Global Volunteers

Assessing the Aroma of your Area Culture

Scratch and Sniff: Making Your Area Culture the Aroma of Christ


There are a lot of metaphors about what Christ followers should be and one of those is to be an aroma that others are drawn to. In your Young Life community, that “aroma of Christ” is one of the most powerful and potent elements of your fellowship. If you want to see Young Life thrive in your area, you need to become a culture-shaper. When you do — you can almost smell the difference.

Culture doesn’t have to be influenced by you, it’s happy and glad to continue evolving with or without your input. But you have influence, you can shape it. If you want to be a kicktail culture shaper, you start by being a kicktail listener.

Consider this … what if you aren’t really aware of the current status of your area’s culture? What if your assumptions aren’t true? What if your team really doesn’t like sharing ideas because they think you’re closed off? Better yet, what if this is a great moment to show your team that you want to listen to them? Having a great culture makes the work of your team more productive, enjoyable and creates a magnet for your recruiting efforts. When your area culture is thriving, people will speak favorably about their experience, you will see more and more great leaders, staff and committee come through the door, tenure of leadership will likely increase, and the snowball rolls down the hill.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” — lots of people

Do your volunteer leaders love being together? Do they feel successful? Do they feel supported in their role? Do they feel a sense of pride and ownership about Young Life in your area? Do they feel that their ideas are welcomed and valued? These may seem like little things, but THEY ARE NOT. For example, if people feel their ideas aren’t welcome, they are less likely to bring them to the table. What if their idea is the innovative thing that helps reach the next kid? What if their friend is the next best leader? What if they could be a leader for 2, 10, 20+ years? Without a healthy area culture, we may never know.

You know how you can smell if a gallon of milk has gone bad?  You have to open up the jug and pay attention. Periodically, you need to do the same thing with the culture in your ministry.  Feedback is a gift to the person on your team sharing it, and pure gold for us as leaders. Practice this two or three times a year, and you will have great intel to help you pay attention to the right things. Here’s a simple way to listen well:

  • Send a survey to your leaders (survey link here for you to copy: Volunteer Leader Culture Make sure to duplicate this survey, do not send this one. Click the three little dots in the upper right-hand side and select, “make a copy.” Change it up, make it yours, make it anonymous if you dare.

  • Ask each team leader to give 10-15 minutes at the beginning of their next meeting to have leaders fill it out.

  • WAIT, don’t read responses as they come in. View the results all at once with a few trusted friends (committee member, team leader) and see what trends come up. What parts of your area’s culture are thriving? What parts need attention? What can you foresee as the leader that will have a huge impact if you invest now?

  • Pick a few things you want to influence and get after it together. How do you do this? … That’s for another day, but for now, see the resources below.

Remember, YOU HAVE INFLUENCE, and you can make a difference. The scent of a healthy community focused on Christ is hard to miss. Listen to others, love like Jesus, then notice the change. “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2: 15).

Written by: Christian “Bo” Gross (

P.S. [FREE BOOK!] First 10 people to email me and say, “I’m doing the survey,” will be sent a free copy of one of my favorite books on organizational culture. Bo Gross (

P.P.S. If you want to learn more, check out this stuff:

View September 2018 Email

How Many Hours Does It Take To Make A Friend?

I was recently texted an article from the Southwest Airlines inflight magazine with the headline, “How Many Hours Does It Take to Make a Friend?” Immediately, my mind went to a letter written by our founder, Jim Rayburn, in 1952.

“For example, take our ‘contact work.’ By that we mean the hours and hours that our leaders find it necessary to spend with the kids, meeting them where they are, going along with them, living with them.”

While Jim Rayburn couldn’t put a specific number on the hours that are spent by our volunteer leaders, earning the right to be heard, science is trying to.

“The Journal of Science and Personal Relationships” recently published a study by K.U. Professor Jeffrey Hall, which reveals:

  • It takes 50 cumulative hours of hanging out (contact work) to go from “acquaintance” to “friend.”

  • It takes 90 hours to go from “friend” to “good friend.”

  • It takes 200 cumulative hours to become someone's “best friend.”

“We have to put that time in,” Hall said. “You can’t snap your fingers and make a friend. Maintaining close relationships is the most important work we do in our lives — most people on their deathbeds agree.”

That should not come as a surprise to any Young Life leader, and it indeed would not be a surprise to Rayburn.

In today’s world, it is important to note that these hours refer to “face-to-face” time. Social media and texting simply won’t do. None of those technologies will ever replace showing up at the school or a Friday night game.

Let me put this in a Young Life context:

  • 50 hours — Sounds like a weekend camp to me.

  • 90 hours — That’s a great semester of contact work at lunches, games and just hanging out with kids.

  • 200 hours — Add a 20-hour bus ride to seven days of summer camp, plus follow up, and that’s what you will get.

If you are a leader struggling to get to that next level of friendship with your kids, you might consider what Hall calls a “context shift.”

“What seems to be the case is that doing something I call a ‘context shift’ matters; this means that you want to spend time with somebody outside the place you met them,” Hall said.

What Young Life calls “Level 1 Contact Work” (just showing up/being seen) and Level 2 Contact Work (conversing with a kid) has to experience that context shift to move to Level 3 (doing something together). Without that critical shift, leaders are left with superficial relationships with kids that have little or no impact.

If you are a volunteer and feel you are stuck at “Level 1,” just showing up at the school or a game for an hour or two every week, ask your team leader to help you make that “context shift” with kids. Pray that God would help you see new opportunities ahead of you to deepen those relationships.

Maybe we didn’t need the “The Journal of Science and Personal Relationships” to tell us these things, but it’s helpful to see the science to back up what Rayburn knew. Those hours and hours of contact work you are putting in are not a waste of time. The Lord is using them!

“ … (M)any well-meaning Christians have felt that we are wasting time. Yet it is this time spent with the youngster, before and after his confession of Christ, that has made Young Life something far more than the ordinary youth movement. Not only do we win a hearing among the most difficult and hardest to reach, but after reaching them we stay with them, as a true missionary should. The winning and establishing of a soul for Jesus Christ cannot be done on a hit-and-run basis. The Lord Jesus Himself is our example in this.”

Keep logging those hours, volunteers. Science backs you up. But better yet, Jesus backs you up as well!


Written by Brian Summerall (








Global Volunteers - Why have Club?


Recently at one of our “Brilliant at the Basics” cohorts (where regions bring selected staff to Dallas to train in Ministry Strategy and reaching more kids), the question came up, “Why have club?”

In other words, “Can’t we just hang out with kids, do contact work, go to camp, and start Bible studies?”

Before I jumped in with any quick answers of my own, I wanted to know what other, younger staff, staff thought.  I texted my friend Caitlin Carr, Young Life Area Director, who happened to be eating with a group of her campaigner girls when I reached her.  She was able to take advantage of the moment and ask her campaigner girls why club was important to them.

Here’s what they said:

  • “Club was the first step we took in trusting you.”

  • “Because you came to our school, and seemed normal and invited us to something that was fun, we went. If you had invited us to something with Bible in the title, we would have bailed fast.”

  • “It was a social event that ended up changing our lives.”

  • “It was the first place in high school where older kids were nice to us - we all wanted to be a part of this crazy fun party they all talked about.”

  • “You never rushed us into anything. When I think back, all along we were taking steps together and with you... but you let us get to ‘here’ on our own terms.”

  • “Those boys that go to Young Life would never want to go to Bible study. They come to meet girls.  Because y'all are the one group of people in their lives not calling them "bad kids" y'all let them be exactly who they are... and someday they'll get it - that's what Young Life club is about.”

I think Caitlin’s girls got it right.  

Young Life without some regular form of club (a relational, fun, non-threatening, proclamation gathering… not necessarily five songs, skits, and announcements) can be like a bus without tires.  We’re loaded up with kids and ready to go somewhere, but it’s difficult to move anywhere.

Club is a natural product of excellent contact work.  As leaders know kids and kids trust their leaders, it’s natural if all those leaders are gathering somewhere on a weekly basis, that the kids that know and trust them would want to be there as well.  It’s a weekly celebration of relationships.

If club numbers lag, it can be a weekly barometer revealing a lack of quality contact work.

John Evans, trainer of Regional Directors, puts it like this:

“Club keeps me honest. Club and numbers are not THE critical standard, but they are a gauge. They let me know we are reaching a certain group of kids.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Contact work drives everything, but Club is a natural result of it.  One leads to another

Summer camp is wonderful, but not accessible to everyone.  Weekend camps in some parts of the world are filled to the brim, but in most areas, happen only once a year and have limited space.

Club is a weekly opportunity celebrate relationships and for EVERY kid in your area to hear a leader they know, stand in front of them, open the Bible, and proclaim the gospel in a way they can understand, relate, and respond to.  There’s no deposit required, no scholarship money needed, and no limited number of seats available.

Why have club?  To quote John Evans once again…

“Club still works… At the end of Monday night when club is over, I'm thankful. Kids had a great time, heard about Christ and were with people who love them. I'm convinced this is as powerful as anything we say.”  To read John Evans’ entire article on the importance of Club, click HERE.

By Brian Summerall (

A Year of Contact Work in a Week​​​​​​​


Back in the mid-eighties, John Vicary and I drove a van of kids to Frontier Ranch.  He was the Area Director of Waco, and I was a really mediocre college volunteer leader.  Sure, I could play guitar, lead songs, and perform skits, but my contact work was severely lacking.  I was a walking example of “form without function.”

I’ll never forget that trip, as it changed everything for me.  It wasn’t just the fact that a big offensive lineman named “Mackie” would sing Neil Diamond songs at the top of his lungs from the middle seat.   It was the fact that I got to experience a year of contact work in one week.

Think about it:  In the span of 7 days,we did the following:

  • Took a 28-hour road trip

  • Ate 21 meals together around a round table like a family

  • Sang 50+ songs at the top of our lungs together

  • Laughed incredibly hard

  • Experienced high adventure, fear, and trust

  • Lived in extremely close quarters  (those old cabins were small!)

  • Leaned in and listened to God’s word

  • Talked about the things that are important in a safe environment with friends

  • Made critical life-changing decisions about Jesus

If all of those things happened in a year, it would have been an outstanding year.  But in 7 days? It was the best week of our lives. And it changed the way I did Young Life.  I finally got it. It was so MUCH more than my guitar skills, song leading, and skits. Contact work clicked.

A day after we got back, I called John Vicary and asked, “Do you think Jonathon and Rayford (two guys from our cabin) would want to go to a movie or do something this summer?”  I’m sure he smiled when he answered, “Yes, I think they would.” That started a summer of movies, water volleyball at every Baylor apartment complex pool we could sneak in, too much fast-food, and hanging with those guys and all their friends.  I even filled in for their baseball coach when he had to miss a game. (I never played baseball.)

Life from then on would be lived with kids and just two years later I found myself on staff. What will you do with your “year of contact work in one week” this summer?  Don’t let it be the end of your ministry year! Let it be the start of living life with your kids.  You’ve got relational capital. Cash it in!  

Here are just a few suggestions…

  • There will never be any easier contact work then the first few days of camp. Be rested and ready before you go so you don’t miss out on reaping the dividends of a week well spent.

  • Let your leaders know that camp is actually three weeks.  One week is out of town, and the other two are back home.

  • During those two weeks, it’s time to run hard!  Kids want to be together. Take advantage of that fact and build a foundation of contact work that will carry you through the year.

  • After those two weeks, start summer campaigners up and own a night of the week.  Cabin time does not have to end.

  • Lastly, speak vision into your kids over the summer and prepare impact they will have over the coming school year through their Young Life club.

And if you are not sure if your kids really want to spend time with you after camp, do what I did and call your staff person.  I have no doubt they will smile like John did when they respond with a resounding, “YES.”


For summer contact work and resources, click HERE.

Written by Brian Summerall


The LINCHPIN of YL ministry- VOLUNTEER TEAM LEADERS. They hold everything together

Author:  Jacque Abadie

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After 77 years of ministry, the one thing that Young Life has plenty of is - MANUALS!  From medical benefits, to payroll, to Wyldlife skits there is a manual that explains, informs and tells the reader what to do in a few easy steps.  With an organization our size-manuals are needed to insure common language, understanding and quality of ministry. That has never been more true!

That being said, in 2 Corinthians 3:2, Paul mentions that “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” While Paul is speaking in regard to the validity of his message, the concept is the same:  people indwelled by the Holy Spirit are our most powerful resource. Like we have become fond of saying, “God’s method is men and women!” That is why all throughout scripture believers are describe in terms like salt, and light, a wellspring, a garden, an aroma, etc.  All things that draw people in and attract others. The strongest argument for the existence and presence of God is our own transformation because the manual (letter) is written on our very selves.

Recently, I helped our Region compile resources for a Volunteer Team Leader handbook (another manual).  As a region we wanted to affirm our commitment to the care, support, encouragement of the VTL’s and their important role in holding so much of ministry together (much like a linchpin in a wheel).  The goal was to provide a simple notebook for an Area Director to walk through with a team leader over the course of a year. While the handbook turned out nicely, it quickly became clear that it was not the best and never would be the best.  The reason why was simple. The very best Team Leader Training Manual is YOU!

While a handbook allows for a good progression of topics and resources, at best, it serves as an outline. The real work is the relationship between a staff person and a team leader.  The way we walk alongside others is simply one of the ‘secret sauces of YL.’   Nothing can top the consistent cycle for a growing team leader than a rhythm of Watch, Do, Reflect, then Repeat. Reading a section of the handbook may only take minutes, while the life on life training cycle may take many hours. At the end of the day, it may not be efficient, but it is effective.

So as you prepare to train team leaders this year, here are a few questions to consider.

  1. Have I set aside consistent time to meet with my team leader(s)?

  2. Am I facilitating modeled competencies for them to witness?

  3. Am I getting to watch their work?

  4. Are we reflecting on the competencies that are being practiced?

In the same way we are incarnational ministers, let’s strive to be incarnational trainers for the linchpins in our ministries. Volunteer Team Leaders are one of the precious resources of the YL ministry and deserve our best.  Of course, if you would like a copy of the handbook you are welcome to download it here. But remember, YOU are the handbook that will provide the best training!


Raise Your Hand if You're A Trip Leader


Author:  Kimberly Silvernale


Trip Leader:  A Guide designated to oversee the smooth running of a trip.

By definition, a TRIP LEADER means: A guide designated to oversee the smooth running of a trip. In reality, a Young Life Trip Leader coordinates everything from the training of the volunteer leader team to:

  • Health forms

  • Spiritual health and focus of the team.

  • Training and Communication to kids, parents and volunteers.

  • Communication with Airlines, Bus Companies, Camps, Head Leaders, Program Teams etc  

  • Collecting and protecting and dispersing cell phones, devices, medicines, dietary needs etc.

  • Getting kids to and from camp safely

  • And most importantly, ensuring that YL Camp is the ‘Best Trip of their Life!” ….and lots more!

Over the course of a Young Life summer we take over 3000 CAMP TRIPS both US and Internationally. They range from overnights, to week-long trips and everything in between...from our US and International properties, to Camps on Wheels, to adventure camping, to backpacking and service projects.


As a young staff person, I remember the trip leader role was a privileged position. It was a position of high responsibility typically reserved for the local Area Director.  Decades later, I’ve noticed that the title is even more significant. On average, the local area staff person is ‘out of the area’ several weeks of a given summer (2-3 camp trips, a summer assignment and a family vacation) To address the busy schedule of a typical YL area, the ‘trip leader’ role often times is given to a senior volunteer leader.  What a gift to have volunteers in the local area who give of their time and talents to serve in this way!  What a responsibility it is for local staff and committee to train, support, pray for and empower this group to serve well each summer! The Trip Leader plays a vital role in the success of a camp week for their area, caring for leaders and kids and partnering with the Assigned Team to ensure excellence across the board.

Several years ago several Areas/Regions/Divisions started ‘Trip Leader Training’ for all Trip Leaders (staff and volunteers) as they prepared for Summer Camping. The desire was simple:  to affirm the role while giving clarity and expectation to the trip leader during the camp week. We had great success in our desire to equip and encourage Trip Leaders in their role during a summer camp week.  As we prepare for the 2018 summer camping season, let's equip, affirm and encourage the key people who serve in key roles in making sure kids have the best opportunity to hear the Gospel.

Click the HERE to download a sample Trip Leader Training that you can use in your local area and HERE is a link to the National website for EVERYTHING trip leaders need to know.  As we continue to say around the YL Mission, ‘we are a volunteer led ministry and as we head into our 76th year, we are too good to not get better!”  Let’s care for our best:  Volunteer Trip Leaders.


Day 7: The Start of Your Ministry Year


Written by Brian Summerall

Summer camp is not the end of your ministry year!  It’s actually the starter’s pistol for your fall club start.  There is no other place or time in the world where your kids will be more enthusiastic about Young Life and sharing Christ with their friends than during the last days of summer camp.  If we don’t take advantage of that fact, momentum and opportunity will be lost and be nearly impossible to get back or recreate six to eight weeks later when school starts again.

Day 7 of the camp experience is one of the most important days.  There are plenty of staff folks who believe the area meeting at the end of the camp week to be a pivotal time of vision casting and celebration for kids (and leaders) on a summer camp trip. You might even be a trip leader who would value some direction on how that time can best be utilized.

Some elements that may be of interest to you for that time could include: 

  1. Explaining what’s ahead in the days to come (camp follow-up)

You’ve just eaten 21 meals in a row together.  Without proper planning, 24 hours from now, many of those kids will be sitting on the couch at home alone eating something out of a fast food wrapper, wondering if what happened this past week was real.  

Who does the lion attack? The sheep in the middle of the pack or the one who is off on their own?  Who does Satan attack?  The kid who is in the middle of the pack or the one who finds himself suddenly alone?

Within 24 hours of being home, your entire crew should all be at a local burger place swapping stories, breaking bread together, laughing hard, and living life together.  For the next two weeks, we need to provide a place daily for kids to gather and learn to spend time with the Lord.  (Resources for these camp follow-up weeks can be found below.)

The adventure has just begun!  Don’t dare wave at the bus and say we’ll get together in a week.  That’s too LATE!  

2. Share the story of Jerry Kirk and Cy Burris, the two Silver Cliff work crew boys who “prayed big things.”

You can download the story HERE, about how two sixteen-year-old work crew kids prayed for Frontier Ranch.  The idea is to let kids know they can change their school and that God wants to use them!

I always ask my high school friends after telling this story in our day seven meeting at camp, "What are you praying for your friends... safe things, easy things, anything? Or are you praying "big things"" because we have a big God? Two sixteen-year-old kids prayed big things 60 years ago, and many of your lives have been changed. Two sixteen-year-old kids prayed big things and thousands have come to know the Lord at Frontier.  You can do the same!!!

3. Vision casting for the upcoming school year with Young Life and how to get their friends (and new freshmen) in on it. 

Talk about (with great enthusiasm) what the upcoming school year could look like if “we all” stacked hands on making Young Life great at their schools. What if we dreamed big and prayed big? They could be the difference makers! Give them a vision for a reputation and legacy to grow into! And give them a vision for doing something REALLY different...embracing freshmen and bringing them along for the ride!

 4. Have a few kids talk about how this camp week impacted them.

It might be a great thing during your area meeting to hear from two or three kids about how this camp week impacted them in ways they didn’t see coming. Give them 30-60 seconds to give a “quick word” about their week. Or it might be an excellent time for a second timer to share about the importance of sticking together after camp and also being a part of the camp follow up things.

 5. Have each kid write to a donor back home on a postcard.

Nothing fires a donor up more than hearing first-hand from a kid! The area meeting is a great time to have each kid on your trip write a postcard or two. Put a template on a screen or flip chart to show the “bones” of what to write. But don’t make your template force words they’re not prepared to write. Give them options of sentences to write. 

Take your area picture on Day 2 after the volleyball tournament or rodeo and then use an online company ( or or the Service Center and have them quick shipped back to you at camp before the area meeting.  It may cost a little bit, but it’s worth it!

6. Handing out area t-shirts so everybody can wear them on the last day.

Everybody longs to be a part of a bigger story, to belong.  There’s just something about everyone on your trip running around with the same shirt that reminds kids and leaders that we did not experience this week alone.  Not only that, we don’t go home alone.  We came to camp as individuals, but we leave as a family.  Trip t-shirts help create that feeling and serve as a reminder back home of the decisions and relationships that were made at camp.

REMEMBER: The Area Meeting on Day 7 is yours to run with. These are merely some ideas to help get your wheels spinning... not meant to overwhelm you with “have- to’s."  The time is yours. Use it well! 

 For more info/help write to: or

Click HERE to download camp follow-up resources.  

Click HERE to download an “End of the Week Area Meeting” guide along with the Jerry Kirk and Cy Burris story.