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Want to make your spouse happy and be in youth ministry for a long time? 3-4 times a year spend an hour or two synchronizing your family + youth ministry calendars together. Spent some time this morning doing the same!

JG

I love Google Maps.

When you load the homepage the default view is zoomed way out showing you the whole United States. Type in an address and it zooms in quickly to show you a specific region. Click “street view” and BAM! you’re looking at things as if you were literally walking through the neighborhood by foot. Kinda creepy since Google is secretly stalking us, but kinda awesome at the same time. And a great example to how we typically plan our youth ministry calendar.

We first take a look at the big picture of our ministry, then zoom in on the season ahead, and finally get a street view all of the way down to the current teaching series and events. Let me explain in a bit more detail:

THE BIG PICTURE
It is a wise idea to get away for the day and get a big picture of your ministry. Take a break from the pace of ministry and the distractions of email, voicemail and the persistent nagging of Google+ and wrestle with an overview of your youth group. August is the perfect time for this! Now for some this is a simple task because they live in the world of ideas and vision – for others it will be challenging to stick your head up over it all and get a glimpse of the whole.

Key questions to ask yourself at this big picture stage:

  • Where you think God wants to take students in the next year?
  • What worked well last year, and will it work again?
  • What annual events would be effective again this year?
  • What needs to get the axe?
  • Have I blocked out my 2 weeks of vacation?
  • Where are we strong and where are we weak?
  • Is there a good balance of God’s eternal purposes for our ministry (evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, worship)?

Paint in broad strokes what your youth ministry year will look like at this point. Lots of prayer – ask God for discernment. Use pencil.

THE SEASON AHEAD
You’ve now got an idea of the big picture of your youth ministry – now it is time to specially plan the next season. There are lots of ways you can do this – right now I like to divide the year into 3 unequal parts – Fall, Winter-Spring and Summer. This is the time to start to really firm up specific teaching topics, series and events. You probably already locked up some bigger things like summer camp, trips and retreat locations, but now is the time to make final decisions.

Key questions to ask yourself at this season stage:

  • What needs to be cut?
  • Am I keeping this program to satisfy a parent/vocal students or because it is what is best for our ministry?
  • Where do I have momentum naturally and where is it lacking?
  • What are the teaching topics for this season?
  • Who is the best person to teach?
  • Has my spouse seen this before I go public with it?

What looked good in the big picture view might be too much now that you’re zoomed in a bit closer. You are still flexible enough at this point for an audible. Use the eraser now if needed, but definitely not on your vacation time.

CURRENT SERIES/EVENTS
The closest we zoom in for planning is the current month. You’ve planned everything from a year out, you firmed up much of those plans in your season overview, now it is time to lock everything down and walk into what you’ve planned.

Key questions to ask yourself at this season stage:

  • What adjustments do I need to make based on circumstances that have come up since we planned the year/season?
  • Am I balanced and healthy with this calendar?
  • What can we do make our youth ministry even better next year?

I’m in the thick of planning our summer right now! May God bless you as you serve students and plan your youth ministry calendar, too.

JG



My default setting is forward.

I don’t do a good job of looking at the past – in fact, my memory is absolutely terrible. When someone holds a grudge against me I always think to myself, “I wonder why?” because I don’t remember the altercation or conflict that led us there. When people talk about the good old days, I have a hard time thinking that the time I’m living in isn’t the good old days. And while there are a lot of cons to this wiring, as I was journaling this morning I thought of a couple series cons:

When you only look forward …

… you don’t appreciate the past
When all you can see is today forward, you cheapen the sacrifice of those that have come before. While this must be balanced with the temptation to dwell on the past, appreciating and respecting the history is very important. Typically this type of attitude leads to high turnover and or disgruntled people who sacrifice thier souls for the cause.

… you don’t celebrate the past
When you’re always moving forward, there is always the next big thing to tackle and have to hurriedly keep feeding the machine. Celebration needs to be an integral part of every family, team and ministry. Reflect or you just might miss it.

… you don’t learn from the past
This one is the most obvious, even a cliche in today’s world. If you don’t learn from your history, you are doomed to repeat it. There is a reason this sentence sticks around year after year. Debrief, analyze, make it better. Dont’ just rush on to the next tentpole on the youth ministry calendar.

With these learnings in mind – I’d encourage you to take a little time here at the end of the year and appreciate, celebrate and debrief the past season of ministry. Have a few round table discussion, send some thank you notes and tell God about the past … as you start to look forward again.

JG

Hopefully yesterday you took some time to think about the tightrope of ministry and how challenging each step of the journey can be. So what are some practical ways you can do youth ministry life well? Glad you asked! Here are 4 ways we try to put into practice ourselves:

1) Talk through the calendar before you go public with it.
One of the biggest learnings we’ve had related to this topic is making sure you clear your ministry calendar with your family calendar first. This will save you a ton of headaches as you navigate little league, board meetings, and that pesky thing called your anniversary. The 24 hours it takes to complete this step are critical to success in youth ministry life. Trust us, we’ve surprised our spouses (and still do occasionally…mostly because Kurt springs stuff on Josh) enough to put this one right up front.

2) Establish some (mostly) non-negotiable family boundaries.
What night is your date night? How many nights of the week out are okay doing church stuff? When is the best time for the family to be all together? There has to be grace and flexibility on a regular basis, but stack hands on what are the non-negotiables and create some boundaries for yourself in ministry. If you skip this step, you’re going to say “yes” to everything and “no” to your family. Done that, too. Argh.

3) Build a team and empower them to help carry the load.
Youth ministry is bigger than one person—if it’s all about you, prepare for burnout and ego deflation. You can hang on for a while, but while you hang on, you’ll also bottle-neck growth in your ministry and other leaders. So why not build margin in your youth ministry life by surrounding yourself with capable people and empowering them to carry significant parts of the load?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.



Thought we would take a quick look this week at ways to communicate with students—ways that are Hot or Not. Here’s our take; feel free to offer your opinion in the comments as well:

HOT: Facebook
This is where our money is at right now—the highlight of the tools we’re using to communicate with students. The only downside is that a youth ministry page requires constant updates and management to really be effective. And there’s a desire to spend time on our OWN pages instead of building up the church site. Facebook is where it’s at, so get on board to get it mastered just in time for your students to move on to something else.

NOTE: Our junior high ministry uses Facebook, but not as strategically as high school. We walk a fine line due to the reality that Facebook has age restrictions, but most junior highers are still there.

NOT: Email
When you’re communicating to parents, email is as hot as can be. The older people get the more possessive/stagnant they become with technology. Students on the other hand are quick to jump on what is next, usually before adults have even heard of it. If you are emailing students and it is working, realize that it is a miracle of God and won’t last very long. Email is out.

HOT: Texting
Probably right up there with Facebook is texting—it comes in two flavors: individual and mass, and both work incredibly well. Use a service like Simply Text or Duffled to build a list of everyone, and don’t discount the power of a personal text from their small group leader or youth pastor. Texting is where it is at right now for sure.

NOT: Paper
You’ve gotten very good at Publisher 2003. I get it. You like clip art and flyers made on the church photocopier. We do too, but those days have past. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

HOT: Facebook event pages
Different from your main Facebook page are the event pages you create for service projects, mission trips, or special events. These are usually syncing with many students’ phones now, so you get calendar reminders as well as triggers built into to social media. A classic win-win-win situation.

HOT: Calendars
Calendars, if they make it home, have a tremendous return. Put a magnet on the back and you might get on the refrigerator for 2-3 months!

NOT: mass postcards in the mail
The shelf life is just too short for a postcard for a series and the cost is typically prohibitive, too. I love these and am sad to see them already fading out, but unless you’ve got cash to spare or a cheap printer to crank them out this one is dropping quickly.

HOT: individualized postcards from small group leaders
This one will never go out of style. Try it out this week: Pick up some postage-paid postcards and scribble out a few handwritten notes this week and see if it works. Or just trust us…no technology will ever replace the power of a handwritten note!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

One of the most important administrative steps of any youth leader is the development of a yearly planner. Taking some time each spring/summer to plan out the next school year’s calendar (August – May) holds countless benefits for you, your students, your volunteers, and your church leadership.

Consider the value of strategically laying out a well-planned Ministry/School Year Calendar:

  • Communicates you value students’ busy lives.
  • Allows you to effectively communicate details with parents.
  • Helps you budget more accurately.
  • Provides opportunity to begin promoting events earlier.
  • Forces your hand to strategize various ministry events.
  • Reinforces your leadership ability to superiors.
  • Promotes better work/personal life balance (family appointments, out-of-town schedules, etc).

And yet, developing a Yearly Calendar is neglected by far too many youth leaders and pastors. For some, they don’t recognize the benefits because they’ve never experienced them. But for others, the process just seems too difficult… planning events 8-9 months in advance appears too daunting of a challenge. Be encouraged, many of your colleagues around the country are proving the challenge is not too difficult. And with the right system, you can accomplish it too.

I’ve used the exact same process every spring for the past 15 years to produce a calendar for the next school year. And I’ve found that the whole project can be accomplished in 5 completely achievable steps.

  1. Create an editable calendar document displaying each month of the upcoming school year with clearly labeled holidays. I recommend using a landscape-view displaying 2 months on each page. This allows room for a readable font, but still hangs nicely in your office without taking too much space. I also recommend using the Tables function in a simple word processor to create the template. This allows opportunity to insert text and a variety of shading opportunities. To get you started, here’s the template I’ve used for years (.doc / .pages). 
  2. Track down your local school’s district calendar typically located on their website. Import the important dates onto your calendar marking school vacation days with a consistent shade of gray (again, creating your calendar as a table in Word or Pages makes this shading simple). Be sure to label the first day of school, last day of school, vacation days, and testing weeks if applicable.
  3. Import your regular-occurring ministry calendar programs. Your ministry likely has a weekly/monthly schedule of events (think Sunday Mornings, Small Groups, Wednesday nights, Monthly Trainings, etc.). Begin populating your yearly planner by inserting them on your calendar template. Simply create the title, then copy (Ctrl-C) and paste (Ctrl-V) on to each appropriate day.
  4. Schedule/record any overnight trips for your youth ministry. Some of these overnight events occur on a yearly recurring basis. For example, my ministry goes on a weekend retreat every January and a week-long high school trip in July. Scheduling those on the calendar are easy – they occur every year at the same time. For the overnight trips that don’t recur yearly but you still plan to accomplish, your calendar template will help you select the most strategic week/weekend for each trip.
  5. Schedule the rest of your events for the ministry year. Your final step involves scheduling and recording everything else: outreach events, special parties, unique Sundays, and whole church festivities (just to name a few). This will, of course, be the most difficult of the five steps and will take the most amount of time and foresight. But take heart, with the first four steps completed, you’ll be surprised how quickly this last step flows. Once you can glance at the entire yearly planner in front of you, you’ll find the rest of your events almost schedule themselves.

Once completed, your calendar will quickly become one of the most important documents in your office as it helps provide clarity to your disciple-making strategy and decision-making process. But don’t leave it hanging on your bulletin board. Make sure it finds its way into the hands of your students, parents, and volunteers. You’ll be glad you did… and so will they.

Joshua Becker is a veteran youth pastor who has served churches in Wisconsin, Vermont, and Arizona. He blogs regularly at Becoming Minimalist where he encourages others to find more life by owning fewer possessions. You may also enjoy following him on Twitter.



Here are a few big picture thoughts to help you plan a great summer calendar

Go with something gender-specific.
A couple of years ago we tried a girls-only Bible study called Bagels & Bibles. It didn’t even necessarily cover girls issue that first year—but we stumbled onto something great: Something for the girls was a HUGE hit. In fact, the guys startled grumbling and asked for a Bible study of their own, too! While Donuts & Dudes has a much higher sugar content, it is a great idea, too. We also do a guys overnight trip called “Burly,” and a girls trip called “Girly.”

Give guest speakers that stage.
You probably want to teach during the most important weeks of the year—back to school, promotion, New Year—but summer is a great chance to develop some new teachers and build skill in the second tier. Let them have it! It’ll give you a chance to be the relational giant you thrive at, anyhow.

Carry over the winners.
Every summer you learn from the last—carry over the winners from summer to summer, and create a few key traditional events and activities students will look forward to year after year.

Steal from everyone else.
Be a learner! Scour youth ministry blogs for ideas on summer ideas that might work in your setting. At your next network meeting ask around and see what is and isn’t working for other people. Even ask members of your congregation for their best summer memories as a teenager and see if you can create or recreate something special and memorable. Quick aside: If you trigger good memories for people from their childhood, they’re super likely to volunteer at a similar event hoping for others to have the same life-changing experience they once had.

Block out a week at the end for you.
Don’t make the mistake of planning a killer summer and then heading right into “back to school” mode and fall kickoff. Take a break! This year we’re planning a “down week” at the end of summer and making sure that everyone is refreshed and healthy for the new school year. A great summer sets the table for a great fall—make sure you build in some time and space for yourself as well.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Want to have a great summer? As youth workers that have planned summers that have both crushed and crashed—let us share some tips for planning a great summer calendar.

Don’t wait until the pressure is on.
Here’s some good news right up front: If you’re thinking about summer now, you’re in good shape. Next year, start even earlier! If you plan in advance, even in broad strokes, it will greatly improve the chances of your summer’s big ideas becoming a reality. Resist the false belief that waiting until the pressure is on makes you better—it doesn’t; it just makes you more frantic.

Change it up.
Summer is a GREAT time to change it up. Get out of the school year rhythms and programs and shake things up. Always have youth group inside? What about taking it “under the stars” for the month of July? Always have small groups? Change it up and go with Midweek for a few months. Summer allows you to try something new and experiment in the short-term effectively. Maybe you’ll stumble onto something great that you can bring into the full year, too!

Think free first.
Summer gets expensive quickly. Aside from camp, what if everything else was free? It would make you get creative for sure! This summer we’re trying out a weekly event we’re calling Five-Dollar Friday trying to keep things super relational, super effective, and super cheap. A few years ago we employed a “cheap and easy” philosophy where everything was super cheap AND most things required no advanced registration, paperwork, etc.

Push hard toward a central event.
For us, Summer Camp is THE event of summer—all events before it point toward it and everything after rides the wave it creates. Maybe this summer take the same strategy and put your eggs in one basket. If you plan too much, it creates confusion as to what someone should really attend. We want it to be obvious: COME TO CAMP—and if you make it to the other stuff, great!

What are your summer planning tips?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.