Youth Ministry Failures (When Your Event Flyer Accidentally Reads ‘Free Sex and Ice Cream’)


I’m blessed to be a part of a couple different groups of youth ministers that meet together on a regular basis for a time of encouragement, brother (and sister) hood, and event planning. At our last local National Network of Youth Ministries meeting we had several young interns present, guys that are just getting started in their life of ministry, mixed in with us old pros (I almost typed that without laughing). We actually started on time (a first) which allowed us a few extra minutes to chat, so we decided to go around the table and do introductions and some fun facts. I threw out one of my favorite ‘ice breaker’ questions, “tell us about your worst event failure”.

After an initial wince from most of the table, one of the ministers talked about his mentor that started a christian club on a school campus. They wanted to talk about something pertinent to teens so they decided to go with sex as their first discussion topic. They also wanted to draw teens in so they decided to offer up free ice cream as well. Unfortunately, a minor grammatical error left their flyer for the event reading, “Free sex and ice cream”. That club no longer exists.

Another guy from a large church started up with a story about losing $10,000 on an event. Yikes. He also talked about a Christmas tree fundraiser that profited maybe a few bucks after a team of volunteers put in a month of round the clock work.

Another guy shared a story about leaving a kid behind in Mexico after a mission trip. (I can’t say that there haven’t been times where I dreamed about leaving a kid behind).

I shared a story about playing puddingball with some teens, and not seeing the brown chocolate streaks that ended up all around the front entrance of the church. Those streaks were found by our facilities deacon on Sunday morning before service, and he had no idea that it was pudding. Needless to say I had some serious explaining to do.

When it came time for the interns to share, they said they didn’t have much to draw from in their few weeks on the job. They then went on to talk about promoting a bible study for a month, only to have 1 kid show up the first four weeks. A quiet kid. All the old guys grinned and started chiming in with our own experiences of ‘just 1 kid’ events.

It was a long conversation.

It was a great experience to sit among friends and share stories about what we thought were failures. Through all the wincing and laughter though, the stories started to take on a great tone of how God had worked through those ‘failures’. Lessons learned about fundraising, keeping track of kids, messy games, 1 kid events, and poorly designed flyers. Even more lessons learned about experiencing God’s grace. Despite our shortcomings, God had worked mightily to raise up a great group of ministers.

When it came time to pray, I asked that God would bless us with many more ‘failures’. Among the chuckles were several “amens”.

‘Failures’ are a great way to stay humble and remember that God’s providence is so much bigger than our best efforts. They’re also a great call to evaluate what truly defines a successful ministry (I’ll give you a hint: it’s not numbers). Lastly, because ‘failures’ are inevitable, the longer we are in ministry the more war stories we will collect. But a long career means that those ‘failures’ have been overshadowed by many more victories, and that means God is truly in control.

May your ministry be blessed with just enough ‘failures’ to keep you humble and reliant upon God. May they cause you improve your work habits, your prayer life, and your next endeavor. May you celebrate the learning experiences with the victories in your long life of ministry.

But please, double check your flyers.

One love, one heart.

If you’re a youth minister, please look into National Network of Youth Ministries to find, or start a group in your area.

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