I’m not a planner by nature. I have always enjoyed flying by the seat of my pants in my life and thrilled with the twists and turns life brings. To me, it makes living exciting.

In youth and children’s ministry, however, I have found that planning is vital and flying by the seat of your pants doesn’t communicate anything to your parents or allow your volunteers to minister alongside of you with children and youth. Planning is important.

I have found that planning out the upcoming ministry year frees me up to engage and pastor more effectively than if I just made it up as I went along.

With that said, this is how I have planned and prepared for youth and children’s ministry @ Hayward Wesleyan Church this year (2011-2012):

I print out a 13 month calendar (one month per page) from August to August. I get a copy of the upcoming school district’s calendar, sports activities that are relevant to the arena of ministry I engage in (soccer, football, hockey, basketball, skiing, track, etc), list of major holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc), main church events calendar, and list of my personal family calendar, and I litter the 13 month calendar with all of these preset dates. Then I set our weekly Sunday morning children’s ministry called Main Street on the calendar, then the Followers every other Monday schedule on the calendar, then the dates for Middle School Youth every Wednesday evening. I then start to plan events for Followers and Middle School Youth. I try to make sure that there is a rhythm to the routine and events for me personally, as well as the students and their scattered schedules. It’s tough, but in a smaller community like Hayward where there is only one school district this is doable (I don’t know what ministry planning would look like in an area with multiple school districts and a huge random sports schedule). I run it by my wife, then set it in semi-stone for the year.

I love choosing and thinking through curriculum choices. This is the meat of what the students will engage and interact with throughout the year.

For Followers, at least for the first half of the year, we are using an Elevate curriculum called: “Upside Down Town.” The focus is on living our lives as Followers of Jesus in this world. It’s simple and memorable. We aren’t using the entire program, just the Skit video and the Story video. So during the 35 minute teaching time the students sit in gender and grade specific groups with a leader and we start with any announcements or event videos and we set up the “lesson” with the Main Point and the Verse. Then we show them the Skit video, after which the leaders and the students engage in an activity with their group, during which the Main Point is reinforced. Then we show them the Story video, after which the leaders do a short review with the students and pray with them. Done. Simple.

The second half of the curriculum for Followers will be a LifeChurch.tv curriculum called “The Book in the Attic” which is a 2-part, 8-week series on the entire Bible (part 1 = OT and part 2 = NT). Format will be similar in nature.

For Main Street, the curriculum in Year 3 of our 3-Year chronological journey through the Bible is focused on the life, teachings, and vindication of Jesus as well as the story of the church in Acts. This year we decided to alternate each week with songs and games. Over the summer we didn’t sing any songs at the beginning. Instead we played various upfront games (kind of like youth group kind of games). The students loved it! And instead of just adding that piece in to an already crowded programming set on Sunday morning during our Main Street time, we decided to alternate between music and game each week. It’s been working really well so far!

For Middle School Youth, the curriculum has been amazing so far! The previous year, I did all of the teaching personally each week. This year I wanted to use some curriculum to lighten the load for some other initiatives I wanted to engage in. I bought a school year’s worth of small group curriculum from Simply Youth Ministry that is particularly geared for middle school students (seven 5-week series). We set the chairs in our program room into multiple horseshoes with a chair at the head for the leader. We play an upfront game, communicate any announcements, and then head into the teaching time, which consists of: a 3-4 minute video, after which the leaders engage and interact with their group with 4 questions. Then we watch another 3-4 minute video, and the leaders do another 3-4 questions with the group. Then I’ll go up and sort of encapsulate and review what they learned and pray. We then dismiss and play some sort of dodgeball game for a while and then have snacks and then send them home. Simple and very effective!

The leaders I have engaging and interacting with the students this year are phenomenal. Almost all of them have been serving with me for many years and have a lot to share. In an environment like this any new or unseasoned volunteers get seasoned and up to speed very quickly. It’s been great. These leaders are all very consistent and reliable, not the least which all of these leaders become really good friends of mine, regardless of age or stage of life.

We recently made a change in the database that manages all of the names, information, program schedules, check-in, event registration, and email communication. We’ve finally moved into the cloud! What this new database gives us the capability to do is:

  • Track attendance and use the data to follow up electronically. We can now communicate seamlessly with those who are attending regularly as well as with those who miss more regularly. And by seamlessly I mean the database really helps with built-in queries to run reports on who was present and who was absent and we can send emails or print labels to send letters as appropriate.
  • Give our families the ability to create an account with a username and password and access to their information (date of birth, address, phone numbers, email, etc.). This relieves (to some degree) the continual updates and out-of-date records that occur whenever you are trying to maintain accurate records. They can also use this account to register for events without having to re-type or sign multiple permission slips.
  • This database has the ability to give our ministry leaders and volunteers access to students’ in order to follow up and contact them on their own.

This change really made the month of August and start of programs in September and database crossover, tricky and busy. It’s mostly running well right now, with most of the glitches worked out. There is more the database is capable of doing, but we’ll learn those as we have the time.

Contact me if you want to know what database program we are using.

There are many miscellaneous things that need to be planned for as well that don’t make a general category list like the ones above. I updated some of our video projection capabilities in our Main Street Theatre program room. Also, our playground needed to be finalized with weed bed fabric and wood chips. Our website gets  fresh coat of paint and some refreshing and updating of content for the new ministry year (I don’t want that to get stale).

Planning doesn’t mean that I get to sit back and relax for the rest of the ministry year. Planning frees me up to be a pastor to families, develop and plan new initiatives (like middle school small groups, and family small groups), and significant time to study and stay current on youth culture, Biblical studies, leadership development, and peer encouragement.

Any ways in which you plan?