Despite all the negative talk about programs (in youth ministry circles), I think they are still important. "It's about relationships, not programs!" say some youth ministry gurus.
But, if you just hang out all the time with no direction or purpose, where will that get you?
Here are some things I try to keep in mind as I plan different programs/events for our youth ministry:
PURPOSE: Each program should have a purpose. And, yes, fun can be a purpose! Some people think relationships should happen without the help of programs. I agree, but don't think that's always the case. You might have some shy teenagers who will not call anyone else in the youth group under normal circumstances, but will make great buddies when they play video games together! Relationships, Worship, Outreach, and Equipping are my "Purpose" categories.
ABSENCE: I have noticed this powerful tool only recently. Sometimes, I will purposefully plan ZERO ACTIVITIES for a week or two, and the teens never fail to ask, "What are we doing this week?" Sometimes, they are grateful for the break, and sometimes they show disappointment. This is the perfect opportunity for me to tell them to plan something themselves, call a friend, gather at someone's house! If your group is constantly busy, they may not realize what they are missing.
DIVERSITY: Sometimes we get stuck in a programming rut. It's so easy just to recycle the programs that worked really well in the past. That paintballing trip may be fun, but you also might be alienating someone who hates getting shot by little balls of paint while running through the woods. Be careful to keep in mind your girls, athletic kids, intellectuals, extreme sports enthusiasts, gamers, and the apathetic kids who just like to "hang out" when planning your events.
COST: Keep a good balance between low-dough or free events and high dollar ones. Remember that parents are already spending a ton to entertain their teens during the summer. Be their friend and go easy on that pocketbook! Make it easy for the less fortunate kids to go to the events that you plan. Do it quietly, and don't embarass them or their families.
MOMENTUM: If you sense a good thing, don't let it die! For example, if your teens are bringing their friends, plan more events to facilitate those relationships. If families are pulling together because of your ministry, keep doing family activities. Learn to spot when things are working, and when to phase out a program for a while.
TIMING: When I arrived in Nebraska, I found out that a MAJOR part of senior year is for parents to have an open house (party) to honor their graduates. This also means that seniors (and other teens in your group) will be busy attending these parties. My first year, I tried to plan stuff during May, but I quickly learned to tone it down during this month and honor this tradition.
GOD'S WILL: Uh-oh...confession time. I'm not always the best at waiting to see what God wants me to do. Sometimes, I charge ahead without waiting for Him. Make sure that your activities and programs are God-honoring, and always brought before Him in prayer.