Developing a ministry plan part 3 : A youth group that rocks!

August 15, 2011 — 23 Comments

part 1 : a solid ministry modelpart 2 : purposeful events

Your Youth Group Says It All:

For as solid as your ministry model and philosophy are, and for all the amazing events you have put on your calendar to wow kids and impress parents, what actually happens at youth group matters most.  What happens during the hour and a half of youth group says everything about you and your ministry plan.  It communicates to your staff, your parents, and your students what your ministry is all about.  The liturgy of the evening, the way it is led, who’s up front or if there even is an up front, where people sit if they sit at all, what you sing, and what you teach, no matter how you teach it–all communicate your ministry plan.  If that’s the case, then pause for a minute and think about what your youth group time says about your ministry model or philosophy.

In my 15 years of running youth groups I’ve tried just about everything.  There have been seasons where I have:

  • Met in my living room with my entire youth group of 5 for dinner and Bible Study.
  • Played guitar and led worship, have had students lead worship, and have had no singing worship at all.
  • Bribed kids to come and bring friends by offering big prizes.  (I still do this one)
  • Set up and played huge all campus games and relays.
  • Duct-taped kids to walls.
  • Lit hundreds of candles for a quiet and reflective prayer experience (and fire hazard).
  • Scrapped all my plans and packed kids up in cars for ice cream and for impromptu service opportunities.
  • Used bull horns to command attention on big game nights.
  • Sent kids home for being rude and obnoxious.
  • Wondered what I was going to teach on 20 min before kids have shown up.

Why Do We Do What We Do?

For most of my ministry career, I’ve found myself going from the latest idea or fad to the next for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes I stole ideas online because I was tired of having a youth group of 5 people and was willing to try anything get more kids to come.  Other times I stole ideas online because I was at the end of my rope with how selfish and self-absorbed my kids were and wanted to give them an experience to shake them up a bit.   And there have been seasons where I have stolen ideas online because I was simply bored with youth group and wanted to mix things up.

It is an interesting exercise to reflect on why we do what we do on a particular youth group night.  For me, most of what I’ve done was predetermined for me.  The people before me did it a certain way and everyone seemed to like that model just fine, so why rock the boat?  For what wasn’t already laid out by my predecessor, I simply reflected back to what worked for me when I was in youth group. Somehow between those two poles, I found a rhythm to my youth group nights that worked for me.

A Disciplined Approach To Youth Group:

But what if what you and I do on a youth group night was not decided by our predecessor, or by our past histories, or by the latest fad, or by the hot thing online?  What would happen if what we choose to do during our youth group nights is born out of an intentional ministry plan based on a solid model or philosophy?

This is the hard work I did several years ago, and I was surprised by where I landed.  Before I share with you where I ended up, there are a couple of disclaimers.  First, each one of us is unique and made with different ideas, personalities, and passions.  Second, on top of this reality, we are all called to totally different and unique contexts.  Because of this, what works for me may not work for you.  Nevertheless, I thought I would simply share my journey with the hopes of A) making you feel better about your ministry and more importantly, B) encouraging you to wrestle through this process yourself.

As I’ve shared with you in the other two sections, I have landed on a model of ministry that is built upon The Celtic Way Of Evangelism.   The basic gist of this book is that when doing ministry in a post-Christian context, it is impossible and counter-productive to build a movement by having people first conform to a belief, then live lives that are integretous with that belief, allowing them to fully belong to a community.  Rather, from the very beginning, we allow people to belong to our community no matter who they are or what they believe or how they live.  As members of our community, we explore together what it means to believe and to work out this belief as they become all that Christ has for them to be.

This paradigm of Belong, Belief, and Become now shapes the how, what and whys of youth group.  The funny thing is that most of what we do looks exactly like most other youth groups.  (Solomon was right in that there is nothing new under the sun.) But even though the parts may be similar, they all play into and build momentum toward our overall goal of helping students in our post-Christian context become all that Christ intends for them to be.

Is that the Celtic Way of Youth Group or A Flashback to 1990?

With all the high minded, philosophical discussion surrounding what we do at youth group, when it comes to actually putting together our midweek youth group, it is easy to mistake our deep and relevant ministry for one that has gone back as we rock out to Audio A!

Because our first order of business at youth group is to create community and a sense of belonging, everything we do is done to collect students, get them to interact, break down barriers, build memories, and share lives.  I wish there were better ways to accomplish this, but what I have found to work is what has worked for over 30 years in youth ministries all over the country.  We have FUN!

As cool and sophisticated as students may come off, I ‘ve found that they are still kids.  We can’t let their false persona cause us to question ourselves or our ministry.  Our cool kids need to remember that they are kids, that there is fun to be had, that there are friendships to be made, and there are even things to be learned.  When we give them the social power to control a room we shrink our ministries and cater to their natural self-absorption, giving them zero tools to learn to connect with people different than themselves.

When you bust out the big games, messy games, competitive games, you allow students to be true to their developmental phase.  They have to be adults all the rest of the time, so at youth group they get to be kids again.  Games break down barriers and get kids to interact.  The more kids interact, the more opportunities they have to realize there are other kids at youth group that they can connect with.  Games break the awkwardness at the beginning of youth group and make a defined place and roll for kids to live into.  As fun as these games are, their purpose is to foster a sense of belonging.  At no time in the hour or two I have them at youth group do I want kids to feel isolated or invisible.  No matter who they are, when they come to youth group, they are family, they belong!

We do more big games than any other youth worker I know, but the unique way that God made me is that I love to have fun, so fun is what we are going to do.

Choosing Curriculum That Jives With Your Plan:

Besides having fun, we also squeeze in funny videos, announcements, and a time to welcome new people.  After the fun and mayhem portion of youth group is over we transition, rather awkwardly sometimes, into a time of worship.  Or students lead it and do a great job.  I have gone back and forth on whether or not to have singing worship be a part of our youth group rhythm.  In this season I have students and leaders who are passionate about it and who do a fantastic job leading it.  This helps tell our unique youth group story.  We all belong, we all use our gifts as we become all that God has us to be.  Worship for us is a time when we reflect on who God is and what we believe as we make space for him to shape us into who we are becoming.

After singing worship we have a lesson, talk, sermon, whatever you call someone teaching for 20 minutes, from a passage of scripture.  For 20 minutes, once a week, we work through a curriculum that helps us work out our ministry plan.  The curriculum that is chosen is not haphazard or dictated by what I happen to be learning this week.  It has been carefully and prayerfully put together a year in advance.  This work has been done because for as seriously as we take the Belong part of youth group, we take the Believe part even more seriously.

We only have limited time with our students, so what we communicate with them is of utmost importance.  The lessons themselves tell the story of how we belong, what we believe, and who we are to become.  It is an annual rhythm that works hand in hand with the scholastic calendar and our calendar of events.  Every summer I reexamine the curriculum choice of the last year and build on it to develop a curriculum plan for the upcoming year.

You might think that planning out youth group talks a year in advance hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, but I have found the opposite to be true.  The amount of spiritual work that goes into a yearly calendar is difficult and challenging.  And once it is done, there is huge freedom in it.  Plus, have you noticed that every school and institution that has things to teach has a prescribed curriculum? Maybe there is something to learn from them J

Because we all know that listening to lecture-style sermons doesn’t do a very good job of helping information stick long enough to transform, we use these sermons as launching pads for our small groups.  In our ministry we have age- and gender-specific small groups that meet every youth group to process the information, wrestle with the concepts, and attempt to put them into practice.

By the end of a youth group night, our dream is that every student feels like they belong and are part of our family, are introduced to a biblical truth or belief, and are encouraged to wrestle with it as they become all that God has for them to be.

Like I said before, this is just how we have chosen to work it out in our unique context with our unique mix of students and staff.  What do you do in your context?  How is your youth ministry run?  What do you do for curriculum?

Appendix: Our Curriculum For the Year

It probably isn’t helpful for you at all, but it is a discipline of mine to get it out there.  These lessons work with our ministry plan and are designed to communicate why we belong, what we believe, and who we are to become.  Here is what we are teaching for the next year during our midweek youth group.  These are just the lesson titles.  If you would like more detail, just let me know.  If you have better ideas, please help me out and hook me up!

Sept 7: Open House

Sept 14 : I have huge value

Sept 21 : I have huge brokenness

Sept 28 : There is a huge solution

Oct 5 : A huge invitation

Oct 12 : A new world view

Oct 19 : Eat the Word

Oct 26 : Phil 1

Nov 2 : Phil 2

Nov 9: Phil 3

Nov 16 : Phil 4

Nov 30 : Operation Andrew (invite a friend night) Best Gift Ever!

Dec 7: Christmas Party

Jan 4 : Having integrity

Jan 11 : Peer pressure

Jan 18 : Following through

Jan 25 : Lying / Cheating

Feb 1 : Drugs (Pot)

Feb 8 : Dating

Feb 15 : Sex

Feb 29 : How to engage culture

Mar 7 : Music

Mar 14 : Internet

Mar 21 : Movies

Mar 28 : Hot Topic Night

April 4 : Worship Night

April 20 : What is the Good News

April 25 : Good news for you

May 2 : Good news for the world

May 9 : How to share Good News

May 16 : Outreach Night

May 23 : Softball Party

May 30 : Small Group Dinner

The End!



23 responses to Developing a ministry plan part 3 : A youth group that rocks!

  1. I’d love to have you send me a more detailed lesson plan if you have it available – right now I’m a Youth Pastor, maintenance, Associate Pastor, etc… – it would be awesome to have some kind of sermon seed to launch from. btw, loved the article

  2. I’m intrigued by your lesson choices next year. It definitely seems a different context from how you were doing things when I was interning with you. I’m still taking inspiration from the old curriculum that I got during that time, hopefully will be able to put something together from it for the coming year. I find it’s tricky, though; I love the stuff we worked through and taught the kids, but I also don’t want to “cop out” and feel like I’m just copying someone else’s lessons. Your thoughts? Would love to get feedback. :)

    • if you look closely you’ll see it is basically the same template. because what god is doing in me and doing in our students I am trying to tweak things to be a little more fresh and relevant.

  3. what are the “online” resources you use for fresh ideas? i’ve been doing this youth ministry thing for almost 8 years now, and i’m constantly looking for creativity that i can mold to fit our ministry needs. thanks for this post!

    • these are probably old news to you, but the three go to websites for me are :
      egad ideas
      the source for youth ministry
      youth leader stash.

      i have found that most of my ideas come from connecting with other youth workers and friends and brainstorming ideas and sharing resources. our fall kick off, which is going to rule this year, is 100% a rip off of one of my good friends from santa barbara. people are still the best resource :)

      which links are your go to for ideas?


    otherwise, my main source of inspiration comes from other youth workers i am close with, as you said. our local Covenant gathering in Seattle and a close buddy of mine who i try and have coffee with 2 or 3 times a month to vent, share ideas, and dream dreams.

  5. Great stuff man. Our curriculum is still in the tweaking stages lol. My desire is create a curriculum that takes students from middle school through their senior year, so i know if i have students that long that i have attempted to give them the foundation they need. Currently dealing with two things… 1) determining exactly what those main things are to teach. (not specifically the hard part) (2) putting them in a progressive context that builds off of each other during the year and year upon year. Think i’ve found a good resource and something that works. The book 7 checkpoints has broad categories for the (2) part and 1st part yet to be determined. thanks for writing man!!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing! This is the 9th month I’ve been leading a girl’s youth group at my church. I saw myself in your writings – getting ideas from online and not understanding the effectiveness of planning a year in advance. Nevertheless, its something that I’m looking forward to doing after reading this.

    • britney, may god truly bless you as you love and lead these girls. and i am sure the more you do this, and the more that you figure out yourself and these girls, you will develop a longer term plan. it took me about 8 years until i was even thinking a year in advance. first it was month to month, then i thought i was amazing to get 3 months ahead. enjoy the process and remember it is all simply a tool to love your girls more and help them love jesus.


  7. hey…i am in that point of discouragement. our numbers this fall have been way down and the adults and kids notice that the room is half empty. i try not to take it personal, but i do.

    regarding the games – do you have or do any of the people that read this – have games that kids actually liked? i have a heck of a time with games, because some kids wont particitpate or they say “thats stupid” but i would love more laughter and fun on our wed nights!! thanks

    • hi lori, i am so sorry that you feel discouraged. this is the worst most present feeling i have in student ministry. i hope that you have some good people around you to give you some luv and encouragement.

      i totally understand how awful it can be when a new demographic shows up at youth group and you realize that you have graduated more students then moved up. i don’t know your kids or your context, but the first thing i would do is shift spaces, at least for a while, so the room feels more full and there is natural energy. 5 kids in your living room feels way better than 50 kids in a gym. maybe move off site for a while and try out some games that involve more interaction and less movement. it will still be fun and allow for them to build friendships.

      i will be praying for you lori.


    • Don’t give up hope Lori! I’m in the same boat as you, when it comes to games especially. :) Sometimes kids can be so snobbish and picky, and talk about how dumb the games are…especially when they are older and more “mature.” Some of my best games that have worked with other groups haven’t worked with this one!

      I would suggest aiming for some mixers or “up front” games a few times. You can find some great mixers here:

      Up front games are more about getting the audience’s attention at the front of the room, and the same kids who try to act cool by saying “that’s stupid” when they secretly want to play will often laugh along with some of the braver kids who participate up front. It creates an atmosphere of fun without the issue of kids who feel awkward and put up snobbiness as a shield. Pull a couple of kids up there to compete against one another at something goofy and it makes a great atmosphere.

      Above all, be faithful and remember that youth ministry is volatile. Population and popularity will sometimes wax and wane depending on the mood of one or two students. You’ll be great!

  8. Hey could I get more details on your Curriculum For the Year.



  9. This is wonderful! I am a youth pastor at a church in Indiana. It is a larger church and I came from a smaller church. It seems hard for me to plan events for such a larger group of youth. I have so much to do and do not know where to start! I am so excited and just want to be a beacon of light to the youth here. I would also like to have a more detailed description of your lesson plan and how you came up with it please!!

  10. I would love to have more detail on your lessons. I have been praying about the youth group we have just started and my first time as being a youth group leader. Your youth group passages have helped me find a focus and see that this can happen. Thanks for all you do and have posted they have blessed me and made me less nervous. I am praying for you continually :)

  11. Ericka de Valiente January 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    What a wonderful article! I have only been leading our youth group for about 8 months. It is the first time I lead a group. We have a small church and our youth group is even smaller. Sometimes, I find it very difficult to get the group to connect, since even though it is a YOUTH group, half of the members are adults. i try to keep the topics targeted to young people, but we haven´t grown at all. I will definitely start this year with a plan!
    Please provide me with more detail on your lessons, I need all the help I can get.

    • Ericka! Way to be faithful and serve those kids. I would be happy to set up a time to talk ministry. Email me and lets find a time to talk.

  12. I would love to use some of the lesson Ideas you have on your calendar. Where do you get your cirriculum from?

  13. Kia Ora Ben. I’m writing to you here all the way from New Zealand. Loved your article and just love to hear from you in regards to planning as well as curriculums you use and any lesson suggestions. Also what’s your take on the best bible to give to new Christians(youth? Blessings

What do you think?