Planning ahead and coming up with timely, relevant themes to cover with your young people can be difficult if you’ve never done it before. Below, Zoe Phillips shares her process of turning theme ideas for her youth group into session plans for each term.
There are two types of youth workers in the world.
The first is the “spontaneous creator”, who decides what they’re doing at youth that week (or day). This is the spontaneous type of youth worker, who often ends up making up a completely new, epic game in a moment of inspiration as they raid the cupboard 30 minutes before youth group starts.
The other is the “planner”. This youth worker carefully looks ahead and plans out each activity/session for the entire term (or year!). They’ve secured the early-bird tickets for the youth festival the day after it finishes and have the consent forms and risk assessments printed out…
Okay, maybe it’s less like two extremes and more like a sliding scale. Either way, I’m definitely on the “planner” side of the youth worker scale and thought it would be helpful to share some tips for planning a youth term series with you that I’ve learned along the way. It can be difficult to think so far ahead when the challenges your young people face seem to evolve quickly, but there are a few processes that are helpful to follow.
1. Identify some theme ideas
Assuming you have no clue what you want to do with the youth next term, the first step is to pray that God would guide the process. Then reflect on what you noticed from youth last term. A couple of these questions to ask yourself could be:
What worked well?
What sparked interest and engagement?
What was a re-occurring question or issue?
What did your young people struggle or wrestle with?
Hopefully, a few things will pop into your mind. Pray into the things you noticed. An idea/topic/theme might start to emerge, which could be something like: mental well-being, exam/school stress, making good friends, social media, being distinctively Christian, how to read the bible, prayer, science and faith, or sex and relationships. It doesn’t have to be any of these — reflect on what your young people are going through.
Once you’ve got some ideas, push each theme further. Which book(s) of the Bible speaks to that question? What Christian disciplines could shed light on that? Write down your ideas so you can look them up as your plan comes together.
2. Turn your idea into a series
The next step, is to break down your theme into a series of sessions for the term. What I tend to do is run two or three mini-series each term. These series then work out being roughly four weeks long (or more if there are only two focuses). That means I need four sessions.
Next, I break down the idea into four parts. For example, this is the structure of a series on mental well-being (grounded in Psalms) that I created.
1st session: What is mental health? (Where is God in it?)
Once I have my specific session ideas, I start researching, studying, praying, writing – mainly to refine the session content, so it flows from week to week. Then I ask my youth volunteers (or think of people from the wider church congregation) to get involved in sharing stories and/or leading a topic that fits with their expertise and passion. This means I can delegate some of the nitty-gritty of planning the exact content of each session, whilst involving others who want to teach. If this isn’t possible for you, try and block out time in the calendar for some decent planning – bulk-processing my work really speeds this bit up.
Once I am happy with the rough gist of content, I put the titles of each session into my term card template, and let youth and parents know. I make sure my team know what session they are leading, and then make sure I support people to make the series runs smoothly, but it also has the flavour of different people’s input.
4. Remain flexible
The most thought-out plans may not always be the right fit, so within each session, I try to remain flexible with the context and what God is doing — this is far more important than anything I could plan. Sometimes things won’t go to plan and that’s okay, but when you’re a “planner” youth worker (or your vicar wants you to be a “planner”) it’s good to have at least made the plan! 😉
At the same time, make sure you roughly stick to your plan — when you tell young people what you’re covering, they’ll come expectant and excited to explore the topic. It’s important to meet their expectations.
Whilst doing steps 1-4, it’s important to:
5. Talk (and listen) to your young people
The programme is for them, after all. What we did last term was create a board (about A1 size) – divide it into 12 sections with a topic theme in each segment. Each young person was given 2 stickers (2 votes) to place in the topic segments they’d like most to cover at youth. This helped us see the rough majority interest and shaped our series choice.
6. Work with your volunteers
I always am in conversation with my youth team as I plan a discipleship series – often it is a joint effort of us noticing what we should cover and swapping observations. But as the paid worker, I am the one who spends time fleshing out the series and making a term card.
Obviously not all youth groups run a discipleship series. Coming up with 12 fun youth group activities to do can be hard enough! I put out polls on Instagram asking for ideas from the youth and I get them to vote for the outing idea they would prefer. Also, look at what other youth groups have tried or are doing – Youth group Instagram profiles have given me a lot of ideas.
Finally, it goes without saying you do not need to make a programme from scratch. There’re tonnes of great material out there that you can use to deliver great youth sessions. Maybe the first few tips will just help guide your choice from the menu of pre-made, easy to deliver (and sometimes free!!) amazing Christian resources out there.
Such as: Urban Saints: Energize, Romance Academy, 24/7 Prayer Origins Course, Youth Alpha, Mission Academy Live, Living Crazy Love, Youthscape, Scripture Union…
Hope this helps you in your planning!
About the author
Zoe Phillips joined Christ Church W4 in 2016. She is passionate about discipling young people and seeing faith become real and relevant to their daily lives. She studied Theology and Youth Ministry at St. Mellitus and a Masters in Christian Leadership. She also is the Church Liason Officer for the Youth Minster and Youth Advocate for the Diocese of London.
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