Young Life in the Shark Tank

This post is the second in a series of three updates on recent area development progress in Eastern New York and Western New England.  You may want to read the preceding post Possible or Impossible?

Flatnose Shark

Inspired by the Sharks 

In ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurs pitch their business idea before a panel of five investors (the “Sharks”), attempting to secure funding to grow their business.  In response, the Sharks ask probing questions about the business and its success so far.

  • If a Shark likes the business model and the numbers, he will offer investment capital, hoping to multiply his money.

  • If several Sharks like the business and think they can make money on it, it turns into a bidding war–it can be quite entertaining to watch.  

  • If the Sharks don’t think they can make money by investing in a business, they will pass, even if the business is profitable.   They often explain that the business doesn’t “scale”– that there is something in the basic structure of the business that will keep it from growing much bigger.

In the past year, I have concluded that like a business that the Sharks can’t make money on, my typical model for developing Young Life in new areas didn’t scale.  

Disappointment in Beacon

This fall, I traveled to visit with a group of adults in Beacon, NY, a town of about 15,000, about starting Young Life in their community.  That night, the room was full of people who knew very little about Young Life, but who had a heart to see kids reached for Christ.  They were with me as I explained all the things that Young Life leaders do to reach out to lost teenagers, but I felt I lost them when I proposed what it would take to start a new Young Life area in Beacon.

The Traditional Model

In the traditional area model, a local, full-time field staff person is needed to initiate and support ministry to teenagers in the new area.  The minimum annual budget for this model is $50,0001, and that pays only for an entry-level Staff  Associate.  The budget goes up for a more experienced Area Director.  The reality is that few communities like Beacon are both willing to try, and then actually able to raise that kind of budget.  This partly explains why after 30+ years, we are only in 2% of schools.  The very structure of our development model keeps us from growing.  If we have really set our sights on getting to 100% of the schools and communities in Eastern New York and Western New England, we need another model.

The seed of a new model: the part-time administrator as a “Force Multiplier”

My conviction as the Area Director of Young Life’s Capital Region for 13 years, was that after raising what was necessary to cover the basic Area Director budget, the next $10,000 I wanted to spend was on paying a part-time administrative assistant. Having an assistant working in the office multiplied my time by getting me out and doing the things that I had been gifted and called to do, while letting somebody with administrative gifts use those gifts to help us reach kids.  An administrative assistant helped me serve more volunteer leaders, and in turn helped us to grow.  

The Crazy Idea

One recent day while driving, I had a crazy idea: “All of these years, I have viewed the administrative assistant as the ‘second hire.’  What if instead, the administrator was the first hire?”  What if in a small town like Beacon, we could develop an engaged local committee, recruit a team of volunteer leaders, and hire a part-time office assistant?  Leveraging video chat technology like Skype, and my freedom to travel, I could train and supervise volunteer leaders from several hours away.  The local office assistant, in turn, could provide them administrative support2 which would allow them to focus their available time on reaching teenagers. I did some calculations, and  determined that if supported remotely by me in the role of Area Developer, the entire budget for a town like Beacon could be less than $10,000.  The traditional model required a $50,000 minimum budget right out of the blocks, and that was serving as a barrier to growth.  This new crazy idea would make it possible to start a Young Life area anywhere we have enough adults interested in reaching teenagers for Christ.

Moving Forward 

Hiring a part-time administrator in an area before hiring a local field staff is going to sound like a crazy idea to some.  But if we see the administrator as a “force multiplier” for a team of volunteer leaders, it starts to make some sense–especially if it gives us a development model that scales in smaller communities.  I am working on setting up another meeting in Beacon to present this alternate model.  In the meantime, I have worked on testing this idea in Chittenden County (Burlington), VT.  In my next post, I’ll report in on how that has progressed.


1Budget includes staff compensation and program expenses

2Includes administrative details like processing donations, managing camp spots and registrations, coordinating mailings, maintaining area web and Facebook pages. 

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10 thoughts on “Young Life in the Shark Tank

  1. In the early years of Young Life many if not most clubs were run by volunteers. It was in the original manual.

    From ’68 through ’78 Young Life in Aiken SC was done this way with a part time assistant from ’73 on. Club size was well over 100. Campaigners averaged 40+. However, it takes a strong commitment.

    • That’s interesting that you saw a model like this back in the 70’s. I’m imagining that there are a lot things from the past that we need to rediscover, and maybe some things we don’t do anymore for a reason. I guess I’m going to find out which of those this is!

  2. Glenn
    You are always thinking outside the box and using the brain that God gave you. Many things have been accomplished by an idea and a dream.

  3. Glenn, great thoughts. Yesterday I was on the Eastern Shore of VA. 12,000 in the entire county! Lack of resources. Which will ALWAYS be the case. I shared a vision for having a teacher staff ($8k/year) instead of the traditional model. It is gaining some traction. But you are right to be thinking outside the box. Without this type of thinking we will continue to limit the scope of this work.
    Thanks. Scott

    • I’m learning more about the teacher staff model, and will be looking for opportunities to use it. Rick and Bjorn have used mission staff in a similar way in Maine. The area developer role has given us room to think more creatively about some of these situations.

  4. I’m paying attention Glenn! I love the way you’re thinking and appreciate that you are testing the hypothesis. Can’t wait to hear more about how it goes.

  5. Lightbulb! Sorry, Despicable Me is a favorite movie here. We’re praying for you guys and it’s interesting to read what you’re up to.

    • We love that movie too, and that’s my favorite line. I was disappointed when they didn’t repeat it in the sequel–good application of it here! Thanks for praying and for being a part of this with us. Hope we can all catch up soon!