People don't plan to fail, they fail to plan!
As I was previewing Jim Burns new edition of THE YOUTH BUILDER, I underlined this statement, "Vision usually isn't the thing that hinders most youth ministries: it's a lack of administration that sinks many of them ... in reality, a well administered ministry will provide more valuable time to spend with your students."
Planning ahead is important. So how do you do it?
JUST TWO HOURS A YEAR
Every year take just an hour or two- no joke- just an hour or two- and lay out your year's schedule. Start with a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen and start planning.
I. START WITH PURPOSE
The first thing we have to do is remember our purpose. Let's not fall into the category of ministries that plan events, activities, camps and retreats simply because, "we've always done that."
What is your purpose for your ministry? Is it Biblical? If your purpose is "to have the biggest youth group in the town of Plano, Texas," then, chances are, your purpose isn't Biblical. How about Reaching youth with the Gospel, Making Disciples of Jesus, and Teaching them how to serve others. You'll notice that statement has three purposes: reach, disciple and serve. Most good purpose statements will have different purposes in them.
Now there are some excellent training programs that focus on just that- developing your purpose. We could spend this whole chapter on vision statements, mission statements, etc. As valuable as that is- I'm going to assume that we've already done that and you can simply plug your mission, your vision, or your purpose right on the top of the page.
In Doug Field's book "Purpose Driven Youth Ministry" he gives us an example of a purpose statement from a church in Mesa, Arizona (page 63).
"The goal of our student ministry is to expose teenagers to God's love, to equip them to exalt God, enjoy other believers, and experience the work of the ministry."
This statement from a church we will call "First Church of Mesa" values five different purposes: evangelism, discipleship, worship, fellowship and service or ministry- great basics for any youth group. (If you haven't ever put a purpose statement together, I encourage you to do so. As we dig deeper into the planning process you'll see the importance of developing your purpose.
II. LIST ALL THE EVENTS, ACTIVITIES AND PROGRAMS YOU CAN THINK OF
Now that your purpose is clear, take the time to brainstorm every event you'd like to do this next year, every event you did last year, every event the church next door did last year and the events you always wanted to do, but haven't done for some reason or another.
No joke- just start listing stuff: trips, camps, weekly programs, mission trips and fun activities. If you start out with the previous year's list of events, it's not hard.
III. MATCH EVENTS/ACTIVITIES/ PROGRAMS TO YOUR PURPOSES
Now that you have your purpose statement written down and your list of possible stuff to do, it's time to match activities and events to your purposes. We can't do that unless we really understand how activities can accomplish a given purpose.
A Common Misconception
I don't want to get on my soapbox, but this is the most neglected step I see in youth ministry planning today. Youth ministries often plan activities, events, EVEN WEEKLY PROGRAMS without any idea what the purpose is for that particular activity.
Whenever I'm booked to speak at an event or camp, I always ask "What is the purpose of the event?" Numerous times I will get a blank expression or a silence on the other end of the phone.
One time this happened and I clarified. "Is this an outreach event, a growth event or a leadership event?"
That answer always kills me. Let me just say this:
$ There are unbelieving students out there who never ever want to set foot in a church.
$ There are unbelieving students who would go to church if there was a good enough reason (like an attractive member of the opposite sex inviting them).
$ There are unbelieving students who are curious about spiritual things, might truly be seeking for an answer to the emptiness in their life and realize that the answer might be at church.
$ There are luke-warm students who have grown up in the church, heard a thousand messages, but don't make God a priority in their lives.
$ There are believing students who have just made a commitment and are ready to grow.
$ There are believing students who are ready to serve and minister to others.
Different events target different kids. Let's face it- if you want to target the kid who never wants to set foot in a church, 99% of the time you are NOT going to start by inviting him to a Wednesday night prayer meeting. However, you might invite him to the skateboard event, the ski retreat or the concert. If you want to provide a place of growth for the students who just made commitments to Christ, you probably are NOT going to just take them to outreach events that just present the Gospel and give and invitation each week. However, you WOULD want to bring him to the new-believers' Bible study or the weekly CROSS-TRAINING growth program.
Don't try to do it all with one event. If you try to target all the above students with all your events- your impact will be weak. That's why different programs, events and activities achieve different strategies of your purpose.
How to Match
To illustrate how to do this step, we'll look at the above "First Church of Mesa" and see how we would match events and activities to each of their purposes.
The Arizona church above might come up with the following type of events/activities/programs for each area of their purpose statement:
"First Church of Mesa" would need to have events and activities that reach out to unbelievers inside and outside the church. Remember, these might be events that are just plain FUN and students in your group would feel comfortable inviting their friends. They might even be events where the Gospel will be presented.
It's not bad to have an event with the simple goal of "Bringing in lots of kids and showing them a good time!" "Fun events" open the door to evangelism opportunities. Don't underestimate the power of well-trained relational staff spending time with students in order to gain opportunities to share the Gospel. This can be as rewarding as an outreach event where the Gospel is preached.
What better purpose to follow EVANGELISM than DISCIPLESHIP. "First Church of Mesa." does NOT want to just bring students to Christ and then abandon them. They want to disciple them and help them grow in their faith.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
So "First Church of Mesa" needs activities, events and programs where Christian students can grow in their faith. Many youth ministries have this as their weekly program. But realize, retreats, camps and activities can do this just as well.
A friend/youth worker in my area always takes his students on a "Relationships Retreat." The purpose of this retreat is to talk to Christian students about their relationships with the opposite sex. This is an excellent part of their growth as young men and women. At this retreat, many of the students pledge "to wait" for sex until marriage.
Many camps have the purpose of DISCIPLESHIP or growth. It's great for churches to provide a time of FELLOWSHIP and spiritual growth for Christian students in this atmosphere.
Don't forget about Bible studies or small groups. These are excellent ways for students to grow in their relationship with God and other Christian students.
"First Church of Mesa" also needs to provide a time of worship, as worship is one of it's purposes. We've seen a lot of ministries start to incorporate this more in the last decade as they've realized the power of the Holy Spirit through worship. Worship bands like Sonic Flood and Delirious were some of the first bands that made worship songs "mainstream." WOW Worship CD's are growing more popular each year..
Many students are responding well to worship events- a program that's centered around praise and worship. Worship can also be a part of many of the activities and events we've already planned.
Fellowship is also a purpose of the above church. This church should include events that provide fellowship among believers.
They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer.
I have received some emails from people who complain that I shouldn't have all the "fun and games" on my web site. Several have even argued that every game MUST have a biblical application.
I understand that some youth ministries have sacrificed any depth for JUST fun and games. HOWEVER, I'm concerned when people feel that we can't provide students a time of JUST fun.
We must realize that our students are bombarded by hundreds of opportunities to make bad decisions each day. Many of these are VERY attractive decisions ... that result in a lot of pain. One of the best defenses our students have against these tough choices is FELLOWSHIP. Christian students should build relationships with other Christians to encourage each other during these tough times.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.
Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble.  And on a cold night, two under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But how can one be warm alone?  A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Don't feel guilty providing a time of just plain FELLOWSHIP. Realize that relationships are very important to God. So important- that he made his two "greatest commandments" about relationships. In short, "Love God" and "Love Others"
Fellowship is a great purpose and many of our events can provide that.
Ministry is the fifth purpose of "First Church of Mesa." This church should provide opportunities for students to minister, serve and maybe even lead.
As students grow in their faith, serving others becomes an incredible part of Christian growth. We can provide many opportunities for students to do this. Leadership teams, where a core group of students help run your ministry, are a great way to achieve this. Leadership retreats, conferences and trainings are also very effective. Sometimes the best chance for a student to minister is in the opportunity to share their faith with a friend or bring them to church.
As you can see- there are a lot of things we can do with students that do more than just "keep them busy." All our activities, programs and events should have a purpose. Take time to match our activities, programs and events to your purposes in this way. This will keep you not only focused on the purpose at hand, but the big picture of why you are doing what you do. Not to mention- this will help you answer questions from angry parents demanding to know why their child threw up after eating SPAM out a bowl, drinking a gallon of milk, and spinning around a bat 10 times!
IV. CHECK YOUR BALANCE
At this point you have laid out your purpose, you have listed all possible programs, activities and events, and you have matched them with your purposes. Now you have to check your balance before filling out your calendar. What do I mean by "check your balance?" I mean this:
Are your purposes BALANCED? Do you have the right amount of programs, activities and events in each purpose area? If the above Mesa, Arizona church has purposes of EVANGELISM, DISCIPLESHIP, WORSHIP, FELLOWSHIP, and MINISTRY, does the church's annual calendar congruently have a balanced number of programs, activities and events in each purpose area?
For example: what if FIRST CHURCH OF GEHENNA has a "Celebration" service on Sunday (WORSHIP, DISCIPLESHIP) a weekly Tuesday night program called "Growing Deep" (DISCIPLESHIP, WORSHIP), small groups (FELLOWSHIP, DISCIPLESHIP), a Bible Camp (DISCIPLESHIP, WORSHIP, FELLOWSHIP), and a leadership team that helps run all of these (MINISTRY) ... and that's about it? Is this church missing anything? EVANGELISM is missing from this ministry.
This ministry should add monthly fun events that students could invite their friends to or specific outreaches where they bring in a speaker to share a Gospel message?
Your annual calendar should reflect your purpose. This should include different types of programs, meeting the needs of different students. If your calendar is filled predominately with a bunch of fun and games and nothing with DISCIPLESHIP value, chances are that students aren't going to be challenged to grow in their faith in that ministry. Furthermore, your students that are eager to grow are going to either go somewhere else where they can grow, or they'll stay and become stagnant.
On the other hand, if your calendar is filled with only deep Bible studies, prayer meetings and intense Biblical teaching, chances are your ministry won't be doing a lot of EVANGELISM. Students won't feel like they can bring their friends and IF they do, their friends will probably not feel comfortable and they won't come back.
A balanced ministry with a balanced calendar will have programs, activities and events in each purpose area, reaching out to students, providing a place of growth, and building mature Christians who will minister to others. Make sure your ministry's schedule is BALANCED to reflect your purpose.
V. START DECORATING YOUR CALENDAR WITH YOUR MATCHED EVENTS
Now that we have in mind what events fulfill what purpose, we can plan out our calendar. Unfortunately, many youth workers often start at this step- just filling in events on the calendar. However, the way we have done it, we are going to make sure our year reflects our Biblical purpose for our ministry.
This is the fun step. Lay out your calendar for the school year, grab activities, programs and events from our lists and plop them on our calendar. I wish this step was as easy as simply "grabbing and plopping," but, obviously there are things to consider when choosing dates like facilities, equipment, the church calendar, and the school calendar.
VI. DOCUMENT WHEN TASKS NEED TO BE DONE
Planning a year in advance not only keeps you on track in your ministry focus, is also opens opportunities for excellence in your activities, programs and events. If you plan ahead you have 10 TIMES the chance of getting that facility you want, riding in the transportation you want, booking that speaker you want. And all of us have been at events where any of those weren't great- it affects the attitudes of kids, the attitudes of staff and very often, the overall perception of the trip.
Let's face it- $$ is a big issue for many of us. Lots of times we choose against certain trips or events because of price. Planning ahead opens the doors for parents to beginning saving for trips and students to begin fund-raising.
Look at your events for the year, one day at a time. Ask yourself, "Is there anything I need to do prior to this month to make this event successful?" If the answer is "yes," write it down. For example, do you have an event that is going to need a guest speaker? Why not start looking for one now? http://www.thesource4ym.com/speakers/jonathan.asp
Every year I would plan a guest speaker within the first month or so to come in and share the Gospel. At the school I worked with, rap music was very popular, so I would usually book a Christian rap artist. This had to be done months ahead of time. I often had to book an extra large sound system for this event. Several years in a row I contacted a local church that sent several guys to come out, set up and run the sound for the concert. These guys, excited about what went on that night, would go back and give great reports to the church. Very often I made it a point to thank that church, several times from the stage on Sunday morning, announcing how many students received Christ and thanking them for their participation in the event.
Events like this one demanded extra security. This gave me the opportunity to call up men I knew from area churches and ask them to be involved. Many of these men were so impressed with the event, they became financial supporters.
Every event you plan has some planning, booking or recruiting involved. Document when you need to do this, transfer those tasks to whatever calendar you use, even making some of the calls right then if necessary.
WHY PLAN AHEAD?
Regardless of whether we are full time youth ministers or whether we are the pastor's sister who somehow got suckered into running jr. high Sunday School, we have the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of young people. This privilege has been entrusted to us by God. We might be the only glimpse of God a student sees. What does your program reflect? Excellence? Or whatever you throw together because you are really busy.
Here's the ironic thing: if you plan the way we have discussed, if you take the time to book things ahead of time, nail down necessary details and plan ahead ... you'll have MORE TIME and you'll open the doors to opportunities for greater impact. Remember Jim Burns' quote, "in reality, a well administered ministry will provide more valuable time to spend with your students."
If you like this quick little article you'd love the entire chapter. This article is just a piece of a chapter in Jonathan's hit book THE TOP 12 RESOURCES YOUTH WORKERS WANT
! The book goes into much more detail and gives examples you can follow. The book also includes the top games, events, ideas and discussion starters that youth workers want.