ORGANIZING YOUTH ACTIVITIES
By: Paul Cook
Introduction: Organizing a good youth ministry is like putting on a play. Before anything can happen a script must be drawn-up to give direction to every vital part. Once the script is available, the actors must be selected and given the part they are to play; the setting must be established; all the props must be gathered-up; and sufficient time given for practice so all the parts flow together. All these, things are necessary before the performing of any play; and, so it is with youth ministry. There are some basic, uncomplicated procedures that can be taken in order to adequately plan youth functions so that one consistently follows through.
“Letters to Myself”
Being chosen to lead the youth was a great honor. To think that the pastor had that much confidence in me made me swell with pleasure. I was so happy and excited. “Youth Minister” ….that sounded so neat! My head was a whirl with ideas of how we were going to turn everything around. The kids would love it! I felt like a soldier marching in the Memorial Day Parade in his “dress blues.”
Many late nights, I sat up with red eyes planning our first activities–I loved it and worked out every detail myself. You should have seen the kids get into it! When I was on that “high,” it was unbelievable the hours I spent working on our youth stuff. But as the weeks keep coming it seems my excitement is waning and the excitement of the youth too. How could something that I was so excited about turn out to be so frustrating? That first month was easy, but now ideas are getting harder to come by–I guess knowing that made me less and less excited about sitting down and planning for the upcoming events. I’ve been noticing that compliments from the pulpit and parents about the youth ministry are less frequent. Our young people–I don’t know what’s wrong with them–seems like the only ones who come are those whose parents make them! Why don’t the other parents make their kids come? I guess the Memorial Day Parade is over and now I’m on the front lines or something.
Anyway, I’ve started getting real busy with other things and now it seems like everything I’m doing with the youth is last minute. I feel unorganized and sloppy…and I get the feeling that the pastor and parents are disappointed with my performance too. Maybe I’LL move on to another church where the people can appreciate how hard it is to keep young people busy.
I. The Script: the Blueprint for Youth Events
* The biggest portion of work for any event or series of events is in writing the script. Although there seems to be a lot of activity during the Preparation and Production stages, it requires little thinking because all of the business has been orchestrated by the script writer.
Creators, Organizers, and Doers
1. In any group of people three distinct types can be found: creators, organizers, and doers. The smallest group is the Creators–those who can take an old idea, add new or different elements, and com up with a
concept that appears refreshing and meaningful. Organizers, the second category of people, are those who are quite willing and even eager to work with the creators in order to get an idea into working order.
Doers, by far the largest group, are those who enjoy doing what they are asked to do in order to accomplish a larger task to which they are committed.
2. Though a youth minister may possess more than one of these qualities, he may find himself frustrated in other areas of his ministry. This is quite normal (as evidenced by “Letters to Myself”).
3. Volunteer helpers or a youth staff are a necessity in order to fill the weak areas of ministry. No man is an island–the same principle as the Body of Christ.
Plano’s seven member youth staff took a little experimental test: each member divided his overall character strengths into the three groups (creator, organizer, doer). They put a percentage under each of the qualities so that it totaled 100% (i.e. 20% Creator, 30% Organizer, 50% Doer). After each member’s percentages were tallied and averaged with the others, the overall group strengths were quite normal: 26% creator, 33% organizer, & 41% doer. BUT some individuals were highly unbalanced putting 60% in the creator category or 60% in the doer column! Alone we were unbalanced; together we were balanced!
4. The youth minister will generally be strong in at least one of the ministry strengths (creator, organizer, or doer). I have met successful leaders who were outstanding doers but were terrible organizers; or great organizers but terrible doers; others are creative but can’t make it go by themselves–the key is that these
leaders surround themselves with others who possess all the qualities that will make-up for their personal weaknesses. Many leaders ruin their effectiveness because they will not admit their shortcomings and
let others help!
B. The Proposal: Primarily the Job of the Creator(s)
1. Scratch Copy: The first step in the proposal is appropriate for a single event or series of events over a range of weeks. Here the creator(s) identify various needs among the youth and pair them up with events they feel will minister to those needs. The name of the event, its purpose, and the “Five-W’s” (who, what, when, where, & why) should be included with as much detail as can come to mind at the moment.
I will sit at home or in the office with just a pen and pad of paper. To passer-by, I may look as if I am day-dreaming and doodling. The paper will have things written across at angles, some things will be scratched out, print of varying heights inserted here and there, and sometimes in two different pen inks–basically sloppy!
2. Butcher Copy: Now the ideas from the Scratch Copy should be transferred onto a new sheet of paper narrowing down the even (with its name, purposes, & “Five-W’s”) into a proposed calendar. A lot of
remarking and refiguring will be done to weave the activity(s) around other church and secular happenings, and to create the best possible combination of dates and events. All the while, new ideas can be added, purposes redefined, and catchier names attached to the activities. Sometimes this sheet will look pretty clean and have all the necessary details to function in the next step…
3. Approval Copy: The Butcher Copy is cleaned-up and all of the events, purposes, and dates are prepared to meet the pastor’s approval. He may ask questions about financing, those involved, timing, etc. Some activities will pass without question; but all must match-up with the church’s overall calendar and the pastor’s quality standards. The ideas and dates may look quite different after discussing with the pastor; but, the result should be…..
4. Working Copy: All systems are go! The activities and dates are set- -now to organize and present each program.
C. Organize: Helping Make Ideas Reality
“How Plano Plans”
I am basically a creative person and will generate lots of ideas and I am a doer–I like to get dirty and build. But since I am weakest in the organizational aspects; we have developed an excellent youth staff over the last couple of years. Here’s how we work together:
– Six Month Planning Sessions: We pool our money and get away to a hotel or resort for a Friday night and Saturday. We share, cry, pray, and get refueled for the next six months of youth ministry. Together we identify needs among our youth and work our calendar and events to meet those needs. The planning sessions are held in August and March and are used to set general direction and plan our big events for the
next six months.
– Monthly Youth Staff Meetings: The first Monday of every month is set aside for our meeting. Each member of the staff has a report they are to give (see attached Youth Workers Monthly Report). We take time to share and pray. Then we work on more details for the present month’s activities and plan the next months events with only basic detail. This way, we are two Months ahead in our planning which leaves ample time for organizing and promoting.
Things don’t always go just perfect at all our events; if anything can go wrong, it will! During the infamous flight of Apollo 13 when the American Space Program nearly lost three astronauts in outer space due
to an explosion within the space capsule, a television commentator sagely remarked as the safe recovery of the astronauts seemed imminent, “Well, you can’t plan for everything, but nothing substitutes for planning!”
1. Setting: Like in a play, the script that the youth minister develops to orchestrate his activity(s) must give pertinent details as to when, where, and even why the event is being planned. Small and large church leaders will find they have similar amounts of work in organization.
a. WHY? Now one must survey the purposes and goals for each activity. They should be written underneath of the event’s name so that all who work to bring the event to reality can look at the big picture.
b. WHEN? Time is as important as timing. Double-scheduling things like school exams with a youth revival will cause problems like poor attendance. What time in the evening can everyone feasibly be there, etc. Write these things down.
c. WHERE? Are the facilities adequate for the amount of people coming? How much road time will be involved? Is this the best location for our purposes?
Our high schoolers went on a back-to-school retreat to a place in Oklahoma that we thought was four hours away. It took us over 5 1/2 hours. Everyone complained for the last hour and a half. That put us in at almost midnight and cut out some of our planned activities. We also had to leave earlier the next day to insure getting back at the designated time–once again cutting into our fun. More time was spent traveling than retreating–poor planning.
2. Actors: Two roles must be planned for…the role of the youth and the role of the volunteer helpers.
a. YOUTH need to know what the age limitations are. What are the rules? What am I to bring? When am I supposed to be there? How much will it cost me?
One youth service, we told our youth they could not get in the door without a banana! In the middle of the service we took up an offering- -in clothes baskets–the bananas. After the service, we used the bananas for banana splits and everyone who brought a banana got a dollar off the price. A success only because we gave the youth their part way in advance.
b. VOLUNTEERS should be clearly informed of their duties far in advance of the actual event. Sometimes a written job description is needful. Which volunteer will be in charge of reserving the hotel? Who will stay after service and round up kids to help clean-up? Who is going to be responsible for the event poster? What is the cost for your volunteer?
Each month that our youth staff meets in Plano, we give them a Youth Workers Monthly Report form on which they can fill out the coming activities and beside each activity is a place to write down their responsibilities for those events. I also write them down and remind them from time to time.
3. Props: Each event will require a number of items to pull it off smoothly. Things like projectors, screens, overheads, musical instruments, bus repair, tents, etc. For bigger events a checklist is a must or something will surely be forgotten. One of the helpers (be it youth or adult) should be in charge of filling the items on the list. More than once we’ve come to the church ready to leave and discovered that someone else was already using the van or bus. These incidentals can be the death of d youth minister.
II. Preparation: Job of Doers as Determined by Script
A. Programming: Leave nothing to guesswork. The retreat schedule should be written down; the service order should be available to those involved; the banquet should have an order of events; the long trip
should have scheduled stops; finances should not be left for ad lib. Each hour’s activity should be written down or some order events shown. Otherwise, big events are impossible to run without great frustration.
On of the most successful events we ever planned was to take place in the middle of February–we started planning in November. It was a successful retreat. The power of God fell. Everyone went home raving!
Even the leaders were relaxed because everything was written down and nothing left to guess about. Later the secret to that success came to me…our time in planning…because everything was prearranged we had
time to concentrate on prayer and ministry to our kids.
B. Training: This is helping the doers understand their jobs so they can actually bring the proposed event to the desired conclusion.
I recently turned out monthly youth newsletter over to some of our teenagers. I was proud of the way we were doing the newsletter already–it looked sharp; but it really needed to be a youth project not a youth staff project! So, with reluctance I chose a four-man newsletter staff of teenagers. I knew if left to themselves they would destroy the looks of the paper and maybe the content wouldn’t always reflect our goals: so, what do you do? Well, I invited them to the house and laid out the guidelines for the content; the times things were due; the quality that I expected; then assigned each of them job descriptions and left the oversight to one of the guys. They will only do as much as I expect and they won’t know what to expect unless I tell them (… how shall they here without a preacher?).
C. Equipping: This is simply making sure the things included in the checklist are at the right place at the right time so the doers can perform their tasks.
D. Promotion: Get the news out. There needs to be “truth in packaging” and at the same time a touch of excitement. We named one of our retreats “Take Me By Surprise” and only told our youth what they were
to bring, when to be at the church, and how much it would cost. But we never revealed where we were going–it was out largest retreat because of the excitement! Get creative with your advertisements using some of these mediums:
1. Word of mouth
2. Attractive brochure
3. Direct mail
4. Announcement by pastor
5. Announcement by youth minister
6. Bulletin-board feature
7. Bulletin announcement
We have found that the advertisements we put out to our young people often help US as much as them! Why? Because after the promotion of any event, you’ve committed yourself–now you HAVE to follow through! Giving my youth a calendar of events motivates me to keep going when I don’t feel like it. One will also notice that generally “so goes the promotion, so goes the event!”
III. Production: Creators, Organizers, & Doers, during the event remember these things:
A. Stick with the Game Plan: Though there is a time to deviate from the plans developed over a period of team planning, it should be considered an action of last resort rather than an initial reaction. To change the game plan should be a group decision in larger, longer events where key people may have more time to discuss; but, for shorter events (services, rallies, etc.) one key person can be entrusted with the responsibility of deciding when and how the game plan should be altered.
During a retreat over the Valentine’s weekend this year, we decided to have a banquet. The guys and girls were instructed to get dates sometime during the day for that evening. What they didn’t known was that it was an ice cream sundae banquet with 6 ft. sundae boats–there would be six couples to each boat. When it came time to run into town for the ice cream and toppings, we discovered we weren’t going to have enough money to cover all that ice cream pus the toppings and besides it was so hot (East Texas) that the workers didn’t think they could make six 6 ft. sundaes before it all melted. How disappointing. We were inclined to cancel the banquet; but, while trying to make the decision, someone suggested we just use various colored and flavored ice creams–this would eliminate the expense and time it would take to have the toppings. It worked out great and we were so glad we decided to stick with the game plan.
B. Communicate: Something that isn’t going over good CAN be cut short. Read the faces. Communication with the youth and volunteers will tell much. My wife can give those “get this thing moving” type looks.
Sometimes it’s a hand signal. For longer events, the workers may wish to sit down each day to review how things are going and should anything be changed. Much of the nervous insecurities that are saying, “will this turn out” are eliminated by planning ahead and that allows more freedom to “wing-it” — ad lib.
We had about fifteen minutes left after coming home from skating one night. The kids were singing and acting crazy. One of the sponsors asked what we were going to do with the extra time. The youth workers
got in a huddle right by the drivers seat and decided we should stop at the pastor’s house and sing carols–in August! For a joke, we told ALL the kids on the bus to ask if they could use their restroom or have a drink. But the spontaneity and communication made for some unexpected fun!
C. Expect the best: Smiling and being positive is usually more important than the event that is being put on. Anything can be a bummer if the leaders make it; and the stupidest things can be great when the leaders are fun and positive. After all the planning, just expect it to be great and talk that way–you can make everything a success with your attitude!
“What Pastors & Parents Want”
I know one youth minister who constantly frustrated the pastor and the parents involved with his program because he never learned how to follow-through. Sometimes it was because he hadn’t made the proper
reservations; the group got there and found out they couldn’t get in and everyone just had to go back to the church and call home for a ride. Other times, not many kids would show up and he would get mad and cancel the event–usually a youth ministry “no,no” (why punish the kids who came?). He had great names for his youth services, but they were disjointed and thrown together. After “hyping” the kids up for a
retreat, he would cancel it during the last week because of some forgotten detail. He was a real likeable guy; good in the pulpit; he loved the Lord; but even a change of churches and a new position didn’t help this youth minister like he though it would–he just didn’t know how to follow-through!
Pastors and parents would much rather have someone who was organized and consistent in his youth programming than a dozen pulpiteers. Just like in any sport, it’s not the uniform that makes you good; and no matter how much potential you have and how much the coaches like you, they must think of the team and judge you be performance!
IV. Reviews: What was the reaction?
A. Three Questions: In light of the goals set for each event, three questions should be answered in your evaluation: “What did we do right?” “What did we do poorly” “What should we change if we do the event again?”
B. Five Words: Your evaluation should be characterized by five words:
1. Broad: It should cover the feelings of a broad cross-section of those involved (planners, spectators, and participants). The leaders opinion my be way off-base. We did a Polaroid Outreach with our kids last winter. I left the evening with the feeling that they didn’t want to do THAT again. But some months later I was surprised to hear a few of our boys talking about that night, “Yea, that was great! We’re going to have to do that again!”
2. Prompt: It is obviously easier to remember why you did or didn’t like something immediately following the activity than it will a year later.
3. Specific: Why was it good or bad? Sight examples, give something concrete. “The speaker was excellent” or “The discipline was handled poorly” do not tend to be very helpful when the next event is ready to be planned. A key phrase here is “as evidenced by…” The evaluators may choose to make the general observation, “the speaker was excellent,” but amplify it by stating, “as evidenced by the final service where everyone prayed with each other around the altar” or “by the way he had ALL the kids laughing and participating.”
4. Written: When next year’s planning comes around there will be no controversy as to how things should be done this year during a similar event–it’s all on paper.
5. Follow-up: This may involve new recommendations on how to better the event or the decision to discontinue it altogether. Make some conclusions and follow-up. If it is to be continued, now may be the
time to reserve the rooms or call a speaker.
A. The wisdom of God is given in the practical expression of Ecclesiastes 5:3. “For a dram cometh through a multitude of business….” Grat youth don’t just appear–somebody got busy and helped make them great! The great dreams you have for your youth will only come about when you get busy. Draw up your SCRIPT; detail your PREPARATIONs; and make your PRODUCTION– but whatever you do, FOLLOW THROUGH!
B. The principles in this seminar could be used to plan anything from a political rally to a prayer meeting. By these concepts, we are not trying to supplant the work of the Holy Ghost but provide the Spirit of the Living God with the most effective tool available for His use. Why should the hosts of darkness have a corner on the market of effective planning and presentation?
On the other hand, there may be the tendency for the people who are preparing for an event to become so caught up in the process that they begin to trust more in the system than in the Lord of the system. This
danger is equally grave, if not more so, than the danger of sloppy planning, for the polished producers can easily slip into the mold of the religious manipulators.
The key is balance. Live after the Spirit and “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.
(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)
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