Training Tools

How Do I Program a Basic 20 Minute Program?

Twenty Minutes? What’s so important about programming a 20 minute program?

Good Question. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do you effectively “draw” kids into your youth group?

  • Is it difficult to segue (or transition) from your “draw” to discussion or teaching time?

  • Do students have a reason to come back to your ministry each week?

  • Are you “pro-active” about achieving any of the above?

Learning to plan a 20 minute program will help you with the above.

In his dynamic communicator workshop, Ken Davis says, “If you can’t say it in five minutes, it’s not worth being said.” Is the same true for programming in our youth ministry? Can we “program” all the essentials into a program that only has a 20 minute running time?

I believe that if you can learn to program a 20 minute youth program, you can program most anything!

How can you draw kids in, open a discussion and wrap it up effectively in an alloted time slot? That’s what Daryl just asked me in this recent email:


    I am a YFC worker in Canada (Eastern Ontario) and have been so for many years. Recent changes in our school systems cause a much shorter lunch period than we have been accustomed to. Now – by the time the teens come and go, we have about 20 mins max to open, discuss and close a topic. We need some ideas on how to develop a short meeting system that is interesting and efficient. Any ideas? Thanks

    Daryl, CANADA

Great question-one that those of us who program 90 minute programs should pay attention to as well. How do we prepare an effective 20 minute program?

This is important, because if we can learn to program something in 20 minutes, those basic principles transcend to the 60, 90 and 120 minute programs as well. (I almost prefer the shorter times-especially with jr. highers!)

First, a comfort: it can be done! A few years ago I worked with a Youth for Christ where we had jr. highers running similar lunch programs where they only had 15 to 20 minutes to do their thing. We had to teach jr. highers how to run programs in that short of time. If they can do it-we can do it!

Start with your purpose or end-result in mind. Then program backwards from there. If your purpose is to share the Gospel, then your first goal is to perfect a different three to five minute Gospel presentation each week. I say three to five minutes because I’m keeping in mind that we only have 20 minutes. And, considering the fact that we’ll probably have at least four “stages” in our program, that gives us a max of five minutes per “stage.”

Remember, we’re planning backwards-starting at the end. So now that I’ve allocated a three to five minute slot for my Gospel presentation at the end, I now need to ask … “How will we get to there?” In other words, “What is going to provoke that Gospel presentation?” We need to create a three to five minute discussion that will introduce that Gospel presentation.

Here’s where we at THE SOURCE come in. Each week we try to plan new discussion starters, openers, video clip ideas, etc. for you to use in your ministry. So just pop on our OPENER page (CLICK HERE), on our VIDEO CLIP IDEAS page (CLICK HERE) or, in Daryl’s case, our OUTREACH page (CLICK HERE). These pages all have discussion starters that jump-start discussion and segue into a wrap-up or Gospel Presentation. Many of these pages also have small group discussion questions-you’ll just need to bypass that part with only 20 minutes. 20 minutes leaves no time for small groups.

Now, continuing to work backwards, we need an activity that would be fun that will draw kids there. In the case of Daryl’s lunch program we need to ask, “What will bring kids to our program during lunch?” My guess is that if we just put up flyers that say “Come to Campus Life where we’ll tell you about Jesus” … chances are, numbers will be small. So how can we draw them in so we create opportunities to share Christ with them?

So often, especially in the church, we forget this step. We don’t put much time into “the draw.” We just hope that kids come to our Wednesday night programs because, after all, we’ve always had a program on Wednesday night. Then we encourage our kids to bring their friends when we really haven’t considered … what is it that we’re asking them to invite their friends to? Are we providing something fun and relevant that our kids can invite their friends to?

This doesn’t mean that we have to run “Fear Factor” games every week. Fun activities can have a draw, but so can “relevant” teaching and discussions. Most of the unchurched kids at the school around the corner are looking for something. They’re looking for an answer to the “emptiness” in their life. We’ve got that answer. And relevant teaching is magnetic. I’ve seen numerous ministries draw students because of their “relevant teaching” alone.

So how do we draw them in? An important principle exists here that is often ignored in youth ministry programming. This principal is building “momentum.” We must realize that the first few weeks of programming are very important. “First impressions” are key. If we can build a momentum of fun activities and relevant discussions in our program, drawing students back each week, they will begin to “trust” the program. They’ll begin to return simply because it’s now “the place to be.”

That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to continue to create fun and relevant programming each week. (After all, each week brings new kids, building new momentum.) But we do need to realize the importance of the first few weeks.

With campus clubs like Darly’s, some ideas of a “lunchtime draw” for the first few weeks might be:

  • Inflatables like jousting arenas or boxing rings
  • Napoleon Dynamite Dance Contest
  • Root Beer Floats
  • Free Pizza
Don’t forget to have special events like this every once in a while throughout the year as well.

Each week we should have something fun that draws kids in and gets their attention. With jr. high students, crazy games work. A general principle that I used to use is this: Start with something everyone can do, then do something that entertains the group up front (that way you begin to focus the attention up front).

So you might start with an activity like the “I NEED A SHOELACE” game (on our AUDIENCE GAMES page … CLICK HERE) and then do the “HAPPY SHAKE” (on our SICK AND TWISTED GAMES page … CLICK HERE).

So now your 20 minute program might look like this:

  1. Fun opening activity that draws kids/gathers attention (5 minutes)
  2. Up front game activity that focuses attention up front (4 minutes)
  3. Opener- Discussion starter/video clip that starts discussion on topic (3-5 minutes)
  4. Gospel Presentation- (3-5 minutes)
This is just a 20 minute program example. Obviously, if you have more time, you can add more “hang out” time, (CLICK HERE for an article on the importance of providing time to just “hang out”) some small group time, (CLICK HERE for an article on running small groups) or time for full length curriculum (CLICK HERE) or talks/sermons (CLICK HERE).

Remember: if you can program it just 20 minutes long … you can program most anything. Keep giving them something to bring their friends to!

If you enjoyed this article from Jonathan McKee, learn even more about programming and budgeting in Jonathan’s award winning book, Getting Students to Show Up!
(Get the book at a discounted price here)


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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