While many people head to Panama City for spring break or a beach camp during the summer, youth minister Ryan Tucker calls this zip code home 52-weeks a year. Ryan, who leads the student ministry at Hiland Park (www.hilandpark.org), was one of the first churches to jump on with Generate this summer. During our conversations, I was able to ask him some questions that I thought might benefit your youth ministry.

Q: WOULD YOU SHARE WITH US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HILAND?

We're a growing church. Over the last several years we’ve had to build, plus add another service time. We're mission minded, both in the local environment and global outreach. We have a very supportive and team oriented staff. Of course, with every growing church, we have our opportunities for improvement. But overall, we're a very loving and supportive church.

Q: COULD YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT the culture you minister in?

Panama City is a hit or miss type culture. Adults and students both tend to be laid back and sporadic. Our students have been through a lot over the last several years. There was a transition in leadership due to moral issues. I came in and initially had to work hard to regain trust. So, we’re in a rebuilding culture. But I think it's actually making our middle school ministry stronger. We’re making new memories together, building relationship, and gaining trust among the entire team.

Q: HOW HAVE YOU STRUCTURED YOUR MINISTRY?

When I think of doing ministry, I think in terms of  “connection points." Everything is a connection point! Life Groups, Worship, Discipleship, Camps/Retreats, and Unity Events. Our aim is to connect students with Jesus and other people in everything we do. So in big programing? Point them to Jesus and connect them with others. Small programming? Point them to Jesus and connect them with others.  Camps? Point them to Jesus and connect them with others, etc.I know it's simple, but it works.

Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY GUIDING VALUES, CORE STATEMENTS OR MISSION STATEMENT THAT IS A PART OF YOUR MINISTRY?

We always use the phrases “pointing people to Jesus”  and “we need to be above reproach in everything we do” at every leader meeting or vision planing moment. These are simple, but it’s the way we have to do ministry.

Q: IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING IN YOUR MINISTRY (THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE) WHAT MIGHT IT BE?

At times, Sunday School can be one of those things we do because it is a constant in the church. There can sometimes be a lack of vision for it, and a lack of excitement. If you think about most Sunday School environments, students are tired from the weekend, parents are rushed, leaders are rushed, staff is putting out fires, or a teacher doesn't show up. I mean, we will always do it and we always have a good turn out; but to me, there has to be more. There has to be something deeper to it, right? So with that said, how do we navigate this change? How do we think outside the Sunday School box and use it effectively in the vision of the entire student ministry? The answer for us is that we make it important by helping everyone see the value of the Sunday School hour. Starting with staff and leaders. We get a strategy for a long term curriculum while helping the leaders understand their eternal impact by being faithful to Sunday Mornings. We make that hour exciting when students are on site. We change the setting, shifting from a lecture hour to more of discussion model. We get Student Leaders involved with leading breakout groups. But we do this understanding the culture is not going to change overnight. Understand that flexibility is vital and understanding that the Gospel is still the number one strategy.

Q: HOW DO YOU DO LONG-TERM PLANNING?

That’s a big question with many variables.  We try to calendar plan 12-18 months out, but vision planning we’re currently 2-3 years out. We’re looking at our pre-teen classes and trying to effectively recruit leaders and create space for the upcoming growth. We have a great Children’s Ministry and we can almost predict a percentage of our growth (along with our growth through outreach goals) based on who we see coming up in the years to come. This way, we’re able to recruit leaders in an effective manner and we’re able to move teachers and leaders around to accommodate the ages represented. This also has an effect on space; we know we’re growing and we have to plan for this. Another benefit has been on the relational side of things with middle schoolers. I’ve been able to put my staff in front of the 4th-5th graders throughout the year. So when promotion time hits the calendars in August, and the wide eyed panicked 6th grader walks in the youth building for the first time, they know someone, because we’ve already spent some time with them. Collaborate with other ministry areas. It works!

Q: GREAT STUFF. HOW DO YOU HELP EQUIP OR PREPARE YOUR YOUTH WORKERS?

We have Youth Worker retreats and training. I take them off-site and pay for them to stay at a local retreat center. I bring in speaker to teach and train and provide everything for them that weekend free of charge. Plus, I get to spend time sharing my heart and vision, with appreciation, directly to the workers. I also try to communicate often with resources and articles I find helpful for leading students. I try to provide them with everything they need and listen to their input.

Q: SO WHAT IS A GREAT RESOURCES YOU HAVE RECENTLY USED IN YOUR MINISTRY?

DownloadYouthMinistry.com has some pretty simple and unique games. Games are not my favorite, so this helps.  Also, Rachel Lovingood’s Salvaging My Identity has been a pretty effective study for our girls. This has opened the doors to some other opportunities for our girls.

(NOTE: We're great friends with Doug and Josh and love what they're doing at DYM. Great youth ministry resources! I have also known Rachel and Jeff for years. They have had a major impact on many. The resource Ryan is referring to can be found on itunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/salvaging-my-identity/id781890175?mt=11 or through Lifeway at http://www.lifeway.com/Product/salvaging-my-identity-p005647983)

To learn more about GENERATE Camp 2017, CLICK HERE.

Generate Camp by YM360 2017