by Jason Sansbury
Whether we like it or not, the fall school season is almost here! Here is a quick look at some of the things that you should consider as you get ready to start your fall programming and ministry.

Do transitions well.

One of the great parts of youth ministry is that your group changes every year! At the start of the new year be very intentional in programming in how you try to help two important groups: just graduated seniors and rising new students.

  • The seniors that just graduated are making HUGE transitions in their lives and you want to make sure that they don’t feel completely abandoned, especially if they are going to college. It is worth the time and effort to collect their school contact information; talk with your leadership about who wants to stay in touch with which student and be available to them when they are homesick and just need to be reminded that someone cares.
  • The rising new students (junior high or high school) are always bundles of energy, excitement, and nervousness. Consider hosting a special night that is just for the new students and possibly for their parents. Help them understand what you do at your different weekly activities, what you expect of them and how much you value you them and their participation. This is also a great time to set the tone with their parents about being open to communicating with each other and nurturing the new students along. If a student is having a hard time with the shift into middle school ministry, you want to know and to be able to help make that experience better! Ask parents to help give you feedback along the way. (And this major life transition is a fantastic time to target some families with this age student who may have drifted from your church family! This is a BIG change and it makes families more open to help and support during it.)

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Hopefully, you are aware of the major events for the coming school year. Now comes the hard work of communicating. Do everything you can to help communicate the whats (dates, times, costs, deadlines) and just as importantly the whys (why you are doing everything that you are doing). The reality is that the world we live in now provides all of our students a variety of opportunities for what to do with the limited time and money every family has. Work hard at helping families understand why involvement in the youth ministry should be a priority with them. To do that you have to hit them on multiple fronts: parent meetings, church newsletter, special mailings, etc. The more you communicate with parents and students the more likely they are to actually pay attention.

Know where you need help.

At the start of a school year, you are more likely to have people be open to helping in different capacities. But one of the first things that will turn someone away is an offer to help that is met with an unsure answer. Not just for fall but at all times, you should have a list of things that you need help with and what the expectations of those jobs are. If you don’t have an answer, the PTA at their school or the soccer team or Boy Scouts does. Be ready for that rare moment!

Think about how your ministry is engaged with different schools.

Some school systems are open to the possibilities of youth workers visiting students on campus during lunch and some operate on a much more closed capacity. Regardless, you need to consider ways you can engage in the local schools where your students are enrolled. Look for opportunities and places where the schools need volunteers and give what you can. One of the best seasons of ministry I ever had was serving as a volunteer with a local high school band and being a person who helped move equipment on and off the field during the halftime show. Just being present meant that more students knew me and who I was, more parents appreciated me, and I was able to serve as a default chaplain in some unchurched students’ lives when a crisis occurred. Every school needs and wants volunteers so volunteer and make sure the administration knows you just want to help and aren’t there to proselytize. The more you do this, the greater the relationship you will have with the school administration and the larger your ministry’s reach can be!
(Another quick tool for ministry at schools: borrow the yearbook from the year before, copy the pages of the students’ pictures and names. Then recruit some people of your church to take a page and pray for those kids over the coming school year!)

Schedule well.

Everybody has moments in any given season where they are going to be stretched thin. Be smart. Look at your schedule and plan accordingly. The Sunday night after a Friday night lock-in isn’t the time to launch a major new event. That is the night to plan a good video-based lesson and to not feel bad about it. You have to learn what your church and your rhythm is but nothing will burn you out faster than not being smart with your schedule!

Look down the road.

Remember how this summer came to an end and there was a mild panic because fall was here? Work to avoid that. Spend some time thinking through these questions:

  • Are the major pieces to the youth ministry calendar for this year handled?
  • What is going to happen to the youth ministry budget? Fall is the time when many churches start the budgeting process and if you are going to ask for an increase, now is the time to do the work to justify what you are asking for. Conversely, it may be that for different reasons you are going to see a decrease and want to look at how to adjust your events accordingly.
  • What does next summer look like? Don’t wait to plan. Start thinking through and working through with your leadership on what the next summer brings. Think through what the major pieces are and what needs to happen now.

Jason Sansbury is the youth minister at Belle Meade United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.  Previously, Jason has served churches in Franklin, Tenn. and Georgia and has been on staff with YoungLife.  Additionally, Jason was one of the founding partners of Crossed-Up Ministries, a ministry specializing in putting together large worship events for youth groups.  He has a heart for helping young people find their call into ministry and succeeding early in their ministry and careers. For fun, Jason loves movies, music, and television. He is a fount of useless pop culture trivia and dreams of being a winner on the TV show Jeopardy.