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Seven benefits of shutting down youth ministry programs for the summer

7 benefits of shutting down youth ministry programs for the summer When I first came to this church two years ago, all Christian Education pretty much came to a halt during the summer — no Sunday school, no small groups, no large-groups, no regular youth meetings at all. I had never heard of a church that did that before and thought, “Why in the world would you stop youth ministry programs during the summer? Don’t teenagers need Jesus just as much during the summer as they do during the school year?” My church’s response was that most people are gone during the summer and have such irregular schedules that it is very difficult to run any programs. Attendance is low and it’s difficult to get adult leaders on board. Although it made me raise an eyebrow a bit, I went along with the tradition as the newbie at the church.

Since then we’ve added weekly summer Bible studies at my house that my wife and I lead without the help of other adult leaders, so at least there’s something regular for kids throughout the season, but that’s about it except for a couple big trips (one for sr. high, one for jr. high). Still no Sunday School or traditional youth group meetings.

I actually converted to being a strong supporter of slowing down and even ending youth ministry programs during the summer for several reasons besides low attendance and irregular schedules.

1. It provides time for me to pull back to a birds-eye view and refocus on the big picture. All year long I’m staring at the ministry from so close-up that I get cross-eyed and don’t always remember the big picture of our ministry. It’s easy to get bogged down in running individual programs and loose sight of the overall direction of our ministry as a whole. When you drive at full-throttle for so long, it’s hard to notice subtle shifts in direction until you stop to widen your perspective and take a look at the map.

2. It gives me time to properly evaluate the ministry. It’s hard to work in an annual evaluation of the entire ministry when there’s no real break for doing so. It’s even harder to think objectively, pray and talk through necessary adjustments and changes when the programs just keep running and running without a pause. You don’t fix a car without first shutting it off.

3. It gives adult leaders a well-deserved break so they’re rested and energized for the fall. There’s no substitute for a team of rested and energized youth leaders! They all work so hard during the school year, they serve so sacrificially, and give so much of themselves to teens that the summer is a great time for them to just relax and recharge. They tend to stay on the youth team longer and avoid burnout when they have the summer break. And anyone who works in youth ministry knows that longevity for youth workers is essential to life-change.

4. It allows me to do a lot of vision-casting for the fall. After proper evaluations have been conducted and we have a plan for improvement to take kids deeper and wider, I have most of July and August left to cast that vision, communicate it with parents, teens and leaders. It’s a time for everyone else zoom out to a birds-eye view of the ministry, too.

5. It provides a natural transition when we re-launch in the fall. It kind of provides us with a clean slate for when normal ministry programs do start up again. We can make changes, cut things and add other things to the ministry without a lot of complaints because everything is new again. Plus, when we launch everything in the fall, there’s always much more excitement and energy. Momentum builds very quickly.

6. It provides sufficient time to hang out with kids while they’re not in school. You could say, “Kids aren’t in school during the summer, so that’s the time to rev up your youth ministry!” That may be true in your community, but here in Alexandria, Minnesota, it doesn’t really work that way. So instead I see it as a goldmine of opportunities to spend one-on-one time with kids every day. Instead of trying to keep kids busy with programs that may or may not be spiritually influential, I’d rather focus on relationship building with individuals and in ways I know will be spiritually influential.

7. It’s my time to read, self-educate, and do miscellaneous projects. The school year is so busy that I tend to put “continuing education” off to the side. Youth and adolescence changes so rapidly that it’s different almost every 6 months! What I learned about youth ministry back in Bible college years ago hardly applies to today anymore. It’s very important that I continue to read, study, learn and don’t become an obsolete youth leader. It’s also a great time to jump on those projects that otherwise would always be on back burner (like rebuilding our group’s website, organizing the office and cleaning out storage closets).

Do your youth ministry programs slow down or pause completely during the summer? We’d all love to hear why in the comments below.

[ UPDATE: To add some clarification to this post, read the follow-up of what our summer youth schedule DOES look like. ]


Posted on May 20, 2009

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  • Thanks Tim.

    I've been "feeling" this as I head into my first year of full-time student ministry. It seems natural to shift the pace up from our regularly scheduled program.

    Thanks for voicing this, I needed it.

  • Tim, thanks for saying this. I have been saying this and slowing down for years. People ask me how I have stayed in youth ministry for 30 years and why I have long-term volunteers. Part of the answer is found in the summer slow down. I hear way too many youth pastors who gear up in the summer and then wonder why they are feeling so burned out. I will be printing this out to use with our volunteer staff as an affirmation.

    Thanks for your good thinking.

  • Hey man — this post popped up on Twitter just as I was trying to figure out our summer schedule for June….and earlier today I had caught myself asking, "Okay man — what programs can I do this summer…?"

    Dang.

    A good reminder for us all i think…

    However….your silly comment thing wouldn't let me post my full last name. What? Is it prejudiced against people w/2 last names…?????? :)

    • Yeah, no double last names. ;) Besides, you can't truly have two last names. Only one of them can be last. Guess your LAST name is Cleaveland.

  • Tim,
    You're dead on. I'd love to take a break during the summer, spend more time on individual kids. But, the problem lies in my leaders (elders) who objected, strenuously, to wanting to take the summer off for just one program (one that was doing poorly DURING school). How can you possibly do that when you have leadership that judges you by programs done and not by lives changed?

    • I'm not really sure how you do that except to humbly repeat yourself over and over again and back it up with scripture. Over-communicate your values and the potential impact it could have on the youth ministry. Or maybe have a big-picture conversation sometime when you help them think steps to spiritual maturity, not programs to spiritual maturity. Taking them through "7 Practices of Effective Ministry" by Andy Stanley or something, if their pride isn't in the way. Tough situation, Bill. Must be extremely frustrating and disheartening.

      • Easier said than done :-)
        Admittedly, Its a little frustrating, but the trick is pushing the envelope as much as I can. For example, instead of doing our normal Sunday night stuff, I have the teens over at our house and we hang out, watch movies, have pizza, etc. We're still doing our midweek outreach, but this summer we're going to go longer and have a bonfire, play games, etc in addition to the normal stuff we do. I'm not going to be able to cancel anything, but I am trying to be creative in ministry. I actually think we'll have an upswing in attendance over the summer, but I am an optimistic person by nature.

    • I wonder if all the other ministries of your church continue through the summer? In most churches children's and adult ministries slow way down (no small groups or Sunday School). If this is the case I would simply ask why youth ministry is different from these other ministries. Maybe they have a good reason, maybe not.

  • Karyn

    As a mother that not that long ago had two teenagers, I have to disagree with stopping youth programming for the summer. Slowing down, focusing on one or two programs, could work. I think your #6 is great, as long as it works. Of course, I come from a church where the youth pastor only focused on the teens that had cleavage, so my sons had no contact during the summer unless they personally initiated that contact.

    • That's not a youth pastor — that's a guy who needs to be fired (assuming the issue is as blatant as you suggest it is, of course).

    • Karyn, I have heard the same sentiments from a lot of parents. I would certainly like to understand that perspective more. My oldest is 10, so I haven't had the teenage parent experience yet. At my church it is very hectic almost year round at some point if I don't have a slower time where I can regroup, I will not be able to be healthy personally or with my family.

      Your statement about the YP is pretty aggressive. Even if this is true, perhaps posting it on the web isn't the best idea. I agree with Tim though. If it is true he needs to be fired.

  • I definitely feel for Bob! That is a huge struggle for a lot of youth pastors. I think the key is to create trust and credibility with your leaders, which takes time (another thing we youth workers struggle with). My heart hurts for Karyn…

  • Karyn- it sounds like you had some other issues with your church’s youth pastor that go beyond summer planning!

    I agree with slowing down for the summer. We still hold our Sunday morning Bible studies, but we stop our midweek worship time. We do schedule other events, which are more for fun and gives us opportunities to meet new friends of our existing students. But these events are not necessarily weekly, and the schedule is given out by now so they know what to expect and can plan around their schedules.

    If nothing more, taking a break is at least good for the leaders who need a break to recharge and get ready for another year!

  • Tim,

    Nice work. In the past, I always kept my stuff going through the summer because it always seemed like it was hard to get going in the Fall if I stopped. BUT, with 2 summer camp weeks, a summer conference and a mission trip, we are meeting with our kids, just in a different context, possibly even a more meaningful one. I'll be sending this link to all of my adult leaders.

    John

  • We do a week long conference called CIY Move (amazing program!) I would say this one week is worth an entire year of Sunday schools and Wednesday night programming! I would say the same thing about camp as well.

    From a programming standpoint, you see your kids at least 2 to 3 hours a week. At a week of camp or CIY you see them at least 12 to 16 hours a day! And that's meaningful spiritual development time!

  • Shelby Craig

    Our elders have a philosophy that if you cancel something once, expect a bump, if you cancel it twice, expect to take a month to get it going again. The leadership of my church would flip if I suggested this.

    The funny thing is. We are a church plant and the location we meet in said, "You can't meet here during the summer". Hmmm…ironic.

    I'm emailing this our elders and see their response. I may not have a job next week. Anyone need an assistant?

    • I agree that consistency is important, but I think that philosophy only holds true with regularly scheduled events and programs through the school year. When you cancel something for several months in the summer and start again in the fall, I feel that we always have a lot MORE momentum than we would if we continued throughout the summer.

      One of the main reasons why I think it works that way is because there are two natural transition periods in any year: January 1 and when school starts in the fall. If you're going to make big changes or introduce something new in your ministry, those are the two times to do it because people are expecting change at those times. Fall works best, though. So when you ask people to transition when everything else is naturally transitioning anyway, I don't think the "it will take a month to get it going again" philosophy holds true in that context. Probably only holds true after people are already settled in the schedules and routine.

  • Tim, I agree. I hear a lot of youth ministry people talk about how busy their summer schedules are, and I don't feel that way. Summer is unpredictable, and there is a lack of rhythm, but I wouldn't say that it is any more busy than the rest of the year. It is a good time to pull back and do a thorough evaluation of things.

  • Great Job Tim,
    What we do is we slow down in this way; we still have Sunday mornings, But on wednesday, we only meet twice a month. The first one we stay on Church Campus the whole time and the second one we have a small Devo then we go somewhere close and low on cost, like a trip to Rita's, or minature golf, and go-karting. What this does is allow me to spend time with the kids away from the church and in a "friendly" atmosphere.

    Keep up the post, they are great

  • hmmm. I don't know. I know we're supposed to say great post when we comment on blogs, but I'm not convinced. I think some of that can be done with time management (and not saying you personally don't do that because I know you do since I follow your every move on Twitter.) :-) I think you can rest leaders through an intentional rotation system. I think #6 (time to hang out) is achieved whether or not you have "programs." I think the re-evaluation time is a valid point. But I don't know if it is enough to justify the drawbacks of shutting down. Could be achieved by delegating yourself out of responsibility for a period of time as well.
    I don't know. I definitely think it is a insightful post and challenging to think about. I am just not sure that I am at the same conclusion.
    Also, the irregular schedule point is a difficult one. With so many entertainment options here in Southern California, we always have a family heading to the River, Vegas, Mexico or somewhere.
    I don't know. The good thing is you do have me thinking… :-)

    • Mike,
      I've found that our students really look forward to the summer schedule. I've had some tell me that they're excited to get to come and hang out at our house over the summer like they did last year for Bible Study. It's a much more relaxed atmosphere and fits the random schedules people have in the summer between camps, missions trips and vacations. We still have adult volunteers that lead our summer trips, but it's great to be able to provide them with a break during the summer and we see them just as energized as the students when everything kicks back into gear in the Fall. I haven't seen drawbacks with how our church has done their summers.

  • Tim –

    JUST had this convo with my SP the other day. I swear he thinks I'm from another planet. It went something like this;

    him: so are you going to do day-activities now that the students have a lot more free time and it's easier to get together with them in the summer?

    me: umm…nah. It's harder to get them together with jobs, sports, vacations, the lake calling.

    him: really? that's interesting. you could get some really good attendance you know…

    me: yeah last summer I put time and effort into planning things and had 2-3 kids show up. however when I called and did something spontaneous I would get more. I think I'll stick with the spontaneous hang out. is that alright?

    him: we may need to talk about this more.

    I agree and disagree at the same time. It's one of those 'uncomfortable' concepts for me at times. BUT I know what you're saying about it working where you are. I think that's the thing we have to remember – student ministry is different based on the culture of the area/ demographics we live in. What works for Mike Kell in CA may not work for me in IA or Tim in MN. The thing I like about what you're doing is you're not pulling all the way back. There is some give and take. Your CE department says no SS and you go with that – but you still do a bible study at your place. I think there's nothing wrong with scaling back for a time of refreshing.

    At my last church we stopped youth group through the summer. Did it kill our attendance? No. In fact it made the kids hunger for it even more and every fall we had more kids right at the start than the end of the previous year because our students talked about youth group all summer and convinced their friends it was that cool and worth being at in the fall. Then again that's what worked for me in Nebraska.

    This is a challenging post to think through on some different levels. I think the key thing is -What works in one place may not work in another. Tim thanks for a challenging post. I needed to hear this today.

  • I don't know if it is a geography issue. Is there anywhere where students aren't out of school, choosing between entertainment options and families taking vacations during the summer?

    • I think it is somewhat geographical, but I'd still err on the side of the general principle I outlined in my post.

      In my context, our community is 80% water. There's so many big, nice, clean lakes that it sounds "white collar" to say most people live in lake houses (including myself), but if you check it out on Google Maps, you'll see that there's almost nowhere else to build. There's just roads that go between lakes, basically. So a lot of our kids are out on lakes most of the summer water skiing, wake boarding, wake surfing, tubing, swimming, etc. It's really hard to pull them off the lakes, as you can imagine, so it's better for me to go join them instead.

      It's a huge vacation and resort area since we're only 2 hours from Minneapolis. During the summer, our town's population easily doubles. On weekends, it probably triples. So that plays into it, as well, as kids have all the summer friends back in town and such.

      It's a dynamic that's really not worth fighting here. Better to just join them, ya know? And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

      • Yeah, but every city/area has it's play areas… You- lakes. SoCal- The River/Vegas/Beach… I was a YP in Central VA… kids would go ride quads in a field somewhere… Go hunting. People have entertainment draws everywhere.

        • Yeah, that's true. I still choose not to fight it, though. As the old saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Why burn all the energy to pull off weekly meetings when hardly anyone is going to be there anyway? If only a couple show up, then you're spending individual time (#6 in my list) with them anyway. You're just doing it more formally than I am.

  • Yeah this is a great post. I adopted this strategy two years ago because the summer months are so quiet and chill in my context.

    I would add to the list:
    8. It provide time for you to go on vacation with your family. : )

    However not having a highly programmatic summer youth ministry will be hard for parents to digest. Especially if "other" churches in your area are having a lot of different activities. I would suggest that the youth pastor know how to effectively communicate to parents that you are really taking some time to rethink and evaluate YM and that you are NOT just taking a break. Because parents/staff will automatically assume you are just being lazy.

    • Good addition, Jeremy! I didn't think of that one because Dana and I go on vacation during the winter instead when it's ridiculously cold here in Minnesota. We head back to Texas around Christmas time and spend our vacation warming up! lol

  • I have to fully agree with stopping programs during the summer. From my 5+ years at my church, I have especially noticed the positive effect on our volunteer leaders in taking the time off. I have tried various programming during the summer, and usually fallen flat on my face because I can't get students to consistently show up. Of course, some parents have questioned the lack of activity, but in the end most families are grateful for the break. (We still have Sunday school and a couple of activities to keep kids connected, but no weekly youth group or small groups.)

    As you said, it's also a great time for us as leaders/youth pastors to take a step back, focus on evaluation, and plan for the school year ahead.

    Thanks for the great advice. Wish I had learned this 5 years ago instead of trial-and-error. Oh well. :)

    • Do you think some parents question a lack of activity because they seriously don't know what to do with their kids otherwise? Or is it because they really want their kids to be having spiritual conversations, but think that it must happen at a church instead of the home? Or because they just want something that will keep their kids out of trouble? If so, those are all parenting issues, not church program issues, that the church just continues to enable if unaddressed. I don't mind supporting parents, of course, but they cross the line when they use us as a surrogate for being the spiritual role models and parents at home.

  • tonyroos

    We tend to scale back. I don't get worked up if we need to miss a week. August is out. And students here don't get out of school till the 11 of June so we school year end on the Sunday after that and then head to a mission trip. No weekly meeting. Then instead of structured times we bonfire, park, swim and bbq (or fry as it's called here). The students beg for it. They like each other and come. I don't promote it heavily it's a laid back summer and students still like it. I don't require my leaders at most things since i know the numbers will be low.

    I like your reasons, not the reason that students don't come.

    If that were the reason maybe we should have "big church" ministry in the summer either. For some students the only interaction with God they get is through our ministry. So to take 2.5 to 3 months off from that is tough for me to swallow. But they should be involved in the life of the church but not all are.

    Good thoughts.

  • I am wondering why so many people's youth ministries are dictated by the elders of their church, but I digress…

    One of the consistent threads throughout the Bible is that we need to live with rhythm, in seasons. Summer may not be the best time to take off for everyone but everyone needs to intentionally take some time off. Let the ground lay fallow, let the workers rest, and come back at it with everything when that season is over.

    • Yeah, especially elders who think youth ministry should still be the same as it was back when they were in youth group, 20-30 years ago!

    • Simple answer – because they can fire me

    • Jason

      It's unfortunate that some youth ministries don't get along with their elders, but the elders have the biblical mandate to lead the church…not the youth leaders. Our submission to their authority may lead to better communication in the future, and possibly a change in the way they view the ministry.

  • Rob Cunningham

    my first summer as a youth pastor, i overplanned the summer. we had some great events, had really strong turnout for most activities, and the students really developed some deep relationships. the youth ministry was stronger going into the next school year BUT i'm not sure i was stronger. i was tired and didn't spend much time planning the year ahead. we never did a summer THAT busy again, but we also found summer to be a great time for relationship building and mission trips.

  • Peter

    Tim these are all great points about creating a well running, smooth ministry. But what is this ministry about? The students. Does anyone care what the students want/need for the summer? Most of these points are somewhat selfish, for the youth pastor to look back on the ministry objectively.

    I'm just saying. Someone can have the most smooth running program, the best website out there, and the coolest environment, but without relationships with students, it is going no where. These students have souls and are going to heaven or hell. This could happen during the school year or in the summer.

    Point 6 is great. I would really encourage you to get this one of one time. In my experience in both high school and college, one on one relational time has been most supporting and influential in my faith with Jesus Christ. It is amazing that God works through sinful human beings to reach people, but it is the truth.

    I hope this has been somewhat helpful for you Tim. Keep pressing on in ministry man

    • Good points, Peter. In one sense, creating a well running, smooth youth ministry IS what's best for the students. Focusing on vision, direction, and evaluation keeps the ministry as finely tuned as possible throughout the rest of the year. I don't think that's really selfish, I think that keeps the ministry healthy and effective for teenagers.

      But I understand what you're saying about relationships with students and I totally agree. What I'm suggesting is that we slow down programs (we still have Bible studies at my house, Wake 'n Ski, CHIC, MUUUCE, and canoe trips) so we can can focus on the one-on-one times and be intentional about reaching individuals instead of mass groups. I'm in ministry today partly because an adult youth leader took a summer to spend one-on-one time with me when I was in high school. His passion for teenagers was contagious and I caught it. So I definitely agree and look forward to capitalizing on that this summer with others.
      Thanks for the comment, Peter! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.

  • John

    Tim gave some great thoughts, and for his context it is probably the best choice. I believe there can be some benefits to shutting down ministries for the summer, but there are also some take aways. I totally understand the serious risk of "burn out" in youth ministry, but to be frank – I don't think that's a realistic problem for most of the youth pastors I meet and talk to. Sometimes it seems like "rusting out" is a more legitimate concern.

    I htink it's very important to take a vacation (have an awesome one!), spend time with the family(make some great memories!), enjoy the summer thoroughly… but I'm not sure I agree with "shutting down" all youth ministry programs for the summer.

    2 Cor 12:15 – I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?

  • Liz

    I have two sons – one is in college now and the other is in high school – so I have a little experience behind me from the "consumer" side of youth ministry. I've been involved in both scenarios (summer slow down and summer ramp up) and I think it is better to slow down in the summer. I think it is very important for the volunteer leaders to have a break. The reaction from parents and students will vary but typically the reaction is due to change more than the idea (whether they know it or not). I also think the beginning of the summer might be a good time to have some sort of get together for the volunteers and maybe even the parents (without the youth there). It could mostly be about having fun with a short informational presentation and little q&a time thrown in – maybe you could get some parents to do all the work for the get together as a sort of thank you to the volunteers.

  • We do not stop our youth ministry for the summer. It looks A LOT different, but it continues week in and week out.

    Some of the differences…we don't have our Volunteer Staff Pre-Program Gathering meetings (UPLOAD), no weekly big band worship, no small groups, the teaching is done by an intern or volunteer, and we shorten the program by 30 minutes from 2 hours, to 1.5 hours. And within the Middle School, we have a every other week cycle of an on-site simple event with food.

    These changes over the summer allow me time to rest, refresh, cast vision, prepare for the following school year, recruit and enjoy a more relaxed pace of ministry. It also gives me room to breathe and hit up all the summer trips and events we've got planned and not feel like I am running 100mph all the time.

    It gives our leaders a break, and allows for smoother operation week to week…so their at liberty to go on vacation and not worry about their small group or other ministry responsibility. As well as the possibility of feeling guilty if they simply don't come or plan to do something else. Our ministry design over the summer is simplistic and can be run/staffed with many less volunteers.

    It allows all of us to focus on relationships, especially with the new incoming 6th graders and freshmen. As well as with each other and our own families.

    It gives the worship team a break, and allows a natural break if they want to stop being on the team in the fall. It also allows us time to audition some new people and rehearse for the fall in August without adding more nights out.

    The worship scale back, different teacher and small group hiatus, creates a hunger making the students super excited for the Fall and having our ministry in FULL SWING again.

    We stumbled upon this strategy after noticing that running our program at full intensity all year didn't work…and cutting it all together wasn't an option…so we met in the middle.

    • Yeah, that's pretty much how it works for us, too. I think the "shutting down" language in this blog post's title is a bit misleading now that I think about it, so I'm going to public a clarification post next week outlining what our ministry DOES look like during the summer instead of this post that just mentions what it doesn't look like.

      Thanks for the comment, pjsb_77!

  • I do agree with your thoughts on this subject, but for us all of the other churches in town and surrounding towns cancel all services besides Sunday mornings, and we don't believe that is something that will benefit us. So, we do the same thing all year long. We believe there is so much need for God in our town and the surrounding area, since we are in one of the biggest drug areas in the US. But good points.

    • I don't think Tim is talking about shutting down ministry, just taking a break from so much programming. It could be that taking a break from the programming could lead to people being more free to build relationships outside of the programs, in real life.

      • That's exactly what I'm saying, Chris. Programming does not equal ministry. Just because we slow down programming doesn't mean that ministry slows down.

        Granted, the title of this post is a bit misleading with the "shutting down" language, but notice it says shutting down "programming," not shutting down youth ministry.

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  • excellent post tim! and its all very interesting. somewhere in here is the idea of sabbath i think…even in programming. always being "on" isn't healthy nor really useful. in our context we do a reduced schedule in the summer instead of every week we try and program at least a fun roadtrip and/or adventure monthly to offer the connection time. although…(plug for the youthtalk podcast on june 5 with jeff borton/simple student ministry)…i think even the "shutting down" could be more intentionally programmed so as to keep positive movement and even momenteum…sort of seasons and rhythms.

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  • Sounds like an excuse to be lazy to me. Really. Honestly. Does Jesus take summers off? This is the time to really reach out to kids. I have a totally different focus and way of doing things in the summer but shut it down? This is very odd. Do you have a scriptural precedent for this? Your calling is to do ministry. In season and out of season. No breaks. Fulfill your ministry, don't shut it down. I can't believe you advocate this…

    • Brian, did you actually read the post? Remember, programs does not equal ministry. Running more programs doesn't mean that you're doing more ministry. If you want to use Jesus as an example, what program did He run? Maybe Discipleship 101, but even that wasn't run from a church building. I'm not saying programs are bad, just that they're tools for ministry, not the ministry itself. This summer we're using different tools, that's all.

      • Who said anything about programs?

        • Who said anything about taking the summer off or shutting the ministry down? That's why I'm wondering if you actually read the post, because the ministry is not shutting down, just most of the programs are. Hence the title, "Seven benefits for shutting down youth ministry PROGRAMS for the summer," not shutting down ministry.

  • Sounds like an excuse to be lazy to me. Really. Honestly. Does Jesus take summers off? This is the time to really reach out to kids. I have a totally different focus and way of doing things in the summer but shut it down? This is very odd. Do you have a scriptural precedent for this? Your calling is to do ministry. In season and out of season. No breaks. Fulfill your ministry, don't shut it down. I can't believe you advocate this…

  • Zac

    I honestly don't understand the benefit of shutting down the youth ministry ever. Did Jesus take a break? Does the Great Commission Need a sabbatical? I honestly understand the 7 points. But those are things we should be doing all through out the year. We should never stop doing those 7 things.

    A mentality of shutting down leads to small youth ministries that lack impact and influence in the community. It also sends a message to the young people that its "OK" to stop church. Which leads to many of them backsliding during the summer months when they need our influence the most. Most teens need the corporate gathering of believers to keep them on the right track. When they have no corporate structure to gather and be built up, they stumble and fall. That goes for all believers not just teens. (Paul Wrote, "do not neglect the gathering of yourselves together.")

    Our summer attendance goes up every year. We have created a culture of summer growth, of honoring God and His house. Come on leaders, rise up and build this Generation. It's up to us, not the kids. We are the leaders, we are the ones God has placed in leadership. Lets use this opportunity to the fullest.

    I didnt read all the replies here. I hope I am not the only one that feels this way.

    • I'm guessing you didn't actually read the article either because we are definitely not shutting down ministry for the summer. The title of the blog post reads "shutting down YM PROGRAMS."

      First, go back and actually read this post. Then read my follow-up here. You've misunderstood this post.

    • Jared

      im not the only one! Great post!

    • Hold on. Jesus did take a break several times in him ministry, where He rested on the bottom of the boat, He retreated from the crowds, or he spent time with His friends in Bethany. I don't want us to mistake his example of rest and not pursuing a ministry lifestyle that is non-stop.
      However, I'm a bit on the fence with this as well. There are many ministries, that I see as God-fearing ministries, that are shutting down weekly ministries. I'm facing a lull and drop in interest/attendance in the summer too…I've begun taking out unnecessary "busy" activities in the summer, but I hesitate to eliminate the weekly gathering because the parents of the kids wouldn't come either to their Bible studies. Many things to think about before making such a decision.
      I'm praying God will take us in the right direction. Tim, if you read this, what kind of programs did you eliminate? What do you do about the parents that usually drop off their kids/teens and go learn in their Bible study that night?

      • Of course I read these comments, Jeff. :) Thanks for adding yours! I think your question is best answered by reading my follow-up post of what our summer youth schedule looks like.

        • First off, congrats on the little one. What a blessing!
          I guess that is my question. After reading that post on your summer youth schedule, I re-read this post on shutting down programs. Because it made me more curious to what you did shut down. It seems with the summer youth schedule post you still keep very busy. What specifically did you shut down? You still have the Bible study at your house and have various activities. Even without Sunday school & weekly meeting, you still meet. Also, our church has Sunday school and weekly meetings for adults, so how could I shut down if they still are going? Is it possible?
          Thanks for responding…Look forward to hearing from you.

          • Compared to what our school year schedule looks like, that's slowing down dramatically. During the year there are hundreds of teens involved, which requires a lot of coordination, planning, and a solid volunteer staff. During the summer, these groups only have anywhere from 5 to 30 kids involved total and can be planned and hosted by just me or one or two other people. It's all greatly scaled back, much more relaxed, and isn't nearly as programmed as their counterparts might be during the school year. It's not quite "shutting down," but it feels like it since it's all so casual and more of a hang-out time with minimal prep.

  • ryan

    i can't believe i am reading these posts! summer is a time for students to grow their relationship with Christ, to take it deeper, take ownership of the their faith! not stop for a summer.
    geography has nothing to do with it either people. i think we all care deeply about our students am i right? during the summer that is when kids are not in school, right? that is just more and more free time for them to be tempted by friends and cause them to stumble. is that what we want for our kids? if we are not plugging in to Christ weekly with our students how can we expect them to plug in daily? it seems like instead of a "refreshing" the youth ministry, you are going to be "restarting" the youth ministry spending the first few weeks just going back over the basics.
    yes it gets hard to keep your time manganged to the best you can. yes it can be difficult to keep going all year long with no breaks or something like that. but what about James 1:2-4?

    • Ryan, we are plugging in to God's Word weekly with them throughout the summer. Again, the operative word in this post's title is shutting down "programs." That doesn't mean we shut down ministry. If it makes you feel better, we host a couple relaxed programs that we only do during the summer.

      First, go back and actually read this post. Then read my follow-up here.

  • ryan

    i am sorry that i don't understand this summer shut down….seems like you would be failing your students. i know my thoughts are just mine and i don't want to offend anyone. i would challenge you to see what kind of spiritual growth you and your students can reach! take adavantage of the summer! all the reasons you gave for you and your workers. ask yourself this….what do my students need?

  • Jared

    I would have to say that I disagree with your post. I look at it more from the perspective of growth than I do from what I am having in attendance. I want our kids to reach out all year long not just during the school year. It seems to me that they have more connection over the summer with a select group of friends than they do with the busyness of the school year. I am challenging my kids this summer to reach unsaved friends that have never been to church. Of course, our structure this summer will have more outdoor ministry going on, camps, missions trips, etc. I find that this is the greatest time to get students to bring there friends. In fact, I just did an event yesterday and almost had more kids than I did transportation! It really created a momentum for us going into the summer that I believe is going to grow us not maintain or sustain us. I think the philosophy of camps, missions is all incredible but the aspects I am struggling with is that we stop what we are doing, fill ourselves, then start it again. Why not grow on each level you have! Create more spiritual momentum and then run into the fall with all your kids coming back going, "Ok, where did all these kids come from?" Around my church we are calling this summer "Stretch." I am youth pastor and I am going to say this: You work hard! You Vacation hard! Millionaires don't become millionaires by taking the summer off! The bible speaks strongly about workmanship and working hard. Stop looking for your next break and start working as if Jesus is coming tomorrow and there are still fish in the sea that need to know him! I promise that you wont be disappointed when you stretch yourself beyond your own ability into God's ability!

    • If your group builds momentum during the summer, then for sure you need to continue doing whatever you do because obviously it works. I'm glad for ya! In my context, it doesn't work that way. Every youth ministry lives in a different context on so many different levels.

      But I do want to challenge your comment:

      "Stop looking for your next break and start working as if Jesus is coming tomorrow and there are still fish in the sea that need to know him! I promise that you wont be disappointed when you stretch yourself beyond your own ability into God's ability!"

      I don't know how many times I have to repeat this, but I'll say it again: slowing programs is not the same as slowing ministry. I'm sure you would agree that programs are just tools of ministry, not the ministry itself. Ministry continues to thrive, but the calendar/schedule/task-driven/to-do lists all slow down so we can focus on the more dynamic growth times of just going out to be together. We are not taking a break from ministry, just the typical forms people see it as. Sorry if I miscommunicated that somehow. But even if we did take a complete break from ministry and did only the things I outlined in the post, I still feel it will enhance fall ministry exponentially.

      • Jared

        My question to you is why are you not doing those things all year round? It seems that it always come back to programming for you. Reading what you post about programs and shutting them downs creates a sense of confusion for me in what you believe in as far as programs. Programs to me includes relational ministry, spontaneous connection, etc. I don't want to stop and start that. I take vacations because I need a break to refresh and rethink. That is why I vacation hard. Part of the reason why I think summer things don't work for those who shut down over the summer is because they have no passion for them. That is why you will get no results. I am not a teacher who takes the summer off and called to ready in season and out of season. I take advantage of my down time as much as I do my ministry time that is why I run all year round because ministry doesn't stop… its continual. I wanna see the Kingdom expanded not maintained!

  • John

    I disagree, don't shut things down. But more importantly, if youth pastors stopped wasting time debating on blogs and spent more time working… I think we could get more done in ministry.

    • theYP

      then get to work

      • jamie

        hahahah….Priceless

      • John

        nice jab… but I'm on vacation this week

  • PastorE

    Man, I agree with your post. We have a mission trip on the slate and a couple random rafting, swimming, fishing, movie, ice cream sorta things circling the office, and we are also planning small group bible studies during the weeks of summer. However, if you're driving a car and it's acting up, you park it and see what's wrong with it. Sometimes it's running fine but could be running better so you get a tune up. We program ourselves to death and it hurts the youth and our families most of all. I need a personal vacation to thank my family and I need a spiritual one to thank the youth. Maybe a week to stop at a rest stop and check the map and compass. You HAVE to take a little time off. "shut down" no. Our ministries never "shut down" and I think people are reading this wrong.

  • David

    Agree 100%. We're going through the same struggle with the month of May, a busy month at our church with Mother's Day, a special Mother's Banquet, Homecoming/Memorial Sunday, Memorial Day weekend, etc. We can barely get 2 meetings in during the month of May, and those we do have are poorly attended (attendance is about 50% of normal).

    As a youth pastor/director/coordinator/etc., your job is more than just your kids–it's also the health of your program and the people that make it work. And I can't for the life of me see how driving your youth leaders into the ground through the summer months for 1 or 2 kids to show up is going to help your program in the long term. Of course the parents who see youth group as "free babysitting", or those who hold you personally responsible for their child's total spiritual development, would be all for it…

  • Obviously some of these things cannot be done year round, like #3 and #5 specifically. It's not that the other items aren't done during the rest of the year, it's that the summer is a time I can focus on them, make them my first priority and give them the attention they deserve. It's the time where the direction for the next school year is planned out. It's hard to make the deep-rooted changes that are often necessary while a program is currently underway. At that time people are usually very emotionally involved with the program, too. It's much better to make those changes after people have stepped back for a while and can see the bigger picture.

    Maybe I'm just not as good at multitasking and keeping so many things a top priority all at once throughout the school year. If so, this is necessary for me and the ministry. If you can do it, more power to ya!

    Maybe you and I are defining "programs" differently, because I don't think of relational ministry nor spontaneous connections as a program.

  • Jason

    Interesting topic Tim. By the way, the link to your follow up isn't working, so I haven't read that. I definitely understood the initial post as meaning you shut everything down except for a small Bible study and general, informal hanging out with the students.

    A good friend and myself are lay-"youth pastors" of a group of about 20 leaders and 80-100 students. We decided that the best thing to do for our summer mid-week meetings was to meet every other week. The off-weeks give us more time to do informal things with the students, particularly ones who have shown a desire to get serious about growing. This gives our entire staff about a 50% break from the "normal" logistical rigors, and I have found it effective in recharging. If a leader needs to take one of our "on" weeks off (which is generally not a problem), then they end up having three weeks in a row "off"…that is significant.

    We have found that the continuity of "regular" meetings is very important to the students. In fact, when we started doing this a few years ago, we announced to the students that we would be meeting every other week in the summer and they exploded into screaming and applause. They had no desire to "take the summer off". Like others have said, the summers can be the most challenging time of the year for the student's spiritual vitality.

    One final comment. Tim said in #6, "Instead of trying to keep kids busy with programs that may or may not be spiritually influential, I’d rather focus on relationship building with individuals and in ways I know will be spiritually influential." If you have something that will consistently be spiritually influential with the students, than that is something that should be done year round. If the programs are hit or miss, but the relationship building times are consistent, than why not just scrap the programs altogether? Give yourselves a break year round and be involved in what works.

    • Hmm… the link to the follow-up post is working fine for me. Try again here.

      I'm glad you guys found a system that works for you! Going every-other-week sounds like a great plan that works for you guys.

      As for your final comment, programs are significant, but not every meeting is equally significant for everyone, ya know? But we know that one-on-one relationship, Truth speaking times are almost always significant, so we do a combination of both. During the school year it's pretty balanced with both, although the emphasis is more on programs. During the summer the emphasis shifts to the one-on-one time, but the program aspect is still there, as well. I think they both work hand-in-hand because the individual times with kids is what helps build trust and respect for group teachings/programmed times.

      • Jason

        I hear you. No doubt the relationships build trust for the less "relational" times. That is very much how we operate. Just curious…what is your leader/student ratio during the school year vs summer.

        • During the school year we keep our leader to teen ratio around 1:5. However, I'm becoming more and more convinced that kids really need to have a ratio of 5:1. That could be a whole different blog post, though.

          During the summer it stays about the same because, although it's often just me and my wife leading a Bible study or something, the attendance is usually under 10 kids, so it still works out.

  • Did someone post a link to this blog somewhere with the title: "Don't actually read it just tell the guy he's dumb." ??

    All of a sudden there's a bunch of comments about how Tim's a sinner because he's stopping ministry.
    Lame- If you expect Tim to read your thoughts, at least have the decency to read his. You can disagree with shutting down PROGRAMS (and I kinda do….) but nowhere is the insinuation of shutting down ministry.

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  • Tim, great post. Enjoyed reading it. The last Youth Ministry position I was in was located in a big military and governement area. The implication is that numerous families move into the area over the summer time. Had we scaled things back, we wouldn't have left a lasting or great first impression. Those circumstances didn't afford me the opportunity to scale back or shut down.

    • Yeah, and that's exactly what I mean in earlier comments about contextualization (and what Marko talks about in YM 3.0 a lot, too). For you, scaling back was not in the best interest of the ministry nor it's spiritual influence on kids, so you did exactly what you needed to do. In my context, my church has decided that this is what's best and after being here a couple years, I see the wisdom in it. Context is huge!

  • Matthew

    This is the exact reason why we have a generation that is going in the Toilet! Why would be stop having a youth service just because only a few kids are showing up?

  • I guess you missed the part about us having the kids over at our house instead.

    • Matthew

      I didnt miss anything. I just dont understand why we stop having youth services to the youth pastor can take time for himself. I understand that people stop coming as much during the summer but that doesnt give me a reason to completely stop during the summer. It just sounds really selfish.

      • Matthew

        Please dont take it as me being rude. I just dont understand the fact of stopping your youth services b/c people dont come and workers get burnt out. If youth ministry is your calling then you wont get burnt out. I totally agree with taking time to step back and see the big picture but does it really take a whole summer?

        • No, I don't feel as if you're being rude. Certainly other people have been rude in response to this post, but I feel like you're genuinely asking questions from a humble heart, not just trying to argue.

          Youth ministry is a calling, but that doesn't mean you can't get burned out from it. I know countless people who could tell you that. Maybe you think the summer is too long of a period to step back and refocus, and maybe it is for you and your ministry. Or, maybe you're the kind of person who has to be busy doing something in order to feel like your ministry is accomplishing anything. In my humble opinion, ministry is not as much about "doing" as much as it is about "being." Identity precedes function. Function flows from identity, not the other way around. I take time to focus in our identity for a season and let the function flow from it for the rest of the year.

          If I didn't, then our jr. high ministry would still be struggling with about 20 kids involved, but two years ago we took a massive amount of time to evaluate, focus, and communicate. We totally changed almost everything about our Wednesday jr. high ministry and two years later we have 120 actively involved, most of which are passionate about their faith and will now make the transition into high school ministry. Before only about 25% of jr. highers made the transition. Now we're looking at about 75-80%. So was the season of a "time out" from jr. high ministry worth it for us? Absolutely. Lives are being changed exponentially because of it.

  • A couple things, Matthew.

    1. Although meeting at church may stop for the summer, meeting together does not. We still meet at my house (jr high) and at someone else's house (sr. high). The location has changed and the formality of our meetings, but we are still meeting to dig into God's Word and to build spiritually influential relationships.

    2. I admire your commitment to youth services and if they are the most spiritually influential thing your church does for teenagers in your community, by all mean, you should continue to do it throughout the summer. However, in my context, our youth services had almost no spiritual influence at all, and we figured that out by taking the time to step back and evaluate. However, meeting together in homes in a more informal setting has been tremendously beneficial to life-change. (I blogged about that evaluation process here.) So, we're focusing on that this summer, as my post above indicates, as well as my follow-up post that's linked at the end of this post.

    So, it's not true that we are stopping ministry, only certain programming for the purpose of focusing on what is most spiritually influential in the lives of our teenagers. That's why I felt like you misread the post.

    • Matthew

      Makes perfect sense. Thank you very much for taking the time to make it clear. To be honest, after I made my original comments I started thinking about things that we might be able to change up from just the regular youth service. And crazy enough, alot of the things that you have mentioned are some of the things God actually wants me to do. My first thought to your post was you are giving up on the "religious" way of youth ministy. But to be honest this generation is totally different the what "religion" is. Thank you for your comments and you have really opened my eyes to things that I might need to change in my own life and ministry. Do you have any suggestions on curriculm that you use or good ideas that have worked for you to grow your youth? I will even take comments on things that havent worked and things to watch out for. Again, thank you very much for your comments.
      God Bless
      Matt

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  • I totally disagree with "shutting things down" completely. I see the benefits of each of your points. But evangelism, discipleship and training other leaders should never suffer because we're tired, or because its not what the majority of people want.

    • Along with most other people, I think you misread the post and definitely didn't read the follow-up post to this. Discipleship and evangelism does not suffer — it just changes forms and isn't confined to people's equation that programs somehow equals ministry.

      • I disagree. I think that this has been the season of American Idol with the least amount of talent.

  • Highly insightful. Keep those reports coming.

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  • Hey Tim,
    I appreciate that your first few points include a need to refocus and find plausible targets that we can accomplish…I think this was part of the reason why God commanded us to have a sabbath! I have found that often times in ministry our feet move so quickly without having any friction that we catch ourselves running in place and not going anywhere, but when we take the time to rethink, reimagine, and allow God to recreate his vision in us we are 10x more effective. With that being side, I think you hit the nail on the head when you expressed, “that may be true in your community, but here in MN things are different” because I am certain that taking the summer off in my community would cripple us; our attendance actually booms in the summer and thats mainly because so many kids in my community are involved in sports, band, and other miscellaneous clubs at school that when September rolls around my kids have everyday scheduled…even the holiest day of the week…Wednesday Night! So instead of taking the summer off we hit the summer hard! Luckily for me, my Youth Leaders are school teachers so they get the entire summer off!
    Great insight! If there’s anything we can take from this is the fact that church/youth culture is different everywhere and if we are going to be effective in ministry we must learn to be more than ministers that sit behind a desk with concordances and commentaries laid open, but we also need to be people who can read and understand what works for ‘my’ communities culture!
    Thanks again!!

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