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ways to improve annual report

22 Ways to Make Your Annual Report Remarkable

Ah, annual reports.

Awful things.

Full of stale, self-aggrandizing copy, dry pie charts, confusing bar graphs and committee-selected stock photos. This is 4-color, full-page bleed shredder-fodder at its finest.

Your annual report probably even has an opening letter from your Supreme Poobah, doesn’t it? And there they are, smiling away with that plastic, you-can-take-the-picture-anytime-now grin, their stiff image stuffed onto an entire page no one is ever going to read. Maybe even a chicken-scratch signature added for flair.

In fact—due to all the sub-par letters-from-the-chief we’ve seen over the years—you and I have actually been conditioned to skip that page entirely.


Oh, wait. Did I just describe your last year’s annual report?

I’m not asking you to feel condemned. I want you convicted. I’m trying to convert you.

What’s your plan to get people to actually read this typo-riddled train-wreck?

That is your intention, isn’t it? It should be.

Or are you just checking a box to please your board and trying to spend down this year’s print budget? (Now that’s stewardship. I see why they’re paying you the big bucks.)

What do you plan on doing about this year’s annual report, Sparky? I want you to consider turning over a new leaf. Or maybe not even printing any leaves at all. (Going completely digital is an option, you know.)

Here’s a not-so-novel concept: Your annual report is not a report; it’s a marketing piece.

I think it’s the word “report” that trips us up. When we hear the word “report”, we often think of things like driver’s license applications, tax forms and rows of numbers on spreadsheets with one-meeting lifespans.

If your annual report is a little slice of annual drudgery to produce, it’s time for a revolution.

In fact, your annual report can actually be leveraged as a springboard for your entire year’s marketing and outreach efforts. Sit with that for a moment.

The Annual Report 2-Step: Produce. Promote.

In this article, I’ve listed several ideas for improving your typical-fare annual report. My goal is to get you thinking out of the box.

Beyond that, you’ll find several fun ways you might deliver key information from your annual report to your anxiously awaiting audience.

Remember: You don’t have to stuff the whole report down their throats; just the important, most striking reveals.

Note: For these annual report ideas, I am targeting an industry we serve: homeless and humanitarian aid organizations. Obviously, if you are working in a different space, brainstorm on ways to adopt these ideas to your own niche.

Ways to Improve Your Annual Report

If you must print (and some do, appeasing federal, state or board requirements), here are 10 ideas for getting creative with your annual report format, design and content.

  1. Produce the annual report as a newspaper. One of the smaller “articles” will be titled “Newspaper is Not a Blanket”.
  2. Produce the annual report as a fold-out state map. Begin with a template provided by your state’s Department of Transportation.
  3. Use the familiar. If the conventional booklet format is used, design one of the pages after the PIT count sheets provided by HUD (https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/Model-Service-Based-Count-PIT-Survey.pdf). As a subtle nod, this will be recognized by industry professionals but will pass unnoticed by most in the public square.
  4. Show maps of declining/inclining numbers across the state or country. Compare against 10-year averages.
  5. Illustrate the numbers. For key statistics, give real-world examples to give concepts of population sizes and impact as illustrative equivalents.
  6. Use comparisons. While providing state-based statistics, contrast against national numbers for larger context.
  7. Provide testimonials, case studies and success stories. Point to your website for additional stories.
  8. Interview your partners. Conduct an interview and highlight best practices from service partners. Ask them to speak to the impact those efforts have made in their communities.
  9. Include ways for the public to get involved at the local level (CTA). Ideas for getting more involved may include recurring volunteer opportunities like serving meals, fundraising, event support, board participation, lending creative services (photo, video, design, web), setting up recurring donations, etc.
  10. Ask for commitment. Perforated tear-out sheet containing homeless veterans pledge card or some other “get involved” or “get connected” message, form or survey. (If the newspaper format was used, this could simply be an insert.)

Ways to Promote Your Annual Report

As you may have guessed (or experienced), though you have produced this glowing gem of a report, there is still work to do. This is where you can allow all the work that went into your annual report to inform your ongoing marketing. If you did your homework in producing a thoughtful report, you should now be well-positioned to broadcast those golden nuggets of wisdom uncovered by your research. Here are some promotional ideas to consider:

  1. Public Service Announcements. Launch a PSA campaign, sharing vital stats with illustrative equivalents.
  2. Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Use paid graffiti, stencil or reverse graffiti, or stickers to raise awareness around key stats. (Secure permission from local authorities.) Deliver on the sides of buildings or across high-traffic sidewalks. Develop and deliver yard signs. Ask local shops and restaurants with foot-traffic to display sandwich boards. Buy billboards. Scale to budget.
  3. Blogger/influencer outreach. Offer influencers advance copies of the annual report so they can scoop to their audiences on the day the report is released. Engage whatever positive or negative commentary comes your way.
  4. Make it into a video. Create a short video telling select pieces of the annual report story. Promote the video across the website and social media channels. Link back to your website.
  5. Use maps. Is there a way to illustrate the impact on a map? Would it make sense in a GIS application?
  6. Undercover marketing. Pay actors to approach people, strike up conversation and eventually deliver key stats and invitations to get involved. Caution: When revealed, this one could be seen as deceptive. It may be better to conduct a…
  7. Street survey. Less “undercover” than undercover marketing, street-level, face-to-face surveys across the state could be conducted to poll minds and hearts toward the homeless issue while educating participants at the same time.
  8. Road rally. Construct a road rally treasure hunt where participants are led across participating cities with clues that educate on key homeless issues as they go. The finish line ends with a meal in a soup kitchen and a brief interview to collect experiences and revelations.
  9. Youth poster contest. Conduct a poster or infographic contest across high schools and/or colleges zeroing in on key report takeaways. Posters are reproduced and posted across cities to raise awareness. Winning designs earn students a monetary award and bragging rights.
  10. Gamify the experience of becoming homeless. Players select their characters who are becoming homeless (financial instability, drugs, mental health, domestic violence, etc.) The game moves players through several scenarios in choose-your-path manner, forcing decisions on what to do, where to go, how to take care of children (or losing children into the system), how to find meals, lack of safety on the streets, bureaucracy, etc. Players are exposed to real-life accounts, testimonies and/or key statistics along the way. At the end of the game, players are presented with a brief message/video along the lines of “Homelessness is not a game. Get involved.” and ideas for getting involved locally.
  11. Shareable graphics. Develop and employ simple, shareable social media graphics and infographics containing key stats and a link back to your website. Use #(your state), #(your city), #(state-cause), #(country-cause), #homeless and other popular, relevant hashtags across social media channels.
  12. Make it easy for the media. Establish a media kit for housing the report, shareable graphics, quotes, links to new releases and all other pertinent marketing assets. Send to media outlets.


Well there you have it: 22 ways to revive your annual report experience, with a dash of guerilla marketing to taste. I encourage you to press in on your next annual report. Why settle for the standard, blasé, check-the-box annual report when you can enjoy the whole process from start to finish and come away with a much better product and a much bigger impact.

In support of your efforts,

matt signature


Marrs, Megan. December 18, 2017. 20+ Jaw-Dropping Guerilla Marketing Examples. WordStream. Retrieved from https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2014/09/22/guerrilla-marketing-examples .

McCauley, Jim. January 30, 2018. 10 beautiful paper portfolios to inspire you. Creative Bloq. Retrieved from https://www.creativebloq.com/portfolios/paper-portfolios-5132559 .

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what is digital evangelism

What is Digital Evangelism?

If you’ve been in the Church for more than a week, you’ve likely run across the term “evangelism”. While the word evangelism has been around since the 1100’s, secular marketing and other industries have been busy expanding its definition over the past 50 years. These days, there are evangelists for pretty much everything. We have

  • Brand evangelists
  • Technology evangelists
  • Platform evangelists (has nothing to do with shoes)
  • Customer evangelists
  • Software evangelists
  • Product evangelists
  • Marketing evangelists
  • Behavioral evangelists
  • Internal evangelists
  • Food evangelists

There are even “chief evangelist officers”. No kidding.

Well today, Church, we’re stealing evangelism back.

Can I Get a Witness?

At its very basest definition, evangelism is sharing good news.

For we Christians, this means sharing thee Good News.

That’s it.

You thought you were going to get a Wikipedia definition, didn’t you?

Well, honestly, you almost did.

But truth doesn’t need to be as dusty as an encyclopedia entry. The Gospel is simple, so let’s keep ourselves simple. Jesus came to set us free. Though He continues to intercede on our behalf to the Father (and on the Father’s behalf to us,) the work of the Cross has been completed. That redemptive, restorative power has been made available to us if we yield to it.

It’s in that yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives—in not loving our own lives (agendas, calendars, possessions, ambitions, relationships and yes, even our physical lives) over Him—that allows for the transformation. From this intimate place, evangelism is born. It’s not something we have to force. As we see in the Apostles and many others since, the Good News can become so large in us it becomes something we can’t contain.

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” (Revelation 12:11)

WWW Love (Web Witnessing With Love)

Now let’s talk about the digital part. There are three means by which evangelism flows, whether offline or on.

identity evangelism

Identity Evangelism

The expression of our lives testifies to Holy Spirit indwelling—not just through our conscious effort—but through Kingdom identity and the spiritual buoyancy right identity brings, even in the face of crisis. Our right living (or supernatural conversion to right living) witnesses to family, friends and coworkers around us. Through identity evangelism, observers watch from a distance and are drawn (or repelled) by the Father’s growing light within us. While too passive to really be called a “method,” this form of evangelism is more about being the Father’s expression of love (2 Corinthians 3) than actively proclaiming the Word (though that may be present).

Eyes Wide Open

Especially in cases where the heart-shift of regeneration is quick and dramatic, those witnessing the transformation may feel uncomfortable, confused and repulsed. (Remember, Jesus did not come to bring harmony, but a sword, Matthew 10:34.) Still, we are being recast in His image and He is love. As conflict arises (and it certainly will), old ways may try to resurface (anger, pride, willfulness, etc.) If you don’t see it in Jesus, you’re not to see it in yourself. When an expression of the old flesh presents itself, don’t lose your identity to self-condemnation; press into Him more (prayer, fasting, worship) and grace will meet you there.

Digital Expression (Organic Sharing)

What does identity evangelism look like in the digital world? Well, what do your social media posts look like? What does your personal blog speak to? If people have no idea you’re a Christian, you may look too much like the world. I’ve actually seen church leaders promote violent action and horror movies on their social media channels. As in, they were excited to go and support some dark, demonic thriller with their time, money and attention and then disconnected enough from the concepts of holiness and righteousness to promote that fallen movie to their social network.

“If people have no idea you’re a Christian, you may look too much like the world.”

Are you sold enough on the Gospel to share encouraging Bible quotes with your social media followers? Do you share Bible lessons, praise music or spiritual insights currently feeding you? Do you share your church and volunteer activities online? Or are you a closeted, weekend warrior for God? We are called to be salt. We are called to be light to a darkened world. What good does it do if a person lights a candle and places the candle under a basket? (Luke 11:33)

intentional evangelism

Intentional Evangelism

If identity evangelism is passive evangelism, intentional evangelism is active outreach. Traditionally, intentional evangelism uses signs, tracts and personal testimonies through conversation. This form of evangelism tends to be more interruptive. Breaking into a person’s trance as they pass you on the sidewalk may or may not be welcomed.

Digital Expression (Paid Promotion)

If the digital expression for identity evangelism is simply sharing your reasons for the hope inside you (along with pictures of your children and the evening’s dinner), digitized intentional evangelism is actively promoting those posts. This means paying to promote the Gospel message (or content that leads to the Gospel message) across television, radio, email and Internet marketing channels (blogs, social media, email, forums). That messaging may take the form of shareable graphics, instructional videos, podcast interviews, blog articles and other brilliant, Life-giving content.

Simply sharing your love for God in comments or images on your channels is the first step, as seen in identity evangelism. However, on some social media channels, as little as 7-13% of your followers see your posts. (Open rates for email blasts can be even lower.) This means very few of your channel subscribers are seeing your content. Most channels allow you to boost your content (for a fee, of course). Just as you would buy tracts, print flyers or take your time to street evangelize, here you simply put dollars behind Kingdom messages you produce or discover.

platform evangelism

Platform Evangelism

Platform evangelism is preaching the Gospel message from the platform you’re given, whether from the pulpit at church, the office boardroom, on the playing field or in the classroom; wherever your influence lies. Essentially, you are leveraging your authority or position in a given setting to influence thinking and culture. You have the observer’s captive attention. Now deliver the message with love, respect and wisdom.

Digital Expression (Influencer Marketing)

Yes, platform evangelism is similar to intentional evangelism in its digital expression, however there are a couple distinct differences.

First, platform evangelism leverages your social currency (your influence) or that of another, while in intentional evangelism, your audience may not even know you.

Second, platform evangelism may or may not be paid by you. An itinerant preacher who gives a powerful message while visiting a church may be recorded and promoted by that church years after their actual visit. (No pressure!)

Where and When to Evangelize

If you have concluded it’s possible to operate in different stages of evangelism at the same time, you are right. These forms of evangelism overlap considerably in places.

Well? Which form of evangelism do you think is the greatest? Is platform evangelism best, where you have the potential to reach millions? Or maybe it’s the more intimate path of intentional evangelism?

I feel the greatest of these is identity evangelism. Surprised? Without first becoming love, we’re taught we become “a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13). Even if you were the last person on earth, your identity in Him would still be the most important thing to press into.

The Christian walk is one of transformation. It is a walk of spiritual restoration, not by our hands or efforts, but of His. He is the Master Potter; we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). When we charge ahead of Him and His plan for us, we risk doing damage to ourselves and others. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about evangelists who—being short on character—make very public mistakes, only to lose their position and their flock’s respect. We are refined by Him and made ready for more and more responsibility, in His time.

Final Thought: How Not to Evangelize

Is everyone going to be an evangelist? Well, no. And there is a danger in that, unfortunately. Not only is there that whole “spew you out of my mouth” message to the lukewarm church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), but we are also counseled by Jesus that “whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

Is every Christian called to evangelism though? Yes. This is the Great Commission, after all. Jesus told us to go forth to all nations. (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, Luke 9:2) Indeed, He modeled this His entire itinerant ministry.

As mentioned earlier, you may be relieved (or slightly convicted) to hear that evangelism is actually a natural by-product of Christ within you. That means you’re not biting your lip, trying to evangelize. You’re not putting a checkmark in your proclamation box.

In fact, it may be more elegant to say we don’t evangelize (verb) as much as we become evangelists (transformation). Your evangelism will be a result of your over-the-bar heart position for the Gospel to the extent it lives in you. If you’re yielding to the Holy Spirit, dying to the Cross daily, the ensuing love affair that takes you over simply bears good fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes:

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NKJV)

So there we have it. We become living epistles. It all begins with identity evangelism, the fruit of His artistry in us.

Now go spread the news about the joy you have found.

matt signature


Wilson, Ross. November 26, 2012. How to Build Brand Evangelists with 3 Winning Examples. Ignite Social Media. Retrieved from https://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/social-media-strategy/how-to-build-brand-evangelists-with-3-winning-examples/.


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fundraising ideas

Fundraising Ideas

After working with non-profits for years, I have seen plenty of wins on the fundraising front… and plenty of fails. Many organizations struggle with fundraising unless they’ve placed a real focus on it. You have two goals in any fundraising activity:

  1. Raise awareness and build community for a cause by drawing attention to the problem and presenting your organization as part of the solution.
  2. Make money. (Yes, it’s an unfortunate fact: Even humanity’s most noble causes require time, effort and resources to support.)

The downside: It often feels disingenuous to be seeking out money when our mission is so big in our hearts.

Yet, without the time, energy and resources of others, we’re often quite limited in the impact we can have for our cause.

So, raise funds we must. Cultivating donors, sponsors and supporters takes time, just as with any audience. And now you’re not just looking for an audience; you’re looking for an activated audience. You’re looking for folks who will invest in you and your cause; folks who will join you in putting some skin in the game.

In “maximum information per square inch” style, here is a list of fundraising activities you can use to advance your efforts:

Online Fundraising

  1. Register with larger retailers to receive a kickback for your audience’s purchases (e.g. Amazon Smile).
  2. Use Facebook and Qgiv ‘Donate Now’ buttons. (Not in a position to take donations online? Ask us. It’s free to get set up.)
  3. Text donations.
  4. Online auctions.
  5. Peer-to-peer fundraising.

Don’t forget to include in your messaging contact details for inquiries and links to your donation and volunteer web pages.

Most event and sponsorship activities can be promoted online, either sporadically or in a concentrated blitz (think “telethon” but across social media and your email list.) Treat the campaign as an event of its own. This means you’ll send out notices a few months in advance, you’ll be releasing images, infographics, videos and stories to pull on heart strings, etc., leading up to the big day. Can you involve the press? Are you reaching your fundraising goal? Be sure to regularly communicate your progress to your audience along the way.

fundraisers polar plunge


This fundraising category includes

  1. growing beards,
  2. shaving heads,
  3. skydiving,
  4. running races,
  5. bidding to name a beer or dish,
  6. wacky costumes and
  7. generally making good on outrageous dares so nay-sayers can put their money where their mouths are. Physical challenges (check with a doctor first) may include
  8. bzillion step challenges or
  9. workout challenges,
  10. cold water plunges or
  11. hunger challenges (water-only fast for a day or weekend).
  12. Company-matches-employee-donation campaigns.
  13. Local restaurants may help underwrite events or your organization in return for sharing their logo.
  14. Executive lock-ups (where people call everyone in their contact lists until they post their fundraising goal as “bail”.)
  15. Ask businesses to assist in underwriting your next event and work with them to design their own sponsorship package.

fundraisers donations


  1. Vehicle donations,
  2. prime parking spot exchange,
  3. employee jean days,
  4. change drive (think ‘tip jars’ at numerous businesses across your city,) and
  5. giving trees.
  6. Skip-a-meal campaigns (lunch money saved goes to cause.)
  7. Work with bottle-deposit locations to ask bottle/can collectors if they would like to give their bottle returns as a donation to your cause.
  8. You can even donate babysitting money.


Most events will make their money at admission, however there are other opportunities to advance sponsorships, raffles, product sales, etc., at the event. Are local clearances, additional insurance or personal waivers needed? Begin advertising your events with save-the-date messaging around four to five months in advance. Remember to schedule the venue, catering, staff and volunteers, videographer or photographer well in advance (sometimes a year or more in advance.) Is there an opportunity to get a public service announcement (PSA) to the local news outlets? More ideas for marketing your event..

best event marketing ideas

On with the download..

  1. Photo booths (rented or make-shift),
  2. dunk tanks,
  3. celebrity appearances,
  4. karaoke,
  5. face-painting,
  6. ice cream socials,
  7. soup dinners (where local artists donate bowls patrons purchase and receive their soup in),
  8. talent shows,
  9. craft fairs,
  10. car washes,
  11. movie nights,
  12. silent auctions,
  13. lunch ‘n’ learns and
  14. pool parties.
  15. Work out a deal with a local restaurant for a breakfast or dinner ‘mob’ where so many plates translates into x% donated by the restaurant.
  16. 50/50 raffles for packages donated by local businesses,
  17. pancake breakfasts,
  18. community restoration projects,
  19. concerts and
  20. open-mic story-hours.

Events: Informational and Classes

  1. Music lessons,
  2. art classes,
  3. dance lessons,
  4. cooking classes,
  5. guided city or forest tours,
  6. after-hours museum, zoo or aquarium dinner tours; all can be a wonderful time for networking and giving.

fundraisers 5k races

Events: Competitions and Tournaments

  1. Adult spelling-bees,
  2. “Are You Smarter than a 4th Grader” adult vs kid trivia face-offs,
  3. oratory contests,
  4. photo contests,
  5. baking, chili or BBQ contests,
  6. golf, croquet or softball matches,
  7. fantasy football leagues,
  8. 5K runs (with or without obstacle courses),
  9. marathons, bi- and triathlons (really anything with “thon” at the end),
  10. ping pong, darts, bowling,
  11. scavenger hunts (entry fee plus pay extra to unlock short-cuts),
  12. corn hole, volleyball,
  13. design competitions and
  14. board games.

Events: Holiday Themes

  1. Ornament swaps,
  2. cookie swaps,
  3. not-so-spooky haunted houses (better: house of blessings),
  4. corn mazes,
  5. egg hunts, or
  6. a visit from Santa Claus.

Sell Something

Sales can happen anywhere. High school games, fairs and festivals, farmer’s markets—even through a food-truck in a parking lot.

fundraisers bake sales

  1. Cookbooks,
  2. household items,
  3. clothing,
  4. baked goods,
  5. art,
  6. candles,
  7. candy,
  8. popcorn,
  9. book swaps,
  10. tree saplings,
  11. lapel pins, or
  12. club memberships.
  13. Talent auctions (accounting, housekeeping, photography, etc.)
  14. Awareness bracelets.
  15. Hot chocolate booth (borrow machine from local restaurant or catering company in exchange for advertising them at the event.)
  16. Hold a community yard sale.

Sell Something: Holiday Themes

  1. Sell singing telegrams/carols,
  2. chocolates/candy,
  3. flowers or
  4. cards.
  5. Work with a local retailer to provide holiday gift-wrapping.


At risk of being told this was forgotten, I want to acknowledge, that yes, there are opportunities to go Las Vegas-style in order to advance your cause. However, a word of caution: Is gambling on basketball brackets, Bingo, or Poker how you want your organization to be associated with your cause? In some areas, gambling or betting on sports games is even illegal, so best check with local authorities if you think this is something you want to explore.

Wrap Up

Hopefully, if you made it to the end of the list, you have realized that you can layer several of these ideas together at any given time. Yes, you can have an absolute fundraising feast. Just be sure you don’t get so busy chasing sustainability that you lose sight of the cause you’re sustaining.

Go forth and conquer.

matt signature

Have more fundraising ideas you would like to see added to this list? Leave a comment below!

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25 ways to treat your wife

25 Ways to Treat Your Wife

Can you say “personal reminder”? I’ll leave this right here..

  1. Take her for a walk/run/bike ride without the children
  2. Set up a surprise date (dinner, shopping, show, whatever)
  3. Gift certificates (spa, beauty, favorite store, etc.)
  4. Get a slew of household chores done
  5. Take the kids out and leave her at home
  6. Send her an ecard
  7. Send flowers to her office
  8. Bring home dinner for you both (or for the whole family)
  9. Compliment her hair or clothing
  10. Put gas in her car
  11. Plan a weekend getaway
  12. Quietly occupy the children while she takes a nap
  13. Have the house professionally cleaned
  14. Lead the children through pulling together snacks/lunches for the next school day
  15. Buy the groceries for her
  16. Get up early and make her coffee and breakfast in the morning
  17. Write a song, poem or love note
  18. Spa night at home with a face mask, bath, beach sounds, candles
  19. Take a class together (dance, cooking, language, music, etc.)
  20. Buy her something she uses a lot (hand lotion, chapstick, etc.)
  21. Buy her something she enjoys (wine, ice cream, etc.)
  22. Pack a picnic and go
  23. Tell her you love her
  24. Send her a thoughtful text or email letting her know you’re thinking about her
  25. Thank her for something specific
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teach prayer to teens

Youth Ministry: Teaching Prayer to Teens

When we first tried bringing prayer to our church’s junior-high youth ministry, we constructed a prayer wall. Built by placing plastic letter clings on a wall in our classroom, the prayer wall was simple enough. Our wall was divided into two sections, with one section labeled “Prayer Requests” and one section labeled “Answered Prayers”.

The students were encouraged to write their prayer requests on sticky notes and place them under the “Prayer Requests” heading. Our intention was to eventually move requests to the “Answered Prayers” and build a visible testimony to God’s faithfulness. We adults modeled what it might look like to pray over the notes publicly and then turned for child volunteers, hoping they would jump at the chance.

Well, it seemed 7th-9th graders were a little shyer than we thought.

After several weeks of modeling or selecting our more confident kids to reluctantly try their hand at public prayer, we realized something had to change. Even with the repeated encouragement to take time to quietly pray over the list before or after class, the prayer wall was languishing.

What Worked in the Past?

We recalled the younger grades, where the Sunday school curriculum was set by a weekly subscription. There was always a rhythm established to keep the children’s attention:

  1. Open play >
  2. Quick introduction to the lesson >
  3. Leave the classroom join other classes in “large group” to
    1. worship,
    2. receive a spoken message,
    3. view a video lesson,
    4. review the lesson,
    5. rehearse the day’s complimentary memory verse >
  4. Return to your classroom and break into small groups for an activity with group leaders >
  5. Read the memory verse and close in prayer >
  6. Open play.

See? Never a dull moment allowed for shorter attention spans. Since this early-teen class was a new level of youth ministry for our church and there was no template, we were drawing our own map. Here is the early rhythm we established for our kids:

  1. Open play >
  2. Attend worship in adult service for the first 20 minutes, until message began >
  3. Return to classroom and grab snacks (a cheap bribe to encourage attendance?) >
  4. Squeak out some prayers around the prayer wall >
  5. Review prior week’s lesson >
  6. Discuss the day’s lesson and supporting scriptures until adult service lets out.

A little dry, right?

Bring Back Video

We began experimenting with video and the kids said they appreciated it so we added short 5-7 minute video lessons to compound the learning. (Finally, a good use for YouTube. Thank you, Bible Project!)

Next, I sought advice from a colleague who regularly volunteers to work with early teens.

Youth Ministry Strategies for Teaching Prayer

Set the Tone

Before you do anything else, make sure you’re welcoming the children to the class. You’re aiming for laughter and light-heartedness. Be playful. Growing closer to God is a joyful experience. You’re there to grow in fun, faith and friendship.

Modeling and Volunteering

Now, about that prayer wall. Some of the tactics my friend mentioned we were already using. Those were:

  • Modeling prayer
  • Volunteering them for a turn

Of course, public speaking ranks slightly above the fear of death in adults, so we recognized volunteering them too soon or too often could be scary enough to drive our children away for good. And modeling wasn’t really having the encouraging effect we were hoping for. What else could we do?

Break into Smaller Groups

My friend also suggested breaking them into groups of two or three to pray. Here, my wife added her own touch to suggest having them share one thing they’re thankful for and one area where they need help. (Variation: Share best and worst experiences from the week and pray over that.)

When we piloted this in class, it worked wonderfully. We had the children self-select into pairs and then we modeled for them and set them to it. They took turns sharing and then prayed over each other. After a few minutes we gave them a one-minute warning to wrap up. Once the exercise was over, we asked them if they liked that approach and found nodding heads. Success!

If this were a workshop, we might ask our participants to share their experiences with the larger group; what they liked about it, what they might change, etc. Still, the smiles around the table were evidence they appreciated the more intimate format.

Conclusion: Smaller prayer teams needs to stay a fixture for a while. Maybe permanently.

Prayer Stations

We almost had this one. After all, we already had a prayer wall (prayer station #1.) Still, we can push the concept further by developing prayer stations. These prayer stations might focus on:

  • A religious season, say Christmas or Easter (giving to others, prophesy fulfilled, God’s love for us, etc.)
  • A local situation or people group that needs divine assistance (election results, refugee families, emergency workers, teachers, etc.)
  • Their school (pray for safety, Holy Spirit to guide faculty, clear teaching, integrity in friendships, etc.)
  • Their families (unity, health and safety, love, relationship with God, etc.)
  • Prayer itself (declaration, adoration, confession, thankfulness, supplication, intercession, etc.) (see Praying ACTS)

Using prayer stations gets the kids praying on their own (or within a small team) and it gives them guided experience with prayer; something they may not be getting at home.

Form Your Own Prayer Team Online

This is kind of like moving your prayer wall to the Internet without having to stand up a website. You can accomplish this through a Facebook group or you can use the popular group messaging application, GroupMe. You may want to get parental permission before moving forward on this one. Still, if all your kids have phones, these channels may be a good way to solidify your youth group and continue the conversation outside the walls of your church.

Reminders for Your Students

As you establish prayer in your youth ministry, be sure to remind your students the most important thing they can do is to make time for daily fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We must acknowledge God’s love for us. As God’s children, we have a right to approach Him, no matter what we’ve seen, done or experienced.

When praying, ensure your motivation is founded in faith (believing for what you want to see and the truth of the Gospel) as opposed to fear, loneliness, pain, discomfort (fruits of the Fall.) This is a focus on a covenant solution rather than a worldly problem.

We speak destiny and purpose over others; never doom or gloom. Prayer must flow out of love and compassion.

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apologetics gospel

Apologetics: Getting to the Gospel as Soon as Possible

The Definition of Apologetics

Hearing the word “apologetics,” many immediately think of our modern understanding of what it means to apologize for something as an expression of regret. This could be understandably confusing since we are talking about Christian apologetics, potentially implying that we regret being Christians. However, to do apologetics ironically means quite the opposite of “apologizing” for something.

The word comes from the Greek prefix “apo-”, which indicates a separation or a deflection of something, and the word “logos”, which is unsurprisingly where we get our term “logic.”  So, the Greek word apologia paints a picture of something that is being deflected by way of logic. The most common definition of the word apologetics is “a reasoned defense.” (Think Jude 3.)

Side note: Imagine how the conversation would go next time you needed to apologize to someone, and you offered “a reasoned defense” of your actions.

There are apologists everywhere. Every political position, sports fan base, and brand loyalty has its apologists. Every religion has apologists who defend their faith as the one true religion. Even the nonreligious have apologists who defend the secular mindset that all religions are ultimately wrong.

When it comes to us Christians, however, we take the role of the apologist to an entirely different level. Christianity is not simply supposed to have apologists; as we shall see, every Christian is supposed to be an apologist. For Christians, apologetics is not something we simply leave to “the experts.” It is something that is very much a part of what it means to be a Christian.

The most famous usage of the word in the New Testament comes from the Apostle Peter. In 1 Peter 3:15 he gives both a directive and a definition of apologetics. There Peter states:

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”

The phrase translated into English as “give an answer” is actually one word in Greek. You guessed it: apologia. The command is clear. We are always to be ready with an answer, always ready to do apologetics.

Among a few qualities of what a good answer may look like, Peter zeros in on the main subject—“the hope that is in you.” Christian apologetics is a focused discipline with a singular goal, namely to bring people to the gospel. Jesus commissioned us to go into all the world and preach the gospel; Peter reminds us to be ready with an answer when they have questions about it.

The Need for Apologetics

As much as the world has changed since the first century, the Great Commission has not. All Christians have been tasked with preaching the gospel. The only alternative to evangelism, as they say, is disobedience.

Apologetics has always played a pivotal role in our evangelism. Christian apologist James Patrick Holding observed, “What we call ‘apologetics’ was, in fact, what the apostolic church would have called ‘evangelism.’” He goes on to explain, “Early missionary preaching testified to the historical realities upon which the Christian faith was grounded and called for repentance on those grounds.”

Indeed, if you were to review the evangelism of the apostles, personal and public, there is very little reliance on personal experience or emotional appeal. On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-25), for example, Peter gave a textbook example of what he describes in his epistle. He appealed to Jesus’ miracles, culminating in his resurrection, and his fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. On the basis of the historical reality of what Jesus had done, Peter calls his audience to repent and believe.

In our post-Christian secular age, the presence of apologetics in our evangelism is as important as it ever has been. Our culture is moving ever further away from a time when people had the same general understanding of God, the Bible, and religion. However, the popular consensus has changed in virtually every category. To talk to someone about the gospel today is a vastly different endeavor than it was years ago. Apologetics professor Travis Dickinson notes,

“More and more, apologetics does the work equivalent to what Bible translators do for an unreached people group. The Bible translator must get the content of the Gospel into the vernacular of the people for an individual to even grasp this content. Could the Holy Spirit miraculously allow the tribesman to understand the Gospel in a foreign language? Absolutely. However, it typically takes the hard work of translation. Likewise, God can bring conviction if He wants, but it often takes the hard work of engaging in apologetic discussion for someone to be able to grasp the content of the Gospel.”

In our evangelism, we declare what the gospel is, and what people ought to do about it. Yet, increasingly people ask why. Why should someone believe in any God, much less the one described in the Bible? Why should someone believe that Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh and that he rose from the dead? If God loves us so much, why do so many bad things happen to us? If God went to such great lengths to save us, why did he put us in a situation in which we need saving? These are precisely the questions Peter was talking about.

Pastor Timothy Keller explains further,

“I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time when you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.”

If the only alternative to evangelism is disobedience, which I believe it is, then the only alternative to apologetics is ineffectiveness.

The Point of Apologetics

While apologetics is vital to evangelism, it is also substantively different. There are two major objectives in apologetics that contrast from evangelism.

The first major objective is to provide reasons to believe. While evangelism declares what to believe, apologetics gives people a reason to do so. For example, many people are unaware of the abundance of manuscript evidence that demonstrates the reliability of the New Testament as a historical document. So, as astounding as much of the New Testament narrative is, we can give people reasons to believe what it says.

The second major objective is to remove reasons to doubt. While evangelism warns of the consequences of not believing, apologetics demonstrates that there are no good reasons not to believe. For example, many people have a problem with believing in the miraculous features of Christian belief because they supposedly conflict with modern scientific understanding. Yet, many Christian apologists have demonstrated that there is no real conflict between science and faith.

This is illustrated by one of my favorite metaphors for the relationship between apologetics and evangelism. Apologist Matt Slick gives the illustration of “what apologetics really is.” As he tells it, the gospel is like a garden in the middle of a field. That garden has one gate, which is Jesus. One path takes you right up to the gate. That path is evangelism, leading people to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, for many people the journey to the garden is difficult. There are many paths that appear to head toward the garden but eventually veer off into some other direction. There are massive rocks and heavy brush obstructing the way. Then, in steps the apologist, pointing people back to the right path and clearing any obstacles ahead. The apologist may not be the gardener, and he is definitely not the gate. In fact, he needs the path, the gate, and the garden every bit as much as the people he helps. Nevertheless, he helps as many as he can along the way.

It is important to note the differences between apologetics and evangelism, or else we run the risk of treating apologetics as an end in itself. Even still, noting the differences helps us focus on the primary purpose of apologetics. It is easy to get bogged down and sidetracked by neverending debates and peripheral issues. But, doing so renders our apologetics fruitless.

Here’s the thing…

Apologetics is the process of getting people to the gospel as soon as possible.

It may be more than that, but it should never be less.

Travis Satterfield is a family man, teacher, and blogger. Here’s the thing… is a blend of his personal story of doubt and faith, his professional experience of teaching the Bible, and his passionate insight into theology, apologetics, and culture. Subscribe to receive email updates, follow on Twitter (@h_t_t_blog), and join the conversation on Facebook (@httblog).

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