I’m not sure where you live, but where I live, we’re not too far out of winter! I was shoveling my driveway at the end of April, and the first flowers in my garden didn’t bloom until Memorial Day! So please excuse me if I don’t want to talk about fall planning yet, it’s barely un-winter, and yes, I’m a little bitter about it.
The truth is, if I’m honest with myself, fall planning should have taken place in January, at least on some level. So true to form, I find myself a little behind the eight-ball again this year. I’m a little bitter about that too.
Now I’m in full-on summer mode. Though standard programming eases up just a bit in our church, summer is still replete with camp, an international mission trip, new leader recruitment & onboarding, and hopefully a family vacation somewhere in there. It makes fall planning tough.
So where do I start?
First, take a minute.
A deep, cleansing breath is in order. Quell the panic. Pray. Ask Jesus to calm your spirit and sharpen your focus. Ask him what he might like to accomplish or focus on this fall…first in you because our student ministries don’t grow beyond our own spiritual condition and next, in your student ministry. And once he gives you a glimmer of direction, ask how you might join him in that work.
Now, do some calendar mapping.
Consider what God has said about your focus and determine those ‘big blocks’ necessary to make it happen. Get that on your calendar first. For instance, God may prompt you to focus on outreach this fall. In doing so, you know you want to have a huge kick-off event, a series on inviting friends, and the inception of a new small group. On your summer calendar, add time to recruit new leaders for the small group (or repurpose current leaders and find new leaders to take their place). Schedule some time to write the series or look for the curriculum you can customize to fit the purpose of the talks. Pull together a programming team of adults and students who can help flesh out the details of the event and start making progress on logistics. THEN put the fall kick-off on your calendar, the church calendar, and your family calendar!
Next, consider any time off you’d like to take in the fall and get it scheduled with your pastor or supervisor.
Why should this happen so early? Because it’s pretty possible you’re going to miss a component of regular programming while you’re on vacation. Finding someone who can lead in your place and thoroughly equipping them to do so takes time and wisdom.
As your calendar comes together, you can determine if your Sabbath time calls for a one-off study or falls in the midst of a series. You can decide how complicated to make programming based on the volunteer support level available. And possibly, by scheduling so early, you might be able to take some time off to refresh! When we wait until we’re in the midst of fall programming to think about vacation time, it’s easier to put it off. And since our ministries don’t grow beyond our spiritual capacity, time off and soul care are vital!
More specific logistics are next on the docket.
- Devise a plan for leader training. Will you conduct it yourself or bring someone in to lead it? How will you market it to your volunteer team – will it be mandatory or optional? Where will it land on the church calendar and in relationship to the most important initiatives on your student ministry calendar?
- Begin assigning roles for any major events coming down the pike. Who is handling recreation for the fall retreat? Are you teaching every week, or will you rely on some additional adults to be part of that team? Do they have their material yet – or have you walked through developing it with them? Who is purchasing for the kick-off event and are the finance requisitions submitted?
- Are the perennials ready – those things that land on your fall calendar year after year? Do you have the school calendar front and center so you can continue with any commitments you’ve made to them? Have you booked and paid the deposit for the fall retreat venue? Have you enlisted the team to cook for the annual Thanksgiving feast? Since these things happen every year, handling them in the summer is a snap (and quite often overlooked). Then we’re panicked in the fall when we don’t have to be.
- Get the teaching overviews done for the fall. Series focus, key scriptures, and session titles/aims are enough to get the ball rolling and executing this type of forethought matters because, despite our best-laid plans, the ministry will happen around us. A week will be derailed and you’ll find yourself having to prep a Wednesday night talk at 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon. Having the big picture outline ready will prevent the paralysis that comes from panic when we’re unexpectedly behind!
And finally, give five minutes of thought to winter. I mean, truthfully, let’s learn from what’s happening right now. That sense of being utterly behind is nauseating. So even if planning ahead isn’t really part of your spiritual gifting – or required in your context – giving a few minutes of thought to a few seasons into the future at the very least helps us be a bit more strategic in our thinking.
Summer is quickly coming to a close. So grab fall by the hand and start dancing! There’s plenty of good music playing and nearly no one on the dance floor. You can hit your stride before it gets too crowded and the DJ gets tired.
Darren has been in student ministry nearly 30 years. Alongside his wife, Katie, they have ministered to thousands of kids, the most important being their own three sons. Some days he’s the pizza-eating, over-responding, teaching-on-the-fly, desperate-for-volunteers, frustrated-with-co-workers youth leader that we all are. And sometimes, he knocks it out of the park. He’s everywhere on social media that you are!