Learn from Twinkies!

Over the years with technology evolving, many businesses have lost opportunities because they continued with what they know and never took chances with new technology.

If you are an American, you have probably eaten a Twinkie in your lifetime. Twinkies were in my lunchbox growing up most days. But I don’t remember the last time I ate one in adulthood.

Twinkies were invented in 1930 by James Dewar in Illinois.  From the beginning, they were a big hit.  The first cream center was banana flavored, but due to a shortage of bananas in WWII, they switched to vanilla.  Early on, there was an issue with shelf life, since Twinkies were made fresh out of eggs, milk and butter, grocers could only keep them for 2 days.  So, Dewar changed the recipe.  Even though urban legend says that Twinkies can out live a nuclear disaster, the company says they have a 25 day shelf live. 

Twinkies did well through the years, hitting lunch boxes everywhere. Until around 2004.  Sales were down considerably.  In that year the company, Interstate Bakeries, filed Chapter 11 protection. Why did the popularity for Twinkies fail? Who knows, but my guess is the brand had a bad rap as an unhealthy snack. As the rise in more natural, organic food started to take shape, kids were no longer seeing the sweet treat at lunch! The trend for more healthy snacks took Twinkie’s place.

In 2009 Interstate Bakery emerged and renamed itself Hostess Brands. Then in 2012 the company laid off 8,500 employees and closed plants. Twinkies were no longer available in the US.

In 2013 Twinkies was bought by Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos and Company.  Apollo sold their portion to Hostess and so now, Twinkie is being run by Darin Metropoulos who happens to be in his thirties. They tweaked the recipe, cutting some of the calories and making them slightly smaller.  They hired back 1,200 employees. 

So, why is the story about Twinkies so important? I think there is a lot that we as church leaders can learn from this sweet treat.

  1. Twinkies changed the recipe early on when the resources (bananas) were not available and to increase the shelf life. In the church, we need to be sure that we don’t continue to try to “produce” the same “product” when our resources change. Of course our “product” is the Gospel, and that message stays the same, however, they way it is distributed needs to constantly be updated, depending on your community and resources. NEVER stop evaluating!
  2. Twinkies demise started in the 80’s when healthy lifestyles became important. Our church numbers also started to decline in the 80’s. Somehow, we think if we just went back to what we were doing “back in the good ol’ days,” it will fix everything. NOT TRUE. We have a whole new generation of people with expectations, needs and different lives. Yes, we still need Jesus! But we are seeking more authentic relationships and more personal interactions all while obtaining information via social media and the internet. Times of changed, so should the way we “do” church.
  3. It took a Millennial to buy Twinkies and redevelop a business model. Most of us over the age of 40 think differently than those younger. Neither is right or wrong, just different. It is time that we, The Church, allow those who are younger to sit at the table where major decisions are made, and listen to our younger brothers and sisters. We can not move our Church into the future until we understand the needs of those who are going to carry the torch.

I think we all can agree, we want nothing more than to have our churches around for our children, grandchildren and many more generations to grown in their faith. However, the time has come to change up the recipe. How? I don’t have that answer, but I implore you to ask a young person. Discuss and dream about it together, maybe over coffee and a Twinkie!

The Truth Matters

This blog is a summary and review for Chapter 5 of Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader.” It is a great little book to read as a leader in Children or Youth Ministry whether you are a paid staff person or a volunteer. These summaries will highlight the most important points, but to get all the information, you should pick up the book and read with your ministry team.

This chapter starts establishing the fact that truth always matter. However, to teens, it doesn’t matter what you know, if you are right or if it’s true. “It only matters if it matters to them.” (p. 75)

Here are a few things to consider when discussing and thinking about truth

  • The Bible is TRUE
  • Every TRUTH is not in the Bible
  • Every truth does not matter equally
  • Every truth does not matter to everyone

So, it is important for those who lead children and teens to prioritize which truths are most critical to teach. If you then consider the above statement that things only matter to kids when it matters, our job becomes a bit complex. You have to take the truth and make it relevant. This does not mean the truth changes, it just indicates the it is up to the teacher to reword it, re-frame it, repackage it, re-imagine it until it matters to a child or teen. (pg 78)

We all know that it is important to be in the lives of teens. That takes time, listening and learning about them. You need to know what is going on the other 167 hours in their week when they are not in church. You have to connect the truth with what is real and relevant in their world.

It is also extremely important to understand about child development. Kids ability to understand abstract concepts, like faith, doesn’t develop until their teens years. When they are children they have a blind faith that is helpful for them to establish a love for God. Think about things like Santa and the Easter Bunny. At some point in the older elementary years, the idea of imaginary legends doesn’t make sense. Have you ever seen a giant bunny? And how does Santa make it all the way around the world in just one night? The same doubts can come up about God and faith which makes it vital for adults to allow children to ask lots of questions. The adults need to be prepared to respond with truths. Even if that truth is, “I don’t know the answer.”

I really appreciate the advice given in the second half of this little chapter. It is so important that when we are focused on teaching theology and faith that we do not forget that the heart matters. If you do not connect with the student, getting to know them, they will never listen to any truth you try to share with them. “[W]e don’t begin with theology, but we begin with what we have in common-fears, joys, challenges, and a new for love-and that draws people in…” (pg 80) This is true for parents as well. It is important for any adult who loves children to understand the importance of interacting with them, to play a game, to eat a meal, to listen, to read alongside, and to watch a band concert. It’s this kind of investment that shows kids how much you care so that you can have influence in their lives.

 

Your Church Matters

This is a summary and response to Chapter 3 of Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader.” This chapter takes a look at why your church matters to children and youth ministries.

The first point that the reader has to address in this chapter is, “Why does your church matter?” It is interesting that he says on page 49 that your church is a place, a physical location where people gather. In the recent weeks, we have learned that the “church” isn’t just a building. We have proved that, while we enjoy the community felt when we are physically in the same location, the church is exists outside a building as well.

“Church” is how/where you experience community, family and acceptance. It’s important to be sure you are creating a culture of acceptance for children and teens. This culture happens in the space where you gather in the church building, in homes where you hold small groups, and out in your community when you encounter kids.

I really appreciate this quote on page 52, “Youth can’t make relationships happen. You can only create environments that make it easier for relationships to happen.” Leaders and congregation members need to know names of the kids and what their interests are. These things will allow kids to know they are loved and have a place to belong. This includes the kids in your church and the community.

Kids need a leader who will improve the environment of their church. How can you personally take responsibility to improve your church in very practically ways? Think about how someone new feels walking into your church, especially someone who has never gone to church before. A few thoughts that Joiner shares in his book:

  • Use more convicting words on your church sign
  • Offer unlimited donuts for every child
  • Have a bear mascot to stand in the street and point one of those twirling signs at your church

I would add:

  • Make sure you have children’s activity bags for worship
  • Ask them to be a part of worship, including ready scripture or sharing about their camp or VBS experiences
  • Send birthday cards
  • Pray for them

A New Kind of Leader: A Strategy Matters

This blog is a summary and response to the second chapter in Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader”. The chapter begins with the following questions:

  • What do you want kids to grow up and believe?
  • What exactly is your responsibility as a volunteer?
  • What are you hoping to convince parents to do?
  • What will be the best way to measure success?

These are great questions to ask your ministry team to work on together in order to start to shape a strategy.

Often, our strategy is nothing more than putting events on the calendar. Right now, while there are not events happening face to face, it might be a good time to think through some of these things.

There are a couple great quotes on pages 34-35:

” A strategy links whatever you have to wherever you are going.” In other words, it is almost like a road map. You know where you are and you know where you want to go, your strategy helps you get from “A” to “B”. Joiner says, “It’s your strategy, not your mission, that determines your success.” Let that sink in for a minute. For the most part, we have mission statements down. We understand we need them, we spend time writing them down, and then we check off the box that we have a mission statement. How often do we actually go back to that statement? And how often do we do much with it? The strategy is what moves us from where we are to that mission. Without strategy we continue creating events, doing small groups, and having Sunday school without thinking about how this is helping us achieve any movement forward.

  • What do you want kids to become?
  • Where do you want kids to be?

These are two important questions Joiner asks in this chapter. The first one can have a very simple answer. We want kids to become someone who loves God, loves others and loves the world. The way we treat them will help kids develop into these persons. And where do you want kids to be? If the kids at your church can only be one place, have time for one thing in their week, what do you want that to be? Put your efforts, financial, time and volunteers in there.

Reggie ends this chapter stating that kids need a new kind of leader who will play as a team. (pg. 43) Do you have a team around you? If you are paid or volunteer, everyone needs a team. The ministry can only grow as strong as the team that surrounds it.

So, maybe your first strategy is to build a team of people who will pray, rally, and work with the kids in your church.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Generation Z: Isolated, Scared But Not Alone

We sit down with “Anna” an 18 year old from Generation Z (born 1999-2015, according to Barna research and here) who is open and honest about safety, isolation, anxiety, depression, faith, church and religion for her and her peers.

It is fascinating to hear how teens struggle with feeling safe and the anxiety that comes about because of the lack of feeling secure. We talk about how this has developed over the years. Generation X (born 1965-1983 according to Barna) may have helped contribute to this through our exposure to things such as, the missing persons on our milk cartons as school. “America’s Most Wanted” was a TV show that came out in the late 1980’s hosted by John Walsh whose son was abducted while at a department store, so we became very aware of the safety concerns and the “bad guys” who were out there taking children. Neighborhood Watch groups started popping up, and I remember there were signs that we put in our windows so that children knew where the safe homes were in case we needed a place while walking home from school. We were not afraid of mass shootings, but we still were aware of safety issues at a young age. Could we have manifested this fear into our own children? Think about how we felt after 9/11/01. If you had children then, or even after that tragic event, we are raising our children differently. Couple all of this with Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, and there is no denying why Gen Z is anxious.

This podcast also addresses the fact that Gen Z has been labeled the most isolated. They spend plenty of time alone and in their rooms. We could argue this is no different than any teen in any generation before them. The difference now is they are never alone. There is a phone, computer or video game that allows teens to be connected to anyone in any place in the world. “Anna” suggests that she doesn’t believe she is isolated. However, she does acknowledge the difficulties of having her phone and social media at her fingertips 24/7.

Finally, we ask “Anna” about faith, church and religion. It is very interesting to hear her take on these subjects. While her opinion may not represent all of her peers, she does make some valid points that probably resonates with many.

Hopefully, this podcast will inspire you to reach out to teens or young adults in Gen Z. Ask them the questions and see how they feel about these or even other topics. Remember how important it was for you when you were a teen to have an adult listen to you? Give that chance to another young person. Allow them the opportunity to speak, share and maybe give solutions. Let us know what you learn!

Podcast:

Moving Forward

Those of us in the United Methodist church have had a hard couple of weeks. In the last week of February delegates traveled from all over the world to meet in St. Louis for a special session of General Conference to decide the church’s stance on LGBTQ+ ordination and marriage. If you have paid any attention to the news/social media, you know by now that the decision was made to adopt the Traditionalist Plan. While it still has to go to the Judicial Council for review, it has left our church numb, confused, and angry (just to name a few emotions). It does’t matter where you opinion is on this matter, things got ugly, people have been hurt. There are a lot of untruths being thrown around and assumptions being made. So, where does this leave us? It’s difficult being a youth leader in this mess. Some of our teens don’t care and haven’t paid any attention, some of our teens are thinking, “You’re arguing about what?” and some of our teens are so overwhelmed with their own lives that even trying to breech this with them would put them over the edge. And then there are the LGBTQ+ teens that we are trying to reach…

This podcast is an open and honest conversation by veteran youth leaders who are struggling together to move forward. We all come from different perspectives and serve in different areas. What we know for sure is, we love Jesus, and we love young people. And sometimes, that is enough.

Here is the link for information about the special session of the General Conference

Here is the link to the post-General Conference gathering that was held in East Ohio.

Leave the Canoes Behind

I read this book at the end of last year, and if you have had any ministry conversations with me, I have probably mentioned it to you.  If you are in ministry right now, and especially a United Methodist (pastor or laity) I HIGHLY recommend this book!

Tod Bolsinger, the author, connects the Lewis and Clark expedition to what we are all experiencing in the Church in the US today.  I think the illustration is brilliant!  You see, Lewis and Clark set out with the expectation that the uncharted territory of land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase was the exact terrain as that in the east.  They believed that there was a water source that would connect the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean, that the slight incline to the Missouri would decline on the other side and in their canoes, they would travel to the Pacific.  But they found mountains.  And when they were told by the Mandans that they would have to cross the mountains ahead of them, what reference did they envision?  Absolutely, the only mountains they knew, the Appalachians.  For any of us who have seen both in person or even in pictures, you know these were not the same mountains they had seen before in the east.  So, when exploring the land ahead of them, Lewis and Clark and company, soon learned all of the knowledge and experience they had from exploring American in the east was not going to help them in this new expedition, they were in for a bumpy ride!

My friends, we are ALL in the same position.  Let’s face it, the world in front of us is NOTHING like the world behind us.  The millennial generation is the only generation who knows what it is like to learn how to use a computer in elementary school (or before).  We get information on events seconds after things happen.  I like this quote from page 27, “[A]fter centuries of stability and slow, incremental change, in less than a generation our world has become VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.”  This isn’t going to change.  The skills we learned in school, the books we’ve read, our teachers, our experiences, nothing can prepare us for where we are in history TODAY, and how we need to move forward into the future TOMORROW.  I believe that those of us in the church are feeling this more so than in the business world.  I am asked to speak in churches and around the conference about young people.  I know everyone wants to hear about what magic program we can develop, what ministry can we pull out off of the shelf that will draw in more young people.  Canoeing the Mountains  solidifies what I have been saying…do NOT recreate anything you have tried in the past.  It won’t work.  We are in new times, with a new generation, and what worked before will NOT be successful today.

I realize that no one likes change, and I will be the first to admit that change is scary stuff.  I don’t agree with change for the sake of change, but Friends, let’s get real.  Leave your canoes behind.  They are not going to be useful for the road ahead.  It is time we begin to ask ourselves, “What is God’s mission for the world and how can we, as a church, fulfill that mission?”  It’s going to require new ways, new thoughts, new avenues.

I hope this gets you thinking, that it stirs something that makes you want to dive a little deeper.  Pick up the book, or just read these blogs and discuss your thoughts.  No doubt we are in for a change, and I agree with Bolsinger, our experience from the past is not going to help us navigate this uncharted territory.  Are you ready?  It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Daring to Empower Teens with Compassionate Leadership Skills

The biggest impact we can have on young people in our communities is through teaching those in our fold leadership development skills.  If we spend our time teaching our young Christian friends how to influence others, our efforts to spread the Gospel will multiply.  As our country slowly lowers the expectations of our leaders, it is up to us to teach teens the importance of character and compassion in leadership.  Let’s be honest, no matter where you fall politically, or if we look at the business sector, or the sports and entertainment world, our young people have plenty examples of inadequate leaders.  I have found it easy to teach lessons on leadership through studying Jesus in the Gospels, but there is also plenty of curriculum available.  Tim Elmore is one of my favorite authors on the subject of Growing Leaders. Check out his website. He has done some interesting research and has great curriculum available.  You can also find some of his stuff in our conference Media Center.  I also like the resources from Group.  Don’t shy away from using the adult curriculum for teens.  I have also used Doug Field’s book, “Help, I’m a Student Leader” and The Leadership Lab from Discipleship Ministries.  All good stuff. Just find what works best for your personality as a leader and the personalities of your group.  As we work to walk beside teens and young adults through their faith journey, teaching them leadership skills, in particular SERVANT leadership skills is a MUST.  What has worked in your area to teach these important lessons?

Packing Day

 

 

Reaching Teens Who Are Crammed For Time

It doesn’t matter the size church , those who serve in youth ministry all share the same problem: teens are too busy for church!  It is so hard to figure out what day of the week is best for the students in your youth group because they have practice EVERY day of the week.  Sunday morning isn’t even sacred any more!  What is a youth leader to do?!  Unfortunately, there isn’t a cookie cutter answer for every church.  But one thing ALL of us CAN NOT do, make our kids feel guilty!  The answer may be that ministry needs to become more fluid.  Meet them where they are, change things up depending on the season, and use technology some times for furthering the kingdom.  This podcast features two local youth leaders who talk about what it is like to also be parents of busy kids.  The struggle is real! How do you deal with the busy lives of teens?