5 Things to Consider When Bringing In An Outside Communicator For Your Event

communicator at a youth event

Strategic weekend retreats are a special opportunity for our young people to disconnect from daily rhythms and connect or reconnect with God in a unique and fresh way. However, we all know how much work goes into planning events like these. Communicators, snacks, meals, transportation, worship, games, schedules, and more snacks. Not to mention the fear of failure, the deadlines, the budget, managing medical release forms, and, of course, communicating relevant and inspiring messages. It can be overwhelming, to say the least.

This is why, after sixteen years (and counting) of student ministry, I’ve come to learn that strategically inviting an outside voice to your event can be one of the most beautiful and freeing decisions you can make. I hope you noticed the word “strategically”. (I mean, it is in italics!) Allowing others to communicate on the main stage allows me to create a capacity that our students need from me and open doors for growth in our student ministry.

However, inviting an outside voice is not as simple as it may sound. A lot of factors play into your decision . . . 

The budget of the speaker (or lack thereof)
Coordinating message talks
Logistics 

The list goes on.

So, how do you be strategic and leverage an outside speaker effectively? 

5 Things to Consider 

I would love to share five things to consider when bringing in an outside communicator for an event. These are all lessons I have learned the hard way as a young youth worker and wish someone would have told me before I began this process.

1. Do your homework on the communicator.

You may have budget allocated for communicators, and you want to bring in someone dynamic and maybe even a “well-known” name. So, you do what every great student pastor does, you open Google and type in, “Great student ministry speakers.” To be honest, it may work out, but you are potentially running the risk of bringing in a communicator that doesn’t work best for your students or situation. When looking for an outside communicator, always ask where the last two or three places they communicated were. This is a great opportunity to connect with those youth workers and ask them how that may have gone with the potential communicator. 

Here are some starter questions that can help you get started when doing your homework:

  • How well did the communicator connect with your students? (If they didn’t hang out or attempt to connect, that could be a red flag.)
  • During your event, did the communicator seem prepared? 
  • What was your experience working with the communicator leading up to your event?
  • Would you bring back this communicator to speak to your students? 

These four questions will allow you to gauge whether this person is going to be a great fit and what you are looking for when it comes to your retreat. In my experience, the bigger name doesn’t mean the better fit. For those who don’t have a budget, bringing in outside voices for a retreat requires the same due diligence. Students are worth it.

2. Give your communicator as much context as possible.

If you have found an outside communicator that you believe would be a good fit for your upcoming ministry retreat, it’s always helpful to come prepared when you start to connect and plan for the main session talks. You want this to be a win for your ministry, you, and the communicator. The first step is to paint a realistic picture of what your student ministry is experiencing. A few things to keep in mind when sharing:

  • Share the Struggle: A wise communicator will want to know what is happening in your ministry. Be honest. You may be tempted to exaggerate how amazing your ministry is, but it’s important to share the hard stuff. What are students struggling with right now? Is there an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, depression, or broken families happening in your student ministry? Do you feel like you don’t have much momentum? Are you tired as a youth worker? Trust and allow the outside communicator to come alongside you and help shoulder the burden. Ministry is hard, and you can’t do it alone. 
  • Share the Good! Don’t feel like you need to only share the hard things but also share the amazing things God is doing in your ministry! 
  • Share the In-between: Share the dynamics of your student ministry. How many athletes do you have in your ministry? How many homeschooled students? What’s the economic makeup of your student ministry? Are there more girls than guys? Try to give a clear picture of what your communicator is stepping into.

Giving your communicator as much context as possible will allow him/her to prepare in a way that can connect with your students. Maybe there is an illustration that would connect better if the communicator knew the context. In some environments, a Taylor Swift or Beyoncé illustration may be great, but in others, you may get blank stares. Transparency will always help you when inviting your communicator into your space. 

3. Clear is kind.

Clarity creates better connection. If you have a theme for the event, don’t feel like you have to default to the communicator’s ideas. Trust that the Lord has placed you as the best youth worker for your students. More often than not, a good communicator will want to hear your direction for the retreat and join you in making the large group talks as impactful as they can be. Fight the urge to say, “Whatever you want to do.” Now, there is collaboration, but be confident when steering the ship. Share the vision of how you would love each session to land. One of the best reasons to bring in outside voices is for students to hear the direction we are going but from a different voice. Not a different vision, a different voice. Trust your leadership. Nobody knows your students better than you do!

4. Give your communicator clear deadlines and follow up.

Once you have given clear direction, make sure that you have communicated clear deadlines. “Whenever” is not helpful for an outside communicator. The rule of thumb that I have found best is to ask for 90 percent of the communicator’s talk with only 10 percent of the time left until the event. Is your event happening in 100 days? Then a good deadline for 90% of large group talks is ten days before your event. This will allow you to ask questions and better prepare your leaders. After you set deadlines, here comes the hardest part: trust. Trust that the Holy Spirit is working through that communicator. This can be one of the hardest parts of bringing in an outside voice. Clear deadlines protect you and honor the time of the speaker. The reason why I say 90% is because illustrations change… daily. Allow room for the talk to adapt to what God may be doing leading up to the event. 

5. Honor your communicator at the event.

I say this with love and understanding. An honorarium is not the only way to honor your outside communicator. Yes, these speakers typically get paid, but if there is anyone who knows how hard it is to write four to five different talks while balancing real life, it’s you. One thing that I desire and pray for is that every outside communicator would leave our student ministry retreat refreshed, honored, and excited that they came to our event. You don’t have to go crazy. What are some small things that you can do to encourage and honor your communicator while they are at your retreat? What’s their favorite drink? Are they leaving a family behind to spend three days with your students? If so, maybe you can swing buying a DoorDash gift card for their family? Are you providing a private space for them to recharge while they are at your event?

The question to consistently ask is, “If I were an outside communicator, in what ways could I be encouraged and honored?”

Another way you can honor them is to follow up after the event. Share what God has done and how they played a vital role! Ask for feedback on how you can improve. 

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, bringing in an outside communicator is not only about making your life easier as a youth leader – it’s about doing whatever it takes to reach students’ hearts and minds with the life-changing message of Jesus. The logistics and planning may sometimes feel overwhelming but never lose sight of the big picture. Every hurdle you overcome, every late night spent preparing, every detail you meticulously organize – it’s all part of the special and challenging call to invest in the spiritual lives of young people. When you invite an outside voice, you expand the perspectives and experiences that can impact your students. You demonstrate that the truth of the Gospel extends beyond just one messenger. So, stay the course, youth worker! Let this calling rekindle your passion and refuel your perseverance. The spiritual nourishment these retreats provide to students is invaluable and eternity-impacting.

Though the work is difficult, the reward is great – playing a role in young lives being transformed by the power of the Gospel. Take heart, lean on your community of fellow youth leaders and leaders, and trust that your labor is never in vain (1 Cor 15:58). The fruit may sometimes be unseen, but it lasts forever! 

If you are looking for a free resource with everything you need to create an incredible and strategic weekend youth event, check out Weekend Retreat

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