Whether your ministry takes a break for the summer, reduces or rearranges its schedule, or is business as usual through the break, there’s no denying there is a change in energy that first Sunday/Wednesday/Youth Group Meeting back. The return to school and the advance into a new grade and, in some cases, a new school and youth group can bring a whole new level of chaos. If you aren’t ready for it, it can shave years off your life (not proven). But if you can prepare yourself adequately, it can be a huge boost for your ministry and church. Here are a few tips for getting yourself and your ministry ready for the new school year:
Ever given a toddler an espresso? No? Well, it can be a lot like that first Sunday back. If you know that going in, you can actually use that energy tsunami to your advantage. Set a quick pace for that first meeting, using games, activities, shorter than normal segments, interactive messages and lessons, whatever you can think of to engage, engage, engage! Otherwise, you will find yourself fighting against the wiggly, non-blinking teens that normally are so great during Bible Study. There are a number of great ways of incorporating movement into youth group meetings, you can see my article on that topic HERE, but making sure there is activity and that it’s immediate will be helpful.
With extra energy comes distractions, disruptions and the need for some structure. Remember that you set the tone for the rest of the year with your rules and guidance. Stick to the rules you have in place, but remember that you have to be willing to follow through with consequences. Especially if you have new youth trying out your group, it’s important to be patient but consistent, and keep a solid routine. This is crucial to maintaining an environment that is respectful and conducive to education.
If you have been on break along with your students, it may be an adjustment period back into planning your events. Sometimes setting up a youth group plan isn’t like riding a bike. So double check your plan, make a list of supplies and prep you need, test out new games or your technology piece and have a backup plan! And don’t get frustrated if things go less-than-amazingly those first weeks back. Each meeting is a new day, and if you focus on it, it will get better.
Fall is a perfect time for people to visit and try out a youth ministry or church. Lean into that! Find ways of encouraging youth to bring friends those first weeks when energy is high and the events are big and make an effort to connect and follow up with each visitor. So dream big dreams and plan wildly. I like to have a large kick-off event that is high profile and easy to invite people to. I have also done programs to be deliberate about bringing new people in and nurturing them in their faith. Fall is the season to do it, so take an opportunity to try something new, to do something huge or to double down on investing in the relational side of your ministry.
When you have new youth visit, be sure to use their names early and often. If possible, I try to say their names 3 times in that introductory conversation. That way, when I see them next, I remember their names and can use it when speaking to them.
WALK, DON’T RUN.
Remember that even with the influx of new people, a renewed energy and intensity in the ministry, and all the cool new things you are trying and loving that the youth are now doing more difficult and time-consuming work at school. Schedules usually get more and more rigorous with each grade, and when you add the jobs, extracurricular activities and sports that become more and more time consuming, remember that youth ministry should support the lives of teenagers, not cause them to implode. Ideally, every youth would be at worship on Sunday morning, choir on Wednesday night, start a small group on Tuesdays and of course be at youth group Sunday evenings. But, since they are human, they have other cool stuff going on. Support them in those things. Go to football games. Attend long choir concerts. Find out what glee club even is and go to that, too. Make sure your teens know that you are there when they need you, even if they’ve been at rehearsal for the school play the last month.
When a new period begins, it’s an opportunity to remind the youth of your call and commitment to them, the ministry and God. Take a moment to tell them that you promise that they will get your best because you were called to serve them and Jesus. It’s a great way to set a tone of joy and hope within the meeting and ministry, but it also is a reminding moment for us as youth leaders as to why we do this. We have been called to the crazy, unpredictable, often-frustrating, never boring and always fulfilling thing that is youth ministry. It is a privilege and honor, and the youth should know that you understand that.
The shift is hardest when you’ve taken a summer off, but even with a consistent program, these tips will help you have a great fall season and prepare you to build something new and exciting. If it’s not already, I hope this helps make the back-to-school season one of your favorites.
This article was originally published by Youth Specialties here.