How Do I Run a Successful Program?
Find a Purpose or Theme
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need a discussion topic theme, like "Knowing God." This might just mean understanding your purpose, like "to reach unchurched kids for Christ," or "to bring out a large number of new kids to youth group and show them a good time." You should always know what your purpose for the evening is!
Brainstorm the best possible ideas to do your purpose. If your purpose is "to bring out a large number of new kids to youth group and show them a good time," then you might come up with ideas like free pizza or Giant Sumo Wrestling Pits. During the brainstorming process, no idea is bad. Dream up even the most crazy, impossible things.
Incorporate it with your Resources
Now it’s time to get back to reality. If your brainstorm idea was to send every new kid to Hawaii for a vacation, here’s where your budget tells you that this is impossible, and you’ll just have to send them to Fresno (for us California folks). Incorporate it with your . . .
Now it’s time to market this. Decide where the best place to do this is. If your purpose is to "reach unchurched kids for Christ," then you don’t want to just announce it at youth group. You need to find a way to advertise on campus, or places that teens hang out in your area. Effectively communicate the draw (e.g. free pizza).
I’ve seen tons of events fail, not because it was a bad idea, but because it was poorly marketed or advertised. Cool fliers and posters and a big draw will not guarantee a good event. I saw a local church publish professional fliers and posters for an event that Ken Davis was going to speak at. Ken Davis is very good with large audiences and usually speaks to audiences of over 500. He is also very busy and consequently very hard to book. The church targeted all the churches in the city, hoping to bring thousands out. About 70 people showed up.
Let me introduce you into an important concept in advertising: momentum. If you’re going to do a big pizza event to bring out a bunch of kids to your Tuesday night program . . . don’t just start the year off with the event. Build a momentum. Start the year off bringing out as many students as you can. Have them start bringing their friends. Build up the group’s size using events like "Manhunts" (see Special Events and Activities) and let them know the "pizza bash" is coming. Finally use the students, your most effective marketing tool, to bring back as many of their friends for the event. You can always offer incentives, like prizes for the person that brings the most friends, etc.
This is for student leaders. A bunch of work into a program is futile if your leaders don’t show up. It’s hard to build momentum when your leaders can’t even come!
1. Don’t be Prepared
If you really want to make sure students won’t come back, just throw together your program that night. Don’t have any props ready for the games, just make the crowd wait while you get your stuff in gear! (See Jonathan’s Seven Deadly Sins in Game Leading)
You can also guarantee failure by not screening your testimonies or talks. Just have your average Joe stand up there and wing it! They’ll always say really interesting things that make everyone feel at ease! (Yeh, right!)
2. Only include the "in crowd"
You can make people feel like they don’t belong by using just the popular kids up front. Use them over and over again and use private jokes that only they understand.
3. Use poor transitions
The best way to do cruddy transitions is to just stand there when one thing is done and say "so what’s next?" Then you can whip out a piece of paper and read what’s next while the crowd sits and picks their nose!
4. Use alienating Language
In an outreach to "unchurched kids," use words and phrases that only the church kids understand. (See article titled “Do They Run When They See You Coming?”)
5. Hang out with all your friends only
This is a great principle for student leaders that don’t want to reach others. Don’t reach out to anyone outside your group . . . Jesus probably wouldn’t like them anyway!
6. Don’t participate or pay attention
Sure, everyone is watching you, but they should mind their own business. Just don’t wonder why no one is paying attention . . . they just followed your example!
Really folks, you are watched. I go to tons of events where the youth leaders all stand around the edge instead of mixing with the kids and sitting among them. Huge mistake! Use the opportunity to hang with them as well as being interested yourself.
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Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; 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 TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.