Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Value of Program Planning

While the youth ministry context requires a certain level of flexibility in planning, year-long program planning is a necessity for a smooth and well-run youth ministry. When events are planned well in advance, last-minute changes due to lack of foresight are less common, programming runs more smoothly, and involvement and attendance increase. Students and parents have more of an opportunity to become aware of activities, and the overall awareness of and support for the youth program increase.
Many middle and high school students rarely have extra spending money, and parents of youth are not often willing to spend money on something which they consider an “unnecessary social event” such as a concert or sports game field trip with the youth group. As such, it is important to have a balance between costly events such as concerts and mission trips, and free events such as lock-ins or movie nights. This also ties into varying activities by category—incorporating social, spiritual, and service events into the yearly plan. Refusing to vary the curriculum by only offering spiritual events, for example, may eliminate a large portion of the youth population, as spiritual events often create a sense of exclusivity or elitism, with only “church-y” students attending and un-churched students feeling as though they are unwelcome. Planning only social activities, conversely, provides an excess of outreach and fellowship without discipling students and helping them to grow spiritually. Finally, planning only service events teaches students to help others to grow without helping them to develop their own faith and knowledge, potentially leading to students with shallow faith and selfish reasons for outreach.
Youth in the church can often be overlooked. They may feel as though they have no place in the congregation, as they are not old enough (in the eyes of many adult congregation members) to make decisions for the church, and they consider themselves too old or responsible to blindly follow the plans that adults make for them. In order to pull away from this duality, many youth will take control of what little they fell they can in their life, often leading to a separation from the youth group. However, when a certain level of responsibility for and ownership in the youth group and its plans are given back to the youth themselves, they are more likely to remain involved and encourage involvement from other students. Of course, youth still lack much of the experience and wisdom of age, and as such, parents and adult counselors must also be involved in the planning process. Adults can bring a perspective that the youth may not, recognizing the dangers of certain activities, the complications with planning events, and the importance of incorporating an equal amount of spiritual, service, and social events. Youth and adults should be involved equally in the planning process, with the staff youth leader being the mediator and final decision-maker to resolve conflict.
Equally as important as ensuring that youth feel a sense of ownership in the youth group and congregation is ensuring that the congregation feels responsible for the youth group. Many churches allow the youth group to become a “miniature church”, attached to the primary congregation only due to premises and funding. Due to this fact, informing the remainder of the congregation of youth activities, involving them in year-long planning and events, and ensuring that the youth program is not forgotten by the church as a whole, is absolutely vital.

In a congregational setting where many events are planned at least a year in advance, if not long before, the skill of intentional program planning is absolutely vital. For the youth program to survive and thrive, it must be able to function on the same level—and in some form, in the same way—as the church it is part of. Part of this ability to function includes planning events and programming within the same time limits as the rest of the congregation, allowing the other ministries of the church or congregation to acknowledge that not only is the youth group existent and active, but also competent and vital as a ministry. In short, program planning is one of the most important skills a congregational youth leader can possess.

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