In our conference call this Monday morning (you were asleep; we didn’t want to bother you) we were hashing through some of the unique challenges in planning ministry and mission and arrived at a great truism: the one constant in youth ministry is that everything is always changing. The way we used to do it doesn’t work anymore and often the moment we realize that something is working well is the same moment that begins to change. The math behind this is also why youthworkers in general LOVE it when a pastor head-pats them with the phrase, “I know how it is. I started my career in youth ministry.”
But the real result in youth ministry, particularly considering average turnover rates and the relative brevity of most youth ministry careers, is that today’s youth minister very likely doesn’t even know what used to be done that isn’t working anymore and very often can launch down that same path with a vague notion of how it might work. Usually based on a long-time church member’s best recollection of past ministry. And communicating that to over-tasked parents can be even harder, something we joked about earlier this week here. So today we want to open a framework for conversation, an outline to generate some shared information, focusing on EVENTS. Specifically offsite, whether an evening, full-day, weekend, or week-long. As you reply, hit these points for us:
1. How does your event attendance compare to your program attendance?
2. What criteria do you use to justify an event on the calendar (fun vs. spiritual growth, etc)?
3. Are you still able to do summer trips in spite of growing school schedules? If so, what kind?
4. How much do school programs affect your ability to do events during the year?
5. How do you communicate to your families? (Yes, all of the ways).
Here are mine:
1. Our average program event attendance represents about half of our active youth (if that wasn’t clear, our youth average attending 1 out of 2 program sessions). Of that number, about half again attend our non-program events. It often feels like we’ve provided a menu, and they’re choosing what they want to eat. They do seem to be equally drawn to fun events and spiritual development events, which is great.
2. Knowing that my numbers are going to be as above, I really try to keep the cost of events low; my personal cost for offsite events is covered by my budget, so I don’t like to spend a lot of that budget on events that only draw half of half of our kids. If a “fun” event is going to be expensive, I generally try to set it up without me (our adults generally pay their own way). Beyond cost, I try to make sure that “pure fun” events are equally balanced with mission and spiritual growth events.
3. This is getting harder in our community. School sports camps begin the day after graduation and continue until school begins again. Our school system also only has an 8-week summer and the schools are only required to leave the kids alone for ONE of those weeks (so they give them the week of the 4th of July, a holiday they’d have had to work around anyway). The crescendo of scheduling is really amazing in July; we really can’t plan anything that month. June participation in once thriving missions weeks continues to decline here.
4. The rest of the year is a little easier; at least the sports are spread out. Weekend retreats are the most noticeably affected; fall retreats lose football players and band members, spring retreats lose basketball and soccer players.
5. Weekly blog, email, bulletin; twice weekly (or as needed) group texts; direct calling or in-person meetings/announcements; quarterly direct mailing; quarterly parent meetings; announcements at every service/on-site youth program
How is it where you’re in ministry?