We hope you
even if you never use orange.
THERE’S A LOT I DON’T KNOW.
I began a music internship at a church when I was sixteen, and I have been in ministry ever since. Working in and with churches is the only thing I have ever really done. I am like a lot of church leaders who simply believe the church is our best hope to influence a generation to follow Jesus.
My entire life has been focused on youth, kids and family ministry. I’m an amateur photographer, but only because I got cut from my football team when I was in ninth grade). So, besides photography, family ministry is really the only thing I know how to do.
When I stepped off the staff at North Point Community Church to continue building Orange, I was driven by the same mission that had compelled me since I was a teenager. I want to help churches get better at shaping the faith of kids and teenagers.
Honestly, I am a little skeptical about non-profits or parachurch organizations (even Orange) unless I understand how they support the local church. There’s a lot I don’t know how to do: I can’t fix a car, balance my bank account, grill a steak, hit a golf ball, remodel a house, ice skate, or even debate soccer or enneagrams intelligently. But fortunately, I have been surrounded by some of the most incredible thought leaders who continue to confirm that investing in kids and teenagers should be a priority. So, that’s what I will keep doing for the rest of my life. That’s also why I challenge every leader I meet to Think Orange.
Thinking Orange is basically an invitation to look at how the church can partner with families to influence a generation. Whether you use an Orange resource or not, the work you do as a kids ministry or youth ministry leader is the most important work on the planet. So, if you and I were sitting at a table having a conversation, here are a few Orange ideas I would discuss with you.
Don’t write your own curriculum,
spend your time developing volunteers.
This probably seems like a self-serving statement, since I am a part of an incredible team that works to write and produce kid and student resources. Let’s face it. There are plenty of great curriculums designed by amazing leaders who give their life to developing curriculums. I believe so strongly that most churches shouldn’t try to write their own curriculum that I will even recommend others besides Orange. I am genuinely convinced it could make the difference in your ministry.
(Note: Our team made a decision over a decade ago that we will never publicly criticize another curriculum. We choose to believe that most organizations that write faith-based curriculums are driven by the same motive – to lead kids into a growing relationship with Jesus. Why would I be critical of anyone who is driven by that mission? After meeting hundreds of curriculum leaders around the country, I have only met a couple who don’t really believe what they promote and who admittedly do this for profit. So, the chances are pretty good that anyone you use is doing this for the right reason.)
That being said, here are a few curriculums that I would use if I didn’t use Orange. Disclaimer: They are not in any order of preference and I am positive there are other curriculums not listed here that are just as amazing.
HandsOn by Group – I chose this curriculum when we started North Point. It was designed to be interactive and the statement that compelled me was “experience the same powerful connections between Scripture and everyday life by engaging all five of [kid’s] senses.”
Tru by Cook – It was originally created by Michelle Anthony, for whom I have incredible respect as a thought leader in Family Ministry. Their goal is to create weekly environments with “spiritually forming and parent-empowering curriculum that equips children, leaders and families to know Jesus…”
Gospel Project by LifeWay – It was designed by some great theological thinkers whose goal is to create “Christ-centered chronological Bible study for all ages.” Their mission is to “show kids the big picture of God’s story.”
Yes, in every one of these scenarios I would do some customizing, tweaking and editing. Why? Because I am a creative leader and a maximizer. Personally, I even customize Orange when I use it to best serve whatever audience I am communicating to. I am just like some of you. I think I can improve something someone gives me. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I really improve anything. It just makes me feel better about myself. But here’s the point, buying a curriculum will save you time, creativity, energy, focus, money and resources.
If I were your lead pastor, this is what I would tell you, “I don’t want you to write your own curriculum. I need you to develop leaders who love kids. I know you think you can do both. But, you can’t. Even if you think you can write it a little better than an organization that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to write it, the cost to your team and your church will not be worth the difference. I would rather you use a curriculum that you don’t think is as good as what you can do so you can leverage most of your time and budget to develop better leaders. Great volunteers are much more important than incrementally improving your curriculum.” I understand that some of you have an itch to create what is taught every week. You can accomplish just as much and more if you tweak a curriculum that has editable documents.
It is also important to consider how you will expand the voices and perspectives required to influence an effective curriculum. Most theological leaders are skilled at teaching the Bible to people who think just like them. So, they tend to produce a curriculum that it is actually written by one or two people. But, effective curriculums engage a process that adds cultural context and childhood development expertise to teaching Scriptural principles. Simply put, the time, energy, and resources it takes to create ongoing weekly experiences could actually hinder you from focusing on the relational and strategic goals of your ministry.
If you still have the drive to be a writer or producer, do one or two great series each year or submit a writing sample to one of the above organizations and join their creative team. A curriculum is worth whatever price you need to pay because it gives you more margin to invest in leaders. One of the greatest compliments we get as an organization is when a kids ministry or youth ministry leader says, “Thanks for giving me my life back. When I stopped trying to do everything and partnered with Orange, I was able to do the most important part of my ministry again.” I remember one lead pastor of a large church wrote down two numbers on a card and handed them to me. When I looked confused he simply said, “That’s the number of hours and dollars you have saved our church this year. I wish I had partnered with Orange years ago.”
Don’t just add a new curriculum,
design a better strategy.
A strategy is a plan of action with an end in mind. The curriculum you teach on Sunday morning or Wednesday night or whenever you put kids in a room is just a small part of your plan. Sure, curriculum is important. But, if you are going to disciple kids you need to look at more than just what you teach. You have to consider managing and monitoring at least five different systems if you’re going to create an effective ministry.
That’s what we mean when we say, “Think Orange.”
We have spent over a decade training churches to think about their strategy. Being strategic is harder than creating an engaging presentation each week. I am convinced that the distinction between churches that have lasting influence and those who don’t is their discipline to implement an effective strategy. I would even contend that it’s your strategy, not your mission that ultimately determines your success.
There are a lot of churches that have shut down that prove my point. Churches usually don’t close their doors and sell their buildings because they were not preaching the Gospel. They were probably preaching plenty. The reason they stopped having influence is because they didn’t have an effective strategy. That’s why championing a kid’s or youth ministry strategy is so important. Any smart strategist will tell you that reaching kids and teenagers in your town will keep your church alive. That’s why you need to think strategically, not just missionally. Your discipline to implement an effective strategy could determine how successfully you disciple someone. For us, Orange has been a way for us to reimagine how to disciple a generation. It’s built around five essential strategies we would encourage you to start thinking about.
You need to have a messaging strategy.
Before you settle on a curriculum, you need to decide what you want kids to become. If you are leading them into a growing relationship with Jesus, you should take a shot at defining what that relationship looks like. Make a list of what you want them to understand before you transition them to middle school, high school, or college. At Orange, we have NINE CORE THEOLOGICAL INSIGHTS that we believe every kid and teenager needs to understand if they are going to develop an authentic faith. A few years ago, we defined our messaging strategy in a book called It’s Just a Phase. It was written to help parents and leaders understand how child development should affect how we present theology to kids at every phase. The point is If you have a messaging strategy it means you have thought through what you want a kid to know when they exit your ministry. Then you adopt a curriculum that complements that approach. It’s up to you to ensure that what you say every week is connected to what you want them to know at the end of any given year.
You need to have a leadership strategy.
Momentum happens when the key influencers and decision-makers on your team understand and champion the priorities of your ministry. Before you can expect your average volunteer and parent to get on the same page, you may need to make sure your lead pastor, key staff and leaders are on the same page. Too many churches are characterized by team members creating competing systems. Again, that’s why consistently articulating a common language and common values is so important. I always tell young leaders, “You never have to work at getting misaligned. It just happens. But alignment as a team takes work. You have to be intentional if you want to keep moving together in the same direction.”
You need to have a relationship strategy.
If I were oversimplifying what you do, I would remind you, “You are leading kids into a growing relationship with Jesus.” If you are “leading” kids, that implies that you are moving them in a direction. So, the obvious question to ask is, “Where are you moving them relationally?” Here’s the reality. You can’t force kids or teenagers to have a relationship with Jesus. The only thing you can really do is to create an environment that gives them a better opportunity to move relationally toward God and others. Sometimes in my ministry, I have actually forgotten that one idea. Your energy as a pastor or leader is actually focused on designing a consistent place for people to grow spiritually. The majority of your time is spent producing an environment where people listen, learn, worship, pray, share and connect. If “two or three are gathered,” then it’s an environment. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get so programmed or production-minded that we economize on leveraging what we do to move people relationally. If you want to disciple kids, then you need to lead them into a relationship with a consistent leader where they can become disciples.
You need to have a parenting strategy.
If you have been around Orange you have probably heard us say, “Two combined influences will make a greater impact than just two separate influences.” Something powerful happens when the church is successful at partnering with parents to influence a kid’s spiritual growth. You are thinking Orange if you simply believe the church plus the home equals greater influence in a kid’s faith. It’s not a complicated idea and I’m sure most of us don’t need to be convinced. The hard part, however, is implementing a strategy that is actually designed to engage every parent. The word “every” bothers most leaders because it sounds impossible. That’s actually why I like it. It’s a challenge to rethink how we see families in this current generation. It also acknowledges that every parent hopes to influence their child in a positive way. The realist in you may reject that notion, because you know a parent who doesn’t seem to care. But that’s not most parents. On the other hand, if you try to engage every parent, then chances are you will engage more parents than you would have. What would happen for example if you simply decided to work harder on a strategy to engage parents outside your church? It could actually change the way families see your church. Better yet, it could change the way your church sees every family.
You need to have a service strategy.
You don’t have to agree with this, but just think about it. Kids will get over what we teach if it never becomes a part of their personal experience. Every statistic suggests that most kids who start out in church will quit going one day. A large percent will leave the church before they ever make it to their teenage years. There is a lot of research that suggest one important way to help kids develop a lasting faith is to give them consistent opportunities to serve. I was fortunate to have spent several years learning from the late Dr. Diana Garland who was a professor for over a decade at Baylor. I was sitting in her office one day when she explained, “Everything I have researched suggests that service can have a greater impact on someone’s spiritual growth than Bible study, prayer or worship.” Her implication is that ministries need to make service a bigger deal. What if your priority as a leader isn’t simply to help kids know something, but it’s to convince kids to do something? That’s why we think one of the most important things you can invite a generation to do is to actually live out the Great Commandment? If you say Jesus is the center of your ministry strategy, then it should make sense that what Jesus said is most important should be a priority in your ministry. Jesus was clear when He said that the “greatest commandment” is to “love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
I wish I could convince every leader to make a shift in how they keep their ministry focused on what Jesus said matters most. I love to say to kids and teenagers all the time, “If you are not sure how to love God, or even to love yourself, learn how to love others.” There are some who will tell you, “You can’t love others if you don’t love God.” I think they are complicating the issue. It may be true that you can love others better if you love God, but your ability to care about others is intrinsic because you are made in the image of a Heavenly Father. Your ability to love the way you do is actually proof that God exists. When you create a strategy where kids grow up and have increased opportunities to love and serve others, it does something to their faith that nothing else can do. Read John 17 again. Jesus stated multiple times in His ministry that how we love each other will be evidence that we are His disciples. So, you want to make disciples? Then lead kids to love others. Kids and teenagers will forget what you say. They will grow out of your programs. But they will never get over what God will do in and through them when they learn to care about each other.
Don’t give kids a teacher,
connect every kid to a leader.
If the environments you create resemble a class or a concert, then you have a teaching model, not a discipleship model. Yes, it’s ok to teach or present truth in the context of your environment. You should. But please remember that the essence of discipleship should never be defined by how you present content. There is no curriculum that will make disciples. Disciples make disciples. Your best chance to disciple a kid is linked to the consistent leader you recruit to be in their life. I don’t care how good you are at communicating, your presentations can never be a substitute for the relationship kids and teenagers need. Before Covid, I spent most of my weekends volunteering for small churches in a rural community outside of Atlanta. It reminded me every week how much kids really need a place to belong and a leader who consistently cares. But most churches have been programmed to create Sunday school classes that attempt to educate kids. Finding a presenter for a room is easier than developing a leader to disciple a small group of kids. Besides if you can’t find a communicator, we can give you a video that will be far better than most communicators. What we can’t give you is a leader who will personally engage in the life of a few fourth-grade boys. You have to recruit and develop that leader on your own. We actually do what we do, so you can do what only you can do. But please don’t miss this last point. Kids don’t need a teacher, they need a leader.
They need someone who knows them and cares about their faith.
They need someone who will give them a place to belong.
They need someone who will show them how to love and forgive.
They need someone who will believe in their potential.
Think about it. If you are reading this right now, chances are, you believe what you believe and you do what you do because of the way someone influenced your faith. More than likely, it wasn’t just one person, but several. You could probably write down a short list of people who have been strategic influences in your life.
Just like the people in ancient times developed their view of God as . . .
the God of Abraham
the God of Isaac
Or the God of Moses,
You have developed a sense of who God is because you have met . . .
the God of Susan
the God of Mike
or the God of Jeff.
God uses people. That’s the point. He always has. Sometimes we forget the God of the Bible is the God of the people of the Bible. God has always used people to demonstrate His story of redemption.
That’s why what you do, as a pastor or leader, is so important.
It has been part of God’s strategy for a long time.
The best chance someone may have to personally see God,
is to get a close-up look at the people who follow God.
That’s why your mission is simple, but complicated. You’re supposed to do what Jesus did. Develop leaders who show up in the lives of kids so they can see God. You are called to do more than simply make a presentation of the Gospel. You are called to invite leaders to engage in the messiness of humanity because of the Gospel.
Regardless of the style or size of your church, your greatest asset to building faith in the next generation is not your Bible study, worship, facilities, or budget. The most valuable resources you have to help kids see God are the people in your church who know God. And if you hope to help a generation of kids know God, then you have to be strategic about how you connect them to leaders who believe in God and leaders who believe in them. We know recruiting volunteers to invest weekly in the lives of kids or students is not the only thing you have to do as a ministry leader. But we do believe it may be the most important thing you do.
So, the next time you see the color Orange remember:
The light of the church (yellow) + the heart of the family (red) = greater influence (orange)
We hope you will keep thinking Orange thoughts.
Spend a little more time developing volunteers.
Act like it’s your strategy, not your mission that will determine your success.
Prioritize what you teach around what Jesus said matters most.
Try to engage every parent to influence their own kid’s spiritual growth.
Give every kid a consistent leader and a safe place.
Just for the record we define an Orange leader as
“Anyone who influences those who influence the faith of the next generation.”
So, if you are investing in volunteers and parents so they can lead kids or teenagers into a growing relationship with Jesus, then you are an Orange leader. At least that’s the way we see it. Even if you don’t use Orange.