Seattle & Portland are less Religious than Las Vegas. The None Zone – Infographic

The NW has lots of Nones.

We created this infographic to help illustrate what’s happening in the US right now. People are disassociating with religion at an alarming rate. Read my blog post “Rise of the Nones” for more detail.




For the past 2 days I have been at a conference listening to lawyers talk about risk and risk management with 10 members of my team. While most of you will stop reading immediately, you shouldn’t. I wish every youth worker could get the chubby bunnies scared right out of them by some lawyer once in their life. While the conference I’m attending is not a youth ministry conference, it has a lot to say to you and me about what we do.

Here are a few of my takeaways from this conference hosted by NOLS:

1. Permission Slips / Participant Agreements work.

They are the first line of defense by lawyers, although there are something like 1/2 the states where a parent cannot sign away the rights of a minor. If yours is one of those states that doesn’t mean don’t do them. A large component of these agreements is clear communication of what the participant can expect and the risks involved. You need to make sure there are no surprises for either the parent or the participant. A well written participant agreement makes sure this happens. Both parent and child need to be crystal clear on what the participant will be doing and the risks involved. Additionally, NEVER say something like “this thing isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” It will likely invalidate it.

2. Check your website and brochures for absolutes.

Statements like: “Your child will be supervised at ALL times.” or “We will be safe,” should be removed. You cannot guarantee safety. No one can. Making claims of the sort exposes you to litigation. Avoid absolutes and making promises you can’t keep.

3. All material is discoverable in a court case.

Almost nothing is off limits. External docs, internal docs, training manuals, emails, letters, memos, pictures: anything printed or on a hard drive, policies both written and those unwritten; all can be required to be turned over to the opposition’s lawyers during the discovery process and used to create a case against you in a court of law. If that enough to freak your chicken, that’s probably good.

One lawyer said today… imagine your brochure or blog being read back to you on the witness stand in front of a jury someday. That will help you decide what’s appropriate.

There is so much more that could be said here, but honestly, I’m a tad nervous about setting myself as some kind of an expert here. I’m not. But as a 27 yr youth ministry veteran and a parent, I wish more youth workers would take issues of safety more seriously.

Btw… please take the time to read the following statement carefully:

This blog is intended to be general information only – not specific legal advice.  Consult with competent counsel familiar with your organization and the laws pertinent to its operations.


Tips for Parenting Teens from a Veteran Youthworker


For the last time… Do your homework!

As a youth worker, I’ve always kinda avoided speaking about Parenting. I didn’t want to jinx it. But now that we’re almost empty-nesters, there are some things that we’ve learned from raising our own teenagers and through having a front row seat to the literally thousands of teenagers and their parents over the past 27 yrs of youth ministry. I spoke on Parenting this weekend and here are a few things regarding parenting & discipline I thought I’d pass along.

1. Don’t Freak out about the wrong things  – Be more concerned about your kids character than their behavior.

Too many parents freak out about stuff that really doesn’t matter in the long run. Dirty dishes left in the sink, unfinished homework, unapproved hair color. I’m type A, I get it. I understand that things belong in their place, but save your real freak outs for character stuff: Lying, Stealing, Immorality; those kinds of things. Parents who go from zero to lit in 2.3 seconds for every infraction, leave no room to ratchet up for the big stuff. You’re response should fit the crime.

2. Discipline should be consistent – A foul is a foul.

Be as consistent as possible. In sports, it really doesn’t matter whether the ref wants to call the game tight or loose; good players find a way to win regardless. But when a ref is inconsistent with how they call fouls, it’s impossible to figure out a way to navigate successfully. It’s the same way with kids. Parents need to be consistent with what they call a foul. Unpredictability just frustrates everyone and drives them out of relationship with you.

Be consistent, but parent each child differently.  This sounds hypocritical as first glance, but it’s not. Each teenager is different. Each teenager is wired differently. What motivates one kid, doesn’t motivate his sibling. Learn what motivates your teenager and use it to get the behavior you are looking for.

3. Don’t make idle threats  – Always follow through on what you promise

Some parents of teens make the mistake of making their punishment over the top and nearly impossible to enforce. “You’re on restriction for life or until further notice! No TV for a Year! You can’t leave the house all summer!” Teenagers cannot see very far down the road, they plan and live for today. Discipline that goes too far risks breaking the relationship. It can push a teenager away and at times over the edge. Most parents don’t have the fortitude to see long punishments through either. So, try to make discipline short, and for sure NO LONGER than YOU can endure!

4. Make your home a safe place.  – Physically, emotionally and every other way.

Encourage your teenager. Speak life to them. Everywhere else in the world teens have to be on their guard. The world can be such a hard place. Make your home the one place where it’s safe, and both your teenager and their friends will want to hang around you and your house long after they get a driver’s license.

5.  Make time for them now  – don’t wait for later.

As a youth pastor I can remember many times when I had parents come into my office with their teen and say something like: “You fix them!” I wanted to tell them, “You weren’t around when they were little and you feel them slipping away and now they don’t want anything to do with you. You should have hung out with them when they were 4, 5, and 6 yrs old.”

If this is you… there’s nothing you can do about the past except apologize and attempt to move forward from there. Whatever age your kids are, don’t put off connecting with their heart till tomorrow. Start now.

I heard Josh McDowell tell the story one time of his basketball star son greeting him during halftime of a homecoming game at his college in front of a packed house with a hug and a kiss. A mom in the stands approached him later and asked, “How in the world did you get that kind of relationship with your son?” He replied:

“If you spend time with your kids when you don’t have to,     they will spend time with you when they don’t have to.”

Josh McDowell

Don’t wait. If you want a good relationship with your teenager, spend time with them now. It’s hard, I get it. But it is possible. And as a dad who has a great relationship with his teenage sons. Do it.

It’s worth the effort.

The Rise of the Nones!

Religious Adherents by County 2010

Religious Adherents by County 2010

You may not have heard of the “Nones” yet, but you will. They are a rapidly growing group in the U.S. who claim no religious preference or no religion at all. They include Atheists and Agnostics but the majority are simply those who declare they have no religion or religious affiliation. Only 8 % of the U.S. adult population in 1990, their numbers have risen steadily since to now total 20%, 46 million Americans: a flat 1 out of every 5 adults and a startling 1 of every 3 adults under the age of 30, according to a new 80 page study released yesterday (and yes I read it all!) (Oct 9, 2012) by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life.[i]

none chart

There are “Nones” everywhere in the Northwest especially. So many in fact, that a few years ago the Northwest was termed “The None Zone” because there are more “Nones” located here than any other region of the United States.  In fact, “by comparison, there are twice as many “Nones” in the Northwest than there are in the Bible Belt.” [ii]

Here are a few interesting facts about the Northwest according to the most comprehensive study of its kind released in May 2012 by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB), the “2010 U.S. Religious Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study (RCMS), gives county by county details on congregations, members, adherents and attendance for 236 different faiths groups.[iii]

  • Oregon & Washington were ranked as #44 & #45 least religious states overall.[iv]
  • Of U.S. Metro areas with over 1 million people, Portland was ranked dead last in lowest % of religious adherents, with Seattle was ranked 3rd to the bottom, with LESS religious adherents than Las Vegas, Nevada.[v]
  • In fact, out of 942 Metropolitan areas, WA & OR accounted for nearly 1/3 of the top 5% least churched metro areas in the U.S., with Oak Harbor, WA ranking 10th lowest % of religious adherents. My town of Bellingham was ranked 54th lowest. (888:942)[vi]

Preachers and pundits will be trying to determine what all this new data means, but even a cursory glance paints a picture of the Northwest as one of the most unchurched regions of the country, along with the Northeast. Researchers expect this slide towards secularization to continue as the US follows the decline of the church in Australia, Europe and Canada.

And while I may not have much hope that we can stop the slide, I do believe that what we do is making a difference, one teenager at a time. It certainly made a difference for the 500 teenagers who made a decision for Christ last year through Youth Dynamics.

Thank you for supporting the missionaries of Youth Dynamics. No question there is need for the Gospel overseas, but this is our Jerusalem, our Judea; and we are glad to be waging war here in the States for the souls of America’s teenagers. Together we are making a difference.


The NW has lots of Nones.

“Rise of the Nones!”

Surviving Your Calling

Don't try this at home.  Seriously.

I nearly killed a kid with a water balloon once. Seriously. It was the summer after I graduated from Bible College. I had just been hired as a youth pastor at a small church and our first event together was our denomination’s summer camp. I had constructed a homemade water balloon launcher in about 10 minutes with tubing and a funnel from our local hardware store. A couple youth pastors and I were on the ski dock harmlessly lobbing water balloons onto the field about 100 yards away; soaking kids from what we thought was a safe distance. It was great fun, lazily lobbing water balloons at students from so far away. Most students had no idea where the balloons were coming from, some probably wondered if God himself was throwing them. Everything was going great when suddenly, 3 students came running around the cafeteria with another water balloon launcher. They set up on the beach about 20 yds away and began their assault on our position. While we had been lobbing balloons with a high arch so as not to hurt anyone; these students launched their balloons straight at us like heat-seeking missiles. You seriously had 1 second to predict where it was going and make your move.  Their first couple shots sailed past at enormous velocity. We froze; mouths gaping. We yelled, trying to get them to stop. The third balloon hit my friend John in the shin. A purple bruise formed immediately. We yelled frantically for them to quit but there was no stopping them; the students knew they had the upper hand. Their next offering grazed John’s neck; another purple bruise. In retrospect we should have just dove into the water, but honestly that thought never crossed my mind. Instead, we decided to fire back to protect ourselves, and hopefully put an end to the assault. It takes three people to launch a water balloon launcher; and I was the shooter. I took aim at the kid in the middle and let one fly. The teen was half bent over loading another balloon into the funnel when my balloon caught him in the chest. It literally picked him up off the ground and dropped him like a rock.  He wasn’t moving.  Immediately we dove into the water and swam to the beach. We rolled him over onto his back and watched as a giant purple bruise formed across his collarbone.  He was moaning and spitting up blood; we were terrified. My mind raced as people ran to get the nurse. This was bad. This was going to be it. Called into ministry at 15, four years of Bible College, resumes, interviews, finally landing my first youth ministry job; and in one GIANT lapse of judgment, my youth ministry career was going to be finished before it even got started. That was over 25 years ago. I’ve done about everything there is to do in youth ministry since then. And I seriously dodged a bullet that day. The kid was fine; he didn’t even go to the hospital; he just had a MONSTER-bruise and a great story.

The other day I started to list all the people I’ve known personally who’ve left youth ministry over the years. After about 5 minutes I had to quit. It was depressing. Almost everyone I started with was gone, and very few of them left the ministry for good reasons. Some had lost their families, sadly others had even lost their faith. How does this happen? Why is it that I’ve survived all this time? Why do some make it and others don’t? Moral failures, financial indiscretions, marriage problems, issues with pastors, deacon boards, parents; the list is endless. The youth ministry landscape is peppered with land mines. Most rookies enter the game bright-eyed and innocent, with a pure heart and wild dreams of changing the world only to leave after a couple of years; wounded, bitter and disillusioned.  Is this our destiny?  Is this our lot?  To survive the ministry game as long as possible, but eventually succumb to the siren song of selling automobiles or real estate?  Is this the way it’s supposed to be? As a survivor of several youth ministry campaigns, is there something I can share with the next generation of youth ministry plebes to keep them from washing out? As veterans, can we help young youth workers survive their calling? I’m not sure I have a lot of answers, but I feel like I’m finally asking the right questions.

I’ve never been the most talented guy on the field. I grew up short and small. I was 5 ft tall and 90 lbs as I started 9th grade. You could beat me at a lot of levels; but you weren’t going to outwork me. I got a trophy for being the hardest hitter on my football team in Jr. High. I was small, but I was determined and would not quit once I started something. If it was worth doing, it was worth doing well. This quality has both helped me and hurt me over my youth ministry years. Early on, even though I had a youth ministry degree, I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. So to avoid the impending criticism I determined to simply work harder than anyone ever expected. Then the critics would at least have to say, “he’s not very good at this, but he sure is trying hard!”  I became the guy you could always count on. And while there were better speakers, and more charismatic leaders; no one tried harder. When times got tough, I wouldn’t run.  At one church we served at, every staff member resigned except for me.  I was the one who would always stick it out. I didn’t clock hours; I stayed till the job was done. The problem with youth ministry is that the job is never finished. It consumes everything you give it, and continually asks for more. It’s like that monster plant from the Little Shop of Horrors… “Feed me Seymour!” It’s appetite is insatiable. For the first decade of youth ministry I was perpetually late for dinner; always trying to squeeze in one more phone call before I had to go home. My wife suffered almost daily because of my lack of balance. One September, after three consecutive 90 hr work weeks; running separate nights for Jr. High and High School; speaking 4x a week; with no administrative help and the prospect of starting another church site where I would also be responsible for the youth ministry there as well… I hit the wall. It took me almost losing everything to regain balance in my life. It was right in the middle of this course correction when my 6 yr old son got hit by a car riding his bike out in front of our house; he wore a body cast for months from his armpits to his ankles. My priorities got readjusted really quickly after that. I started coming home more for dinner. I started keeping a personal Sabbath. I began to reconnect with some old friends. I started to let the music of life breathe again. I had to relearn how to enjoy the pauses between the measures instead of playing life like a Jr. High Band on crack.  I learned to delegate better. I tried to work smarter not harder. But some things just flat out didn’t get done. And I learned to be okay with that, because it was change or die. I chose to morph. I chose my family over my calling. I chose health over burnout. I chose my future over my present. And miraculously the world didn’t collapse. As I coach youth workers today, one of the most common problems I see is this issue; lack of balance. We get the job done, but at what cost? If we burn out, they will replace us with another young hungry kid with a youth pastor haircut and a manbag. Certainly there are busy seasons in youth ministry. They’re unavoidable. It’s when those seasons butt up against each other that you have to start asking yourself some tough questions. Questions like “Is it the job that’s causing all this stress and conflict or is it me?” “Would my schedule be like this no matter what job I had?” This is one of the top three issues I see with youth pastors I’m working with.  I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to coach a youth worker who is running “mach ten with their hair on fire” and watch their life go from chaos to order; to watch their marriage go from the brink of disaster to healthy again; and to watch their spiritual life go from dying to thriving. And usually their youth ministry grows in the process; because healthy things grow.

The evil step-sister of lack of balance is lack of boundaries. And as if this wasn’t hard enough on youth workers before technology burst onto the scene, it’s almost impossible today.  If you have boundary issues at all today, it’s likely you have a BIG problem with it.  It used to just be the telephone that rang during dinner, but these days, it’s text messaging, smartphones, Facebook, Twitter… ad nauseum.… Now there are countless ways to push the boundary envelope.  Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, and I personally spend tons of time in the digital world, but if not for your sake, for the sake of those who love you… learn to set some boundaries! Early on in our family, especially when the kids were little, we learned to let the phone ring when we were home and to be okay with it. If we were watching a DVD or eating together we would let it go to voicemail. Obviously, if it was an emergency we would pick up. But most of the times it was stuff that could wait. People expect us to be available immediately today, but you are not doing yourself any favors by training your students to have that kind of access to you. It’s subtle, but it will come back to bite you; and in the end you undermine your student’s faith. You cannot be on call 24/7; only Jesus is… and there’s only one Savior. Who are you training your students to turn to when they are in need? You or Jesus?  What happens when they grow up and move away? I know, with the digital world today, they never really move away. Everyone is only a mouse-click away; for the rest of your life! You think you have a problem now, better teach those students to grow up in their faith or you will have years of dysfunction to pastor until the day you die!

So, if I could boil down 27 years of youth ministry experience into a couple things that would really make a difference in a young youth workers life; it would be to maintain good balance in your life; set firm boundaries, and most importantly, get a mentor.

We read in 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul is talking to his padawan learner Timothy about how to pass along his faith… “take the things you have heard me say in front of many witnesses and pass the along to other faithful guys who can do it again.” Rinse, Wash, Repeat. This is discipleship. It seems like a bunch of the great men of God have had good mentors. Not all did, but many had them. Joshua had Moses, Elisha had Elijah, Timothy had Paul. I was sitting in a boat with one of my mentors fishing in October and I asked him the chicken or egg question. Do you think we are still in youth ministry because we had someone (or multiple people) who mentored us? Or did we seek out mentors because we wanted to be in youth ministry for the long haul?  Whatever the case, the end result from the guys I coach with is that each one of us credits our mentors with helping us stay in the game.   And while Jesus mentors me from heaven, and Erwin McManus mentors me from his books… there is something incarnate about having a person in the flesh to walk this youth ministry journey with. I remember several times over the years where I was coached through a situation that could have knocked me out of the game for good, but because I had solid relationships with some veterans, they helped me turn roadblocks into speed bumps on multiple occasions.

Sometimes I wonder how many ex-youth pastors there are in the world today. I’ll bet it’s in the hundreds of thousands. Guys and gals who started out with great attitudes and a servant’s heart; who like John the Baptist, got it handed to them on a plate after a short time in prison.

I survived because someone invested in me. Actually multiple guys have invested in me, Mike, Monty and now Bo. All three are still in ministry, two are still doing youth. Now, I’m trying to give back; and be the difference for as many youth workers as I can, and I call on all veteran youth workers to do the same. Like that old illustration about the hundreds of starfish on the beach; you can’t save them all; but you can make a difference for that one.


Originally published in Take 5 in 2008 for National Network of Youth Ministers – revised May 2012

Open Seattle is this Saturday – today is the last day for cheap registration $25


Saturday we are part of a brand new type of Youth Ministry Conference. Here’s a big chunk about Open Seattle from Adam McLane’s blogpost last week.

What’s Open Seattle?

Open is an experiment. It’s asking the the youth ministry world the question… “What would happen if we completely flipped the script on a youth ministry training event?

  • What if a national organization gave leadership to local organizers?
  • What if front-line youth workers were favored in speaker selection over those on the speaking circuit?
  • What if we took chances instead of playing it safe on the stuff we present?
  • What if The Youth Cartel didn’t have to fly its name out front, but instead lifted up the names of its partners?
  • What if none of the speakers got paid? What if I didn’t have to get paid to help organize it… I just did it for a fair share?
  • Speaking of money, what if a local YM charity was benefited financially?
  • Heck, what if we just posted the full event budget online for anyone to see?
  • Why not record everything and then share all the sessions with the community on a central website… so no matter where you live you can have access to training resources and the freshest ideas out there on the ground?
  • What if we perfected the thing and just kind of open-sourced THE WHOLE THING so we can help people who have been to one organize one themselves?
My hope for the answer to all of those questions is… I think that the best ideas will be given a voice. My hope is that when front-line youth workers get an opportunity to share what they know and even their big, crazy ideas with a group of people just like them… that it’ll spur on more ideas and spark new innovations with the net result that we’ll reach more teenagers with the Good News.

So yes, it’s an experimental thing. Originally there was a lot of risk. It was really hard to explain the overall concept to the first few partners– Jeff at SPU, Brian Aaby at YouthMark, Mark Moder at Youth Dynamics. But as we kept talking about it this idea really took off. They made the idea even better.


I think it’s gonna be a fantastic event. I love the whole concept. If you have a team it’s a cheap local training with some great regional speakers. And I’m uber excited about my new session.

Hope to see you there.

Click for Open Seattle  – Registration & more info 


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