How Many Minutes Will Kids Actually Listen?

Posted on: 05/31/11 10:10 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Why talk for 25 minutes when you can say it in 5?

Seriously. Think about it for a moment. Picture a typical youth gathering where an adult has the opportunity to share the truth with kids. Now imagine this. A woman in her young 20’s walks to the front of the room and opens with these words. “Last year I realized that the friends I surrounded myself with were dragging me down, so I made one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life…”

For the next four minutes she shares a story of how surrounding herself with the wrong crowd led to disaster. Then she shares a scripture out of Hebrews 10 stating that we need to surround ourselves with people of encouragement—people who will help us with our faith walk, not hinder it. She closes with these words. “Think of the handful of people you spend the most time with? Are they drawing you closer to Christ… or dragging you away?”

She sits down.

Total talk time, 6 minutes and 22 seconds.

Let me ask you a question. Would that talk be more powerful if she blabbed for another 30 minutes? (I really want to know your thoughts? Please use the comment feature on this blog to chime in.)

This subject is dear to my heart. This fall I’m actually teaching a workshop on “Speaking to Teenagers with Short Attention Spans” again at the National Youth Workers Convention. In that seminar I always say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could communicate the scriptures like Francis Chan or speak with the clarity of Andy Stanley? Francis goes about 45 minutes… Andy averages about 40 minutes… I should do the same, right? Newsflash: You aren’t Chan! You aren’t Stanley. They are one in a million. So stop trying to talk as long as them!”

Every month I get the opportunity to hear youth workers speak to kids. The typical youth worker will talk to kids for about 25 to 45 minutes…. yes… sermons that feel longer than the last Lord of the Rings film. Sadly, regardless of the length and style, most of the speakers I hear today lose their audience within the first 3 to 7 minutes.

Why do we insist on torturing our kids with bad communication?

I wish this was just limited to a few isolated cases. Unfortunately, bad communication is abundant. I receive DVDs every month from people that want to be national speakers. Most these DVDs are from guys who insist that they have the gift of communication and want to speak for a living. Sometimes, watching these DVDs feels like watching the American Idol gag real. (You know, when the person applying is the only one that doesn’t realize they shouldn’t quit their day job!)

Maybe it sounds like I’m being harsh. After all, many youth ministries are run by volunteers that might not have the gift of communication. Does effective ministry require dynamic communicators?

Speaking candidly, wouldn’t most ministries prove to be much more effective if they simply knew the gifting of their leaders. In other words, Chuck isn’t a great communicator, so please stop giving him 40 minutes to talk to our kids every Wednesday night.

So what should we do?

I’m going to be blogging about this topic this week. So let me hear your comments. What are your thoughts on this subject? What should we do about this glaring struggle?

Scotty McCreery or Gaga

Posted on: 05/26/11 9:31 AM | by Jonathan McKee

The stage featured Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lil John, Judas Priest… and a humble, church-going teenager from Garner, North Carolina. America’s 10th American Idol winner Scotty McCreery has the opportunity to be a light in a very dark world.

One of Scotty’s youth pastor’s from Garner emailed me earlier this week. “This could not happen to a better young man.” (More from him in a minute)

Who is this kid Scotty?

If you missed it, most of America had their TV sets tuned to American Idol Wednesday night on the Fox Network. But at times, viewers probably wondered if they were watching the racy, no-holds-barred MTV network.

Parents across the world were forced to make a split second decision last night watching Idol as Gaga literally laid down, spread her legs and let one of her dancers climb up on top of her (no need to go further with that description). Just minutes before the announcement of this year’s winner, parents had to decide:
1. Cover our kids eyes?
2. Say nothing and wait for the moment to pass?
3. Fast forward- for those proactive enough to use a DVR for this show.
4. Lift the coffee table over our head and toss it into our 55 inch plasma flat screen.

Unfortunately, the article I wrote earlier this week about American Idol pushing the limits was spot on. (It will be interesting to see if the comments on that article might start changing in tone now that Idol pushed the envelope even further Wednesday night).

Now it’s time for the fallout. Forget about voting with a phone… who will kids across America choose to follow? Idol has provided them with a cornucopia of choices: Scotty McCreery, Lady Gaga, Lauren Alaina, Beyonce, Kirk Franklin, JLo… who will prove to have the biggest voice?

The Vote Isn’t Over
Idol’s season is done, Scotty has been crowned American Idol, and America is rushing to iTunes to vote once again… this time with their wallets.

Once again, we’re going to see the powerful influence of TV on America’s music. (I’ve talked about this before– the phenomena when someone performs on TV and their songs shoot to the top of the charts.– e.g., the Black Eyed Peas had a song at #13 on iTunes the day of the Super Bowl this year, and after they performed, their song was #1). Last night when Gaga performed her song The Edge of Glory on Idol, I quickly popped on iTunes to see where the song sat on the charts. It was #11 at that moment. As of this morning, it’s already #6 (I predict it to keep rising). On a positive note, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina’s songs skyrocketed to #1 (Scotty) and #3 (Lauren) as of this morning.

It will be interesting to see who America chooses to follow.

Scotty has his work cut out for him if he hopes to become a role model for our nation, because right now America has their sites set on Lady Gaga. Many of you saw my tweet last week, Forbes Magazine just announced Lady Gaga as the #1 most powerful person in the entertainment business, topping Oprah in their list of the 100 most influential celebs. The world is showing up in masses to listen to the woman who claims that God sent her the lyrics, “I’m still in love with Judas.”

But a small, humble voice from Garner, North Carolina has spoken. In a world that lifts Gaga on a pedestal, a church-going teen has been voted “American Idol.” Will the innocent message of a young country boy be heard over the overwhelming shout of current celebritydom? (Did I just make up a word?)

I received an email this week from one of Scotty’s youth pastors from his church. He read my article about American Idol and wanted to let me know a little more about Scotty. This video from his local TV station shows Scotty in concert in Garner, NC, performing and even talking about his faith (for example, listen at about 8 minutes 10 seconds).

Scotty’s youth pastor wrote:

Hey Jonathan.

Thanks for all the free stuff, encouragement, etc. Here is something that may actually make you smile. I agree with you about the junk that they show on American Idol. I am proud of Scotty and Lauren and want to tell you that when they showed the Lady Gaga performance and the Beyonce performance, at the viewing parties that took place at Scotty’s high school, Scotty McCreery’s fellow Blue Crew actually turned their backs to the screen during both. Many of these guys are not Christians but I believe they are following Scotty’s example and lead. When they did this, the adults present cheered them on in support.

I have known Scotty since he was born and I am proud of what he stands for. I was his middle school minister. He provided us a little testimony and we made a tract with it and passed out about 8,000 of them at his homecoming, May 14th. Been some cool stories that has come from that.

The Scotty you have seen is the real thing. Just a good boy. Not perfect, but he has lived out his testimony on a consistent basis. This could not happen to a better young man.

On that WRAL video you will see that he spent most of the day crying. He was overwhelmed with the support he received when he came home. he really misses home and friends.

He is very humble. You also may have heard that they did a coin toss between him and Lauren to pick when they would sing this week. It is always believed it is better to sing second. Scotty won the coin toss but let Lauren choose singing order and she chose second. He’s just a good boy.

The day of his concert they were calling for rain/storms all day that day the whole week leading up to it. It didn’t rain a drop but watching the weather when we got home later that night, storms were all around us but never on the event. I believe he is being honored for bringing glory to the One that deserves the honor.

Thanks and God bless you and your ministry!

It was a nice moment last night when Scotty won and chose to give honor to the Lord.

Who does your household follow?

Joshua 24:15
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Is There Any Decent Christian Music?

Posted on: 05/24/11 1:10 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I’ll be honest… I haven’t always been a fan of Christian music as a whole.

Don’t hate me. I just like good music, and the selection of quality Christian artists hasn’t always been abundant. I’ve found several good ones, but I’m always on the lookout for more. Let’s just say- it’s been quite an adventure trying to find stuff my family likes.

I’m not alone.

Parents always ask me, “Can you please suggest some decent Christian music that my kids will actually like?” A good example of this was a few weeks ago when my daughter Ashley and I spoke at a local church about parenting and making “Biblical media decisions.” Ashley shared a little insight into the music we listen to in our home, and the guidelines we’ve set for downloading music. You see, we allow secular music in our home as long as it isn’t against Biblical principles. So my kids will come up to me and ask me, “Dad, can I download this album from The Fray or this song from Bruno Mars?” We always end up having a good discussion about music content (I spend a whole chapter in my parenting book talking about this, there’s an excerpt of that chapter, “Dad, Can I Download This Song?, here).

In our talk, Ashley and I shared how we start off the first hour of our day and end the last hour of our day in our house with worship music (an idea that I heard my buddy Al Menconi share years ago in his parent seminars). We don’t think there’s anything wrong with secular music, but I’ve personally noticed a difference in attitude and behavior from my kids when they start and end their day with Crowder’s “How He Loves Me” rather than “Row, row, row your boat.” (A very clean secular song, mind you.)

After Ashley and I spoke, a parent in the audience talked with us and asked me something like this:

“My kids all listen to secular stuff, but we want to listen to some Christian stuff. I’ve tried to get them to listen to the Christian radio with me, but they don’t like much of it. Is there any good Christian music?”

After exchanging emails, I answered her with the following, providing my two cents on “good Christian music.” Check out my list, and then use the comment feature in this blog to chime in with your two cents. I wanna hear what Christian music you like:



A guy named Lecrae– songs like FAR AWAY, JESUS MUZIK (these are about the closest you’ll find to good Christian rap that’s mainstream. There are a couple other hardcore rap Christian guys like Tedashii… but that’s not really a sound like the typical popular LIL WAYNE or 50 CENT. Lecrae is probably the best.
A group called Grits– their song OOH AHH and FLY AWAY recently are pretty good.
Toby Mac– Let me explain. At first, some new Christians might initially think that Toby is a white boy wangsta. I think that’s a little harsh. I’ve found that when I play his songs for a while, kids (even unchurched kids)  will like several of his songs- he has some good hits. My kids grew to like his songs like CITY ON OUR KNEES, BREAK OPEN THE SKY (reggae), and most the songs from his album PORTABLE SOUNDS, songs like LOSE MY SOUL, ONE WORLD, etc.
Group 1 Crew have been compared to Black Eyed Peas- I wouldn’t go that far. But I like their song PLEASE DON’T LET ME GO.
A guy named Mat Kearney who does a nice blend of guitar and a little white boy rap- songs like UNDENIABLE, NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE, CRASHING DOWN, GIRL AMERICA


Flyleaf has a good song ALL AROUND ME
Switchfoot is awesome- a more pop/grunge sound. Songs like YOUR LOVE IS A SONG, DARE YOU TO MOVE, THIS IS HOME, THE BEAUTIFUL LETDOWN….


Some kids like some of the harder rock sounds coming from Christian bands like Skillet (I like their song COMATOSE), Red (I like their song BREATHE INTO ME) or Thousand Foot Krutch (their song FALLS APART). Personally, I’m not really into music this hard (I only like one or two songs from each of these bands). And frankly, the majority of mainstream kids aren’t into this genre either (read my words carefully, I said “the majority” of kids, that doesn’t mean “no kids.” Some really like this genre). Unfortunately, most Christian concerts are primarily bands like these. No offense to these bands, but it would be nice to see some of the other genres emerge into Christian circles.


David Crowder is awesome at worship music that actually sounds good. His songs HOW HE LOVES, EVERYTHING GLORIOUS, SMS (Shine), THE GLORY OF IT ALL…  I love these guys! (that’s why this announcement was hard to hear!)
Your turn. What Christian music would you play for kids that aren’t used to Christian music?

American Idol Too Racy?

Posted on: 05/23/11 1:34 PM | by Jonathan McKee

American Idol will most likely be viewed in more homes than any other show this week with its highly anticipated season finale both Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Historically this show has been deemed a show acceptable for the entire family, but recently some of the guest stars have been pushing the envelope with racy wardrobe and dancing. What are parents to do when Beyonce or Gaga reveal a little too much? How much is too much?

These are the questions I asked in this week’s timely Youth Culture Window article, American Idol the Family Show? How Much is Too Much? Here’s just a snippet of that article:

My family watches a few shows together each week, one being American Idol. But episodes like the ones we’ve seen the last few weeks have made media discernment a little more difficult.

A few nights ago we witnessed some heartfelt moments on the show as we watched “the top three” go back to their hometowns for a welcome that even brought a security guard to tears. This year’s top contestants, particularly the top two, Scotty and Lauren, are proving to be pretty wholesome kids (emphasis on “kids” –these two are the youngest final two in Idol history).

Cut to a commercial… and 5 minutes later the Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger is strutting around half-dressed, literally singing about being dirty while rapper 50 Cent is trying to grind up against her.

Did someone switch the channel?

This seems to be the template for most the shows of recent…


What do you think? Where do parents need to draw the line? Post your comments on the bottom of that YCW article or here in my blog?

Something Clean in the Top 10

Posted on: 05/20/11 3:08 PM | by Jonathan McKee

This week I’ve had my eye on the music charts as I was studying youth culture for my CONNECT WORKSHOP I’ll be teaching this Saturday in PA.

Most of what I saw in the charts was typical: racy lyrics and overly sexualized music videos. But then a small exception popped onto the charts like ‘Hope’ rising out of the bottom of Pandora’s box. Chris Tomlin’s video for “I Lift My Hands” has been in the iTunes Top 10 most of the week. I saw it in the number 4 spot Tuesday, and it’s at #9 as I write this (Friday afternoon).

Funny, as I sit and look at the list of the iTunes top 10 videos right now, there are only two videos that aren’t crude or raunchy in some way. In the top 10 songs, only one or two (depending on where you draw the line).

So… a big relief to see people downloading something pure.

Kudos to Tomlin!

Massive DVD Give-away

Posted on: 05/19/11 9:05 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Earlier this week we were going through our office and I found some of our FINAL COUNTDOWN DVD’s from a few years back. This DVD has three really cool countdown videos on it that I use before workshops, at youth events, etc. (I’m actually using it this weekend in Pittsburgh- one of the countdowns has some great extreme sports shots, while couting down to the beginning of the program.)

We have a few hundred of these DVDs left, so I thought, “Hey, lets give these away!”

So right now we’re giving these DVDs away with any order of any of my books. It doesn’t matter what book you order, or how many you order… we give you a free DVD. They are flying out of here!


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If the World Doesn’t End Saturday…

Posted on: 05/18/11 9:27 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I don’t know if you have a billboard in your town, but one of the major highways in my town has one of Harold Camping’s billboards talking about the end of the world being this Saturday.


I guess if you keep predicting Jesus’ return, some day you’ll eventually be right.

Well, if you live in PA and you believe that Friday night is the last time for repentance, then you can come hear me speak at a smalltown youth conference up in Meadville, PA (More about the conference here). I speak to kids Friday night, and then on Saturday, if Jesus doesn’t come by then, I’m doing my all day CONNECT workshop, training youth leaders how to build relationships with young people today.

I’ll be doing the same workshop this fall in Kansas, about an hour west of Wichita (more info on that here).

Oh… and shouldn’t we just live every day as if it was the last day? (just my two cents)

Tomorrow My Son Turns 18… Have I Raised Him Right?

Posted on: 05/16/11 11:11 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Tuesday, my son Alec turns 18.

In just a few months I’ll be dropping him off at his college dorm, over 300 miles from home, where he will start the next stage of his life… finally out on his own.

For 18 years Lori and I have been teaching him, coaching him, hanging out with him, laughing with him, playing with him, dragging him to events and camps that I’ve spoken at. I still have a drawing he made for me at one of those camps—he drew it during my talk to the teenagers. It says, “I’m proud of you dad!” I still have it. I keep it in my laptop case when I travel.

I love to think of those fun moments.

Of course there were also the times in the last 18 years when we were correcting him, lecturing him, grounding him… (gulp) yelling at him… it’s weird to think about it all—good and bad. My parenting was so imperfect. Constant second-guessing. Was I too lenient? Was I too strict? Did I teach him enough? Did I lecture too long?

My days as the primary mentor in his life are mostly over. Sure, I still have input, but the reality of the situation is, he’s now a young man and he can do whatever he wants.

Have I prepared him for this day?

For years now, at the end of my parenting workshops—almost every time—a mom will come up to me in tears and say something like, “I think I’ve blown it! It’s too late. I think I’ve lost my son.” (or my daughter) Each time this has happened, I tried to comfort them and offer encouragement, emphasizing the importance of looking for opportunities for relationship building with their son or daughter.

In the last few years when I faced these questions, I began to sweat a little more and answer these questions with a little less confidence. After all, I’m far from the perfect Dad.

In my latest book, CANDID CONFESSIONS OF AN IMPERFECT PARENT, I addressed these feelings as I wrapped up the last few chapters of my book. The last two chapters are titled:



In those two chapters I talk about the calling that we have as parents to raise up “Daniels” who will someday be plucked from our safety net and thrown into the real world where they have to “resolve” for themselves how they will live their lives.

Tomorrow, those chapters become a reality for Lori and I.

As I look at who our three kids have become, I am truly humbled at God’s grace. In spite of my many failures, they are really amazing kids. They’ve traveled with me (Alec even spoke with me this year), they love their church and are involved in leadership there. I’m so proud of my kids.

Have I told them that enough?

Maybe it’s my turn to sit down and make a drawing for Alec.

“I’m proud of you, son!”

The Intersection of TV and Music

Posted on: 05/13/11 11:25 AM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s always interesting to see what songs kids are listening to, and what TV they’re watching. But sometimes it’s even more intriguing to see the intersection of the two.

This week on American Idol (most recently the second most watched show on TV on any given week), Lady Gaga came on as the “mentor” to the top four (which actually created some pretty funny moments with Scotty, the church-going country boy who ended up kissing his cross necklace a few times after interacting with Gaga). Then Enrique Eglesias came on and sang his song, Dirty Dancer.

The question is, does this TV exposure boost these artists’ popularity? Do kids actually buy their music after seeing them perform on Idol?

The answer is a big “yes.” Take a look at one of the best indicators- iTunes. iTunes always provides a minute by minute glance at what people are buying. Look at iTunes right now:  (which will probably change a bit even if you were to pop on right now)

Adele is still #1 with Rolling in the Deep, and Gaga sits in second with her song The Edge of Glory.

But notice #4. Enrique’s Dirty Dancer is quickly rising ever since his performance on Idol.

But Idol isn’t the only TV kids are watching. On the same network (Fox), Glee continues to draw a young audience, who every week rushes to iTunes to buy their newest songs. Take a peek for yourself. As of this moment, Glee songs take the 8th and 10th slots on the iTunes charts.

iTunes isn’t the only place kids download music. That’s why Neilson’s numbers give us a good look at the top songs that kids are buying over all. Here’s this week’s chart:

(a lot of similarities to the iTunes chart, huh?)

As parents and youth workers, when it comes to our kids, I encourage you to occasionally “take a look at their many idols” (Acts 17) and familiarize yourself with them. Simply check the charts, then quickly Google the lyrics and peek for yourselves what these kids are simmering in for an average of over 2 and a half hours per day. (More on exploring the effects of media on our kids here)

Then… like the Paul did in Acts 17… respond by reasoning with them in healthy dialogue, and steering those conversations toward the Gospel.

We try to help you do this with free resources on our parent and youth worker web sites like our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page and MOVIE REVIEWS & QUICK Q’s. Use these resources to steer toward the Gospel day to day!

Giving Away “Life in Student Ministry”

Posted on: 05/12/11 2:43 PM | by Jonathan McKee

My buddy Tim Schmoyer over at wrote a cool little book titled, Life In Student Ministry. I really enjoyed it, so I’m going to give away 5 of these books. Let’s have us a simple little contest!

Here’s how it will work.

In addition to my daily blogging and writing here, next week I’m going to start chiming in on (every Wednesday), provoking discussion about current youth ministry issues. Tim has several authors chiming in on this blog— I’m excited to be part of it.

Here’s where you come in: I’d love to hear from you- what youth ministry issues do you want to hear about? Any specific questions you have? I want to make sure that both these blogs keep addressing relevant issues.

The contest is simple. You comment– you enter to win. Just use the comment feature in my blog (this blog that you are reading) to respond back with relevant youth ministry topics/issues that would be good to discuss, or any questions you have, and I’ll randomly draw 5 winners on Monday to receive Tim’s cool new book, Life in Student Ministry.

Let’s hear it!