I think programatic youth ministry has gotten a bad rap over the past few years or decades. A solid program is the skeleton in which relationships can be built and faith gets formed. With no program, there is just you and a half dozen kids. Every great youth ministry has a program that is fun, engaging, inviting, and points towards Jesus. But a good reminder is that no matter how amazing our programs are, how many cool lights and graphics we have, what are online presence and platform has become, without personal contact we have nothing.
At its very core, ministry is about relationships.
Now I know you are pretty smart and know this. But before you skim down to the end or click to a new page, ask yourself if you really do know this? A good gut check is to take a look at your calendar and see how you spend your time. Of all the hours you have allotted to pull of ministry, how many of them are spent building relationship, doing contact work, texting your guts out, facebook and instagram stalking, buying ice cream and coffee for, calling, etc. Chances are less and less of your time is devoted to these things.
I am watching this alarming trend among my good friends who are youth workers. They think that clever programs and graphics with witty names draw kids to youth group. Worse, some actually think it is their teaching. While clever programs and solid teaching are vital for solid ministry, it is the hidden hours of connecting with students individually, seeking them out, listening to their stories, building memories doing silly things, goofing off before and after events, and mostly remembering the little details of their life that allow them to be seen and cared for. And when students feel seen and cared for, then they are willing to engage in a program and even let their guard down enough to wrestle through the intimate and dangerous issues of life and faith.
As you program hard, work hard to have epic games, clever videos, and sassy graphics. Knock your program out of the park! But DO NOT NEGLECT THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST!!
Make contact with those kids, see them, love them, build friendship with them. Then and only then will your hopes and dreams for your program be realized!