Not only will you learn from that person’s expertise and the questions they ask, you will be more likely to have a change advocate.


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The Golden Circle That Can Help Your Communication

When two people I respect recommend the same book to me within 48 hours, I figure it’s a book I need to read.  That happened to me a few weeks ago when two leaders recommended Start With Why by Simon Sinek to me in a two day period.  So I got my hands on the book.

A few standout quotes in the book include:

“With a little discipline, any leader or organization can inspire others, both inside and outside their organization, to help advance their ideas and their vision.  We can all learn to lead.” 

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior:  you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” 

How do we inspire others?  According to Sinek, it boils down to his Golden Circle.simon_whyhowwhat

The outer edge of the circle is WHAT is what a company or group does – the products or services that are offered.

Moving in one level, HOW is the process a company uses to accomplish the WHAT.

At the center of the circle is WHY.  This is the purpose, cause, or belief that motivates a group.

WHY is the apex of leadership.

WHY is at the center of the circle because it all starts there.

Our problem as leaders is that we often end up focused on WHAT we do (after all, youth group is coming up) and the HOW we do it.  It’s easy in ministry—and in life—to lose sight of WHY we do what we do.

There are all sorts of implications for this Golden Circle but I’d love to think about how we communicate about our youth ministry with others.

  • When we are meeting with a new potential volunteer, do we start by describing a typical Wednesday night meeting, or the reason teenagers need unconditional love from a team of adults?
  • When we’re inviting parents to an upcoming Parents Night, do we explain we need them there because we’re going to review the calendar, or do we give them a vision for the type of partnership we’d like to have with families?
  • When  senior pastor asks us, “How’s it going?” in the church hallway, do we give numbers from last week, or do we take a few seconds to share a story of how God is transforming students?

WHY is a question I want to ask more regularly.  WHY is a posture I want to take in my communication with others. How else can focusing on WHY help our youth ministries?


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What Parents Want From You At Camp

Two years ago, I experienced something new in youth ministry.  I stood on the curb in front of the church, waving goodbye as our oldest headed to weeklong summer camp for the first time.  I was not on the bus.  I was a parent who was left behind, unable to take the time away from my work at the Fuller Youth Institute and my remaining children to go myself.

Recently, I was standing on the church’s curb again, but this time I was waving at two buses as our two oldest went to camp.

Based on what our church has done to support families in the midst of camp, or what I wish they would have done, I have some ideas for how parents and youth ministries could better partner for more long-term results in camps.  No one youth ministry can do all of these ideas, but I’m guessing most could add one or two of these ideas to the camp experience.  Not only would these ideas increase the fruit from camp, they would likely generate good will and a sense of partnership with parents that would last for months to come:

  1. Ideas on how to talk to my kid about camp beforehand.
  2. Special tips on how to prepare my kid ahead of time if it’s their first time gone from home for that long.
  3. Specific ways I can support my kid during camp such as sending care packages (please provide the address and the timeframe so I know when I should be mailing the packages), or giving them gifts or notes to open each day.
  4. Pictures!  Pictures!  Pictures!  During the week, I’d love to see pictures of the kids.
  5. Ideas on how to pray during the week, ideally correlating with the content theme of the day.
  6. Some sort of daily update (via social media or a voice mail I could call into) that gives a few highlights and a sense of what God is doing.
  7. Questions I can ask my kid when they return.
  8. A summary of what themes and portions of Scripture were studied.

If you’re a parent, what else do you want at camp?  If you’re a youth leader, how else have you tried to partner with parents at camp? 

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What I Learned at Camp…12 Year-Olds and Forgiveness

Recently I had the chance to speak about Sticky Faith link to stickyfaith.org at Family Camp at Mount Hermon Christian Camps.  Every year our family attends this camp with about 60 friends.  The time hearing God’s word, worshipping under the trees, devouring ice cream, and soaring down the zip line has become one of our summer highlights.

One of my favorite events at camp is the communion and sharing that occurs on the last night of the week.  In previous years, about ¾ of those who shared have been adults with the remaining ¼ being teenagers.

This year it was a 50/50 split.

Teenager after teenager raised their hands, eager for a chance to share what God had showed them.  Of the almost 20 kids who shared, by far the biggest theme was their need to practice one of the themes discussed at camp:  forgiving others.

12 year-old after 12 year-old raised their hands to describe how they needed to forgive others.

In my heart, I wish that teenagers were loved by family, friends and youth leaders in such a way that they didn’t feel like they had so many people they needed to forgive.  But in my head, I know that we all sin and love others dysfunctionally.

As few observations about what students shared that may be relevant to the way we teach and love students:

  • Sibling strife.  Many students shared how they had been wronged by siblings, and how that conflict had developed a wedge in their relationships.
  • It’s never too early to talk about forgiveness.  Some of the most poignant sharing came from 12 year-old boys who described how they had been hurt by others.  (Note:  in later discussions with my seven year-old daughter, she thought of people she needed to forgive.)
  • Little hurts still hurt.   We often tend to think of forgiveness in the context of nudging students who have been physically, verbally or sexually abused to (at some point) learn how to forgive their abuser.  In this campfire sharing,  little hurts—like parents who seemed too busy or an older brother who was unkind—added up to big pain.
  • The power of community.  I could tell by the way that the teenagers sitting near those who were sharing responded that most of the kids who shared on the microphone with the entire 400 or so folks gathered had already shared what God had showed them about forgiveness to their small group of five.
  • Rooted in Jesus’ forgiveness.  The only way.  The only way.  The only way (do you get that it’s the only way?!?) that you or I, or a 12 year-old, has a chance of forgiving others is because of the way Jesus has forgiven us.  Forgiveness flows from the cross.

What are you learning about forgiveness in your interactions with teenagers these days?