3 Principles for Planning a Program That Makes Students Say, “Wow!”

When your program ends, you want students to walk out saying, “Wow! I’m glad I came.”

That doesn’t happen by accident. You have to plan for it.

Here’s 3 principles to help you plan better youth ministry programs:

1. Start Early

Don’t wait until Monday morning to think about Wednesday night. The easiest way to get ahead is to create a preaching calendar for the next 3 months. Then create a folder on your computer or in Evernote with the date and topic. Begin collecting ideas for hosting bits, games, videos, and teaching illustrations that connect with a teaching theme or a seasonal theme.

For example, did you know that July 23 is National Hot Dog Day? When I found that out, I made a note in my program files. Then I came across a news story about the Hot Dog Eating Championship. The most recent winner is a guy named Matt Stonie. He makes YouTube videos of himself eating various foods for 60 seconds. On one of those videos, he’s eating Twinkies.

That gave me a great idea: I’d start talking about National Hot Dog Day. I’d tell everyone about the new champion, Matt Stonie. Then I’d show his Twinkie video. We’d follow that up with a Twinkie eating contest for students!

Do you see how that works? Start early and you’ll find tons of great ideas along the way!

2. Make It Fun

I believe that helping students have fun is one of your highest priorities as a youth pastor. But having fun isn’t limited to games.

Think of ways to help students laugh.

How can you take them by surprise?

What can you do to shake things up?

Over the summer we set up a bubble blower outside the door where students come in. They love it…they’ll chase those bubbles all over the place just to pop them!

What if you switch your service around? You could start with a message and end with singing.

You could clear out the chairs and have them sit on the floor. You could set up the chairs in a different way. You could do a planned interruption with a crazy character who tells everyone about upcoming events. You could show a hilarious Tripp & Tyler video.

Fun helps build trust, relationships, and engagement. You definitely want those things happening in your program.

3. Mind the Gaps

As you put together your plan, be aware of the gaps. Gaps are those dead spots that happen during transitions.

It’s not cool when the countdown timer ends and no one is on the stage.

You don’t want awkward silence when the game is over and the band is making its way to the stage. There’s a reason it’s called awkward.

Use a bumper video to allow time for the band to exit the stage while the speaker gets into position.

If you’re using a video clip during your message, make sure the person running the computer knows when it’s supposed to play.

What happens when the service is over? I’ve seen services end while the sound guy fumbles through iTunes to find the right playlist. Those dead spots have the potential to kill the momentum you’ve created, so take the time to think through those moments of transition when you’re planning your service.

Make ’em say, “Wow!”

These 3 principles are about preparation. Students can tell when you’ve prepared for them and when you haven’t. If you get up and just wing it, they’ll know. And they won’t be impressed. They probably won’t want to come back.

Preparation communicates care. When students can see you’ve prepared for them, they’re more likely to believe that you care about them. And when they believe that you care about them, they’re more likely to listen to what you tell them.

That’s why this is so important. Planning programs that make students say, “Wow” isn’t an optional add-on to an otherwise good youth ministry. It’s an important part of what makes a youth ministry good in the first place.

Your Move

What are you doing to make students say, “Wow!”?

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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