Okay, let’s try something. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar . . .

  • You started planning that big retreat of yours a few weeks too late, and now you’re scrambling to get it all done.
  • You’re halfway through the school year when you realize . . . Wait, when’s the last time I sent a parent email?
  • It’s Monday and you’re frantically Googling “free youth ministry sermons” because what the heck are you going to teach this week?

I could list a hundred more examples, but I’ll spare us all the guilt. In youth ministry, we all know what it’s like to leave our planning to the last minute second.

Sure, we’re all guilty of it.
But friends.
Let’s be honest.
All that procrastination is the worst.
It’s stressful and time-consuming and we always, always, regret it.

So how about we try something different this year?

How about we start planning our ministries an entire year at a time?

Yeah, an entire year at a time.
Now, don’t freak out.
You really can do it.
It only takes one day.
And it’s going to make the other 364 days of your year so much more fun, peaceful, and effective.

Today, we want to walk you through how to plan your entire year of youth ministry in just one meeting. If it sounds too good to be true . . . well, it’s not. It’s actually really doable.

To learn how to make it happen, watch the video above, keep reading, or both!

WHAT TO DO

  1. SCHEDULE THE MEETING. Try to meet during the summer, but if the school year has already started, then schedule your meeting as soon as you can!
  2. INVITE THE RIGHT PEOPLE. Think about your team, your key volunteers, your fellow ministry leaders, or even your lead pastor. Invite people who understand strategy, ministry, and teenagers. Don’t do this alone.
  3. GET YOUR SUPPLIES. If you’re wondering what those supplies are, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

WHAT TO GET

Once you’ve taken care of the prep work for this meeting, you might be wondering, How do I actually plan a year of ministry in a day? And how do I lead this meeting? We’ve got you covered there, too.

HOW TO LEAD AN ANNUAL PLANNING MEETING

1. MAKE A GAME PLAN. 

To make sure you’re not wasting your time, or the time of the people you invite, come up with a game plan in advance. (And, no, planning to ask the question, “So . . . what do you guys want to do this year?” is not enough of a game plan.) Instead, here’s what we suggest: IDENTIFY THE AREAS WHERE YOU NEED AN ANNUAL STRATEGY. 

In our ministry, we identified six areas. We think those six areas might work for you, too. Here they are . . .

  • DISCIPLESHIP: How you’ll help teenagers develop spiritual habits outside of your weekly program, sermons, or small groups.
  • TEACHING: How you’ll teach teenagers about faith through sermons, small group conversations, or both.
  • WEEKLY PROGRAM: How you’ll keep your weekly program fun, fresh, and engaging.
  • EVENTS: How you’ll engage teenagers in special events outside of your weekly program.
  • VOLUNTEERS: How you’ll recruit, train, and invest in your volunteers.
  • PARENTS: How you’ll engage and serve parents.

Instead of starting with a completely blank slate, you’ll be starting with six specific categories of things you’ll need to plan. Imagine the impact you’ll make if you strategically develop an annual strategy and calendar for all six of those areas! Not only will you be helping your students grow, you’ll be helping your entire ministry grow as well.

2. CREATE YOUR CARDS. 

We love using storyboards for our annual calendar planning for a few reasons. First, it’s easy to see your entire year at a glance. Second, it’s easy to move things around once you’ve placed them on the board. And third, it’s a great way to not only see your calendar, but also to visually map your entire ministry strategy.

To use a storyboard effectively, you’re going to want to establish a color code. For our color code, we set aside the first four colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, and green) as the four strategies that directly impact teenagers. Blue and pink then became volunteers and parents, the adults we need to impact. Of course, you can use any colors you’d like, but our color code looked like this . . .

  • DISCIPLESHIP: orange.
  • TEACHING: red.
  • WEEKLY PROGRAM: yellow.
  • EVENTS: green.
  • VOLUNTEERS: blue.
  • PARENTS: pink.

We also kept some white cards handy for headers.

If you’re a user of Grow Curriculum and Annual Strategy, we’ve already created all the cards you’ll need (plus some blank ones) for your meeting. You can grab those here. Just print, cut, and you’re ready to go.

3. PREPARE YOUR BOARD.

Once you’ve determined your color code, prepare your board before your meeting gets started. Across the top of the board, place twelve white cards (one for each month of the year) and label them, beginning with the start of your school year. (These headers are also included in the cards we’ve provided.)

In case you need a reminder in the middle of your meeting, you might also want to create a color code at the top of the board. Place small squares of each color at the top with the title of the category those colors represent.

Once your headers and your color code are finished, you’re ready to begin!

4. BEGIN THE MEETING.

We suggest structuring your meeting (and filling in your annual calendar) in a very specific order.

DISCIPLESHIP

Begin your meeting by talking about your big-picture discipleship strategy because, once your discipleship strategy is determined, you can strategically plan your teaching, weekly program, and events to complement the timing of your discipleship efforts. If you’re using our 1-Year Discipleship strategy, break your year into four quarters, then assign one spiritual habit to each quarter. We assigned Spend Time with Others to the fall, Use Your Gifts to the winter, Spend time with God to the spring, and Share Your Story to the summer. If you want to understand the strategy behind why we placed those spiritual habits where we did, be sure to watch the video at the top of this page.

TEACHING

Once your discipleship strategy has been planned, it’s time to move to your teaching strategy. Each year, it’s important to plan ahead the topics and Scripture you plan to cover. When we fail to plan ahead, we run the risk of missing big important ideas, teaching only the topics that interest us most, and failing to give our students a full and holistic view of God. So plan ahead! It’s important.

So establish a bank of topics you want to cover every year, or every other year. (You can steal ours, if you’d like. Just check out that video at the top of the page.) Once you know those topics, place them on the calendar in the months that make sense. When you’re deciding when to schedule your teaching topics, be sure to consider what else is happening that month. You’ll be much more effective when you time your teaching topics to align with the experiences of a teenager and your discipleship strategy.

WEEKLY PROGRAM

Once your teaching topics are determined, you can start thinking about your weekly program. As you develop your teaching series in more detail, you may want to plan some interesting weekly programming elements (like special songs, activities, or experiences) to enhance that month’s topic. Your annual planning meeting probably isn’t the best place for that, though.

But what you can do at your annual planning meeting is this: plan your games for the entire year. Maybe that sounds crazy, but hang with me. When you plan your games for the entire year, you relieve yourself of the pressure to come up with a new game every single week.

Think of it this way. If you have 50 weeks of ministry, you’re going to need at least 50 games. So grab 50 cards (yellow ones, if you’re using our system), brainstorm 50 games, then stick them on the board. For your first draft, the games can be placed mostly arbitrarily. But once they’re all on the board, you might realize things like . . . Hey! December is National Flashlight Month, so let’s move this flashlight game to December. Or . . . We have a few games that need plungers. When we buy them for September’s plunger game, let’s make sure we don’t lose them before January’s plunger game. Or even . . . In November, we scheduled a lot of messy games. We should mix that up.

So maybe it sounds silly, but you can solve quite a few problems by planning your games a year at a time.

EVENTS

The final thing you need to plan (at least where students are concerned) are your special events for the year. We’re fans of keeping your event strategy simple. You can make a bigger impact by doing fewer events with more strategy. 

Here’s our recommendation for keeping your event strategy simple: do one event each quarter, plus a mission experience and a summer camp. 

In the fall, we suggest doing a weekend retreat to kick off the school year and solidify your small groups. This aligns pretty nicely with the Spend Time with Others spiritual habit in our discipleship strategy.

In the winter, remember that families are busy and a little short on cash around the holidays, so do a simple, fun, and free event.

In the spring, you may want to do another weekend experience, but keep it simpler than a full weekend retreat by planning an event in host homes or coordinating a lock-in. Whatever your venue, we suggest aligning with the spiritual habit of Spending Time with God and making this a more discipleship-focused event.

And in the summer, remember that you’ve got a busy summer ahead of you (and so do families), so host a simple and fun event that gets students out of the house and having a blast together. Then follow it up with your summer camp and a missions experience, either locally or internationally.

VOLUNTEERS

Okay! You did it! You’ve planned an entire year of ministry for teenagers! But now it’s time to think about your volunteers. We’re convinced there are 7 ways to invest in volunteers, and all 7 of them need to be represented on your annual calendar. Maybe that sounds overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Promise!

When planning your year of investment in volunteers, you’re going to need to consider volunteer events, volunteer meetings, discussion groups, one-on-one conversations, tools, communication, and celebration. We actually talked about this entire strategy in detail in another recent article, so go check it out or watch the video above if you’d like some more information on what that looks like.

The point is this: have a strategy for investing in your volunteers. You’re not just a youth pastor. You’re your volunteers’ pastor, too.

PARENTS

You’re almost there! The very last thing you need to strategize in your annual planning meeting is the thing we youth pastors always seem to save until last: how you’ll engage parents. When it comes to parents, let’s be honest . . . we could all do a better job of engaging them. We’re convinced the key to engaging and investing parents effectively is to plan an annual strategy in 4 key ways: events, discussion groups, tools, and communication. So finish your annual planning meeting by creating a plan for all 4 of these areas.

To make that happen, we suggest doing 4 events (an Open House, a Parent and Small Group Leader Breakfast, an event for teenagers and their mother figures, and an event for teenagers and their father figures), 2 discussion groups (opportunities to learn from parents and ask key questions), a variety of strategic tools (practical resources parents can use), and monthly emails (as well as complementary social media posts).

If you want more details on what that strategy might look like, watch that video at the top of the page or check out this episode of our podcast Youth Ministry Answers.

WHEW. Okay. That’s it. Those are all of our suggestions on how to run an annual planning meeting for your youth ministry.

Yes, it’s a lot to cover.
Yes, it might take all day.

But, friends . . . then you’re done for the whole year! 

When you schedule an annual planning meeting, instead of winging your planning every month (or week), here’s what we’re pretty positive is going to happen:

  • You’ll be a lot less stressed.
  • You’ll never have to wonder what you’re doing next week.
  • Your volunteers, parents, and students will be better informed.
  • Your lead pastor will say things like, “We have the best youth pastor ever!” (Probably.)
  • You can take a nap once in a while.

And, most importantly, when you have an annual plan to make your vision, strategy, and systems all work together, you’ll make a much bigger impact.

So, friends, let’s do this. We’ve got big, important, life-changing ministry to do. Let’s put a plan in place so we can make this year the most awesome year yet.

Now get planning!