Coming up with a philosophy or model for ministry is the easy part in developing a ministry plan. Whether it is intuitive or researched, most of the youth workers I know have a school of ministry that they subscribe to. But often, when you take a closer look at what actually happens throughout the calendar year of their student ministry, the events seem to tell a different story.
Certain events seem to populate just about every youth ministry calendar. While many of the reasons to do certain events are good and even noble, rarely do they originate through the prism of a ministry model. It doesn’t matter if you are a cell-based ministry, attractional, missional, purpose-driven or what, you most likely have some combination of these events on your calendar:
- Movie Nights
- Scavenger Hunts
- Service Projects
- Mission Trips
- Senior Celebrations
- Pool / Lake Parties
- Camping Trips
- Road Trips
- Christian Concerts
- Christian Rallies
- See You At The Pole
- Something really creative that you are proud of that only you do and won’t share with others ;)
Developing a solid ministry plan means that we have to be proactive and intentional with the events we choose to do. There are a million great ideas, as well as some sacred cows, that all come into play when we put our calendar together. The trick is to pick events that make sense within our model of ministry, our context for ministry, and our unique passions. In order to pull this off we need to fly back up to 30,000 feet and get some clarity regarding the model or philosophy of ministry we are trying to pull off. Then when we have some of this clarity, we fly back down to 10,000 feet, get a clean piece of paper and get to work.
Plan a Year Out:
We all have different ways in which we do this work. The way that it happens is not important; what is important is that we actually do the hard work of mapping out our year ahead of time. No matter what your church’s expectation are of you and your calendar of events, it is important that you are clear about what kind of ministry you want to do, and then plan to do it.
Sidebar: If you have not gotten into the rhythm of planning your ministry calendar out a year in advance, then you are diluting the effectiveness and potential impact of your ministry.
By planning a year ahead of time you have the ability to craft a story, to paint a picture, to walk down a specific road; choose the illustration you like best. The point is that a full-year calendar allows you to choose events for specific reason to accomplish specific purposes. You’re now in the driver's seat; you can space out events appropriately, have your events build on themselves and on your curriculum, and make sense within the overall direction in which you’re leading the ministry.
The difficult part is choosing which events to do and when to do them. Before I say yes to an event it must pass three tests: it must be consistent with my model, my context, and my passion. If it makes it through these three tests then it has a shot at making my yearly calendar.
Plan Events That Are Consistent With Your Model:
You have a ministry model or philosophy that works for you and you are proud of. If you really believe in this model of ministry then it is important to have the events that you plan be consistent with it. When we simply talk about our model of ministry but continue doing the sacred cows we dilute our message.
For me, I’ve landed on The Celtic Way of Evangelism model of ministry. This means that the three main thrusts of my ministry are Belong, Believe, and Become. As I create a yearly calendar I want to make sure the events I choose fall closely within one of these three categories. Once I have chosen events for this model, I like to see how I can make each event build upon the last as we spiral downward and then outward. My team and I gather and create an inviting community, while we communicate what we believe and attempt to live it out within our youth group and with them, out into our community.
Plan Events That Are Consistent With Your Context:
Every context is unique and therefore must be taken into consideration as the calendar is put together. Being urban, rural, or suburban dramatically changes the type of events you can even choose to do. Add to the mix the socio-economic factors of your peeps and the options dwindle further. What about the church you work for and their values? Considering the trajectory of the church should impact the events you choose to do as well. Even more specifically, you must consider the importance of athletics, scholastics, work, disposable income, disposable time. All these factors create filters through which you must sift all the possible events to get to the ones that will be most effective with the unique group of students in your unique church, in your unique town.
This is why some events are so popular in some contexts and an anathema in others. I have had plenty of calendar years where I have not been as smart or purposeful. I can't even count the amount of events that have bombed or backfired: providing Halloween alternatives to families who don’t need one, camping with kids who hate being dirty, an expensive road-trip with kids who had no disposable income, a mission trip during football season... the list goes on.
Instead of doing the events that you like best, you have to do some hard work and think about who your people are and provide events that meet their needs. It is like that book, The 5 Love Languages. We naturally love others in our own language, but a good relationship considers how others receive love, and loves them that way. The same is true with our events. You do the events that meet your specific students where they are at.
Plan Events That Are Consistent With Your Passion:
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You have been called by God to your particular context to do ministry. God did not call me to your ministry, he called you. You, with all your complexity, history, gifts, talents, and passions are who He desires to minister in the lives of your specific students.
It doesn’t matter what your particular slant is, whether it is worship, service, discipleship, the poor, missions. There is no way you can focus on it all. Instead of chipping away at the surface of a million different parts of the Christian life, focus mainly on the things you are already passionate about. If you do events that others are passionate about but are simply a duty for you, your kids are the ones who lose out. Do what you love, and do it well. When you do what you are passionate about, your students will be inspired and follow.
The trick here is to also make space for students to find the things they are passionate about and empower them to to live into them. Modeling this yourself gives you freedom to be all God created you to be, as well as freeing your students to be all that God has made them to be.
Plus, when you pick events that you are excited and passionate about, you will enjoy your time so much more! Your events will bring you life and increase your passion for Jesus and for your students. Ministry should be fun and life-giving, so make sure the events you choose do that for you, and that will trickle down to your students.
My Calendar of Purposeful Events:
If you have never done this before, go to Staple’s and buy a scholastic year at a glance wall calendar and a variety pack of stickies. Have each color represent a purpose for an event, then put all the events you want to do or have scheduled to do on the appropriate colored sticky. Once you have done this, start placing them on your calendar. Very soon you will be able to tell how balanced your ministry is. You’ll begin to see holes in some areas and over-saturation in others. As you wrestle with, pray through, and fiddle with these like crazy, soon you will have put together a yearly calendar of events that are purposeful and add momentum to your already great ministry model.
For me, the events that have passed the tests of model, context, and passion are as follows:
- BELONG : Fall Kick Off (A huge party to welcome everyone back on our first night of youth group)
- BELONG : Disneyland Road Trip
- BECOME : Hamilton Elementary School Service Project
- BELONG : Turkey Dinner
- BELONG : Christmas Party
- BELIEVE : Winter Camp
- BELIEVE : Movie Night (Unpacking a popular movie through a Christian worldview)
- BECOME : Gift Of Love (Partnership with other local churches to bless our city)
- BECOME : Urban Mission Trip
- BELONG : Softball BBQ
- BELONG, BELIEVE, BECOME : Senior Sunday
As you can see, for my ministry, events are “Belong” heavy. But since identity formation and lack of community are contextually relevant for my area and for my students’ developmental state, I think that Belonging is an good place to land. You will also notice not many events that focus on “Believe”. This is because my ministry events are intended to be memory-makers, community-developers, and places to put faith into action. To accomplish this, Becoming and Belonging events work best. Since this is the case, I focus the curriculum during mid-week youth group and Sunday school examining what we “Believe”, so then we can go out and become all that God has for us.
This is how my team and I do it, how we come up with the calendar that we are putting out for this upcoming year. What is your process? What are your sacred cows? What events do you do and why? Would you be willing to share your secret event?
Appendix : Sacred Cows
When we show up in a new context there are certain events that carry significant weight and history with that group, and there are events that we bring with us that carry significant weight and history with us as well. We call these events “sacred cows.” We normally only consider events we want to kill but will cost us too much politically sacred cows, and rarely do we recognize our own cows that might need to be killed.
We must be aware that we have just as many if not more sacred cows as the churches we serve. We must be very careful which ones we kill and when we kill them. The more time we spend intentionally developing a ministry plan and making sure our events our purposeful and fit within that plan, the clearer it will become to us, our team, our parents, and our students why we do the events we do and have said good bye to others.