Summer youth ministry ideas

Apr 24, 2019 7:00:00 AM / by Bryan Bliss


Summer will always be a challenging time of year for youth workers. On one hand, the summer months are a perfect opportunity to throttle down the programming and focus on other ministry tasks that may have been sidelined during the school year. On the other, the weather is great and your students – for the most part – have open schedules.

So, what do you do?

Opinions (and mileage) varies on whether a youth ministry should offer summer programming. For some, the summer is a needed time of sabbath. A period of rest, dreaming, and preparing for the next year. For others, the legitimate fear that momentum will be lost during a multiple-month break forces them to keep their foot on the pedal, whether they need a time to recuperate or not.

Possibly the best option is somewhere right in the middle. Choosing to plan a few easy and engaging activities over the summer will change up the pace of your normal programming, while giving you an opportunity to focus on your ministry (not to mention your spiritual life).

Here are five programming ideas guaranteed to get your kids to church this summer.

1. Plan a movie night

No surprises here. The movie night is a youth ministry staple. A summer movie night, however, is an opportunity to take a familiar event to the next level. If your church has space (an athletic field, a neighbor’s yard, or even a parking lot) set up a drive-in movie theater. 

Do-it-yourself screens are easy enough to make or purchase and seating is a “bring-your-own” affair. Plan a few throughout the summer and give them different themes, including themed snacks and costume contests.


2. Anything with water

Unless you live in an arctic climate, water games and activities are always a summer programming win. From pool parties to water game days, allowing students to simply show up and have some unstructured fun (while engaging their childhood nostalgia) is both easy and fun. 


Set up a common garden sprinkler. Buy some water balloons. Heck, just put out a couple of buckets and tell them they are under no circumstance allowed to get you wet (you’re going to get wet) and you’ve got yourself a youth ministry event.

3. Take a hike

Getting outside during the summer is a great (and usually inexpensive) way to not only interact with the natural beauty of the world, but also do important community building. There’s probably a state or national park within driving distance. Organize a day hike. Get some other adult volunteers, invite the students, and make sure you look out for bears. 

All kidding aside (unless, you know, you live in bear country...), use the hike to have conversations with students. Encourage them to look for God as they walk. Sprinkle in some contemplative prayer, some intentional silence, and your fun walk also becomes a meaningful spiritual activity. 

4. Do one big trip

It might be a camping trip to another state. Or maybe there’s a killer theme park just down the road. Whatever it is, plan one signature trip for the summer – something students can anticipate. Yes, the summer is about recovering and getting ready for the coming program year. But a big trip – something that’s going to grab their attention – is a good way to transition into (and create excitement for) the new program year. 

So much of youth ministry is about building memories. Big summer trips give youth workers an opportunity to expand the possibilities of that memory building work. 


5. Manage your expectations

Okay, so this one isn’t a programming idea, per se. But managing expectations is an important tip for summer programming – one that will not only make the rest of your events enjoyable for the students but will also help keep you sane in the process. 

There isn’t a youth worker alive that doesn’t get bummed out by an event that’s cancelled due to lack of interest. We plan events because we want students at the church – we want them around to learn and celebrate!

But the summer is going to be filled with vacations and sports and students wanting to hang out with their friends and... well, you probably know this story all too well. All the same, program with a spirit of hope. If the students show up, great! If an event accidentally falls on a week when every family is on vacation, take it in stride. 

Summer programming is always going to be a gamble. All you can do is plan some events, smile when kids arrive, and buckle up for a part of youth ministry that only happens once a year.


Get more ideas for your youth ministry programming in our NEW eBook! Download FREE here.


Topics: Youth Ministry

Bryan Bliss

Written by Bryan Bliss

Bryan Bliss is a veteran youth pastor, curriculum developer, and novelist. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.


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