How Are Digital Distractions Affecting Your Spiritual Growth? by Andy Blanks


A while ago I had the chance to lead a workshop at a youth ministry conference that looked at the effects technology has on our teenagers’ spiritual growth. We looked at both the negative effects (the obstacles) and the positive effects (the opportunity). It was a really good discussion, made all the more humorous to me, in an incredibly ironic sense, by the timely failure of some of the very technology I was trying to use to lead the workshop! Good times . . . ☺

We looked at several challenges technology presents to teenager’ growth as Christ-followers, chief among them was the idea of distraction.

Not only is this impacting our teenagers, it’s impacting us as youth workers. I know for me, it’s been a very prevalent issue in my own personal spiritual growth, and I would venture to guess in yours, too. Our constant connection to technology provides a landscape fertile for distraction. Why is this such a big deal?

I had a acquaintance of mine who used to call discipleship “the stuff of crock pots, not microwaves.” We grow in our faith when we get to know God more and better, becoming more like Him in the process. This process of growing in God comes through varying intervals of spiritual focus, time spent reading Scripture, or meditating on God, or prayer, and so on.

Our “technology at our fingertips” world works against these periods of spiritual focus. 

A recent article on NBC.com looks at the results of two studies that specifically looked at the impact interruptions had on focus.

  • One study found that people who are interrupted by technology score 20 percent lower on a standard cognition test.
  • The second found that many students can’t concentrate on homework for more than two minutes without distracting themselves by using social media or writing an email.
  • A separate study done by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, shows that typical office workers only get 11 continuous minutes to work on a task before interruption.

One of the researchers in the article summarized his findings like this: “The key to transferring new information from the brain’s short-term to long-term memory is a process called ‘encoding.’ Without deep concentration, encoding is unlikely to occur.”

When we spiritualize this and apply it to knowledge of God, the application becomes clear: without deep, uninterrupted learning, knowing God is more difficult. One of the researchers said the following, in what I think is the article’s money quote:

“The digital divide is not about the gadget haves and have nots, but rather about those who can resist the constant distracting tug of technology and those who cannot.”

It think it’s important to ask ourselves, as those who play a role in leading teenagers in their own faith, how we’re doing in growing in ours.

Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “majorly affected by distraction,” and 10 being “I kick distraction’s butt,” where do you rank? 

And more importantly, what are you willing to do about it?


Relevance is a Tool, Not a Goal by Ed Stetzer



I tell my wife that I have to have the right tool for the right job. She smirks and points out that I haven’t used it in 4 years – but I know what really matters: I might. And when I do, I need the right tool.

Tools matter. They make it possible to accomplish the goal. Relevance is like that – it is a tool to accomplish a more important purpose, communicating Christ in culture.

Relevance is a word seen more and more these days on church websites.

It seems that every church wants to make sure everyone else knows how relevant they are. This strikes me a bit like the advertising agency named “Creative Ads.” If you are so creative, could you not share that with me in a more creative way?

No one advertises their lack of relevance. Who wants an irrelevant church? (Well, it must be a lot of people, but that is another story. But, I am guessing that most of them do not read articles on this site.)

For most of us, we are tired of people criticizing culturally relevant churches. I have heard dozens of sermons against contemporary worship, music, and casual dress. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt (or the tie, depending on your perspective).

But, we also need to be careful. Relevance can (and sometimes is) over-emphasized. The problem isn’t found in the desire to be relevant. After all, the word relevant means, “to be pertinent.” The problem is that sometimes we have too little confidence in the Gospel and its ability to prove relevant on its own merit.

The Gospel is relevant, in this and every culture; it is often our churches and ministries that are not. We can find ourselves putting too much emphasis on relevance itself, and not enough on what we’re trying to make understandable – the Gospel.
While relevance can bridge some gaps to the Gospel, it is only a tool, not a goal.

Are you focusing too much on relevance?
Here are some ways you can know that relevance has become more important than the Gospel to you: Continue reading


5 Reasons Giving Thanks is Always God’s Will by Rick Warren


1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

People want to know God’s will for their lives, and when people ask about God’s will, they’re typically thinking about what they should do next in a particular area of their lives. Who should I marry? Where should I go to school? Which job should I accept? But these are all “number two’s” when it comes to God’s will. His will is, first and foremost, that we learn to give thanks.

Why is it always God’s will no matter what happens in my life that I am to give thanks, not for my circumstances but in my circumstances?

Continue reading


Why Youth Ministry is SO Important and 3 Things to do About it!!! by Tyson Howells


The most important ministry in the church?

In our line of business you have probably heard someone say that Youth Ministry is the most important ministry in the church.  Is this self preservation or the truth?

You’ve probably heard someone quote a statistic that claims most people come to faith in Jesus before the age of 18.  Is this the truth or an urban myth?

Here’s what I can tell you, adolescent development shows that this is an important stage in your students’ lives.  Wayne Rice in his foundational book Junior High Ministry plus Mark Oestreicher and Scott Rubin in their book Middle School Ministry explain.  Let me show you.

Birth to 2 Years Old = SAMPLING

If you have spent any time around a new born you see them sampling EVERYTHING.  The easiest example is give them something to hold.  What do they do?  They put it into their mouth.  Why?  Because they are sampling, they are discovering.

3 to 7 Years Old = TESTING

This is when the child pushes the boundaries.  If I yell and scream in the middle of the store do I get my way?  If I put on my really cute face will I get away with not eating my vegetables?

8 to 10 Years Old = Concluding

This is when the preteen has concrete thinking down pat.  It is a black and white world, even with complex issues like immigration or racism.  If you asked them you would get a simple answer.

Then it happens.  That big, scary word, PUBERTY!!!  Try to think back to what you were thinking when you went through puberty.  What feelings were coursing there way through your veins?

Something very interesting happens with puberty.  Lets be honest, lots of things happen during this time, not all of it being pleasant.  But one of the things that happens is that a reset button is pushed.

11 to 14 Years Old = SAMPLING

It begins again.  Instead of sticking toys in their mouth (lets be honest, that could be happening) they are trying different clothing styles, or different genres of music, or different social groups to hang out in.

15 to 19 Years Old = TESTING

There poor parents.  They have to live through it all over again.  This time they are getting drunk and seeing what the consequences are.  They are pushing their social boundaries, home boundaries, and church boundaries.

20+ Years Old = CONCLUDING

By this point in life we have come to conclusions on what we believe.  I truly do believe that Jesus can radically alter anyones life, but for the most part conclusions have been made.


  1. Be Patient

One week a student might be listening to death metal and dressed in all black.  A month later they are singing Adele.  Be patient.  Let the students sample and work things out.

  1. Aggressively Present Jesus

These students are sampling all sorts of worldviews.  DO NOT take it for granted that they will default to Jesus.  Aggressively present Jesus.  Show, explain, and live why Jesus is the best option.

  1. Don’t Minimize All Of The Change

Puberty is crazy.  It is one of those questions to ask God in heaven why we all had to go through it.  Remind yourself often what it was like for you.  Do not make light of it for your students.  All of this change is a crazy big deal for them.


A Few Tips to Help Teenagers (Creatively) Build a Prayer Habit by Andy Blanks


Over the years, I’ve found it’s always been somewhat of a struggle to help students develop the discipline of consistent prayer. Helping lead teenagers to carve out the time to pray on a regular basis isn’t easy. Heck, this is an area even I struggle with, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In our fast-paced world, doing the work to build a prayer habit is a little counter-cultural.

Which makes it even more important to do what we can to help students be succesful in this area of their spiritual lives.

Over the years, I’ve found that if I can give students a “hook” of some sort, it makes it easier to help them learn how to pray. These are just a few things I’ve done (or known of others doing) that have worked for me. Maybe they will help you, as well.

Texting Students’ Names To Each Other

This one ain’t rocket science. A few years ago I had 5 guys in a group. Each guy was assigned a different day of the week, as in, “Monday is John’s day.” On Monday I’d send a text to each guy reminding him to pray for John. Then Tuesday it was the next guy’s day.

String Bracelet

Years ago, we had a student who was dealing with a significant health issue. We wanted to pray for this guy, so we tied a simple piece of thread around our wrists like a bracelet. The bracelet was to remind us to pray for this student. Just a way of reminding students to constantly be in prayer.

Texting Prayer Requests Mid-Week

Pick a day halfway between your last meeting and your next one. Send a text or Facebook message reminding guys of the prayer requests you shared in your last meeting.

Rock In Your Pocket

Yup. I said aquarium rocks, though it could be any cool looking object small enough to fit in your students’ pockets. With one group I had, I gave them all these little purplish glass-looking rocks used to put in the bottom of an aquarium. I told them to carry it in their pockets for a week. I asked them to say a prayer of some sort (prayer of praise, prayer for someone in our group, prayer for their family, etc.) every time they were aware of the rock. We didn’t do it for longer than a week, but the idea was simply to get them in the habit of praying throughout the day.

Verse Cards

I once printed off Ephesians 6:18 on a piece of cardstock. I put it on a cool background and printed it in color. We did a short discussion on the verse, then I cut the cardstock into 6 squares (one for me and each student in the group). I encouraged the guys to put the card on their rear view mirror or dashboard and when they saw it to remember to pray. Again, similar to the previous two. Just a simple visual key.

Phone Alarm

I actually haven’t done this, but have a friend who has and it seemed to work. Have students think of a time each day where they would have a few minutes to pray. Instruct them to set their phone alarms to go off at that time. Then, give them some instructions on how to pray, maybe a different emphasis each day of the week.

These are some of the more effective ways I’ve tried through the years to help students develop the habit of prayer. (I’ve tried others that didn’t work as well. Maybe that’s another blog post????)

If you have a second, share a tip or “hook” you’ve used before that’s been successful in helping students remember to be in prayer.


10 Active Indoor Games to Help Kids Workout the Squirm and Grow in Their Faith by Children’s Ministry Magazine


The cold winter months can make kids stir crazy. Stuck inside, they dream of a warmer season when they can run and play with endless energy outdoors. And then they enter your Sunday school classroom, after a week of being cooped up at school and home, with a God-given, wiggly case of the fidgets and squirms. So tap into kids’ natural energy and exuberance with these active indoor games specially designed to let kids move while teaching them more about their faith.

1. Reaching for Hearts

Use this game to teach kids how important it is to support each other as Christians trying to spread the good news about Jesus.

Bible Connect: Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16

Stuff: You’ll need candy bars and clear packing tape.

Kids love our Sunday School resources!

Play: Before kids arrive, tape candy bars onto the wall high enough so kids can’t reach them without standing on chairs.

Tell kids the object of the game is to reach the candy bars without the help of furniture or other people.

Let kids try to grab the candy bars. Once they’ve given up, have them form groups of three and work together to reach the candy bars. Two kids can form a step by locking their hands together and lifting the third person high enough to reach a candy bar for all three.

Cool Down:

Ask kids to compare their first attempt to reach the candy bars with their second. Ask: What ways do you tell your friends about your faith? Why is it important to work together and support each other as Christians? How can you support a friend this week?

2. Protect Me

This game teaches kids that it’s important to surround themselves with good influences for protection from temptation.

Bible Connect: 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 6:14

Play: Ask for two volunteers-one to be the Tempted and the other the Temptor-in a group of no more than eight kids. The object of the game is to protect the Tempted, who’ll stand in the center of the group’s tight circle. The Temptor tries to tag the child in the center by reaching through the circle. Kids in the circle can maneuver to keep the Temptor out, but they must stay locked arm-in-arm. When the Tempted gets tagged, new kids get to be the Tempted and the Temptor.

Cool Down: Ask: How have you been tempted this past week? How does having Christian friends’ support help you resist temptation?

3. Snowball Fight

This game reminds kids of the power of God’s grace.

Bible Connect: Isaiah 1:18

Stuff: You’ll need newspapers, masking tape, a timer, and disposable wipes.

Play: Form two groups. Divide your classroom into two equal-sized areas with a masking tape line. Give each group an equal amount of newspaper. On your signal, let kids make newspaper “snow” balls and quickly throw them back and forth at the opposing team for two minutes. The object is to get more “snow” on the opponent’s side when time’s up.

At the end of the game, have kids collect the newspaper and place it in your church’s recycle bin. Have kids clean their hands with disposable wipes.

Cool Down:

Ask: How did your hands look after the snowball fight? How is the newspaper like sin? How are the wipes like God’s grace?

4. Sock It to Me

Just as socks protect our feet, kids will discover that God protects us.

Bible Connect: Psalm 91:14-15

Play: Ask kids to sit in a tight circle and remove their shoes. Choose two kids to be It. They’ll sit on their knees in the center of the circle. The rest of the kids forming the circle must stay seated with their feet in the center of the circle. The object of the game is for the It kids to take off the circle kids’ socks before those kids can get the It kids’ socks off.

Cool Down:

Ask: What kinds of things are you exposed to in the world? How are socks like or unlike God’s love? How does God’s love protect you from inappropriate things?

5. Belly Laugh

This silly game reminds kids that God loves a joyful heart.

Bible Connect: Psalm 9:2; Psalm 28:7

Play: Have one child lie on his or her back. Then have another child lie with his or her head on the other child’s belly. Have the remaining kids lie down with their heads resting on another child’s belly.

Choose one person to start the game by shouting, “Ha!” The next person will shout, “Ha, ha!” and each child continues to add a “ha” as they work around the group. Sooner or later the group will burst into laughter, with heads bouncing off bellies with joy.

Cool Down: Let kids take turns telling a funny story or joke. Tell kids that God wants us to experience joy every day through fun and laughter.

6. Pressure

Getting “pushed around” by others in this game lets kids think critically about peer pressure.

Bible Connect: 1 Corinthians 10:13; Ephesians 6:11

Play: Form groups of eight. Have seven kids form a close circle with their arms on each other’s shoulders. One child stands in the middle, crosses his or her arms, and tries to keep his or her feet firmly in place on the ground while the circle presses in. Kids in the circle work together to force the child to give up his or her ground. Give every child a chance to be in the middle.

Cool Down: Have kids discuss how they experience peer pressure at school. Kids can brainstorm how they can work together to tackle negative peer pressure. Talk about the importance of relying on God when the pressure is on.


3 Ways to Raise Grateful Teens by Ron Powell


Here are 3 effective ways to nurture gratitude and defeat a sense of entitlement in teens.

Before I get into what parents are doing to build gratitude look at the big benefits for our kids!

Growing Up Grateful Gives Teens Multiple Mental Health Benefits, New Research Shows

Those who became more grateful also:

  • gained 15 percent more of a sense of meaning in their life;
  • become 15 percent more satisfied with their life overall (at home, at school, with their neighborhood, with their friends and with themselves);
  • become 17 percent more happy and more hopeful about their lives;
  • experienced a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and a 15 percent drop in depressive symptoms.

And in general:

“people who practice gratitude feel considerably happier (25%) than those in a control group; they are more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, and determined.” To look at the study click here.

1. Refute Materialistic Consumer Madness

Others have blogged that “marketers want to accomplish two things with your children: Continue reading


The Under-Appreciated Value of Application in Preaching by Rick Warren


Many preachers believe the purpose of preaching is to explain the Bible, or to interpret the text, or to help people understand God’s Word. But these all fall short of what it really is.

Paul gives us God’s purpose of preaching in Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV): “Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Why did God give prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? To produce Christ-like people. That’s the purpose of preaching: to help people become like Jesus. Continue reading


What’s Happening to College Students Today?

Why Students Need Authentic Leaders by Tim Elmore

growing leaders.com

I have a sad story to tell you. On January 17, 2014, a beautiful, talented student athlete at the University of Pennsylvania jumped off the top of a parking garage and killed herself. No one, not even her close family, saw this coming.

Her name was Madison Holleran. She was a freshman at Penn. Perhaps the saddest part is that she was the third of six Penn students to commit suicide within a period of just over a year.

Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated event in college life these days. Suicide “clusters” are common in the last decade. This year, Appalachian State lost at least three students; Cornell experienced six suicides; Tulane lost four students just five years ago; and five NYU students leapt to their deaths in the 2004-2005 school year.

The suicide rate among 15 to 24-year-olds in the U.S. has increased moderately but steadily since 2007. A survey of college counseling centers has found that more than half their clients have severe psychological problems, an increase of 13 percent in just two years. Anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

So, what’s going on? Is life really that bad for these students?

Three Tangible Problems in Our Culture

Continue reading


Screen Addicts by David R. Smith

Young People and Their Mobile Devices


Hey mom and dad, which do you think is greater: the number of hours in your typical work day or the number of hours your kid interacts with media every day?

According to a new report, you’re being outdone.

Media Rules
Common Sense Media just released their latest study entitled The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens. The massive research project looked at the “media activities” of more than 2,600 8-18-year-olds in America (“tweens” and “teens”) to discover how often they use media, for what purpose, and on what sort of device. Those of you who’ve been reading our Youth Culture Window articles for several years may remember a similar-sounding study produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation called the “Generation M” reports.

The full report from Common Sense is well-written, loaded with helpful info-graphics, and available online (though you may be required to complete a simple registration form). However, it’s also quite lengthy due to the vast number of metrics they studied, for instance, age, gender, socio-economic backgrounds, and much more.

So, I’ll highlight the biggest findings below, and end with a few questions that youth workers and parents should wrestle with as we help our teenagers navigate the growing influence of today’s media.

  1. Young people consume nine hours of media on any given day.
    Yep, nine (9) hours! That’s more time than most working adults put in at the office. That nine hours is filled with a combination of media activities like watching TV and online videos, listening to music, playing games on smartphones/laptops/tablets, surfing the Internet, using social media, and reading. On average, tweens had a little less screen time (4 hours and 36 minutes) than teenagers did (6 hours and 40 minutes). However, these big numbers don’t necessarily represent every single kid in every single corner of the country. For example, approximately 6% of tweens and another 6% of teens said they might not use any screen media on some days. Speaking of differences in media use….
  2. Boys and girls have very different media preferences and habits…with two exceptions.
    This is a bit of a no-brainer as there are tons of other differences between the genders, already. Some of the biggest distinctions in media use include the fact that boys really like playing console video games (think Xbox and PlayStation) and most girls don’t. But lots of girls really like reading, and boys, not so much.Of course, there are a couple of media-related things boys and girls can agree on, namely TV and music. Both genders claim to enjoy listening to music “a lot” and watching TV “every day.” As the chart shows , TV and music are the staples of young people’s media diets. This just goes to show, our kids are living in a world that’s dominated by iTunes and Netflix. And that world is always “on the go” which is why…
  3. Young people’s media use is highly mobile. Just because today’s kids are watching lots of TV and listening to lots of music doesn’t mean they’re sitting in front of a television set or stereo system. Those two elements – and plenty more – are available on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, handheld video game systems, and laptops. In fact, 44% of all screen time in tween and teen lives takes place on some sort of mobile device. There are lots of reasons why this is the new reality. For example, consuming media on mobile devices allows young people to get what they want on their time (for the most part). And given that most of these devices fit into a backpack – if not a pocket – it allows kids to access media on these portable screens during car rides, lunch breaks, and other times that technology couldn’t make available to their parents. Speaking of parents…
  4. Kids aren’t concerned about the amount of time they use media, but parents should be. Common Sense Media found that parents tend to be more concerned about the type of media their kids use rather than the time their kid uses media. 66% of teens and 84% of tweens said their parents had talked with them about the kind of media content they use, while just 53% of teens and 72% of tweens claimed their parents had talked with them about how much time they spend using it.

Here’s just one place where the distinction becomes important: many young people multi-task their media usage with homework. Half of teens admit to “often” or “sometime” watching TV, or using social media, or listening to music whilst doing their homework. And, most of these teens don’t think their multi-tasking is anything to be concerned about. Big shocker, right?
Nearly two-thirds of kids who multi-task their homework with media don’t think it has any impact on their academic performance. In fact, Common Sense Media discovered that 50% of kids think that listening to music may even help them work.

The jury is still out on this issue. Some research shows that it’s possible for media to accentuate kids’ studies; others warn it may detract from their academic performance.

Guiding Questions

As promised, I want to offer you just a few quick questions that will help you stay informed about kids’ media use and engage them on the subject. Here are some questions you could ask them on this important topic:

Do you think nine hours of media use per day is too much? Why or why not?

How would your life be different if you spent less time online, watching TV, playing games, etc?

Why do you think TV and music are your generation’s favorite forms of media entertainment?

What are some of the most frequent messages embedded in what you watch and listen to?

In what ways does the screen you use (phone, tablet, computer) determine your media choices?

In spite of the fact that so much media is consumed on personal mobile devices, what are some suggestions you have for helping our family use media together on a more frequent basis?

What boundaries do you need to set for yourself to help you manage your media usuage?

As an adult, what can I do to help you make solid, healthy, godly media choices?

Feel free to augment this list with your own ideas. The main thing is that we as parents and youth workers continually communicate with our kids about their media choices.