I have no idea why this is the first image that google image search throws up when you search for catacombs, but it is and it's cool looking so deal with it!

Hello friends!
It's four o'clock in the afternoon, and I have only been up for about two hours. That's because last night we were playing everybody's favorite game, catacombs! It seriously is a pretty legit game, tons of fun for the whole family.

I think last night's event did a lot to define our ministry, or at least this year of our ministry. I'm pretty happy to say that it's going excellently. The execution of last night was flawless, from beginning to end. But we learned a lot last night, and as is customary, I think I should share what we learned with you, the good people of J-Blog.

1. Deadlines be deadlines matey.
We decided this year that we're going to take our deadlines seriously. All too often in the past, Ed and I would waffle over deadlines, let people into events who signed up late, because we (or maybe it was just me) are big softies. While on the surface, this seems like the nice thing to do, don't be fooled. More often than not, the day of the event we would be confused and disoriented about who was coming, and when they would be there, and if they paid, etc etc. It was chaos.

This year at Veritas, a deadline is a deadline. So we set the deadline for November 14th, and for well over a month and a half, told the kids that if they failed to bring us their permission form and money by October 14th, they would not be participating in Catacombs. On October 15th, there were some very unhappy people. I have fielded countless angry phone calls and e-mails, but rested comfortably in the line "I'm sorry, you missed the deadline." It was kind of weird at first, and even felt a bit like I was denying people grace. But when last night hit, and we had a really easily understood list of people, all was good.

2. Number are awesome!
Of course during the deadline, I had swine flu, so I wasn't at Veritas that night. While I was being destroyed by fever on the couch the next day, Ed sent me a photograph of BOX (our sign up delivery system). Our e-mail is down, so hopefully later on I can add the photo to this post, but the sucker was over-flowing. After the dust settled, and we counted everything, there were 74 kids planning on attending catacombs! That's a few.

Last night, only about 65 showed up. I say only, but that was the biggest single event we ever did. It was really nice. After three years of hoping we were doing well in our ministry, we got some physical proof.

Numbers can absolutely be tricky. Some youth leaders focus only on numbers, which is incredibly unhealthy. Others go the other way, and completely ignore their numbers. This is not healthy either. There's a middle path, that includes listening to some of what your numbers might be telling you:

  • Your program is healthy. This is a tough one to say, because there are healthy programs out there that just don't have the numbers that we do. Don't compare yourself to us, or to anyone else for that matter. Are the numbers healthy for your church or your area? If you work in a small church, smaller numbers might indicate a victory for you.
  • Kids are comfortable. There's always people who say "I'm glad the kids are at least coming into the church and seeing that it's not all that scary. This doesn't really jive for me (if for no other reason than with the lights out our church actually IS pretty scary). What I saw last night was that our regular students are comfortable enough with the program that they are willing to invite their friends. That's huge! When we go to do some teachings on evangelism and outreach, events like this get kids comfortable talking to their friends about church and it's related subjects.
  • Your ego should be tied directly to your numbers. If you have a small youth group, you should be ashamed of yourself. Obviously God doesn't love you anymore. (Note: None of this is true. I am being sarcastic, and three bullet points looked better than two. Please step down from the ledge.)
3. Get Help!
Obviously as soon as we heard we would have 74 kids roaming around in our church, we got to thinking about what kind of volunteer help we were going to need. This is another one of those situations where I am absolutely spoiled beyond belief at Westminster. We have a terrific group of adults who help out with almost all of our events. We have a commission of adults who help guide and direct me and Ed, and pray for us regularly. They even bring us food!

As soon as our commission heard the number of kids we could expect last night, they sprang to action. No detail was left un-turned! We were up to speed on food, volunteers, volunteer scheduling, the whole works. The timing was perfect! As soon as we would get tired, a fresh round of troops would arrive, which ultimately gave us a little boost in our energy levels. So much so that in fact, this was the first all nighter of my youth ministry carreer where I didn't take a power nap around 4 or so. I was up all night!

(Incidentally, while our e-mail system is broken, if any of our volunteers from last night are reading this blog, you absolutely have my heartfelt thanks and appreciation. Last night was one of our biggest in ministry, and it would not have happened if it weren't for you guys. You've out done yourselves again!)

Coming soon to the J-Blog, a post about how to assemble, work with, and thank a group of parent volunteers. I think I have enough knowledge from when I was terrible at it to now when we've got a good handle on things. Much will be learned.

4. Caffine.
Of course, like any good youth leader, last night was coffee filled. My personal stats:

6 cups of Pike Place Coffee
2 cups of Golden Mountain (maybe? it was just lying around and I didn't take the name down) Extra Dark (that I know for sure!) Coffee
2 Amp Energy Drinks

That last one has caused me to think a little bit. We did not allow the students to bring energy drinks, and yet I drank them. Hypocritical or Brilliant? You be the judge.

All in all it was one of the best executed events we've ever done. Time will tell if I'm ready to label this a success. For me, if we're going to do these huge outreach events, there needs to be a few of those new kids at Veritas (or even better, in church tomorrow!). Outreach brings kids back into the church later. Otherwise, it was just a really fun game.

That said, it was a really fun game!