Does length really matter?

How long should a series be in youth ministry? All year long? 3 weeks? 6 weeks? Best of 7?

I have always struggled with advanced planning. Early in my youth ministry career as a volunteer I hated the perpetual roll-over of content and curriculum. If you’re averaging 4-6 weeks in a series, the moment you begin you’re already looking for the next thing. Especially if you don’t have any idea what you’re doing next. It was a torturous cycle: find something at the zero hour before a Wednesday night; Thursday morning begin looking for the next thing–4-6 weeks later, find something at the zero hour.

At the opposite end of the spectrum several years later, I’m writing nearly everything our group does in any given meeting time. My school-year sessions are planned from September through May. The first time I hit the ground in fall with a session outline through the end of the school year, I felt like a wizard. But after a few years of that “success,” I discovered an unsettling truth–the kids hated the year-long series. A school year is an absolute eternity to them. Multiple relationships live and die in that span. It’s just too long. From a practical planning standpoint, I’d also become aware of attendance fluctuations from fall to spring that indicated that a third of the people that had begun a year-long series were missing huge chunks of it when spring sports kicked in. And visitors are obviously always welcome, but who really wants to try to jump into a series that you’ve clearly missed the first 12 weeks of? Nobody.

That argument and other details of my specific ministry had me at a point that I hadn’t seen in years this August: two weeks out from a return to school, I had no idea what our content would be for our program nights in September. Or October. And so on. I’ve been doing this too long to face this stupid climb again. In a ministry setting where I really can do ANYTHING, I couldn’t think of anything. In the past 24 hours I’ve saved this year; we’re taking a character word list generated at our last quarter’s parent meeting and spinning it into monthly themes for the school year. So while I still don’t knowexactly what we’re doing in September, I know it’s going to be about RESPECT. And October is going to be about COMMITMENT.

I realized too late that I’d been living out what I’ll call a classic mistake so that it doesn’t sound like it’s just my mistake: I was doing it all by myself. I’d made it my ministry.

Fortunately, and without any action from me, my parents saved the day. A group of them came to me (this will sound like a bunch of lies, but it’s true) and said that they felt like they’d left me high and dry when it came to executing good ministry. They had some (legitimate) frustrations, but instead of throwing me under the bus (which they could have on a couple) they came saying, “What can we do to make this happen? What can we take off of your plate?” I know! Weird, right? That team is redefining itself around each member having a specific role and voice in our ministry. It’s a Festivus miracle.

By next fall, I anticipate our parent team co-laboring with our youth leadership team to determine content for the year. Barring a similar magical uprising in your ministry, how do you go about determining content for your programs? Who decides the how long/what/why of what your group experiences on a week-to-week basis?


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