"Pre-planning allows youth ministers to develop rich patterns of discipleship... collaborating with both the mission of the church, and the desires of youth."
The Best Laid Plans...
It was the week of the annual youth group trip to the apple orchards, a great fall activity for youth and their families. As the new youth minister, I had quickly learned from my first venture to the orchards that my vision of what apple orchards would be like – namely flat rows of trees – was greatly mistaken. From the switchbacks, to the off-road parking, to the rugged terrain of the orchard, it was a bit more of an adventure than a leisurely fall getaway!
So this year, I was prepared. I knew what to expect, I knew how it was going to go. I had my communication plans situated, sign-ups were great, we were set to go. And then I checked the weather: rain, rain, and rain.
After checking the weather a number of times, with no change in the forecast, I had to make a call, and I chose to postpone the trip one week. Normally, this would have put me into a tizzy trying to pull together a whole new plan for that Sunday night. But this week, I felt just fine. I felt just fine because I had done my 12 Month Youth Ministry Planning.
Youth Ministry and 12 Month Planning
Yes, I did just use the words "Youth Ministry" and "Planning" as a part of the same concept. While there is a valid need in Youth Ministry to often pull together talks and lessons in relatively short notice, what I'm talking about here is a different approach.
12-month youth ministry planning offers some very practical benefits, such as organized programs and decreased anxiety. Advanced planning lays the groundwork for seamless flexibility, when weather or other unexpected issues present necessary changes to events. For example, in my situation above, I was able to simply switch two weeks of content, and then concentrate on communicating these changes to parents and youth.
Three Tips for 12-Month Planning
Beyond the basic idea of creating a 12-month calendar, here are some additional tips to keep in mind:
1. Determine Guiding Principles: These core values will help you determine youth group content. Some of my principles are outreach, spiritual growth, community building, and confirmation. With your principles in place, check your ideas against these tenants!
2. School Calendars are your Friend: Gather the county and school calendars for the schools that make up your group. As you design your calendar year, pay attention to things like teacher work days, final exams, AP testing, major school trips, and seasonal breaks.
3. Know thy People: Consider what cultural influences might affect people’s availability. When I lived in Birmingham, Alabama, the first question we’d ask each other was “Where do you go to church?” and the second was “Auburn or Alabama”? We had to be mindful of those schedules when planning events too.
The Payoff: Discipleship
Flexibility is not the most important reason for doing 12-month planning. Rather, the most important reason is that advanced planning allows youth ministers (and their teams) to create and develop rich patterns of intentional discipleship. Furthermore, youth ministers can do this as a community, collaborating with both the mission of the church, as well as the specific desires of the youth group community.
Such intentionality creates ownership among the youth group community, and empowers all involved to better engender the formation and faith building process. So while one Sunday you may be looking at new lenses for studying scripture, and another week you may be at an orchard inhaling apple cider doughnuts... your team can know how both of those activities tie in to where they are headed. The planning helps us get there, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Tina Boyd is the Youth Minister at St. James Episcopal Church. She recently completed a graduate residency through the Center for Youth Ministry Training, earning a Master’s of Arts in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary. Tina loves the color purple, running and hiking, reading, and coffee. She currently lives in Taylors, SC with her friendly and energetic black lab, Kaki.
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