I hate surprises. Like, a lot. I had a surprise party once and the only thing I could when I came in was look around and stare at it. It's not that I didn't like it, I did. To be honest it was one of the coolest things someone has done for me. It was that I wasn't ready for an entire room decorated for me. Surprises throw me off because they're unexpected. And since I'm a bit of a control freak, the unexpected is scary. To get around that I try to plan as much as I can, what my day, week and month is going to look like. It's not perfect and it doesn't always work out like I hoped, but it's been a really helpful practice.
One way to plan in student ministry is to calendar. When we calendar we're putting some intentionality behind what we do. If you have a set of core values, use those when calendaring. Try to make sure everything you do fits in those. Our core values are an unapologetic commitment to the Bible, a climate of Gospel-focused relationships, a catalyst for raising up leaders, and a concern for missions to our neighbors and to the nations. Everything we do fits in one of those core values--there's no room or time for doing things for the sake of doing them.
Practically speaking, here are five guidelines for developing your student ministry calendar:
Plan realistically ahead - It's awesome to try to develop a detailed calendar a year in advance, but it's often not helpful. Realistically planning means marking down your major, bedrock dates (camp, mission trips, retreats) and working 3-6 months ahead on everything else. On those calendars, work a quarter ahead. For example, you should now be drafting your spring 2016 calendar and brainstorming your summer 2016.
Keep costs in mind - Parents often have to foot the bill for at least part of their students' participation. Be wise with how you ask them to spend their hard-earned money. Keep some of your activities close to home or on the cheap, and leave the big time things for a couple times a year. You also have to keep costs in mind because your church has a tight budget. Forward planning with costs in mind is a great way to keep your stewardship team happy with you!
Make missions a priority - So many student ministries get the label as a holding tank because they never do anything to make a difference. As a student minister, lead them to serve, and put it on the calendar. We try to do at least 6 missions experiences each year, as near as our church parking lot on Halloweeen and as far away as we can go.
Communicate any changes - As much as we try to plan and forecast, things happen. You get sick, the school hosts a major event, you get a freak snow storm, or the signup for an event tanks. In any case, you need to be flexible that changes will happen and communicate that to your students and to their parents as quickly and often as possible. Don't rely on word-of-mouth, use email, social media, announcements, and if possible phone calls or personal contact. Anytime you have to make a change, have a backup plan!
Have fun! - We try to do things so our students can have unique experiences before they graduate high school. So plan things that they want to come to and be a part of. Remember, it's not your job to entertain them or babysit them. You have a unique position to lead them in some cool things--so go skiing, whitewater rafting, to a MLB game, or play kickball in a park.
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.