If you have read my last three posts in this series on planning, you will have realised that I am a fervent believer in the planning process. This by no ways limits or restricts us from being open to what God is doing nor does it put all our trust in an imperfect programme. What it does do is give us confidence in what we are trying to achieve and enables us to work together as a team of leaders to enrich the relationships we are engaging in with the young people in our groups.
I have to admit there have been times when I have not spent as much time planning as perhaps I ought to have done. When I reflect on these times I relive the pressure I felt because lack of planning always meant that the bulk of the youth group sessions fell on my shoulders as the youth minister. Lack of planning meant I couldn’t delegate as much as I would like to which meant that I didn’t make the most of those leading with me, and probably frustrated them as a result. Lack of planning meant also that I felt like I was always running to catch up. Having no plan in place meant that I had to keep thinking of what to do. If I had a plan in place I would have been able to relax more and to spend more time investing in the young people. The bottom line for me is that my lack of planning increased my stress levels and made me feel like I was living by the seat of my pants! For me, this is not a satisfying, God-honouring, long-term way to live.
Planning is the way forward.
If you have followed my advice in the last few posts you will have now:
- Been convinced of the reasons why planning is so important and the benefits you get from it
- Involved your co-leaders and the young people in the planning process and have set some goals for the term or year ahead
- Thought through how your programme can help young people grow in relationship with God, with each other and with the wider church
This final blog post in this series will focus on three further areas to consider:
1. Memory makers
We need to be purposeful in thinking about what are the activities we will do which young people might remember in a few years time. If you could ask them in five years time what are their memories of being in the group, it will be these memory makers that they recall. They won’t remember the talks or the hours you spent putting together a powerpoint. What they will remember are the unusual prayer activities or the moments when they felt they connected significantly with God, the games where everyone had hysterics and the special outings and trips.
As you plan your programme have an eye to considering what might we be doing which they might remember. Make sure you plan these times especially well so that they go as well as they can. Memories build identity and belonging amongst the group and are vital for continued growth of the group.
When something goes well it is so tempting to keep repeating the same formula, hoping that it will repeat the success. This can happen for a time but will soon become predictable and stale. Don’t be afraid of mixing things up. If you always start in a particular way, don’t one week. This will help the young people connect more as they won’t fall into a predictable pattern.
Do you find yourselves playing the same old icebreakers and games? Mix it up! I tend to work on the ‘leave them wanting more’ philosophy when it comes to games. When a game works well, don’t ruin it by playing it to death but leave it for at least a year before repeating. That way when you do play it again they will be really excited. It does mean you need to build up your games repertoire but with such a plethora of ideas on the internet this is not difficult at all. Take a look at the links we recommend on Thrive’s website.
It may seem obvious or it might seem irrelevant but planning fun into your programme is so important! Fun is where people let their guard down and can open themselves up a bit more to one another. Fun lifts people’s morale and builds their self confidence. Fun unites people together and develops deeper friendships. We ignore the fun element of our programme at our peril.
As I write, I reflect on a great youth group night we had last night where we had an end of term party with lots of fun and games. It was one of those evenings where the leaders were clearly having loads of fun and laughing together as well as the young people. This is so essential because if the young people see the leaders enjoying themselves they are more likely to trust us and join in. It creates a group which isn’t seen as a service provision put on for the teenagers but a community where we encourage and build each other up.
Plan more fun into your programme!
If you include all these different areas into your planning time I know it will take you longer to design your programme but you will create something more dynamic, more exciting and more transformational than if you winged it each week. It will enable you, as a team, to take a step back and see what God is doing amongst the group and will motivate you for the future.
How far ahead you plan is down to you, your personality and the pace of change that your church likes to go through. I would recommend having a bigger picture plan for the year ahead, and more specific planning for the term ahead. How often you plan doesn’t really matter. Making sure you have a plan and a programme in place is what is vital.
What are you going to do as a result of reading these blog posts? What might you include in your programme that you haven’t included before? What would you recommend others include in theirs? Please leave a comment below.