Launched in 2002 with the XBOX, XBOX Live (XL) made the incredible XBOX even better.  Many moons ago, I locked down my gamer tag…dustinsams.  It is no yellowdogzoom3000 or something like that…but it makes it easy for my students to find me.  Basically they can find me on twitter, skype, and even at dinner by just using my name…I think that is pretty accessible don’t you?  I didn’t do much with it, I never played one single game with online friends or anything like that.  As a youth pastor my life was busy enough as it is and we were fortunate to have a multiple XBOX gaming area at our church with consoles linked up.  So anytime I wanted to hang with students and play, that is where it was at.  In 2005, the Microsoft debuted the XBOX360.  XL has been updated and upgraded ever since.  Membership has blown up and as of February 2010 there were 23 million subscribers.

I give you a little taste of XL history just so you can impress your friends.  I wanted to give some of you some ideas for using XBOX Live to connect with some of your students.  This is not for everyone and some of you will see no reason to continue…but there are a few of you that may be liberated by knowing that you can actually do some good while playing Live.  To speed things up, I will be using CODMW3 as an example.  I was recently locked in virtual battle  online with 2 other youth pastors in my home state, 3 former students (1 in AZ and 2 in FL), and a student in my current ministry…crazy.  Talking to them while playing, as if they were sitting right next to me…so much fun.  I personally have developed relationships with and have been able to speak into the lives of students that normally wouldn’t have given me the time of day. Since I have the talking point of CODMW3, many defensive barriers are immediately taken down and a connection is made.

So if you have an XL account, here are a couple of tips.  If you are an avid gamer, you no doubt have discovered most of these already.  Let the connecting and noob-tubing begin.

(keep in mind XBOX Live is now available in some form or another on every game that is released, I would love to hear if you have had similar run-ins with students in a favorable way. Gaming is not for everyone and this was not an article to debate gaming violence or whether it leads to someone car-jacking the church van, simply another avenue to connect with students where they really are.)

  • Be aware of foul language.  A student sent me a message on XL the first time we met in a “party” and said, “Dustin, I just want to warn you, there are some that cuss a lot.”  I laughed and thanked him for thinking that I had never heard those words before.  This is a place where you and 23 million plus individuals hang out.  Quickly learn how to “mute” offensive players and encourage those that play a “clean” game.  I regularly thank those in the room for not spewing filth, whether we like it or not, there are many children that are playing the games that they are not even allowed to buy by themselves.  Also, take advantage of “rating” players.  You can mark another gamer with higher rankings (more of a possibility to be matched up in the future or on the flipside less likely for those ranked lower).  This isn’t VBS, you are in the real world where people cuss.  So be warned.
  • Send messages to those on your friends list.  This is easy to do and use it often to encourage, comment on their games, ask questions and join up in private matches where the conversation can wander freely.
  • You can search on XL for friends that play via Facebook and email addy’s.  I recently tried to add a Youth Pastor friend of mine and he was maxed out on the friends list…very nice.  I politely told him to bumb some seventh grader off his list so he can add me.  Cause that is how I roll.
  • Fill out your bio.  If you put on there some information, I have found that others do look at it.  I do, especially when in a room for any length of time.  I comment on there game play, where they are from, etc.
  • Don’t wear you feelings on your sleeve.  The first time I heard “dustinsams? that is a gay name” I could have pouted about why my mom named me that and how come I didn’t have some cool name like “Gunner”, but it didn’t happen that way.  People that don’t know Christ act like people that don’t know Christ. Period.
  • Don’t Team Kill.  If you are on a team, don’t kill your teammates.  This just burns me, so I thought I would throw that in.
  • Apologize if you accidentally Team Kill.  Names don’t always pop up fast enough before you fire…”my bad.”
  • Use moments to chat with your students that have taken the time to invite you into their world.  I ask about grades, family life, girlfriends, what “class” they use…etc. Anything to generate connection.
  • Set up times to “meet”.  If you get enough friends to join up to play in some private matches or as a “clan” do it.  It is fun and the conversations are great.  I have visited with other Youth Pastors about their youth groups, adult leaders, families, and have been encouraged myself.
  • Make sure your wife knows what is up.  I tell her that I am playing video games with some students for a little while and she loves it.  Also keep in mind that when you talk to your wife that your voice is audible in the game.  I once made a cutesy comment about my wife and the whole room exploded with laughter…kind of embarrassing, but I played through the pain.
  • Don’t waste you life.  I play a few hours a week and stay current.  But the conversations with students during our mid-weeks services have been great.  Discussing new games content.  If they struggle with making friends or even how much time they spend in prayer or reading the Bible compared to how much time they spend shooting a virtual ACR.  That is a tough question to ask anyone.  Have fun and share Christ!

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Updated.  If you are not using social media to further your ministry you are missing some great opportunities.  The social media footprint that you and your ministry has, needs to be examined on a regular basis.  For example, our student ministry used to have a myspace page, not anymore.  Not because myspace is going away (it is not) it is just because the demographic of our student ministry is less impacted by myspace than it is with Facebook.  But there are tons of ways to connect with students via social networking.  To better use your time, try this…print up a quick survey for your students and ask!  Crazy, I know…keep it simple, we all know that the combined user totals for twitter and Facebook are over 600 million (if you didn’t know that, now you do) so you don’t need to ask how many use what…just ask which they prefer.

Some questions you may want to ask:

  • Would you rather get info about (your name here) from Facebook/myspace/email/twitter/ning.com etc.
  • Do you have a smart phone?
  • What apps do you use?
  • Would you be interested in YouVersion Live? (see below for video explaining this wicked cool feature) I am finding more and more students using their cell phones during our teaching time to follow along with the scripture that I am teaching from.

Just get a feel of what communicates to your students the best and spend your valuable time on those.  Your students still may be the type to want a postcard.  I have students that don’t have access to internet unless it is at school, so I just have them on a list to mail calendars to.  There are not many, but I don’t want to exclude those students that cannot afford the Inet at home.

Feel free to add your thoughts of questions to ask students…

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Dear Friends of the Younger Generation,

“A blueprint for the Great Commission in Arkansas”
– Rodney Welsh, Youth Pastor in Heber Springs, Arkansas

What did Rodney mean by his statement? Let’s find out by following six spiritual generations deeply transformed by Jesus-Focused Youth Ministry (JFYM)–Shira, Olivia, Carrie, Rodney, Dustin and Eric.

6 Generations

We begin with Shira, a sophomore, who began a relationship with Jesus in 2008 through her friend Olivia who then discipled her. Both graduate this year and want to become missionaries. Before this, Carrie Welsh started a discipleship group for Olivia and four others. They learned how to communicate their faith to friends like Shira. Carrie was equipped to disciple students in a leadership team led by her husband, Rodney Welsh. Rodney took them through “the slow, but very rewarding process of making disciples” after attending a JFYM Forum in 2007. He heard Dustin Sams speak about it in 2006 and was drawn to “thinking about ministry that lined up with the way Jesus did ministry.”

Dustin Sams, youth pastor in Stuttgart, Arkansas, has implemented JFYM for seven years and is one of Reach Out’s Eagle Leaders. Dustin comments: “After hearing Barry speak, I started my first discipleship group with five guys. Four of the five now attend Ouachita University, preparing for ministry. . . . We have seen tremendous numerical and spiritual growth. . . . So many of our students are now going into ministry themselves.”

Before Arkansas, as a youth pastor in Florida, Dustin shared that he had one dad whose daughters were in his youth group “invest in me with no strings attached, just a desire to see me succeed in ministry, my family and my faith. I was an event-to-event style youth pastor and headed towards burn-out. But Eric Ball taught me about JFYM and literally kept me from burning out.” Eric serves as Reach Out’s International Director.

These discipling and mentoring relationships vividly illustrate “the blueprint.”

11 Multipliers

This blueprint of spiritual multiplication in Arkansas repeats itself through…

Matt Rothacher     Bill Newton    Donnie Burrows     Dave McClung      Randy Brantley
John Cowling    Lynn Riley    Mark Simmons    Grant Medford    Dustin Sams     Rodney Welsh

75 Introductions

We believe the blueprint of the present and future will exceed the past!

Last week Roger Palmer, Reach Out’s National Director, introduced Jesus’ model for ministry to 75 Arkansas youth leaders at our one-day JFYM Forum. John Caddy, our current leader in Arkansas, has plans for the Eagle Leaders to equip youth leaders in 35 areas of the state.

Every church in Arkansas will have the opportunity to implement Jesus-Focused Youth Ministry so that kids like Shira and Olivia will come to know Christ and be discipled by a caring adult like Carrie!

We need you to partner with us! Your investment of prayers and money will yield more of this kind of multiplied spiritual return in the days ahead!

Jesus-Focused Youth Ministry

Through applying this newly expanded resource, God will produce life-change and life-changers through you.  Details to be emailed soon! Go to www.reach-out.org for more information.

Jesus is Lord,

Donate to Reach Out Youth Solutions


PO Box 870141

Stone Mountain, GA 30087

Office: 770.413.6045

Fax: 770.220.1980

Website: www.reach-out.org
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A huge resource of testimonies from www.iamsecond.com .  If you haven’t seen these videos, you need to.  Sometimes when I need to be encouraged, challenged, or inspired…this is where I go.  That is the power of video.  I encourage our students to watch these when they ask how to share their story.  Sure it won’t be as dramatic as some of these…but people want to here how your faith has changed you, not anyone else.  Share your faith.

This video of Chris sharing his story strikes a chord with me.  I pray for our armed forces, have family in them, family that retired from them, students that serve…they give so much and get much less thanks for what they do and the sacrifice that is a part of something bigger than themselves.  I hope it moves you as much as it did me. …DVS

Saw this a few months ago and I pray for believers in India more now than ever.  It is one thing to sit in our air conditioned homes and offices and say “that’s too bad” or “Isn’t that sad?” and another to be motivated to pray for the Christians that are being subjected to this type of treatment in many parts of the world.  I am sure it will motivate you as well.  I have friends that are doing God’s work in some of the most difficult areas to reach with the Gospel…pray.  I get angry, physically upset when I watch this…it is ok to be offended…man can do horrible things…

Below is a similar video with less edited film footage…be prepared

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Recently stopped in and got some pictures of the updated FBC Forrest City Student Ministry facility.  They used some great ideas with LED Lighting on plain walls so they can actually change the color of the walls whenever they feel like it.  Some other highlights of “The Stand” was staining of the concrete floors, leaving some of the frame-work for the ceiling tiles over the “cafe” area, and the sign-in desk.  Take a look at the pictures and let me know if you have any questions about it, or you can contact the Youth Pastor at FBC Forrest City.  His name is Chris Roller and you can find him on Facebook.  If you are within a day’s driving distance and would like me to share some of your creative ideas with Youth Workers around the world, please let me know.  Even better, if you have high quality pictures of your space, please send them to me at dustin.sams@fbcstuttgart.com so we can share with others. Blessings.

Other things to look at:

  • Screens Directly on a flat wall for the projectors.
  • Steel/Roofing Tin on Stage Front
  • Elevated Flat Screen TVs/Gaming Systems
  • Lighting
  • Updated Kitchen/Cafe Area
  • Ceiling Grid Left open over Food Area
  • Multiple Color LED Wall Wash
  • All Lighting is controlled from Sound Booth
  • It is very clean and roomy.  Good use of existing space in a building that the church owns.

I was hanging out with some of my favorite Youth Pastor friends a few months back and one of them (ARodgers) flipped me a sweet new business card he had.  They are small and very cool…a must have for those of you that use business cards.  I am already a big fan of the cheap ones that I have been getting from www.vistaprint.com for years and I usually get new ones every few months.  I purposely get them in small numbers so I can change them up.  Toss them out, put them in letters, write notes on them,  or just balance out your favorite table at the local choke and puke.

www.moo.com is a great little site and they love to print.  I like it also because they don’t have a million different products.  Just business cards, mini-cards, greeting cards, and postcards.  Check them out.

Some high points about www.moo.com:

  • You can choose from some great pre-designed artwork.  It looks sharp too, not some cheesy clip-art.
  • You business cards can have a ton of different designs or slogans (up to 100)…all in the same single order you make!
  • Uploading your logo or design is easy, click on the photo to see an example of the variety that I have ordered recently.
  • There “text-o-matic” design lets you put some creative text on the front.  Youth Pastor, Bobby Markham used it to put the title of the lessons series he had done in the recent past.  They looked sweet.
  • Packaging is recycled and very cool too. Enjoy.

Decide how many teams would best serve your ministry. From two to eight teams, I have tried them all. The best results have clearly been when there are four teams…but it depends on how many adults you have involved in the beginning. Don’t throw some adult leaders under the bus and place them in charge if they are clearly not wanting to be or not ready to be. I recommend a minimum of four adults per team. We are currently in our third year of LIFE in my current location and I have 10-15 adults per team. Pre-select “colors” that your teams will use. Try to pick colors that are impartial to local school colors. Primary colors like Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green work well.

Since ’94, I have tried various ways to divide the students for the initial team selection. Here are some examples:

• Take your “core” group of students and divide them evenly between the teams yourself. This works great for smaller youth groups and gives you the ability to divide your “stronger” students for the greatest impact in your community.

• * My favorite: Select adult team leaders and give them a list of students in your ministry. I use Youth Assistant Software, so I just print detailed reports complete with pictures to make it easier for adults to identify students they know to be extroverts/introverts, hard workers, class clowns, boyfriend/girlfriends, and so on. The great thing about this is the ability to tailor the event to connect with all types of students. It is not just a popularity contest by any means. Once you have a list and given the adults a few weeks to prep, you get them together for a “Draft.” I love this model because I like fantasy football. I set it up the same way. Draw straws for first draft and complete the first round. (for clarity, we will use the example of four teams) Team 1 gets first pick and eighth pick. Team 2 gets second and seventh. Team 3 gets third and sixth pick. Team 4 gets fourth and fifth pick. Continue the draft until all of your core students are drafted. You may or may not want to place your Student Leaders on each of the teams to get them started and to make sure that each team has some very reliable students to get started with.

• Randomly distribute students between the teams: Draw from a hat, number off 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. It is ok to play Jr. Holy spirit in this case, after all you are the leader and you should be able to make whatever decisions you need to in order to have a successful event. Go crazy with it.

Once the teams are selected you let those students know in advance so they can prepare for it. This will include collecting clothing that represents their team color, coming up with a theme with their adults, decorating their “wall”, or beginning to invite students that were not pre-selected to be on a team. This is where the fun begins.

In some upcoming posts, I will be going into detail some of the facets of the event: Points, Games, Strategy, and Follow-up.

You don’t have to call it LIFE; you can call it macaroni salad. Grab a title that you and your students can identify with. The first year we called it LIFE, the second year was “Come back to LIFE.” “Dive into LIFE” and “Surge into LIFE” followed, so just be creative. We will refer to it as LIFE so as not to confuse you…unless you already are, then just pick up the phone and call me.

LIFE is a team based outreach that basically rewards students and their respective teams with points for doing things they should already be doing. The main thing they are rewarded for is inviting their friends to our weekly Student Ministry event. I have only implemented it on Wednesday nights…but feel free to try it anytime.

To begin, select adult team leaders for each of the teams. It seems to work better with a team “leader.” This can be a married couple that you have working with your students or single adult. I have seen great success with both styles of team leaders. Once you have team leaders committed, you begin to surround them with other adults that will compliment those leaders. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so play to their strengths. You most likely need to have team leaders that are organized and efficient. You can then have the designated “fun” adults that will help these adults motivate the students. When I began working with this event, I was single and in my 20’s…so I was the energy guy. I got the students motivated for the games, helped them learn chants for team spirit, and was just a strange college-age adult that connected with students. I was teamed with an adult couple that was approaching their sixties and we rocked! This is a great time to give some adults an opportunity to “try out” their involvement. It is great because it has a beginning and an end. It is not an open-ended commitment with no way out. We all like to know what we are getting into, so you can’t spend enough time explaining what tasks they will have. This is very important especially for the first year of LIFE. Once you have done it before, people will know what to expect and word of mouth is the best publicity.

I have seen this event double the size of my youth group. We have had retention of visitors as high as 60% and many students saved. The smaller the youth group, the larger the return initially. Even when my youth groups have been large to begin with, I have still seen some great results. Dream big and see what God can do.

Continued in Pt 3. 🙂

 

Eight crazy weeks and Jesus…

 One of the most effective events we incorporate into our yearly planning is based on an early 80’s Outreach program called “L.I.F.E.” by Bill Wilson and ………… Hold on…don’t tune me out yet, hang with me. I love change…in fact, I like change too much. Every few months I go through a fit of restlessness, I have to fight the urge to put my home up for sale and move. We moved a lot when I was a kid, either we had to pay the rent or move. I was just very thankful that mom would take me with her when we moved. I usually end up re-arranging my office to placate the urge to change venues. It works well for me and keeps my wife and kids happy. So think of this as “L.I.F.E.” Re-Mixed.

So when I reference the model of “L.I.F.E.”, I reference it loosely. If you are lucky enough to have a vintage copy of the handbook for it, complete with 120+ overhead transparencies, then great! Otherwise, you will have to take my word for it. One of the codes of creativity is forgetting who you stole the idea from. I am paying homage to Bill and the very detailed 300 page handbook for reaching out and connecting the Gospel with students in the early 80’s…and I do it with the utmost respect for him and his ministries. I have found that it is just as effective, if not more so now in current ministry situations. So with that said, here we go.

“L.I.F.E.” stands for “Life Is For Everyone.” True enough statement. I was introduced to it in the early ‘90s while hanging out with my mentor Jack McCarty. He is still in student ministry and has had untold influence in a crazy number of students and college interns. That influence is continuing each time I see a student give their life to Christ. Hopefully, you will see many lives changed and your student ministry grow in numbers and spiritual depth.

Continued in pt 2. 🙂