I’ll See You at the Orange Conference, On-site or Online

Orange Conference 2016

I’m headed to the Orange Conference this week in Atlanta, GA. It’s one of my favorite weeks each year where I get to learn from top leaders, connect with friends, gather tons of great ideas, network with some new leaders and be stretched all around. As I’ve always done, I’ll blog most of the conference notes I take. You can also follow me on Twitter (@nickblevins) for an insane number of updates (and you thought I was annoying before).

If you’ll be at the conference, let’s connect. Comment below or message me on Twitter and we’ll find a time to meet. If you won’t be at the conference, here is how you can follow along online.

RSVP for the Live Stream

Click here to RSVP for the Orange Conference Live Stream. The opening session on Wednesday night will be streamed, along with tons of other great content and interviews. Check the Orange Leaders blog for the full live stream schedule when it’s posted.

Catch Posts from the Orange Bloggers

Click here to see the full list of people who will be blogging the conference. Some will blog during the conference like I do while others will post updates after the conference is over. Either way, you’ll want to follow along to catch all the great content. You can do that just by clicking on the links in that post or by using an app like Feedly to subscribe to all of our blogs and get it in one place.

Follow On Social Media

The hashtags to follow on social media are #OC16 and #OC16Live if you’re watching from home. You can follow that hashtag on a number of social media platforms, though Twitter is probably the best. You don’t even need an account. A simple search like this one on Twitter will keep you up to date.

The Orange Leaders blog has a great post with more details about How to Get the Most Out of #OC16 With Social Media.

Win BIG As You Follow Along From Home

Orange is giving away lots of free stuff to people on-site as well as those watching from home. Check out this blog for details. Also, don’t miss the chance to ask questions via Twitter that might get answered on the Live Stream. Read that post for instructions on how to do that.

See you on-site or online!

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or just want to let me know you’ll be there. See you at #OC16!

The Secret to Getting Great Attendance at Volunteer Trainings


Almost a decade ago I was at a conference for churches who were thinking about going multisite. It was a small gathering of about 100-200 leaders, so it felt different than a typical conference. I’m not sure how it came up, but the speaker was talking about volunteer trainings they do and polled everyone to see what kind of participation we got at training events.

The most common answer was less than 50%. In that room, the average church was getting less than half of their volunteers to show up at training events. My experience talking with most family ministry leaders is similar, with a lot of people saying about 1/3 of their volunteers show up on average.

So, what’s the secret to getting better participation?

The Secret to Better Volunteer Training Attendance

There are a lot of factors involved with getting volunteers to show up at training events. Most of them are obvious, including:

  • Make training events fun
  • Tell stories to celebrate together
  • Cast vision to remind them why they do what they do
  • Feed them great food
  • Provide childcare if possible

All of that is extremely important. But, the secret, I believe, is follow up.

Why and How We Follow Up

Imagine one of your volunteers never RSVPs for your training and doesn’t show up. What now? I think what happens here is key. Often times they receive no contact because we don’t want to feel like we’re punishing them for not coming. The problem is if we don’t communicate anything, that alone communicates they were not missed. Why should they come if nobody notices if they were present or not?

We follow up differently to 3 groups of people, with one specific way geared just to them.

  • People who RSVP’d “yes”, or didn’t RSVP, and came to the event. These people receive a mass email thanking them for attending and we provide any reminders or notes from the event.
  • People who RSVP’d “no” and did not show. We email these people letting them know we missed them and we give them any important information from the training.
  • People who didn’t RSVP and didn’t show. This is the important one. We contact them individually via email or text and simply say we missed them at the event and then we ask an open-ended question, like “Is everything okay?” By doing that, they know they were missed and we open the door to hear what happened. No matter the response, we shower them with grace. We do our best to make them feel missed, not judged.

Following up 3 different ways is not easy. It takes more time. But, in the long run, we’ve seen this translate into better attendance at events we do for volunteers. For us, 60% would be the low end of volunteer turnout with 70% being about the average. There’s also a direct correlation between level of commitment for the role and how often they show up for trainings. But, that’s a post for another day.

How do you encourage volunteers to attend training events?

Can A Small Church Do Student Ministry Well?


A few weeks ago there was a flurry of conversation in the interwebs stemming from a comment Andy Stanley made during a message. You can read some about it here. Andy Stanley has been a huge influence on my life as a Christian, husband, father, pastor, and leader. He’s a big reason I work full-time for a church today, so I’m certainly biased. However, this post isn’t designed to discuss his comments and make judgments about them. I want to address a good question that came up in the conversation.

Can A Small Church Do Student Ministry Well?

Absolutely. It’s just different, in my opinion.

One of the things Andy said is that North Point Community Church intentionally tries to launch campuses that are large enough to create the kind of student ministry environments they want to create. They want separate environments for middle and high school and a critical mass feel that would help new students feel like they’re part of something exciting. That is how they prefer to do it.

The hard truth

There is truth in what Andy said, but it doesn’t mean small churches can’t do student ministry well. The truth is that it is a challenge to minister to the 6th-grader and the 11th-grader together. Their worlds are so different. I’ve been there. It’s also hard to create an engaging environment with 8-10 students. I’ve been there too. As many critics to Andy’s comments pointed out, though, you can absolutely do it. The approach has to change.

Know your size culture

Tim Keller wrote a great article entitled Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How strategy changes with growth. It is a MUST read for every church leader. In fact, we’ll give it to people in our church who have issues with how we do church, especially when we know it’s a size-culture issue. Tim makes so many good points in the article, one of which is, “There is no ‘best size’ for a church.” The core premise of that article is something I agree with, a church’s size isn’t right or wrong, but different strategies are needed to lead them well.

Student ministry in a small church

I don’t even know how to define small church quite frankly. The average church is about 80 in size, and church sizes definitely vary depending on where you are in the country. Where I live, a church of 1,000 is quite rare. In other places, 1,000 might be small. But, here’s what I do know. A student ministry of 12 can’t be led like a student ministry of 120, which can’t be led like a student ministry of 1,200.

How small churches do student ministry well

Here is how I’ve seen small churches do student ministry well, along with some things we did when I was a volunteer in a smaller student ministry.

  1. They make relationships the priority. Large churches want to do this too, but small churches major in it. Every student is known well by multiple leaders and the other students. In many cases, those relationships have a lot of history as leaders have known those students their entire life.
  2. They integrate. Students are just as much a part of the church as anyone else. They know kids, they know senior adults, they’re in the main service and they’re part of everything the church does.
  3. They lead it like a small group. Smaller churches use some of the key practices of leading a small group in leading their student ministry. They create a safe environment. They make it feel like family. They help new students get to know everyone in the group from day one.
  4. They show up in student’s lives. Smaller churches have student leaders who show up in the lives of students. They go to games, musicals, plays, practices, and wherever they can cheer on that student.
  5. They get students involved. Again, large churches want this as well, but small churches get students involved in doing ministry.

Now, can small churches mess this up? For sure. Just like large churches can mess it up in other ways. I think Andy was specifically thinking of small churches that cast students aside and overlook that important ministry. None of us want that.

What have you learned about leading student ministry in your setting?

5 Ways to Partner With Parents as a Small Group Leader

A couple weeks ago I was honored to speak to the amazing preschool ministry volunteers at Park Valley Church. The topic I was asked to speak on was How to Partner With Preschool Parents as a Small Group Leader. Here are the 5 points I shared, that I believe apply to partnering with all parents regardless of their kid’s ages.

Show Up Every Week

I think the first step in partnering with parents is to show up every week. Imagine what it’s like to be a new family coming to church. You don’t know where to go. You don’t know if you’ll fit in. You don’t know if it will be weird. You don’t know what “children’s ministry” is. You don’t know if you should trust them with your kids.

Now, imagine your church does everything right. You make that family feel welcome. You instantly build trust with the parent and help them check their children in. They attend the service and their preschooler does well in your kid’s ministry. It’s a big win. But, what if they come back next week and… there’s a totally different group of people there to welcome their child to the room. Most of the trust that was built up is gone instantly.

It’s a big win. But, what if they come back next week and… there’s a totally different group of people there to welcome their child. Most of the trust that was built up is gone instantly.

Showing up every week allows us to establish the trust that preschool parents are looking for. Showing up every week gives us more opportunities to connect. The caveat here is if you have one service. With one service, you can’t expect people to serve every week. In that case, build a rotation and put more effort into the rest of this list. 

Initiate Contact

Showing up every week is a great start, but it’s just the beginning. At some point, we must initiate contact with the parents. I don’t mean the simple hello and exchange that happens as they drop off and pick up. I mean the type of contact that can be the first step toward a relationship. That may happen when parents are there to drop off and pick up, or that time might be too crazy for anything meaningful to happen.

Instead of using that time, start by sending then an email. Get a list of families and their contact information from your point leader and send an email to introduce yourself. Brag on their child and ask how you can pray for their family.

A partnership is just a relationship and a relationship starts with an initial contact.

Say Something Encouraging

Parenting is hard.

Like, real hard. Most parents feel like failures most of the time. There are many reasons why, but unrealistic expectations and a false idea of what it’s like for other parents is part of it. As a small group leader, and overall as a church, we should be the chief encouragers to parents. Make it a point to notice something about a kid each week. Then, tell the parent when they pick their child up. Praise the parent for anything you can think of. Be genuine, though.

Barbara Graves wrote a great post on the Lead Small blog with specific ideas about this.

Help Their Kids LOVE Church

FUN is the language of kids. When we make church fun, we partner with parents by helping them lead their kids to love being part of the local church. Our son, Isaac (3yrs old), loves our church. He loves his preschool room too. He talks about it during the week and is excited to go each weekend. However, like many kids, sometimes he gets in a mood where he doesn’t like anything. He was in one of those moods a few Sundays ago. He didn’t want go in his room.

You know what? The leaders in that room instantly recognized what was going on and engaged with him. They know what he likes and they invited him to join in and play. Before I knew it, he went from clinging to me to pretending like I was never there.

Help kids love church by knowing their name, making them feel welcome, and leaving them wanting more each week.

Meet A Felt Need

This isn’t something you can do early on. In fact, you probably have no idea what needs families have until you’ve known them for some time. Think of the previous four ideas as prerequisites for this one. If you have initiated contact and established a relationship, at some point there’s a good chance that you’ll discover something the family needs.

It could be prayers for something specific, meals when a newborn comes along, a hospital visit, or a number of other opportunities. Don’t miss the chance to serve them in their time of need and don’t miss the chance to develop the kind of partnership that affords you that opportunity.

What has worked for your Small Group Leaders?

What are some ways your small group leaders have successfully partnered with parents? Share them in the comments section below.

How To Grow As A Leader Without Adding More To Your Schedule


In a previous post, I talked about the importance of being a habitual learner in relation to leading a growing family ministry. It is the most common attribute I see in great leaders. One of the ways I wrote that we can become habitual learners is to build it into our existing schedule. That sounds great, but it’s hard to do in practice isn’t it? Most of us are so busy keeping up with the week-to-week needs we can’t find time to pull back and learn something new.

4 Ways to Grow Without Adding More

Here are some ways I’ve found you can learn regularly without adding something new.

Listen to podcasts in the car

This is an easy one. Use iTunes, Stitcher or another podcast app on your phone and subscribe to a handful of podcasts. Every week you’ll have new content that can help you grow and you learn using your existing time. It might take you multiple trips in the car to get through one podcast, but that’s perfectly fine. Here are some podcasts I subscribe to that I would recommend:


You might be interested in the podcast I started for family ministry leaders. Each week I interview a guest who leads in children’s, student or family ministry and we learn the principles and practices they use.

Visit another church

I know this one feels like adding more, but the idea is to visit another church and learn from them during a time when you would already be working (at your church). You can learn so much from visiting another church and you can learn it in a very short time. It might be hard to get away, but it’s worth it. Hopefully, you can learn some tips to apply to your ministry that will allow you to get it to a more sustainable place.

Read Book Summaries

Reading is one of the best ways to learn and grow as a leader. But, here we’re looking for things you can do without adding time to your schedule. Book summaries can help save that time. StudyLeadership.com creates 12-15 page summaries for leadership books and you can subscribe for $7-$10/month. Because the book summaries are so short, you could read them with your team during your regular meeting. Or, you could always have one on your desk for the random few minutes you get here and there that you can’t use for anything else.

GLSnext App

The GLSnext App is an app from Willow Creek that gives you access to tons of videos from the Global Leadership Summit. Some videos are 2 minutes long, others are 6 minutes, and some are the full teaching session. Like podcasts, you can play these at a time when you’re free to listen but have to be focused on something else, like driving or getting ready in the morning. You might even decide to watch one together as a team at your meeting once/month. That would force you to make the other meetings that month even more productive. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I hope these four ideas can be as helpful to you as they have been for me. Like me, I hope you’ll find you really enjoy learning and make it a habit. It’s no exaggeration that 90% or more of what we do in our family ministry is driven by something I have learned elsewhere.

What is your favorite way to learn and grow?