Growing up as a kid in rural Indiana, our winters gave our neighborhood gang of kids a lot of opportunity to sled. Our favorite game was to run and flop belly down on our flexible flyers and make the run on the long road from our houses toward the highway which was about a quarter mile away. The contest among us was to see who could make the longest “run” down the road. The key to completing the longest run was to properly manage momentum. By committing the peaks and valleys to memory, and by properly reading the grooved sections of the frozen road you could extend your run by gaining momentum at crucial times. The winners of our contests were not always those who began with the greatest momentum, but those who properly maintained momentum throughout the run.
When I think about youth ministry, I see a lot of similarities to the sledding game we played years ago. I have come to believe that properly managing ministry momentum throughout the year is just as crucial (if not more so) than a great beginning. I have found that the fickleness of teenagers (and parents as well) regarding our programmatic offerings are not necessarily a function of declaring “value,” as it is youth pastors simply not being aware of the “flow” of family, work, school, and social lives.
So, how can we best manage ministry momentum over the course of the year?
1. Identify the “seasons” of ministry
Every ministry setting has its own context. But without fail, there is a flow that can be identified among them. I would like to say that the “seasons” follow some kind of liturgical calendar but not so.
-When does school begin? (Think big launch)
-When is fall break? (If you cancel, cancel on the front end)
-When is football/basketball season? (Approach as an opportunity for contact work to see your youth group members in band, dance, or as players)
-When is the summer “dead week” for those preparing for fall sports? (Plan your mission trip accordingly)
-When is Christmas Break? (Specials-Parties or Mission opportunities)
-When is Spring Break? (For some ministry contexts this means kids are free and flexible, and in other contexts you should just avoid altogether)
-What is the availability of youth in the summer? (If you believe that summers are for serving, plan accordingly. If normal programming shuts down in the summer, make sure something else is in place for kids to connect and be formed in the faith).
2. Calendar Aggressively
-Develop a team of youth and parents to assist you on calendar planning. Meet in April or early May to approve calendar for August launch.
-Your calendar is most helpful to parents when it runs like a school calendar. Begin in August and plan at least up to the following August.
-Reveal your 12-18 month calendar in August. Re-launch the same information in January.
-Aim to register sign-ups for large events two seasons prior to them happening. For instance, if your mission trip is in June, begin promotion and registration in the late fall/early winter, not the spring (because it is too late).
3. Shape the Narrative
-When you know some students will be gone, plan something special for the youth who will be available. Say something like, “I know that a lot of you will be gone next week with dance competition, so everyone who remains home is going bowling next week.”
-By properly preparing for times when attendance is down, you can avoid youth creating their own false narrative about why no one comes to youth group anymore! Unfortunately, that kind of talk can become its own kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
-Use social media to highlight students serving, having fun, worshipping, when others cannot be there. By doing so you are saying, “Yes, ministry continues even when everyone isn’t here.”
Some seasons we have discovered in our context~
• August-Big Launch Event/Fall Retreat
• September-Settle in with weekly programming
• October-Continue with programming but avoid weekend retreats/trips
• November-Short series. Break the week before Thanksgiving but meet the week after (Kids are ready).
• December-Do not program this month. Shut down weekly programming for families.
• January/February-Kick off new series/Winter Retreat
• March-Weekly programming/Easter prep
• April-Focus of fun/light series
• May-Traditions. End of year bash. Senior recognition.
• June-Camp/Mission Trip/Assist with Vacation Bible School/Summer Specials
• July-Camp/Mission Trip/ Assist with Vacation Bible School/Summer Specials
With just a little reflection on your ministry context you can quickly identify ways to maximize what I refer to as the “contact availability” of your students to be in ministry. By preparing for the “seasons” of full and lean attendance, you can maximize your ministry momentum and plan youth discipleship accordingly.