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

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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!



developing a ministry plan part 2: purposeful events

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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:

  • Retreats
  • Movie Nights
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • Lock-Ins
  • Service Projects
  • Mission Trips
  • Senior Celebrations
  • BBQ’s
  • 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 ;)
These events are staples because they are effective.  And most of us can find some way to fit each of these events into our model.  But instead of starting with the events, to be the most effective, we need to start with our plan.

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.

part 3 : a youth group that rocks!