You’ve planned an amazing white water rafting trip for your youth group. You’ve written every devotional, laid out every game, ice breaker, and small group activity. You found a great rafting company that will take care of all the logistics. You put down a deposit. A non-refundable deposit. You’re so excited about what this trip is going to mean to your students.
But you announced this event four weeks before it happens. And only four kids can go. The minimum is 12. And you can’t get that deposit back. What went wrong? And why are the parents so annoyed with you?
Events need to be on on the calendar 12 to 18 months before they happen so that you can effectively plan, budget, and recruit ahead of time. One of the biggest blunders in youth ministry is to begin planning far too close to the actual date of an event. When you fail to plan for youth ministry events 12 to 18 months in advance, several things can happen, including:
These are just a few reasons that advanced planning in youth ministry is essential.
While you will have a major role in formulating and working on the master calendar, this is not an activity to do on your own, especially in a new ministry. Crafting a good calendar also doesn’t happen in 30 minutes. Here are a few phases in the process:
In this phase you draw from the knowledge and wisdom of existing leadership structures (youth council, parent council, students, etc.) and make sure you have a clear idea of what the major events have been in the past. For example, if there is a tradition of a winter ski trip, find out the traditional weekend (if there is one) and get it on the calendar. During this phase, your master calendar doesn’t need to take the form of a final, well-polished product! You mainly want to get these key events and dates on one calendar to later be polished and put together for presentation.
Here are the questions to ask and answer in this phase:
1. What are the major annual events in the life of the youth ministry?
2. What are the church wide non-negotiable events you need to plan to participate in?
3. What are the major denominational events that need to be planned for?
4. Factor in schedules of schools, events, etc. that may impact students and their involvement.
If you’ve ever lived near the ocean then you’re probably familiar with “sneaker waves.” You can be enjoying a nice afternoon in the water with little waves lapping at your feet when all of the sudden a sneaker wave comes out of nowhere and drenches you. If you’d only been paying attention to the surf you might have seen it coming. Guess what, youth ministry has its own equivalent of sneaker waves: weekly programs, practices, community events, and routine church happenings that everybody forgets about until they conflict with your major events calendar. You may have the “Youth Christmas Musical” clearly blocked out on your calendar, but did you talk to the choir director and find out when practices are usually scheduled? Oh, there’s a full dress rehearsal two Saturdays before the musical?! Good thing you asked before scheduling a major event that Saturday.
Here are a few other typical “sneaker conflicts” that can drown your calendaring plans if you’re not careful:
1. Have you noted all major church events on your personal calendar and inquired as to whether there are practices, preparations, setup, etc. that the youth usually participate in?
2. Have you marked your own Sunday and midweek programs on the calendar?
3. Check your own anniversary, birthday, and other special dates.
4. Major sporting events and other community activities.
5. Holidays big and small
In the end, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid these sneaker dates, but if you can at least be aware of the possible conflicts by adding them to your calendar before scheduling events, then you’ll be able to brace yourself (and the ministry).
Take the information you gleaned from phases one and two and begin sketching out possible dates on the calendar. You know the ski trip is generally held sometime in January or February during the winter. Then pick a possible weekend. It’s best to use a traditional grid calendar so that you can visualize the actual time span between events. This can be a lengthy process (especially with a group), so try setting these proposed dates with the input of one or two other people (one or two parent council members are ideal).
Once you have drafted a calendar of proposed dates and have discussed them with your youth staff, share the proposed calendar with the entire parent council, youth council, church staff, and relevant committees. Make sure that anything you print says DRAFT – PROPOSED DATES on every page (you don’t want people to think these dates are written in stone). Ask these people to look for possible conflicts and problems that would affect a significant number of youth or the church as a whole. Work out any kinks in the schedule that are discovered. Thank people for their help. Take any insolvable calendar knots to your direct supervisor for wisdom.
Ask your direct supervisor at the church about the proper procedures for ratifying the youth events calendar and getting those dates added to the master church calendar. At the very least your parent council needs to vote to approve the calendar. And even if not necessary, it’s probably smart to present the final calendar for approval at the next staff meeting and maybe even at the next SPRC/Session/Elder Board meeting. Gaining wide approval of the youth ministry calendar is smart, and it also is the first step in advertising these youth ministry events to the congregation.
After you’ve done the hard work of making a 12 to 18 month master calendar with all the key dates, now it’s time to distribute that calendar in an effective manner. Some possible options include:
Determine the best ways to distribute this calendar out to key stakeholders including parents, youth, church staff, and church leadership. You may determine that there are two or three ways you need to distribute the calendar; for example, while the church staff may want a printed copy to work from, parents may want a simple list and students may want to access it via the internet. Determine the best options that work for you and set up a maintenance schedule for each.
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