Did you know that poor planning can actually lead to ministry burnout, conflict, and a failing ministry? Planning is more than just a calendar.
My first two years in youth ministry and my experience in planning for the ministry left a lot to be desired. As I moved from being an intern to leading the program on my own, I quickly learned to just fill in the blanks of a calendar with events that had been done in previous months/years.
Our monthly leadership meetings were basically an hour of me sitting at a table with parents and a couple teens from our group, looking at the calendars I had planned and telling them what we would be doing. Parents were not asked for their thoughts and teens never really gave any feedback (mostly because they weren’t given the option).
I left that position convinced that I would never do full-time ministry again. And looking back, I think a lot of that thinking had to do with how those “planning meetings” were handled (or not handled).
I was doing all the work on my own and it had caused rapid burnout within my soul. I was tired.
When it comes to planning, both long-term and short-term, it really just takes a little bit of time and creativity and a LOT of open discussion with your volunteers, teens and parents.
Planning In An Established Ministry
It can be intimidating to think a year in advance. It can be really intimidating to think two or three…or even five years ahead.
The first thing you’ll want to do, though, is talk with the teens, the volunteers, and parents involved with the ministry. Let them voice their concerns, desires, and wishes for the ministry. But also let this be a time when the mission and vision of the ministry are discussed.
Does the current calendar help further the mission/vision?
Are there any ways the mission or vision needs to change?
Allow their voices to help you build the ministry.
If you’re new to a position, entering an established ministry, you may want to take care when planning events. It can be best to take it slow when introducing new programs or events. Chances are there are some traditional events that teens (and leaders) have grown attached to.
Talk with teens and leaders within the program to get a better understanding of what they are used to doing. And for a while, maybe keep doing those things – especially if those programs and events have been done for several years.
Planning For A Newly Developed Ministry
If you are new to a position, faced with building a program from the ground up, you may have a little more leeway in planning new events.
When I entered my current position, I had almost total freedom in planning our monthly calendars! The teens and parents were just glad to have a regular program again.
While there was an established schedule for weekly youth group meetings, we had a blank slate for planning. It was exciting to have that freedom – but it was also very intimidating. Working with the teens and parents eased the intimidation and created excitement about what we were establishing.
Learning to accept the help and feedback of those involved in the ministry is crucial. Planning should not be done in a bubble.
Planning And Leaving A Position
It can seem pointless planning for a ministry that you’ll no longer be leading. Maybe it’s even tempting to just cut and run.
Here’s my advice – make plans, but keep them simple.
Gather your leaders, gather your parents, gather your youth, and have an open discussion. The yearly calendar you have planned should be the focus of this discussion – allowing the opportunity for parents and volunteers to step in and continue running things in your stead.
There’s no guarantee that a new Youth Minister will be hired to fill your vacant spot as soon as you leave. In order to make it easier for the ministry to continue without you, have a solid group of volunteers available and a clear set of plans available for them.
You know those monthly planning meetings you have with your ministry team? This is a great time to not only remind everyone of the mission/vision of the ministry, but it’s also a great time to discuss what to do when long-term plans fall through.
Sometimes things do not go according to plan. You may have planned to go bowling. But, what happens when the bowling alley doesn’t have the lanes to offer your group? What happens then?
Maybe you schedule a trip to the zoo to see Christmas lights every December. But this year, only two kids show up and they don’t even really want to go to the zoo. What do you do then?
It’s always a good idea to have a back-up plan available. If discussed with your ministry team ahead of time, you will have their support when plans need to change suddenly.
But always, ALWAYS keep open the lines of communication with the parents of any teens involved. Allowing parents to remain aware of a change in plans will save you from angry phone calls from concerned parents when their kids get home, and they discover you didn’t go to the zoo after all (Trust me on this!)
Planning In Community
Remembering to plan in community is critical. I have often fallen into the trap of planning in a bubble, and then I feel disappointed when it seems the group does not respond favorably to something.
One thing I try to do – I AWAYS try to keep the vision and mission of our ministry in mind. And when you’re planning in community, you have a group of people to help hold you accountable to this!
And maybe that’s the greatest takeaway from all of this.
We don’t plan things just so we have stuff to do. I mean, sure, sometimes teens just need time to hang out and be together. But most of your planning needs to revolve around how you can further the church’s and ministry’s mission. If you’re not doing that…how can you fulfill the call to make disciples?
Sarah Taylor has been the youth director at Gulf Cove United Methodist Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, since 2017. She has a Master’s Degree in Youth Ministry from Wesley Seminary as well as a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She loves books and writing, has a borderline obsession with Harry Potter and Gilmore Girls, and loves Cherry Pepsi. She lives in North Port, Florida, with her 14-year-old cat, Milo.