Youth Ministry in the NEXT Church

Here’s a story about a small world. At a youth retreat I organized with some friends last fall, I got accused of stealing the idea for my go-to youth group game. My friend Erik claimed to have invented it while he was an Associate Pastor in South Carolina. He marched up to my table at lunch with a crowd of my students in tow. Erik’s a reasonable grown up person, but my students were itchin’ for a fight.

“Where’d you get Grog?” he demanded. My youth grinned and bounced on their toes. They’d been telling him about the game over Sloppy Joe’s before he leapt from his seat to confront me. It’s a question with a very simple answer, though. I gave it. “Adam Walker Cleaveland’s blog. Why?”

He proceeded to insist that the game, which involves youth trying to locate and put together a disassembled flashlight in a darkened sanctuary before another player (the Grog) can tag them all, was his invention and that the way we played it—and even what we called it—was all wrong.

“It’s actually called ‘Gorgon,’ he scoffed.” Also, the Grog—er, Gorgon–is not a youth but a robed up pastor who leaps out to scare the bejeezus out of unconfirmed teens.

I pleaded innocence. I really had found the game on Cleaveland’s blog in 2009 in an enduring (if not grandiose) post chronicling the “20 All Time Best Youth Group Games” (http://pomomusings.com/2009/03/10/top-20-youth-group-games/). I’d been playing Cleaveland’s version for three years.

The episode (Gorgongate?) illustrates something important about youth ministry in the NEXT church. Sharing, for example. I’m eager to be part of a youth ministry community that shares resources, best practices, counsel, and encouragement. I’ve wrung lots of mileage from old Youth Specialties games books, but I’m not half as committed to them as I am to Grog. The dispute over authorship only makes me love it more.

The NEXT youth ministry shares material of its own making, though, which distinguishes it from a ministry that relies on expertly-published curriculum. Curriculum isn’t going away—nor should it—but youth workers in coming years will have to flex their creative contextual muscles more than they follow someone else’s instructions. Where we’re not creating our own stuff, at least we should be engaging a content-creating community, locally or through social media. After all, that’s how I found Grog. It’s also where I’m closely following John Vest’s public re-working of his confirmation curriculum (www.johnvest.com).

Finally, collaboration will be the NEXT norm. The most interesting work I’m doing these days I’m doing with a collective of youth workers and pastors including Erik and his wife Millason. Given a few hundred more words I could wax eloquent about Paul Knopf, Becca Bateman, Kat Blasetti, Erin Thomas, Jason Griffice, Reece Lemmon, and John McKellar. But I’ll limit myself here to a brief mention of the two retreats we’ve run together and the third summer service week for junior high students we’re planning. That’s a crew of youth ministry heavy hitters. I can’t say what we’ll do next, only that we’ll be making it up together and sharing it as we go.


RockyRocky Supinger is the Associate Pastor at Claremont Presbyterian Church in Claremont, California, a call he’s had for five years. Prior to coming to California, Rocky served a small church in Grandview, Missouri, as its Solo Pastor for three years. He is married to Meredith Clayton and the father of “Baby Girl” Laura (5). He foolishly loves the Kansas City Royals.

4 replies
  1. Kent Smith
    Kent Smith says:

    I recently retired after 40 years of youth ministry. I firmly believe that you are exactly correct. Sharing, collaboration and cooperation is the way to go. Youth ministry is not about us, it is about helping youth be in relation with God, in every aspect that that relationship means. We need to do WHATEVER it takes to do this effectively. Turf, ownership, recognition, success are all irrelevant.

  2. Erin
    Erin says:

    Rocky:

    The most fun I have had in youth ministry is collaborating with you and our cohorts on retreats and middle school mission. Creativity begets creativity. I think that’s a quote from the Bible. As a former advertising executive, there is no new idea. Only a re-work of the original idea. Be flattered Erik, that your game is good enough to be “borrowed” and survive various iterations. I love sharing ideas. That’s the wealth of the NEXT church and the current church. We share our thoughts on scripture. Why not everything else?

  3. Trent Hamlin
    Trent Hamlin says:

    Hi Rocky,

    I saw your post on my friend’s (John Mckellar) Facebook page. You are right on and we are more than ever having to compete with so many “shiny objects” in the world that distract our children from what should be there focus, God. Collaboration and trying everything out and being open to each other and the spirit are the only ways to get to our youth. We played a game close to what you are talking about except we called it “Berserker” after the video game of the day. It engaged us as youth in a way we could relate too. Keep up the good work and may God bless you, your family, all the youth workers, and especially our youth.

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  1. […] element of the imitate/innovate dance comes when you start out imitating and end up innovating. Rocky Supinger wrote about this evolutionary process recently at the NEXT Church website, and we’re in the midst of this dance right now at Tiny. I wrote during Lent about our […]

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