Characteristics of a Healthy Youth Ministry: 25. Planning

Programmes and events are well planned by a team of leaders with tasks delegated and shared.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it. (Luke 14:28)    

I started leading a youth ministry as a volunteer. All week I worked a full-time job and when Saturday arrived I would sit down to plan a programme for the following day. At that time there was not much in the way of youth ministry materials available in the Christian bookstores and of course no internet to search for programme ideas.

While I would invariably come up with something, this last-minute approach to programming brought a degree of stress, as I planned with a sense of urgency. The thought of planning a few weeks ahead or even planning a term at a time barely occurred to me.

True, I looked ahead far enough to plan an annual camp and planning for social events often required more than a day or two, but as far as the weekly programme went, the planning was week-to-week.

By the time I took on my first position as a full-time youth pastor, I had come to see the value longer-term planning has in effective youth ministry. Not only did it reduce stress levels, but it also enabled others to be involved in the planning process and together our planning meetings became productive and even fun.

When it comes to planning within youth ministry, there are two unhealthy extremes to avoid. The first is a tendency to plan in such a way that our faith is in our plans. Here, we may remember to pray after the plans are in place, but subconsciously we know our programmes will be effective because of our planning, despite whether God is in them or not.

The second unhealthy extreme is to barely plan at all and to simply ask God to take care of things or expect that He will show us what to do at the last minute. While such an approach might save us a good deal of time, the outcomes are seldom as good. Such an approach may appear to demonstrate great faith but too often it reveals an attitude of laziness or even apathy.

Rather than lie somewhere between these two extremes, good planning incorporates them both. An effective youth ministry understands that all plans originate in God and our role is to work hard to discern these plans and implement them.

In the Old Testament, God spoke through the prophet Amos and said, “The Sovereign Lord never does anything until He reveals His plans to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7) The context of these verses is impending judgement, but the principle holds: God has plans for your youth ministry and He wants to reveal them to you and your team for you to then strive to implement them efficiently and effectively.

When it comes to planning programmes, events and activities you will need to ask some questions about the frequency and type of programmes you want to run. As we have seen previously, it’s important to programme with purpose. If you have a programme or event that does nothing to contribute to your overall purpose then you need to ask why you are running it.

How often do you want the young people to be studying scripture together? Every week? Three weeks out of four? Every second week? And how often do you want to run fun social events, and will these be on your regular youth night or a different night of the week?

What about service projects, one-off camps and combined church activities on offer? Will you run your own camp each year? Will you attend a regional Easter Camp? What other camps and activities are worth committing to? Pray and discuss what is likely to work best for your group as you look to God for His lead.

Once you have answered these questions, start filling in an annual calendar that includes weekly programmes and annual events. At this point, you don’t need to plan details for each week. Just having an overview of the year is all that is required here.

The next step is to plan your programme for the coming term. Here you will list the topics or Bible passages you intend to focus on and will begin to work on the planning of upcoming activities and camps.

At this point, you may not need to necessarily have detailed plans. These can be made later. What is required at this point is an outline of what is planned so that leaders, young people and their parents know what is coming up. A useful consequence of doing this is that you communicate to people that what you are doing is carefully thought through and well organised, giving you and your team greater credibility in people’s eyes.

In addition, when you plan as a team, you will find that leaders are not only able to articulate what you are planning to do but will understand why you are planning to do it and what outcomes you are expecting. Knowing these things improves their level of motivation and commitment to the programme and gives them an increased sense of ownership and involvement.

A key part of planning is delegation. Effective youth ministries don’t rely on just one person to make and execute all the plans. It is a team effort with tasks delegated according to team members gifts and available time.

I was talking to the coordinator of an Easter Camp that drew in three thousand young people each year. “How do you organise such a huge event?” I asked. He led me into his office and showed me a large whiteboard. On it was written every task that needed doing for the camp to run smoothly and these tasks were then grouped and listed under headings in about ten columns.

“It’s easy,” he said. “All I have to do is find ten reliable people. I delegate a column of tasks to each of them and they in turn delegate to others. All I have to do then is stay in contact with those ten people.”

Not many of us will ever have to run an event for three thousand people, but the principle and process of delegation still holds. As you offer responsibility to others, not only will more get done, but you will train up others for leadership (Ephesians 4:11,12).

Of course, if you have ever tried delegating you know that the big risk is that people let you down. To minimise this possibility and to plan well, ensure each person knows what’s expected of them (ask them to repeat it back to you), and arrange to check in on progress well before the programme or event. That way you don’t turn up and find at the last minute that nothing has been planned.  


  • Part of the planning process is seeking to discern what God is wanting the youth ministry to do.
  • Even though there is a deep reliance upon God, planning by leaders is thorough and methodical.
  • In planning the focus is not just on what programmes and activities will take place but why.
  • Planning is undertaken by a team of people – not one individual acting alone.
  • A draft outline of the year's programmes and events is made at the start of the year.
  • A schedule of events is put together at least a term in advance to allow time for more detailed planning to take place.
  • Church, leaders, parents and young people have a high degree of confidence in the leaders’ ability to plan well.
  • Leaders are able to justify the reason for the frequency of regular programmes and activities.
  • Tasks are delegated to team members according to their gifts and their available time.
  • When tasks have been delegated, the key leader follows up on progress made so that there are no last-minute disappointments.

CCCNZ Youth offers a coaching programme for key youth leaders and youth pastors who would like help in implementing these principles as well as learning leadership skills. Contact us if you are interested.