EARLY in the morning, like before the sun was up early – I was gathering my gear to go on a difficult nine-mile hike in the local mountains. “Let’s see. Water’s loaded into the pack? Check. Dog’s pack is loaded? Check. Hat? Check. iPhone? Check. Dog’s leash? I’ll get it on the way out. Okay, let’s go.”
I forgot the leash.
Even though I thought through what I needed to have, my sleep-deprived stupor made me forget something important. If I had remembered the leash as I was getting into my waiting friend’s truck, I would have run back inside the house and retrieved it. But, I didn’t realize my folly until we were at the trailhead.
The new school year is about to begin, and even though you may have left the house for your hike, there’s still time for you to run through a checklist of items that you need to have for your fall kick-off to be effective. Here are five items that I think you need to have for this start to the new ministry year. I’ve even been able to tie them to the five items on my list this morning!
1. Supporters In Place
Your supporters include, but aren’t limited to, your church leadership, the parents of your students, the people who you have regularly praying for the youth ministry (you DO have a group of those amazing people, right? And you communicate with them often, right?), and those people who are willing to help out “anytime you need anything.” The ability that you have to generate “support” for you and the youth ministry will determine the long-term success of your efforts. Your support group is the water in your pack. You can do a bunch of hiking without it, but you won’t be able to go very far. And, you won’t recover from a big effort as quickly or as well. So, build relationships with those who may not be directly involved with what you’re doing, but who want to support your efforts. Make sure those relationships stay near the top of your checklist.
2. Team In Place
Since youth ministry happens person-to-person, not program-to-person, you need a whole team of people to help make the person-to-person happen. Since you’re just one person, you can’t expect to have significant relationships with all of the kids in your ministry PLUS all the kids who show up to check things out. All kinds of people are needed to reach all kinds of kids, so recruit as many folks as you can who are willing to befriend, teach, befriend, cajole, console, befriend, encourage, and challenge teenagers. (Did I mention that they should befriend kids?) Your team of volunteers will help you carry the load, like my dog carries his water and food that I would otherwise have to pack.
3. Big Events Identified
A youth ministry gains a lot of its reputation and momentum from the “Big Events” that it can pull off. The “GOOD TIME Event” in YLO89 is a good example of a Big Event. It generates tons of exposure, “brag factor” (what the kids talk about the next morning at school), and helps cement the youth ministry as an important part of the youth culture of that area. Think of Big Events as being paydays. You get an infusion of resources at each one that helps you continue on to the next. They are to youth ministry what a hat is to a hiker – they cap everything. (I know. It’s a stretch.)
4. Game Plan In Place
My iPhone tracks my hikes using a GPS app. I can see at any moment where I am, how fast I’m going, how far up I’ve climbed, how far I have to go – and see it all with the satellite imagery of the terrain I’m hiking. You need a similar view of your ministry. That’s your Game Plan. Set your teaching series, objectives, and other vital issues into place before you roll into your new year. Now, every year presents unique opportunities and challenges to a youth ministry. Maybe this year you have a huge influx of new freshmen, or you have a bumper crop of seniors. Maybe you’re really connected with the athletes this year instead of the musicians last year. You can’t use last year’s plan. So plan your programming, and your teaching series, to maximize the resources you have. You also need a degree of flexibility with your Game Plan. If something takes off unexpectedly, you need to be able to adjust – like when we decided to take a trail spur this morning instead of staying on the main trail. My iPhone showed me a possibility, and we adjusted our Game Plan to take advantage of it.
5. Budget Available
My dog, Tipper, is very well behaved. I have spent a ton of time (and money) training him. He comes when called, heels on command, and generally is a very well mannered dog. But, he’s big and black. And even though he has his own pack (which usually gets a lot of “Cute!” comments), a big black dog can spook some people. To keep him from going off in directions he shouldn’t, I bring a leash with me to use when other people with dogs are on the trail. Your budget should be like that leash. As long as you’re disciplined and well mannered, you won’t necessarily need the restrictions it brings. But, when tempted to go too far too fast, or engage in activities that might spook your church’s Treasurer, use a budget as a tool to control those urges.
I hope your new school year is AWESOME this year. I’m sure that these five items will help you make it even more effective!