How to spread your ideas

Spreading your ideasLast week I spoke at a youth worker gathering about the future of youth ministry. The main thing I was asked to address are the trends I see taking shape on a national youth ministry level and the implications they will have for youth workers in the future. (Sometime I’ll condense those notes into a couple blog posts.) I was also asked to share with the youth workers how they can spread their ideas and thoughts about youth ministry. There are a lot of youth workers who have keen insights and who’s voices are not being heard, either because they’re keeping their wisdom to themselves or because they don’t know how to effectively share it with others in a way that gains traction.

While I am in no way an expert on this, I was asked to give some advice on the matter. I guess some people consider Life In Student Ministry to be a “success story” of a “nobody” earning the ear the larger youth ministry world, even publishing a book with Youth Specialties/Zondervan and Group/Simply Youth Ministry from the growing presence of this site.

My Story

To set the context for my advice below, I certainly did not set out to start a youth ministry blog. Truthfully, I saw that my name was available as a .com domain and went ahead and registered it just because I was bored one night in June, 2005. Instead of playing video games like I normally did every evening, I followed a tutorial on how to setup WordPress and by the end of the evening I had my very first blog post published.

As the content of that first post implies, I didn’t have any other plans for the site other than to share pictures and updates in a pre-Facebook world. But as I continued to write, I started to focus on what I was most passionate about: youth ministry. At the time there were really only two other guys blogging about youth ministry, Paul Martin and Dr. Dennis Poulette, so the three of us read each other’s blogs and discussed youth ministry on them. Slowly, other youth workers started to join us and within a few years it became impossible for me to keep up with all the blogs that were talking about youth ministry, which is great!

While I have learned a few things over the years of blogging — and now blogging as a significant part of my income — most of these things I honestly just stumbled upon.

My Advice

So how do your ideas spread? Coming from the perspective of a blogger:

1. You have an idea that is valuable, understandable, and unique. Each of those three qualities needs to be a part of your idea for it to spread. But here’s the thing: you don’t get to decide if it’s valuable, understandable or unique. Other people do. And often your audience has a different idea of what’s valuable, understandable and unique than you do.

2. When starting, you have to be able to condense your idea and make it short. Very few people looking at your idea will want to invest a lot of time into learning your idea if they don’t already have some reason to respect your opinion.

3. Your idea has to be easy to share with others. And I don’t just mean easy to tweet, link to, or post on Facebook. It has to be easy to communicate in a conversation, too. If someone else can’t articulate it as simply and briefly as you did, it’s too difficult for it to spread. Furthermore, people must feel like sharing your idea will somehow enhance their reputation, friendships, or audience in some way that brings more credibility back to them.

4. In the beginning, your ideas need to be free. Rarely to people fork over cash for content from people they don’t have a reason to respect. But even more importantly, there has to be as few barriers as possible to your idea’s distribution. Locking it behind a price tag before earning respect is the quickest way to kill your idea, even if it’s one of the best ideas out there. Ironically, later the reverse is true: once you’ve built a positive reputation, charging money will actually add perceived value to your content.

5. You have to be authentic and transparent. People connect with vulnerability and mistakes better than they do with experts and know-it-alls. Taking the risk to show your weaknesses and struggles builds trust, respect and credibility.

6. Consistently share good ideas and add value to the few people who are lending you their ear. Too many people only want to bother putting time into sharing their ideas if it will reach a lot of people. The problem is, the heart attitude behind that is often driven by a desire to be respected or popular more than it is to bless whatever audience the Lord has entrusted to them, no matter how large or small. Consequently, sharing solid content on a regular basis with a few people will bring them back over and over again for more. Consistency and heart attitude is the key.

7. Build a community around your content. If it’s on a blog, engage in the comments of your posts. Ask more questions of your commenters and really listen to those who share with you. Even lend your voice to other people’s communities, too. Of course, respond to email, engage with the tweets of your followers, share trivial real-life stuff about yourself in social media, etc. Remember that social media is called “social” for a reason. It’s primarily a place to engage, not just a platform to shout your ideas.

The context for each of these points is set in the blogging world, but they can each apply just as easily to other mediums, like public speaking, online video, and especially our own churches.


QUESTION: What advice do you have for those who want to spread their ideas?

Posted on November 22, 2011

  • As always, I sincerely appreciate your insights, Tim!
    However, regarding your first point (and related aspects in several other points), I believe that some people have a unique gift of identifying understandable, valuable, unique ideas REGARDLESS of the perception of others. While I understand your point, and while I believe that a person should be willing to allow the constructive critique/advice of others to help filter out the best ideas, I still hold to the fact that God may have gifted you and others with an insight that most other people will not see until it is eventually created.

    Steve Jobs was a perfect example of this. He had an ability to see what people wanted, before they did. He had vision and ideas that were continually met with skepticism and resistance… but he knew beforehand that they were the right idea.

    I believe that the general make-up of most youth workers contains a similar element. Call it foresight, or perhaps even prophecy – we many times are able to see something that other people can not see, to envision ideas that they can not wrap their minds around completely. As such, it is only when the ideas become reality can they then process it.

    I know this may seem like a proud or haughty insight. I'm not saying that youth workers "know better" than other people, or that everyone else should bow down to our opinion… but I do believe that we can (and often do) have a gift of vision, of creative insight that, despite being misunderstood or under-valued, is God-given and ultimately for His Glory!

    • Totally agree, J.D. I'm talking more about the youth leaders who do have good ideas and a message to spread, the next "Steve Jobs" of youth ministry, if you will. There are so many people lending their voices, which is great, but how does one voice begin to stand out? That's what I was asked to address for the youth leaders at this gathering. If you are one of the ones who has credible foresight and perspectives of youth ministry to share, how one goes about getting started is what I was trying to address. I think your observations are totally correct, though.

  • Thanks for the mention Tim. I can't remember the theme that we both decided on, but it seemed to be the youth ministry theme at the time. Can you remember?

    Glad your online presence has added so much to the lives of so many youth ministers! Keep it up!

    • haha oh yeah, I remember when we were both using the same WordPress theme back in 2005-2006. I don't remember what it was called either. I remember what it looks like, though, back on WordPress 1.5.

  • Daniel

    I don't know too much about spreading ideas on a large scale. But on a smaller scale, I have found that getting my thoughts into writing helps – a lot. Then I try to communicate, communicate, communicate.

    I especially like the idea of an "elevator pitch:" Being able to clearly communicate and sell your idea in about 90 seconds (about the time it takes to ride the elevator).

  • Daniel


    It's budget time at my church. Yippee. So I put my budget together and sat down with three of the elders at the church, the bookkeeper, and treasurer. During the meeting, I got to share the shape of the ministry, communicate my ideas, and how I wanted to make it all happen. By the end of the meeting I got one of the best compliments ever from the bookkeeper. With a giant smile on her face she said, "I feel like I could really communicate your vision to the entire church. Thank you!"

    My ideas were spread to a few who could then pass it on to others. Not bad for a budget meeting :)

    • That's awesome, Daniel! Glad you're able to do that. A lot of us can't even explain what our vision is if we had all day to think about it first!

  • Thanks Tim-
    Been following your stuff for a while now, always good stuff all around. Thank you so much for you insight it SO helpful. II have been playing with the idea of blog or website or something for a while. I decided to bite the bullet and slowly start something, but it is time that is killing me :-) How do/did you find the time? Also I am trying to create something just for Middle School/Jr. High ministry do you know of any besides the ones I have found (refer to site). I don't want to recreate something that is already out there, as you said find something unique or needed. Finally how do you attached people to your stuff? Any additional advice or thoughts?

    • Hey Dan! Regarding time, I'm asked that a lot and I'm not really sure how to answer it. It just kinda seems to flow from my thoughts and experiences, maybe because it feels like a natural part of me and how I express myself more than a new project I undertook, ya know? Also, I don't do much of what other people do with their free time. I rarely go to the movies, I don't follow sports, we don't even have TV at our house, we eat out only once or twice a month, stuff like that. *shrugs*

      There are a lot of middle school websites and blogs out there. You could search and find a lot of them, at least the top ones, and see what they're doing. The key is to not only be unique, but also for that uniqueness to be natural for you. Trying to be different just for the sake of being different is really hard and ultimately not sustainable. Being unique can't be a strategy you have for the blog — it has to be a part of you.

      I don't think've ever really tried to attach people to my stuff because when I got starte I primarily didn't write for anyone else, I wrote for me. Unfortunately, in the past year or two, I've drifted from that and have started to focus on the audience more and in shifting this site to something else, but I realize now that that was a mistake both for me and for my audience. So now I'm trying to return back to blogging for me and letting others listen in if they want.

      • Anonymous

        Hey Tim- sorry for the delayed response. Thanks for your help, thoughts and wisdom!! Could you point me toward the middle school blogs and websites beside the main “super stars” (Mark O, Rubin, Johnson, Mead..) I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I am just interested in creating a MS/JH only space?

        I am really not trying be unique or different for sake of it, just being me :-) I am just getting started as I have time. I know your a busy man, but if have any additional thoughts or advice I would appreciate it!


        • The lesser known jr high guys I know who were blogging have mostly stopped, so I don’t really have anyone to recommend at the time. Maybe Google or Technorati can help you find some, though.

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