What our summer youth group schedule looks like

What our summer youth schedule looks likeAfter all the comments from last week’s post about Seven Benefits of Shutting Down Youth Ministry Programs for the Summer, I figured I’d add a little clarification about what my summer schedule does look like, rather than only what it does not look like.

“Programs” does not equal “ministry”

First of all, I didn’t mention this in my previous post, but notice that the title was not, Seven Benefits of Shutting Down Youth Ministry for the Summer, with the absence of the word “programs.” In no way am I advocating that we stop ministry, just that was slow down our programming. Remember, programs do not equal ministry. Programs are tools of ministry. They’re here to help us do ministry, but programs are not the ministry.

Programming slows down, not ministry

Second, notice that I said that we don’t stop ministry programming altogether during the summer, we just slow it down. Putting programs on hold does not mean that we put ministry on hold, too. Ministry takes place in a variety of ways outside of programming, like one-on-one time with kids, hangouts at your house, or just stopping to pray for them. Some would say that this kind of ministry is much more effective than the programming aspect of ministry.

Some critics of my previous post say that Jesus never stopped his ministry and neither should we. I totally agree. If you want to use Jesus as an example, though, I’d also point out that He never ran any programs from his church/synagogue either. That’s not to say that programs are bad or that they’re not found elsewhere in scripture, just that there’s nothing wrong with emphasizing different tools during the summer than the highly programmatic ones. We’ll be going on bike rides, having kids over to play Xbox, spontaneously meeting at the bowling ally, grabbing ice cream at Dairy Queen, playing Ultimate Frisbee, going to the movies, taking road trips, swimming in the lakes, etc. None of it is scheduled, we just wake up one morning, call up a couple people and go for it. And while we’re together, us adults model Christlikeness and speak Truth into teens’ lives through our normal conversations. That kinda sounds more like Jesus’ style of ministry to me anyway.

For the programmatic people…

That said, here’s what the programming side of our youth ministry will look like this summer:

Weekly Jr. High Bible studies at my house: My wife and I lead these together. Attendance is typically pretty low with about 5-8 teens, but that’s the way we like it. The kids who comes are sometimes different kids each week, too, depending on their family’s vacation schedules and what else is going on in their lives. The Bible study is pretty laid-back and relaxed.

Weekly Sr. High Bible studies at someone else’s house: One of the high school groups has opted to continue throughout the summer meeting in someone’s house. The group will be open to any 9th-12th grader who wants to participate.

Monthly Wake ‘n Ski: As I mentioned in a comment on my previous post, our community has a lot of lakes, so many of our church members have boats and big-boy water toys. One Sunday a month our group gets together to spend the afternoon out on a lake water skiing, wake boarding, tubing, wake surfing, etc. We stop for dinner to have burgers while I or another leader shares a short faith story with everyone.

CHIC: This is our denomination’s tri-annual international high school student conference in Knoxville, TN. I won’t be going this year since my wife is due with our first baby two weeks later, but a full busload of our high school kids are attending the week-long conference in July with an outstanding team of adult youth leaders.

MUUUCE: Every August we take a busload of jr. highers away for a three-day retreat. We meet up with many other denominational jr. high youth groups and have a blast together. We go to a baseball game, a water park, amusement park, play on inflatables, and just have an incredible time bonding. It’s perfect for the incoming 7th graders to connect with us, get to know us, feel comfortable with us, and be super energized for the school year of jr. high ministry.

Two Parent Dinners: I blogged about this back in March, so check out that post for more details, but basically we have two open-house dinners planned at my house for parents to come hang out with me and Dana. We get to listen to them, answer questions, and also challenge them.

Monthly Worship Experiences: The youth ministry is not in charge of this, but we do partner with our church’s worship director to pull it off. Every month we have a night of worship at church that’s intended to be highly participatory and experiential. It’s open to the entire church and our community at large, so I really like the inter-generational mix that shows up to worship. Our teens do a fabulous job leading different aspects of the experience.

One Outdoor Movie Night on the BIG screen: We hang a big white sheet on the side of our house and setup a projector and sound system from church in the driveway. Kids to come over at dusk and watch a movie on the BIG screen with their own lawn chairs, blankets, bug spray and snacks. Here’s a picture of my setup I posted on Twitter last year. Always fun!

Canoe Trips: There is also one jr. high canoe trip and one sr. high canoe trip this summer. We all car pool to a river, rent a couple canoes, they drive us upstream and we paddle back. Another great time to bond, talk, and help kids transition into jr. high or high school ministries.

Rock The River Tour: A couple kids and parents thought the Billy Graham’s Rock The River Tour fit well with our strategy to take kids deep and wide, and since one high school student was willing to head it up, I let her go for it. That will happen in August.

One Parent Information Meeting: Before the school year starts up again, we have our big annual parent meeting where we recap last year’s ministry, talk about what we learned, and, based on that, what’s changing for next year. We give an overview of the calendar, answer questions, introduce the other youth leaders, and do a whole lot of vision casting.

Youth Leader meetings: I usually don’t do too many of these during the summer, but a couple years ago we made some significant changes to certain aspects of our ministry and the fruition of that starts next year. So, we need to have a couple youth leader meetings to make sure the train’s momentum keeps moving in the right direction. We also have a mini youth leader training conference with a couple of other churches in our community.

Other summer ideas

Looking for other summer youth event ideas? Check out my blog post from last year on the top 5 summer youth events that cost under $5 total.

Posted on May 25, 2009

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  • tim- we were going to do an outdoor movie event this summer too until I got a call from a lady saying we need to have a special license to show outdoor movies. She was with Swank Productions, who apparently owns the rights to movies from all kinds of production companies. She was going to send cease and desist (is that even right??!!) letters if we didn’t change our schedule (she found it through googling outdoor movies and it came up on our youth website). Have you had any licensing issues with your event?

    • No, our church has a video and music license. From our understanding of it, we're permitted to use it for any church event. I'll have to look at it again, but I don't recall it specifying indoors or outdoors (not sure why that would make a difference really).

      • I had to do a TON of research on this for my church. After talking with the people at CVLI I found out that the license only covers the showing for private groups on church property. So…
        1- if it is a church event that is not on the church property it is not within the license.
        2- if it is outside on a church property and is within view of the general public it is not within the license.
        3- if you advertise your event with the movie title or graphics you are making this a public, not private event and you are not within the license.

        You might want to check out more at

        • Chris, great information! Thanks for clearing that up. Guess it would be better just to have people over to watch a movie and forgo the church property/licensing stuff altogether then? Because wouldn't that be considered "private use?"

  • i know one issue is that when you show a movie (even if you purchase a license for it), you cannot advertise the name of the movie in print ads.

  • Wow Tim, as I went down the list of things you are doing this summer as opposed to what is normal, I thought "Gee whiz, if this is scaling WAY back for the summer from the normal, the normal spring/fall stuff must be even more numerous and huge!!!" LOL

    Where is the scaling back? That is a LOT of stuff for summer. Not critical, just a bit confused and unterested.
    Walt in Pasadena, TX

  • Hey Tim, I saw your Tweet and I figured it had something to do with this series of articles so I figured I'd write on here and hopefully be a bit of encouragement.

    I get why you felt like you "had to" write this post Tim, but truthfully you don't have to justify how God is leading your ministry (which I'm sure you already know). If you believe that slowing down programs for the summer is the best way to MINISTER to students during that time then press on! Nobody knows what God wants to accomplish through you during that better than you do, and I don't see how any of us on the outside could be critical of you based on an article. I say keep doing what you're doing (following God and your passions) and try not to get frustrated with the people who don't understand.

    Thanks for your ministry and following God's leading in your life.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Ricky! I really appreciate that. I didn't feel like I had to write this in order to explain myself, because you're right — people can think whatever they want. I wrote my previous post in order to help people, but it didn't seem to do that very much because people didn't actually read it and were coming to inaccurate conclusions that weren't helpful. So, this is my second attempt to clear up misconceptions in order to be helpful to others. Dunno if it will or not, but oh well.

  • I guess it can look like a lot when it's all condensed in one place, but when you spread it out for the kids, it's basically one Bible study a week at someone's house and one or two monthly things.

  • jamie

    Hey Tim,

    I read your last post and the plethora of comments. It seemed like most of the people that wrote in really appreciated the post. (I loved the mtg with parents over dinner idea!)
    I appreciated your posts and I myself am cutting way back on PROGRAMS this summer in order to make room for other things.
    I think it's fascinating the "savior complex" type of language that we use. How many comments in your last blog were there comments about how hard we have to work to "save" kids and you should never take a break because Jesus never took a break (actually he took many of them, he also turned down ministry opportunities for the sake of his purpose…)
    Are you kidding me? It seems like that is a road that can quickly lead to burnout and shallowness, not to mention the idea that we absolutely cannot stop working for one second because this whole thing is dependent on how many hours we put in….because the great commission doesn't allow for slowing programs down…because if we slow the programs then obviously God cannot work outside of that (sarcasm).

    Tim I appreciate your posts and agree…guess it's a ministry philosophy issue.

    • Yeah, I hear ya, Jamie. Although, in defense of the critics, I'm sure their thoughts are not from workaholism as much as it's from a passion to see lives changed. We just disagree on how the Lord uses us best to accomplish that. In my opinion, seasons of slowing down seem to be a natural part of how God ordered the universe (i.e. Sabbath, sabbaticals). That doesn't mean we cease ministry, though.

      • jamie

        Agreed! I hope it's about a passion to see lives changed….often other things rear their ugly heads though….Satan is a sleazy salesman.

  • Tim, sounds like you guys have a bunch of fun and great stuff going on for the summer. I’m wondering what you do for leaders? Some of the pre-scheduled events might have leaders coming to it, but what about the spontaneous things? Do you ever worry you’ll have an event and then have 10-15 (or way more) students show up? Is there ever a worry about supervision or lack-thereof?

    This is my first summer coming out of a ministry year (1 year in baby!) and I’m a little terrified of chaos… ha. Just looking for some insight into that!

    • Nah, I don't worry about it too much. It's never been an issue during the summer. Bible studies at my house rarely have more than 10 kids show up, which my wife and I can easily handle. The spontaneous stuff isn't usually an open invitation to the whole youth group as much as it is something like a mass text message that says, "Hey, I'm running out to the mall and have 4 seat belts available in my car. I'll pick up the first 4 who respond!" Most of the time I'll just call up 4 kids (or sometimes just 1) and take them with me, though, rather than opening it up to everyone.

      If you're worried about people accusing you of playing favorites, tell them that it's better that you invest into a couple kids personally than into none at all out of fear of criticism. Of course, all the parents want you to invest into their kids, but since you can't do that, pick a few you feel the Lord is leading you toward and encourage other adult leaders to invest into the others.

  • Tim, it's really been on my heart to do some similar stuff with our youth ministry, so in the spirit of blogging, can you shed some light on a couple of things for me? first of all, if you switch from church building Bible study to home Bible studies, do you/will you have trouble getting your mid-week program going again when school begins? Second, our church has a pretty strict sexual ethics policy that sets parameters on number of sponsors at youth events which (according to policy) prevents me or other youth workers from driving up to a kids house and taking him down to DQ for a Blizzard (also, we had a former youth pastor in this town get convicted of numerous sexual misconduct charges), so what would be your recommendation for spending one-on-one time with students when it's frowned upon in some ways? third (forgive me if this is long), are there any critics in your church who feel like by cancelling some of your regular activities that somehow you are not doing your job?

  • Okay, I read your original post about "Seven Reasons to…" and saw that your whole church shuts things down for the summer. Forget question 3. Thanks.

    • Good questions, Jason! Yeah, no one in our church frowns upon this, at least not that I know of. People in my church who have read my previous post have said things to me like, "Yeah, they just don't get the culture here in our part of Minnesota," and are totally supportive of it. They understand what I'm saying, even if others don't.

      if you switch from church building Bible study to home Bible studies, do you/will you have trouble getting your mid-week program going again when school begins?

      Not for us. In fact, the opposite is true. We launch every fall with tremendous momentum that tends to drift away during the rest of the school year. There are a couple reasons why I think the momentum slows that are outside the context of this question, but no, fall ministries always launch strong, partially due to the fact that summer ministry is so different.

      That said, all of our high school small groups continue to meet in homes during the school year, so that's not really much of a change. Jr. high small groups meet at the church for transportation issues.

      For your situation, I'd suggest you think it through, talk about it with key leaders in your church and youth ministry, and maybe just give it a try to see what happens. If it doesn't work, then for next year you'll know what not to do.

      what would be your recommendation for spending one-on-one time with students when it's frowned upon in some ways?

      Personally, I don't let fear cripple my ministry. Sure, there's risk involved, but at what cost do you let the risk hinder the ministry? That doesn't mean I throw caution to the wind, but neither do I avoid contact with students either.

      Given the context of mistrust in your community, you're probably wise to avoid pushing the boundaries in this area. Do one-on-one but only in public areas and have the student meet you there (either dropped off by a parent or drive there themselves). If you always need another adult around, schedule a time when the two of you can hop in a van, pick up a bunch of kids, and go do something spontaneously. Or, depending on what the church will let you do, maybe meet one-on-one with the parents of a kid you want to invest into. Explain to them ahead of time what your intentions are and how you'd like to partner with them to be a spiritual influence on their teen. Maybe start with your pastor's kids if applicable. If that kid's parents are on your side and encourage it along with the church for that one kid only, maybe you can start there and see how it develops over the next year or two. Regardless, still don't take kids to private places or anything unnecessary like that.

      • Great stuff, Tim. thanks for your thoughts and input. I've been doing some study and research and just a lot of meditation about this whole concept of slowing down. It's amazing how much peace it's bringing to me. For a number of years, I've been going gangbusters trying to keep the kids as busy as possible during the summer and there's just no downtime before fall starts and September is no proper time for a sabbatical! We already have a jr. high mission camp, a high school mission camp, and a week of church camp. For the rest of our weekly stuff, I think we're going to utilize the down-home feel of our youth building (a converted house) and "kick-it" a bit and embrace the downtime. I'm also going to communicate with parents about my desire to minister in spite of our well-intentioned sexual ethics policy. Thanks again. Keep up the good work.

  • @Walt,
    So excited you live in Pasadena! I use to live in LaPorte while Tim and I were dating. I totally miss my snocones from down there. Here I have to make my own, totally not as good, but better than nothing.
    As far as the scaling back, the summer really is much slower than the school year. As weird as it was our first summer here without Sunday School, I now look forward to it (sorta-I still miss my 4th grade girls I had!) And last Sunday was just strange with only having the Sunday service to go to. I believe one of our highschool small groups is stopping for the summer, while the other is continuing. With the numbers down a lot more for Jr. High Bible Study at our house, that is more relaxing. With averaging about 10 jr highers instead of our 80 some we had during the school year for confirmation (with lots of help from volunteers). And instead of doing an official Sunday night youth group for sr. high we do more spontaneous get togethers…last Sunday we went to a cook-out at a youth's house.

    I grew up United Methodist and just when I was graduating highschool and becoming a volunteer youth leader they implemented Safe Sanctuary. With that it wouldn't even be appropriate for only Tim and I to hang out with one youth, you'd have to have either another youth or another leader who you're not related to. Which gets tricky with driving kids places. If you're the only adult, you'd have to make sure you have 2 youth in the car at all times, and make sure they're not the opposite sex. I think having them meet you somewhere is good and hang out at a park or somewhere where you're in the view of others at all times. It's sad that we have to go to such lengths to cover our backs, but better safe than sorry.

  • Dana, Safe Sanctuary is EXACTLY what I'm up against. While it is very well-intentioned and protects a lot of students and volunteers, it is a logistical nightmare. I've not done near as much ministry because of all the parameters and so I feel like I spend all my time planning programs and not getting to know the kids. Thanks for your input. I think with the support of my parents (I've been here 3 years), I will be able to work around it somehow.

  • Jason, good luck with it. There was push back when it started, I see the good and bad of it, bad being how hard it makes the building personal relationships with teens part. I can see how it easily feels like you have to do twice as much planning with it…which is probably true. Do you have any other UM youth pastors that have figured out how to work well with it?

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