by Paul Spurlin
I'm usually the first person to say, "Don't let programs drive you." Let's face it, programs within any youth ministry help to compartmentalize the activities in which we participate. There are a lot of great programs out there to help grow and develop our youth groups. But there are some things we need to keep in mind during the creation process.
First of all, what works for one group of young people may not work for another. We are dealing with different personalities. However, one thing that is often common among young people is always wanting to get together. It does not matter what age they are; they just like being together.
Secondly, when developing a program, ask this question, "Are we providing our teenagers something that they can't get somewhere else?" We need to give them reasons to come back for more. For example, any program needs to remain current and fresh. Spiritual and social areas should be covered in all programs. Try and create accountability and leadership roles among those who you want to attract. Make sure that this is something that you would want to do. If you don't like it or tire easily then your teens will as well. And above all, if something's not working, don't feel bad about making adjustments or just changing it all together.
There are a plethora of programs that a youth group can conduct to help grow spiritually and socially. Obviously, some can work better for summer and others for the school months. The following are some examples of what I have seen that works really well.
The first kind of program a youth minister would want to start is an extra Bible study or Q&A activity. Please understand that nothing should take the place of regular Bible class. That is a special time where the teens should know that we mean business. But during the week, pick a day for some extra Bible study. Maybe do a weekly or monthly or even bimonthly Q&A. The important thing is to be consistent.
Another type of program that is beneficial would be "Fun" activities or " Unique opportunities." For example, a few years ago we set it up to where we had a huge lock-in at a local double A baseball stadium. We watched the regularly scheduled game. Then afterward, we had a devotional in the outfield. After that we watched the movie "Space Jam" with Michael Jordan. It's pretty easy to be able to conduct activities and programs at certain locations throughout your community, as long as your known and involved in that particular area.
A third kind of program that young people really seem to gravitate to is the "Youth Conference." Fifteen to twenty years ago, the Saturday youth rally was a big hit. In some places, they are still very successful and needed. But these days our young people want more. Our young people today want to be challenged, but at the same time they want to meet other Christians. However, these programs can't be put together and conducted by just one person. You have to put together a group of people who all have the same goals to help put together the most successful program possible.
When putting together programs it is important to follow a good pattern for success. The church at Thessalonica seemed to really have it all together according to 1 Thess. 5. They were a prepared people who were ready for the Lords coming. They were a unified group of people. They comforted and encouraged one another. They were a peaceful people, living in harmony among even with persecution around every corner. They were a just and fair church. If any of them made mistakes or bad choices they would be confronted. They wanted to fix the problems right away. They respected the elders of that church. They honored them and spoke highly of those who had to make the tough choices. They always seemed to strive for what was a good result. They were always setting their sights to please God in all things.
Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to start retreats, camps, and youth rallies that are still alive and growing today that have really made a big impact in the lives of young people, and maybe some adults as well. Two of those are the Southern Evangelism Conference (SEConline.info) and Exposure Youth Camp (exposureyouthcamp.net).
They both are run by a seven-man Board of Directors and are led by an overseeing eldership. They also require us using a good number of preachers and youth ministers to teach our classes. This also helps in having a good core group of teenagers that we know will attend each year.
They are similar, but they are also very different. SEC is held on the campus at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama on the first weekend of August. EYC is held in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Huntsville, Alabama every December 27-30. SEC gives its attendees the college experience to stay on campus; EYC allows its attendees the opportunity to mix and meet kids from all over the southeast. EYC is a theme specific activity, whereas SEC is developed to help your teens to be better prepared for a life of evangelism.
The bottom line is, that there is something out there for everyone. And if you plan to start a big program, make sure to surround yourself with great people who love God and His Church. And if you just simply want to start a program for your own youth group, make sure that it's relevant, consistent, and spiritually uplifting. May God richly Bless you and your ministry.
Paul Spurlin is the youth minister for the University Church of Christ in Montgomery, Alabama. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.