Some thoughts on planning for youth ministry

I’m trying to plan my fall and spring youth events. Being a planner, I hope that if I plan everything weeks in advance, then things will go smoothly. Ha! This is teens we’re planning for.

It’s so important to be where the kids need us to be, but they don’t always know either. And when the day arrives, they may not be at the place to discuss my carefully determined topic of the evening. So how do you plan when you know you may have to change plans at a moment’s notice?

The thing you need to know is what’s your real goal. Because it’s easy to get distracted and think My Presentation On Prayer is the most important thing, and it’s not. What is it you’re really aiming for?

My goal is to be invitational and inclusive for all of our youth. The topics really are secondary to the meeting. Some quiet and relaxing time for each youth is a real gift to each of them. I have to remind myself of that when I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on a plan that gets derailed because someone said something to someone else at school and ooooohhh. I want to say, really? Really? That’s more important than prayer? But right at that moment, maybe it is. Just like when I come home and want to talk about how someone said something to someone else and I need someone to hear me.

So since my goal is to be invitational and inclusive, what I find is that planning the space and environment where that can happen is just as important as planning the topics for discussion, and may take more time and thought.

I feel strongly that youth group is a place for our youth to be heard in a safe and quiet God centered space. How can you plan for that? So rather than thinking first about topics, I think first about what creates quiet, safety, and a God centered space. What creates room for listening?

I think it’s really important to have rituals. Rituals establish a space, and they can create a sense of safety, too, when things are familiar. Kids know they’re in a space where they will be heard and respected when the ritual signals that. You can do what you want to create rituals, but keep it simple and something that gets the youth engaged, either with one kid lighting a candle each time, or something involving getting everyone breathing, something that gives them a chance to focus. We have a ritual to start and end each meeting.

It’s important to have a sacred space. I don’t mean a religious-looking space. I mean a space that’s set apart for them. One of the worst things you can do for youth is tell them “This is your meeting space,” and then bump them for “an important meeting.” What does that say to them?

It’s important to allow room for whatever might have happened in their lives to come out. If you set aside some time each week for kids to share, make sure you have a set up way to do so. Otherwise, it’s easy for one person to dominate the discussion. And that includes the youth leaders! Not trying to fix their issues is so important. We can mentor important life skills just by offering them that each week. Have ground rules for sharing, although it’s never going to go exactly to plan.

So, yes, I’m doing a lot of planning. I plan topics and events and activities. But I have to hold on to them lightly. The youth often have something to share or a topic to talk about. They often pick the best topic naturally, based on their experience, and the time can pass quickly for all of us. If it doesn’t go according to my plan, it doesn’t mean it’s not going according to plan.  Pillows, candles (unscented), a ritual opening and closing, with some sharing, may be all we need for a great God-centered youth meeting.