Global Volunteers

September 2019 Global Volunteers

Stepping into their World

If you saw the news on July 20th this summer, you probably caught some nostalgic interviews and footage of the 50th anniversary of man setting foot on the moon. You may have also heard scientists and explorers talking about Artemis.


In Greek mythology, Artemis was Apollo’s sister. In NASA-speak, it is our NEXT attempt at putting an American on the moon (this time, fitting with the name, a woman). It is exciting to think about. It will also be unbelievably expensive – nothing less than 30 billion dollars, and likely more. So, sometime in the 2020’s, we’ll be doing a more modern version of exactly what we did in 1969.

How did we get in this position? Some people call it “lost knowledge.” Think of it like this – in the 1970’s, we decided to wind down trips to the moon to save some money for other projects. What might have been intended to be a “pause” became a “stop.” The scientists aged or passed away. The mechanical systems rusted. The factories and craftspeople who made components moved onto other work. We accidentally forgot how to get to the moon. 

I don’t know about you, but I think our moonshot in Young Life is “showing up” - contact work. We go to campus, to sporting events, and to neighborhood hangouts. We go in discomfort at being out of place, in solidarity with other leaders and Campaigners, and in hopes of being Jesus’ presence. It has gotten harder in many places to go – because of school rules, kids’ busyness, the administrative burdens of running Young Life, you name it. 

The temptation is to slowly stop going. To text a kid instead of saying hello in the hallway. To over-engineer the club skit at the expense of cheering at the field hockey game. My challenge to teams is to fight that. At your next team meeting, make a plan to:

  • Prioritize Contact Work – how can we each be at the school once a week this month?

  • Identify Distractions – what is eating up your time that we could be handling differently?

  • Recognize the Cost and Benefit – know what you’d lose if you stopped showing up the school. What fruit have you seen by the discipline of being “on their turf?”

It is easy to slowly stop doing the important things. And it is very hard to start doing them again. It will cost you time, money and energy that we don’t have the luxury of wasting. Kids are waiting for us to take that “one small step” into their worlds. Let’s never stop. 

Written by Josh Griffin

Global Volunteers August 2019



In all of my Young Life experiences, the deepest relationships with students came from taking them to camp and coming back home with them to live life together. While we call this outreach camping, there are just as many discipleship experiences where kids build a community of unlikely friends, living and sharing life with each other. 

So how, after all these years of life-changing, community-building, discipleship-shaping experiences, did I miss the goldmine that had been directly in front of me for the same amount of years? 

What goldmine? The Summer Staff Experience. I am embarrassed to say that I did not prioritize this in any of my Young Life positions—until now.

Some of my favorite moments of Jesus’ life are when he was walking, eating, and sitting by the fire with his disciples. They talked honestly about life, unpacked the day’s events, and shared important yet uncomfortable feelings. It’s where they worked on being human. Irenaus, an early church father, said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” This is where the glory happens, where we come alive: in real, authentic, life-giving community.

All this happens on a Summer Staff assignment—hard work, service, challenges of jobs, living in community, processing uncomfortable feelings in a safe space, daily learning more about Jesus—and it typically leads to one thing: transformation. If this is true, then let’s get to it! It is who we are, what we do, the second half of our mission statement, a pillar in YL FORWARD (Deeper). Besides, we have a Bible full of Jesus modeling shared experiences with people that he hoped would join him in shaping the world into his image for his Father’s glory.

Taking college students deeper into the heart of Jesus is a part of who we are, from YLC staff to AD’s in college towns. Let us not overlook the goldmine of Summer Staff while searching for a different speck of gold on the ground. These students are in front of us and so is this opportunity, right now!

Here are five practical ways for staff to strategize with their college students:

1. PRAY: Summer Staff can be a pivotal moment in a students life.  Ask the Lord to help you identify specific College Age students who are ready for the challenge of SS.

2. LIST: Start a list (now) of students you want to personally invite to do Summer Staff 

3. ANNOUNCE: Starting now!- Start announcements at Club, etc., about Summer Staff.  

4. INVITE:  Starting on or before October 1 - Start personal invitations. 

5. TRAIN:  Invest in students before, during, and after their SS Experience. Need a goal? If you train and place 5-10 students you would be in the top. 20% of staff in the US utilizing Summer Staff!!

The Young Life College Summer Staff Pilot has provided YL staff across the country like Brittany at Palm Beach Atlantic University an opportunity to bring students with them on assignments. Lily, a sophomore at PBAU, said it was an easy decision to serve on Summer Staff because her leader Brittany invited her and would be her SS Coordinator, and she’d spend a month in Colorado with several of her friends. “It was truly a life-changing experience that I couldn’t be more grateful for,” Lily said. “One of the coolest things about the experience is that I get to go home with five people who were at Crooked Creek with me experiencing this change and growth."

Let’s be a part of the 5000 legs that don’t stand still, inviting students into a transformational experience—and then celebrate their change at home with them.

Written by:  Kenny Nollan (

Global Volunteers July 2019 - YOUNG LIFE’S KODAK MOMENT

Singer/songwriter Paul Simon once immortalized Kodak Kodachrome film in a #2 Billboard charting song.



They give us those nice bright colors

They give us the greens of summers

Makes you think all the world's a sunny day.”

That sunny day lasted for quite a while as Kodak captured 90% of the US film market in its heyday and became the world’s fifth largest company. However, the bright colors and greens of summer came to a dull end in 2012 when the company declared bankruptcy.  

What went wrong? Was Kodak blindsided by the digital camera wave? Actually, no. Steve Sasson, a Kodak engineer invented the first digital camera in 1975. 

The problem was that management saw digital as a threat to the sale of Kodak film and instructed Sasson not to tell anyone about it.

As writer Avi Dan put it in Forbes Magazine, “Kodak made a classic mistake: it didn’t ask the right question. It focused on selling more product, instead of the business that it was in, story telling.”

Focusing on the wrong thing and not asking the right question can have the same detrimental effect on Young Life as well.  Kodak mistakenly thought they were in the film business.

What business are we in?  

Fundraising?  ‘NO’...Camping?  ‘NO’ ...Ministry Management? ‘NO’

We are in the business of -

Relationships...Going where kids are.  

Contact work...Earning the right to be heard 

Sharing the gospel...and giving students a chance to respond.   

When we serve AT CAMP during the summer it is to leverage and develop the relationships we have fostered over the year. When we plan for year toward our FUNDRAISING BANQUET, it is to hopefully showcase the effect and impact that the gospel is having on adolescents in our community. The funding need will follow. .  We go to TRAININGS and RETREATS so that we can  sharpen our ministry skills.  We DELEGATE and DEVELOP TEAMS so that we will have more time to be in the lives of kids. 

Perhaps the one thing you should never stop doing as a staff person is contact work. It has proven to be the non-negotiable of ministry and one of the historical ‘marks’ of YL. After all, there is not a staff person who got into this gig to sit in an office all day. So go. Go to the game tonight. Show up at school today. Go to the pep rally. Camp out at Starbucks or Chipotle closest to the school. What could be more fun or energizing for the other parts of our job? Go. 

























Contact work may not be the most photogenic thing we do , but it is the most beautiful. 

‘GO’ by Lauren Bocci 



What can your weekly Young Life club learn from a world-famous, fine-dining restaurant? I wasn’t sure of the answer to that question myself until recently. I stumbled across the Season 2 opener of the “Building a Story Brand” podcast in which author Donald Miller interviews Mark and Brian Canlis. These two brothers own and run Canlis, an upscale restaurant in Seattle, Washington. Ranked one of the top 20 restaurants in America by “Gourmet” magazine, the staff at Canlis know how to put their customers first while delivering unforgettable experiences.   

As I listened, I could not help thinking of applications when it comes to kids’ experiences when they walk into our clubs. Below are three questions I began to ask myself as I thought through the Canlis experience and the Young Life experience:

  1. Does our Young Life club create a sense of belonging or exclusivity?

It would be interesting to go back to the first time you walked into a Young Life club. I asked my seniors to do that every year. I wanted them to think back to when they were a lowly freshman and felt insecure about showing up.   

According to Miller, at Canlis, “You walk in wondering even if you belong here. You walk in going ‘I hope I fit.’ And within seconds you get this overwhelming rush from their customer service that you belong here — that you have always fit here. Any insecurities you’ve had are absurd.”

Is that the feeling kids get when they show up at club? Are they greeted? Is there something for them to do (corn hole, giant jenga, frisbees, T-shirt table, leaders and seniors greeting, music playing) rather than standing around awkwardly as crickets chirp?

How do popular dress-up theme clubs (Disney, Harry Potter, America) affect whether kids feel like they truly belong just as they are or don’t fit in? What if you are the kid who can’t afford a new costume every week? What if the “America” theme club does not necessarily make everyone feel welcome in today’s political climate?

Club is our widest open door and it always should be. Kids should always feel welcome and within seconds know “any insecurities they had (about fitting in) are absurd.” Let’s do our best to remove all obstacles to opening that club door wide so that all are welcome.

2.   Are we trustworthy with two of our kids’ most precious assets — their story and their time?

Each student walks in the door of club with a unique story and a finite amount of time in their day. They have chosen to give it to you to care for that hour. They come from different places that day, and I don’t mean just geographically. Their SAT score came and it was not as high as expected. They just broke up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Someone just asked them to prom. Mom and Dad just had a fight. They just got their first new car.   

It is our charge to take those kids, no matter their story, and welcome them to a place where they can see, hear, and experience the gospel.

The staff at Canlis understand being a good steward of their customer’s time and story, and so should we.

“They understand that a guest walks in the door and tonight needs to matter. That guest brings their most valuable asset … almost like a treasure … their time. They walk in the door with this fragile memory, and they are offering it to you and saying ‘can you take care of this.’ They’re coming to make sure tonight will matter, and that’s what our staff get so excited about.” — Mark and Brian Canlis.

Is that what you still get excited about? Like the Canlis staff, is that what your leaders get excited about? Or has club become something you “have to do” and “paint by numbers” rather than something you GET TO DO and a work of art that you can’t wait to share with your kids?

We have the greatest job in the world! Kids run in the door, laugh hard, sing loud, engage with leaders, and then we get to open up the Bible and talk about Jesus. May we always say like Canlis, “That’s what our staff get so excited about!”

3.   Do you have a strategy or do you simply follow the rules?

“Pay attention to strategies and not to rules.” — Brian Canlis

Let me try to make sense of this in a Young Life context. Young Life rules might include raise money, form a committee, have a banquet, turn in your GPS and R1 and R2, do your Concur, have an assignment.   

I’m certainly not saying not to do the above Young Life “rules.” I just wonder if in our day-to-day experience if our attention is in the wrong place. A staff person who recently went through our “Brilliant at the Basics” training in Dallas said, “We got back to our areas and tried that ‘Ministry Strategy’ stuff but quickly got distracted by other things.”

Other things than charging the hill and going after the next kid? That’s focusing on the rules my friends. Again, no great coach’s inspirational speech ever began with the words, “Boys, we’re going to go out there and not kick the ball out of bounds! Now go get ‘em!”

Start and end with strategy, not rules.

Do yourself a favor and listen to Season 2, Episode 1 of the “Building a StoryBrand” Podcast with Mark and Brian Canlis. There are so many more applications to our ministry in what they share. And you might want to stop by Canlis next time you are in Seattle. I guarantee they will be trustworthy with your story and your time.


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Like many city school districts around the nation, Pittsburgh City Schools are on a lottery system, which means kids can apply to a different public school than the one in their district area. Young Life leaders in a given community can do contact work in a neighborhood and meet kids who attend schools all over the city.

Doing contact work at dismissal is pretty universally utilized by Young Life leaders across the board and is still effective in the city. However, trying to find alternative places where critical masses of students meet and hang out can pose a real challenge. Recently, I had the opportunity to brainstorm with some of our staff and leaders in the city about different means of contact work and going to where kids are as we attempted to think outside the box.

Someone brought up that they had noticed waves of high school kids after dismissal hanging around the Wood Street Subway Station, which serves as a main transportation hub for mass transit in the city with subway cars and multiple bus stops. We became more curious about what contact work would look like post-dismissal at the station. After deciding to see for ourselves, we fought through traffic and eventually found some parking spots near Wood Street. Two of our staff members, Sly Williams and Olivia Horner, were able to join me.

We walked down into the subway terminal and took a loop around. Discouragement was beginning to set in as we hadn’t seen any students at this point. Suddenly, we bumped into two kids. One student attended Taylor Allderdice and the other Perry Traditional Academy, the two schools that Sly and Olivia lead in. We were encouraged by this Spirit-led interaction! It re-confirmed the brilliance of the intent to “go where they are” and “meet them on their turf.”

We persevered, and as we began to meet more kids, we thought, “OK, this is not a bad option and can be somewhat useful.” Soon after, the subway car pulled up and 100 students poured out!

We were surrounded by high school and middle school kids:

We talked to them and realized while they were from schools all over the city, a vast majority of them attended Brashear High School. We do not have Young Life in Brashear High School currently.

Since that day, I have been praying and brainstorming about what it would take to get Young Life going there. The idea of being able to do contact work in the station with access to so many high school kids spurred imagination and excitement. The day was a huge success and sparked multiple conversations about hitting up other stations in town and strategic bus stops in the city. At one point Sly, Olivia and I rode the train down a few stops and popped out where we thought there might be other critical masses of students.

Stopping and thinking outside the box with our team was a thrill for all of us, and it helped us unlock and discover new and innovative ways to reach kids. We’ve now even begun discussions on what it would look like to run a club near the Wood Street station so all the kids would have access to transportation. This had been one of the most energizing times of contact work I can remember! It truly was the best 45-minute window of contact work I could imagine.


  1. Pray for the Lord to help you think in a different and creative manner about the kids He would like your team to reach. No idea is too far-fetched. Pray for a “God-sized” vision.

  2. Identify the challenges in your “context” to reaching students at school. Busing, district policies, scheduling issues, distance and more.

  3. Identify the opportunities or non-traditional and “out-of-the-box” ideas that could be available, like the Wood Street subway station opportunity.

    1. What could be a ripple effect of the ideas you’re discussing? (new schools, ministries, clubs)

    2. What could help us reach new kids, different kids?

    3. Are there any adjustments we would need to make as a team to ensure success? (Funding? Travel? Commitment for consistency? More volunteers?)

  4. Try Something! Land on an idea or two and try it. Give it several weeks. Be faithful and consistent.

  5. Measure/Debrief/Tweak what you tried. What worked? What didn’t? What should be changed? What next?

  6. Thank the Lord! You listened, you acted, and you were obedient. That is the heart of contact work!

Contact work is the most flexible, informal, innovative and creative thing we do. As we reach a new generation of students with immeasurable challenges, our “out-of-the-box” thinking should be vibrant. Try something! What could go wrong?

Written by: Mike Chilcoat




Summer staff is a WIN-WIN-WIN for camps, areas and college-age students! Everybody wins on this deal.

CAMPS: When over 2,500 summer staff volunteer at Young Life camps, camps WIN because they rely on lifeguards, boat drivers, bakers, cooks, housekeepers, and landscapers, among other key roles, to make camp hum.

Summer staff work hard, yet it is meaningful service with ample doses of care, discipleship and encouragement from staff. There is still time to apply if you know a college-age student who would benefit.
Simply check out the camp’s website for openings HERE.

AREAS: Making summer staff recruitment part of your area’s camping strategy is a WIN for the area because you are providing a continuum of leadership development for alumni Campaigners and club kids.

On summer staff, they will learn, refine and apply leadership skills that can translate into solid volunteering back home in the local area. Serving on summer staff also provides a continuum of care in discipleship. It’s a rich discipleship experience as they work and live with a diverse community of peers under the shepherding care of summer staff coordinators. Finally, the community-building skills summer staff learn will only enhance your ministry community in your area.

SUMMER STAFF: The biggest WIN of all is for our college-age friends who serve on summer staff. It provides a space and place for them to live and serve as their authentic selves, which is often lacking in everyday life.

Because it’s such a win, we are in the process of enhancing the summer staff experience. Last summer we studied how we prepare and care for summer staff through  THE SUMMER STAFF PILOT PROJECT at specific camps with hand-selected summer staff. Before their session, these summer staff created personal discipleship plans in order to prepare spiritually and attended a training session led by a Young Life College staff person, who in most cases, was also their summer staff coordinator.

From the findings, it was clear that summer staff who had pre-camp preparation and a strong relationship with their summer staff coordinator experienced higher ratings of spiritual growth, ability to work hard and being prepared to live in community while at camp. These critical findings prompted us to expand the pilot project this summer to include more camps, more summer staff and more summer staff coordinators. Selected summer staff coordinators recruited students from their ministries to serve on summer staff with them.

As part of phase two of the pilot project, summer staff will receive pre-camp spiritual guidance and in-person training to help them better prepare spiritually, prepare to work hard and live in a diverse community of peers at camp. As we continually invest in and care for summer staff, the win of deeper discipleship, leadership development, meaningful service and rich community will only become stronger for all. Volunteerism, Leadership Development, Discipleship,  WIN,WIN,WIN!  - Summer Staff!! Learn more about the Summer Staff Project Pilot HERE.

Written by: Tami Ostlund

What Millennials Really Think About Evangelism

Where do millennials stand when it comes to talking about and sharing the gospel?


“Is it right to share your faith with other people?”

“What does it look like?”

The answers to these questions may surprise you. Millennials face more hostility and challenges in a postchristian world, causing new trends in how faith is shared. The way that looks in real life has a different spin on it than it has been done in the past. If you’re wondering what millennials really think about evangelism, this article is full of hard numbers to understand exactly what they’re thinking.

Read the full article HERE

The Simplicity (and Beauty) of the Handoff!


In August 2014, I received an email from a Young Life College staff person at Miami University of Ohio that read, “Could you send me a list of the freshman coming our way? We're gearing up for a big year!” After looking into our Alumni and Friends network, we were able to send information on 44 high school graduates that were heading to their way! Five years later we got an update on what happened with those 44…

  • All 44 were contacted and received a personal invitation to stay connected to Young Life and get involved at their school.

  • 25 became Young Life leaders!

  • 14 are still leading post-college!

  • 2 are on Young Life staff or participating in a Summer Internship!

This is one class, one school, one story, in the midst of thousands!

  • Did you know that last year we were able to stay connected to and serve more than 26,600 graduates from the high school class of 2018?

  • Did you know that the office of Alumni and Friends responded to more than 600 staff requests for information on incoming freshman to their universities and areas?

  • Did you know that this effort has ripple effects touching individual lives, families, ministries and mission units in the U.S. and abroad?

  • Did you know that we are working diligently to provide the opportunity to stay connected students in the 103 Countries around the World where YL has a presence?

  • Did you know that we are only scratching the surface of the potential?

Conservative estimates are that there are more than 90,000 high school graduates every year in the U.S. alone who were involved with Young Life. Whether heading to college, the military, or the work force, these graduates are going through a significant transition and many want to stay connected. Giving them this opportunity is an extension of our commitment to discipleship and helping them “grow in their faith.” This effort will also result in more people being capable and willing to serve in numerous ways for years to come.

So, what can you do? (5 EASY STEPS)

  1. Every region in the U.S has an Alumni Advocate/Graduate Manager. Listen to them. See who they are HERE.

  2. Make sure you’re capturing information on the students you and your leaders know. Club cards are not a thing of the past, they are a crucial first step to staying connected to, and serving your graduates.

  3. Check out our Graduate Campaign web-resources, and consider growing your local effort.

  4. Prepare seniors for their upcoming transition and the opportunity to stay connected to Young Life.

Got 3 minutes? Well, we’ve got a video for you!

For more information about the the process of connecting High School Graduates to Colleges and Universities with a YLC presence, follow this LINK.

Written By: Jonathan Schultz (

Leveling Up Our Ministry Model

In our Mission, Methods, and Values document it states that Young Life accomplishes its mission by “going where kids are and building personal relationships with them.”  But, what if “where kids are” is on their screens, online playing video games? Do we go there?


We do if the values we list on our website are correct.  We say that we value “the next kid - developing innovative approaches to reach the uncommitted, disinterested young people around the world.”

According to Common Sense Media, teens spend an average of 9 hours a day online and much of that time is dedicated to gaming. Ask any staff person what keeps kids from coming to club and you’ll be very likely to hear the word, “Fortnite.”  And they’re not just skipping club. According to a recent survey by LendEDU, 35 percent of high school and college Fortnite players admit to having skipped school to play.

So if that’s where kids today are, why wouldn’t we try to find a way to meet them there?  

Some might argue that video games are not relational.  You might picture a kid alone in his room staring at a screen with a headset on.  While that may be true in many instances, significant investors in the US are betting on that dynamic changing.  Arlington, Texas is home to the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium and the Texas Rangers Globe Life Park. Not satisfied with that, this year the city announced it's getting yet another new stadium -- one that will home to one of the fastest growing sectors in the sports entertainment world, eSports.  Arlington is partnering with Esports Venues to open a new 100,000-square-foot, 1,000-seat eSports Stadium right between the Cowboys and Rangers. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones himself has purchased his own eSports franchise to compete there.

The  point?  It’s not just a single kid in his own bedroom anymore.

Hong Kong Young Life Metro Director Josh Powell sees great potential in reaching kids through gaming.  “We were considering opening a gaming house storefront and staffing it with YL leaders as a business to meet and engage kids that we'd never otherwise meet and to practice hospitality, and have a venue for gatherings and ministry events,” says Powell.

This idea came to him when he saw the places where kids were hanging out. “Most of these gaming places in Hong Kong are dark dens of nothing good.  They're packed with kids, mostly boys,” continued Powell. “I was imagining us opening up something similar but with a twist and adding an element of YL hospitality into the mix to see if we might build a profitable and unique ministry opportunity.”   If you are wondering what YL Founder, Jim Rayburn might say about all of this, I think it might be good to go back and look at what he said in the original Young Life training manual.

  • “Why not seize on new methods and different ways, especially when the old have largely lost their hold on young people? Why not seek the MOST EFFECTIVE way of getting a hearing for the gospel?  Are you sold on trying to find the most effective way?”

  • “I am never going to be satisfied with what HAS BEEN done; the job must be DONE BETTER than before.”

  • “The Campaign is committed to getting the Gospel to young people by ANY, AND EVERY  means that God may direct.”

I think Rayburn would say it’s worth a shot to meet kids where they are.  Do you currently have some type of “Gamer” outreach ministry in your area?  If so, would you email me, Brian Summerall, at and tell me about it?  You could be on the ground floor of something new.

Written by Josh Powell & Brian Summerall,



“Fundraising in this city shouldn’t be this hard.” That was the driving thought that brought together a group of friends of Young Life to figure out how to raise more support across Cincinnati for all of the seven distinct areas. As we unpacked this issue, we discovered just how stretched the staff were in each area. The numbers that stuck out the most to me were 12 staff, 400 volunteers. That’s roughly 33 direct reports for each staff person. From my perspective, we were in desperate need of middle management.

Some people bristle at that idea, but I teach management, so I have a special appreciation for it. What’s more, Jesus only had 12 direct reports; should our staff people have roughly three times that? Fortunately, we already had some of these middle managers in place — volunteer team leaders (VTLs). So we decided to invest more in VTLs by creating a basic handbook and gathering all the VTLs across the city once a semester.

We created the handbook (click here to download) with the idea of it being a short, quick-reference tool for all VTLs, but especially with new VTLs in mind. The aim of the handbook is to give an overview of what a VTL does, why they do it, what are the expectations for each responsibility, and what are some best practices. This serves as a baseline for new VTLs to understand the role. We introduced these handbooks at one of our first all-city VTL meetings.

The vision for the all-city VTL meetings was to encourage, honor and train the VTLs. Every staff member in the city strongly wanted to convey their deep gratitude and appreciation for what VTLs do. We executed on this by holding our 2.5 hour meeting at a unique location, catering lunch, and bringing in a top speaker to develop the VTLs. Our speakers were typically former staff or local business leaders who would teach on leadership skills. Our aim was to develop them more broadly than to train them solely for Young Life leadership. Themes were conflict management, learning from failure and personal growth among others.

The second half of each meeting involved structured sharing among VTLs. We organized VTLs in different ways each meeting — by ministry type, by club size, by tenure as a VTL — and gave them a topic to discuss — preparing for camp, initiating new leaders, team conflict and more. The VTLs consistently told us that the sharing time was the most beneficial time for them. Encouraging each other, commiserating, and sharing ideas proved to be the best nourishment, which in turn makes them more ready to serve and lead their teams.

Typical Meeting Schedule

11 a.m. to Noon — Speaker

Noon to 12:30 p.m. — Lunch

12:30 to 1:30 p.m. — Small Group Discussions

Over the last three years of meetings, we have consistently heard from VTLs that these times together encourage and honor them. New VTLs join other leaders of leaders in community, and veteran team leaders learn that it does not have to be lonely in leadership.

Get our handbook and make a plan for VTLs in your own ministry! (click here to download)

Written by: Chris Welter (

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.