Poor Leadership 101

No-KidsThe youth ministry was fizzling out and no one knew why.

It was as simple as this: kids weren’t meeting Jesus, and the ones that already knew Jesus weren’t growing. As a result the group had sputtered and was on the verge of dying.

If it were a horse it would have been put down.

This past year I have had the opportunity to spend time with dozens of youth ministries first hand and have interacted with hundreds of youth workers. In that time I’ve met some incredible leaders and servants.

Sadly, I’ve also met some leaders who really lacked direction.

Earlier this year I spent some time interacting with this particular church whose youth ministry had grown stagnant. The congregation was desperately trying to figure out why. So I interacted with individuals from the leadership team to try to place my thumb on the pulse of what was going on.

After making small talk with one of the adult volunteers on youth group night, I finally asked her, “So what’s your role here on a typical Thursday night?”

“Well,” she said, scratching her head, “I do announcements.”

I waited to see if there was more.


I wouldn’t claim there is just one right answer to my question, but I sure could name a few wrong answers. And the more people I talked with at this particular church… the more I heard!

“I just… you know… keep order.”

“I run the snack bar.”

“I play in the band.”

“I’m a chaperone.” (Don’t even get me started about this reply)

I thought I’d try to prime the pump a little, in search of better answers. “So, do you just run the snack bar or do you get a chance to hang out with kids too?”

“Yeah, I’m a small group leader,” one lady responded in a monotonous tone.

Finally! A glimmer of hope! Contact with kids. So I dug a little deeper. “Are you getting to know some kids pretty well?”

“Not really,” she responded dryly. (I literally heard that glimmer of hope make the sound Pac Man makes when he dies.) “The youth pastor has us switch kids every week.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Why do you think he does that?”

That question didn’t even draw a verbal response. Just a shoulder shrug, as if to say, I don’t know.

I didn’t mind that the youth pastor switched group leaders each week—I’ve seen all sorts of small group formats work in different venues. But typically there’s a method behind the madness. I was just curious of the method behind said madness.

No one knew!

In fact, it didn’t matter who I talked to, or what I asked. This team of leaders didn’t know why they were there… other than to perform small tasks.

Hear me clearly! These volunteers were not bad volunteers. They were a resilient team of people who cared enough to give up their time and serve in one of the most lethargic settings I’d experienced.

They were just serving under very poor leadership.


 1. What good is program without purpose?
What good is a youth ministry where the leaders are so busy doing “stuff” they don’t even get a chance to get to know the kids? In other words, who cares if we have a snack bar stocked with goodies and the best band in the city, when those “jobs” keeps us from interacting with the very kids we’re trying to minister too! That would be like investing an enormous amount of time and money into throwing a huge party, but never sending out any invitations.

If programming itself becomes the focus, rather than the purpose behind the programming… it’s time to start over and ask some big questions? (What is our mission? How can we achieve said mission?)

2. How much passion and longevity are our volunteers going to have if they don’t know how they fit into the big picture of changing lives for eternity?
In other words, what good is it if someone sees their role as merely “giving announcements”? Do they not know that they are part of something meaningful? That would be like a factory worker being asked her role and responding, “I work a hydraulic press all day.” Verses the same job at a different factory where a worker replies, “I build Chevys!”

Do our volunteers even know they’re building Chevy’s?

What about you?

What’s your role in ministry?

How would your team answer these questions?

What’s your role as a parent, a husband, a wife… a neighbor?

Please… don’t tell me you just run the snack bar!


Posted in Church, Evangelism, Jonathan's Rant, Leadership, Youth Ministry Philosophy | Leave a comment

Inside My Teaching

Jonathan-McKee-TrainingThis week I flew to Kentucky to speak at four different venues: two venues for parents, an event for young people, and finally two workshops at the National Youth Workers Convention.

For those of you who are curious about my content, here’s a glimpse as well as some links for further reading:

All Pro Dad’s Breakfast—for Dad’s and Teens/Tweens
In this venue I basically raised the question to adults and kids alike if their phones helped or hindered their communication. I shared some basic research, then expanded on three thoughts Continue reading “Inside My Teaching” »

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What kids REALLY want

What Kids REALLY want from their parentsBlack Friday is just around the corner and parents are already thinking about what to buy their kids for Christmas. What do you think kids really want from their parents?

Ikea posted a poignant YouTube video of an experiment they did with 10 families interviewing young kids about what they really want for Christmas.

The results were both eyeopening and heartwarming.

First, they asked kids what they would ask the “three kings” for Christmas. The results were as expected: a guitar, a Wii, a game…

Then they asked the same kids Continue reading “What kids REALLY want” »

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A Free Book for Your Idea

52-Ways-to-Connect-with-Smartphone-KidI’m putting the finishing touches on my new parenting book this month, and I’d love your help! I’ll make it simple. If I use your idea, I’ll send you a FREE copy when this book is released.

BONUS: Even if I do NOT use your idea, I’ll randomly draw 3 names out of the comments below and send them a book! So don’t hesitate to send your best idea.

Many of you remember the title of this upcoming book because you voted on the best cover in September (the cover on the right won, hands down). The book is titled, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid: How to Engage with Kids Who Can’t Seem to Pry Their Eyes from Their Devices.

This book has been an intriguing project. I’m providing parents with tools to help them entice their kids to naturally set their phones aside and engage in rewarding face-to-face interaction. As you can imagine, this can be quite tricky, in a world where today’s teens spend Continue reading “A Free Book for Your Idea” »

Posted in Books, Contests | 53 Comments

Teen Media Consumption 2015

12yrgirlipadHow many hours per day do your kids digest entertainment media and technology?

Think about it for a moment. If you add up all the screen time, music, social media, video games, TV, mobile video… all of it! How many hours would it be?

Common Sense Media just did the math in their exhaustive study of thousands of teens (13-18) and tweens (8-12), and the total hours today’s young people spend soaking in media per day might surprise you Continue reading “Teen Media Consumption 2015” »

Posted in Entertainment Media, Internet, Movies, Music, Smartphones/Cell Phones, Social Media, TV, Youth Culture | Leave a comment

The Math We Miss

Youth-Ministry-MathSome youth workers aren’t very good at math.

Let’s do a little simple math from my new SKINNY book about recruiting volunteers.

If you lead a youth ministry and you take an honest look at the time you spend with teenagers each week, you could go out on the front lines and spend 20 hours a week with students by yourself.

You put in 20 hours, and reap 20 hours of impact.

20 = 20

Or you could take that same block of time, spend 10 hours with students, and 10 hours a week developing Continue reading “The Math We Miss” »

Posted in Youth Ministry Planning | 1 Comment

5 Realities That Made Us Pause in South Africa

Jonathan-McKee-Table-MountainAs I sit here on my 12-hour flight from Cape Town to Munich, my mind can’t help but decompress, processing my week of teaching at the Imagine Ignite conference and hanging out with youth workers in South Africa. God’s hand was so evident through this whole experience.

The week provided plenty of perks (pardon my alliteration), from the trip up Table Mountain, to wine tasting in the beautiful coastal vineyards, tasting a “Pinotage” for the first time. But none of those moments hold a match to the interaction my family and I experienced with the Continue reading “5 Realities That Made Us Pause in South Africa” »

Posted in Personal, Speaking/Training, Travel | 1 Comment

Top 5 Scary Movies… and 1 TV Show

It-Follows-scaryIt’s Halloween in America today (as I write here from South Africa), and for many of us, that means it’s time to sit down on the couch, pop some popcorn and watch something scary.

This generation loves scary movies, and honestly, most the films they watch are nothing but feeble attempts at the genre. So what scary flicks are actually worth watching?

As a movie reviewer, I get an opportunity to watch quite a bit of movies, and chat with some pretty cool film makers and talk about this genre. So what are my favorites?

Here’s my top 6 scary flicks… five movies… and one TV show (it’s my list, my rules!), in no particular order Continue reading “Top 5 Scary Movies… and 1 TV Show” »

Posted in Movies, TV | 2 Comments

Expelled… or Vicus?

VicusI love hearing youth ministry stories and ideas from youth workers around the world, and yesterday I heard one that really “popped.”

We’ve been in South Africa for 3 days now, playing tourist, hanging out with youth workers, and speaking at a conference here in Cape Town. In that time, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this new “mate” of mine named Vicus.

Vicus has been in youth ministry for a decade, and really has a heart for troubled kids. He’s developed such good relationships with schools in the area (coaching and serving the schools) that the schools literally will call him up and say, “We’ve got a teenager you need to talk with.” In fact, certain teenagers have been given a choice: get expelled or spend time with Vicus.

Most kids choose time with Vicus. And this time ends up being pretty therapeutic for these kids.

Vicus puts them to work at a Continue reading “Expelled… or Vicus?” »

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Heading to South Africa

Cape TownI’m not sure how to pack…

Lori and I are headed to Los Angeles (85 degrees) to run a half marathon, then we fly to Cape Town (73 degrees) where I’ll speak at a conference next weekend, then we stop off in Munich (49 degrees) for an extended layover (3 days) on the way home just for fun.

Do you even own 14 pairs of underwear?

I’m really excited about this conference in South Africa. My dad and I are training youth workers for 3 days, then we’re speaking in a local church. Should be great fun! If you’re in South Africa… take a peek HERE, or get your tickets HERE.


Posted in Personal, Speaking/Training, Travel | 2 Comments