In an ideal world, youth workers would schedule every event – every lesson! – in the late and calming days of summer. You'd push back from your desk, pleased with your diligence and good work, and say to your senior pastor, "it is finished."
Okay, maybe you shouldn't say that.
But wouldn't it be nice if you could make a schedule at the beginning of the year and not have it change? To know without a shadow of a doubt that students were going to show up for your events on the days you planned them, and no rain, snow, sleet, or soccer tournament would keep them from attending?
The truth is, none of us can guarantee the schedules we make in August or September will last until Christmas. The one thing we can bet on is how inherently chaotic and unpredictable youth ministry can be.
So, how do you plan in the face of such ambiguity?
First things first: plan your program year
Let's face it, a lot of youth ministry lore props up a faulty run-and-gun mystique that, more often than not, gets youth workers in trouble. Yes, you should be relatable. And yes, it's okay to wear those new Chaco sandals to worship. But if youth workers are going to be taken seriously as ministry professionals – and we should want that! – there is a bare minimum of, well, responsibility needed.
A great place to start is planning your program year as early as possible. Doing so gives students and their parents an opportunity not only to see (and get excited about) what's happening in your ministry but also a chance to raise any schedule conflicts. Plus, it solves that "ohmygoshmyhairisonfire" feeling that happens when we try to schedule and plan events at the last second. And if you haven't started planning yet? Well, get started! It's never too late to send out a schedule.
Second things second: your plan isn't the gospel
Change is hard. Especially when you've created a bomb-proof schedule that nobody would ever think about questioning because – whoops, you scheduled your lock-in for the same night as the Valentine’s Day dance. Conflicts will always come up, and when they do, your program calendar will likely suffer. Is it fair? No. Is it going to change? Probably not.
Treating your program schedule as "firmly flexible" is a way to keep from pulling your hair out.
Should you change because a single student would rather go to a basketball game on your messy games night? Probably not.
However, if you accidentally schedule an event at a time that doesn't work for anyone, being rigid isn't going to help. Remember: your planning events for students. If they can't attend, what's the point? If you find yourself needing to reschedule an event, try enlisting parents, staff members, and students to help make the decision. It will never be a misstep.
Third things third: you're going to be okay
Maybe this whole "planning" thing is new to you. Or maybe you royally screwed it up this year. Or maybe everything has gone swimmingly, and you're suddenly thinking, "Wait. Why am I reading this?"
Wherever you're at, it's important to remember why you are working with youth and what the expectation is for that role. Likely, you're fulfilling a calling in your life (or somebody tricked you into volunteering with the promise of free pizza). And more than likely, the expectation is that you will make mistakes. That you're not perfect.
So! If you find yourself needing to build a new schedule, take a breath. Go outside for a quick walk. Grab coffee with your pastor or another youth ministry colleague. And when you come back to --no doubt!--create a schedule that will solve all your problems and simplify the rest of your youth ministry career, remember that it's all going to be okay.
Even if you did schedule that retreat on the same night as the Super Bowl.
Interested in taking the next step in planning for your program year? Check out our FREE self-evaluation form for your current program to get started!