Kicking off your school year, the new year, a new series, groups ministry or simply anything in your youth ministry that is different from routine has to be great! Teenagers need something to look forward to, need something to be excited about and need something not the same. If you follow these simple rules you can make kickoffs great again.
Think Outside the Box
Forget everything you usually do for your programming nights. If you could do anything to kickoff the new school year or new series or small groups, what would you do? Let yourself dream a little. If money was no object and you could do the kickoff up right, what would it look like? How would it feel? What would you hope to accomplish? What would the end goal be for your students? Thinking outside the box means dreaming and being innovative with your kickoff and give your students and experience they haven’t had yet.
6 Months Out
In order to do something incredible you need to be planned out and have time to implement your plan. You should be thinking about kickoffs at least 6 months out. Period.
If you are going to go all out for a kickoff it would be wise to budget accordingly. This should be something you budget for and plan on the year before when you submit your request or as you are going through your budgeting process. When you know you have funds to use towards making an awesome night for your students, it opens up doors of ideas you can tap into. You use funds to push something to a new level, especially if the return on that investment has a chance of being significant. Leverage your budget to make kickoffs awesome.
Student Buy In
Use your students for promotion! Incentivize them, cast vision for the event and create some hype around what is going to happen. Use this generations FOMO (fear of missing out) against them in a good way. Use students to help you plan and implement the kickoff. Allow students to take ownership of certain areas. When students take ownership, it overflows into everyone else around them. Change your mindset from your kickoff being “for students” to “with students”.
Your kickoff needs to create moments for students to grab onto. It doesn’t always need to be emotional but it does need to be memorable. It goes back to why you are having a kickoff in the first place. What does a student need to walk away with from the kickoff. If its a small group kickoff, they probably should walk away knowing who their group is, their leader is and that its going to be an awesome year because they could tell someone cares about them. If its a kickoff to welcome students back from summer, it has to be fun and they should walk away thinking “I have the best youth group ever”. If its a kickoff to a series, they should walk away with an action step and a teaser for what the series is going to help them understand and see. How can you make moments during your kickoff to give them something they cant get anywhere else? Moments are crucial in the development of teenagers. You probably can still remember mountain top moments from middle school and high school vividly. Create a moment for your students to remember forever.
Duh! But seriously, pray for wisdom, discernment, favor and for God’s presence to be all over your kickoff and the results from it.
Make Kickoffs Great Again and put something behind it this year!
Award Show - (think dundies, Oscars, make students the stars, red carpet)
Color War - colored powder and a mess is always fun
Team Competition between small groups - competitions are always a way to galvanize people together
Use Food Trucks - yes a little expensive but they set a really cool vibe up
Fireworks - how cool are fireworks - be ready to spend a little bit but it could be just the spark you need to end the night well
Have Fun - Fun is a universal language everyone knows and understands!
Your calendar is not getting any less full. Like me, I am sure your personal calendar is stuffed, your work calendar is jammed and then you have the calendar your mother in law expects you to follow… hers! Calendars dictate your time but also can tell you when you are free! I can't tell you how to manage your personal calendar but I could send you a template email to send to your mother in law (insert appropriate emoji). Your youth ministry calendar is the one that you have an opportunity to leverage.
There is a natural rhythm to the ministry you oversee. Most of the time it's dictated by school breaks, your personal life and adult leaders availability. Let's scrap that mind set for a second and look at the calendar with a different filter. Look at your calendar and ask yourself, when would I have the biggest opportunity to build relationally with students? Every church is different, schools have different calendars and there are certain variables in each context. You are in charge of the calendar for youth ministry. Are you leveraging it well?
When do you kickoff certain ministries? Does it line up with a natural rhythm of school and family life for your students?
Kickoffs and Ending Celebrations are momentum builders that set up the future. Natural calendars for families, school, etc are already in place. Build your ministry calendar to line up with those so you can maximize your time together.
Are you planning activities during school breaks to make the most of relational time with your students?
Every school break that lasts more than 1 day is an opportunity to schedule some hangout time and have fun with your students and their friends. Whether its sports, video games, board games, taco bell, movies, etc, you have an opportunity to build relational equity by giving your students something to go do!!
Do your big weekends make sense for your students AND their families?
There is nothing worse than planning an event that happens to fall at the same time as a massive school event, sports, or weekend where nearly every family at your church decides to go somewhere. Make sure you schedule your D-Now weekend or fall retreat when the majority of your students have no conflicts. Choose the week of summer camp when you know your athletes and marching band kids wont practice. Make your Kickoff to the school year before school starts so you can actually celebrate without a wave of anxiety creeping in, or kickoff well after school started so your students actually are optimistic about the school year.
Do you just do the same thing or do you try new things and mix it up for your crew?
Please, try new things out. Please, try and fail instead of relying on the same events or programs to get the job done. Your students need you to try, be creative and risk failing in order to get to a final product that is awesome! Try something new and fail, its all good!!!
Your calendar can be the most freeing thing if you are strategic about it and intentional about when you do what you do. Have the students in mind first and your leaders will get on board. Cast vision well and pray like crazy for God to do some amazing things in the youth ministry you have the great privilege of overseeing for this season of your life!
When I started as a new youth pastor, I new I couldn’t do it all. I inherited a group of leaders when I started at my first church and began to recruit more. As the new school year approached, I planned a leader meeting so we could all get on the same page and so that the leaders knew what was expected of them. I tried to be as prepared as I possibly could be, I made a booklet with pages of information for them, ways to help them be the best youth leader ever. The leader meeting happened, I handed out the booklets and went through it all. No one had any questions at the end of the meeting and I left pumped about how awesome I was at leading leaders. I could barely fit my head out the door that night, the pride was oozing from my ears. A few weeks later we had our kickoff and it went ok but I noticed the majority of them didn’t really know what to do and weren’t engaged with what was happening. Instead of meeting after the kickoff to debrief, I assumed that my leadership musk would rub off on them and that they would just figure it out. After an entire semester of this type of thing happening, I finally asked some of the leaders if they feel like they are doing a good job. They said that they didn’t because the booklet that I gave out at the beginning of the year gave them so much information, tasks and stuff to do that they didn’t know where to begin or what to do each night. I realized quickly that evening that whats clear to me, the youth pastor, wasn’t going to be clear for my volunteer leaders that are giving only a few hours of their time to youth ministry. I wasn’t clear, I wasn’t leading them well and it wasn’t obvious to them how they could do a good job in their current role. (insert deflated head emoji)
I was learning a valuable lesson and continued growing and learning for the first number of years in youth ministry. Your volunteers need simple to understand expectations, clear roles and obvious ways they can “win” with students. Anyone who gives up their personal time or time with their family needs to find what they are doing to be valuable and that they are doing it well.
Give your leaders one focus for a semester of ministry that is easy to see, evaluate and measure. Be strategic with those focuses when you get your leaders together to help them understand the reason behind the focus and how they can be effective within that focus. For your small group leaders building community within the group is a big deal so give them a focus of getting together with their small group outside of church time 2 times that first semester. A focus could be just being consistent and getting to know each student in their group on a deeper level. What I can your volunteer team focus on that will add exponential value to the ministry. Be strategic!
Give them feedback and help them grow. Your leaders need to know if the job they are doing is good enough. This means that you have to meet with them on a somewhat consistent basis so they can hear feedback from you, the leader. Be specific and do not shy away from the hard conversations if they aren’t doing the job you need them to do. They will be better leaders in the long run if you lovingly and gracefully help them see how they can improve.
Celebrate with them when they are absolutely killing it! Have an award for rockstar leaders that you give out frequently so they know if they are doing a good job. Every student ministry should have a traveling trophy, championship belt or a gold spray painted bobble-head of a mediocre baseball player on hand to give to amazing leaders who are making the ministry a better place to be.
I had to learn the hard way to keep things simple, to give good feedback and to allow them opportunities to try and succeed! Don’t wait until the middle of a school semester to give your leaders clarity, do it NOW!