Here are some questions that helped me figure out how to plan events and retreats.
1. What is the natural rhythm of my community? What you do and when you do it all depends on this question! You cannot plan against it and expect a large turnout. It’s just not going to happen and there’s no need to create unnecessary tension. My home is a transient town based around the University of Florida and Shands Hospital. So much of our community is employed by these two entities that it seems everyone vanishes when breaks come. This means perfect attendance is twice a month. They value their time off because they work such long hours. I need to respect that. If I’m going to plan an event, it needs to be done well and during a time that doesn’t interfere with dedicated family time. We should be working with our families not scheduling against them.
2. Is what I’m doing adding value? It’s important to acknowledge the fact that you’ll burn out members of your church with too many events. Less is more. If what I’m planning is going to add value to the lives of my families, I can’t be planning a million other things around it. We plan one retreat a year, one-to-two large events and then several small get-togethers for our students and families. By focusing on fewer larger things we have the ability to do them well.
3. What can I realistically do? My eyes can be bigger than my stomach. I love to dream big but sometimes those dreams are way too big for what I can realistically do and do well. Of course I’d love to have the biggest and brightest – but honestly, your students don’t need that. They need you. They need their leaders. I’ve seen some amazing summer camps that operated on shoestring budgets because that was the reality of their limitations. Your students won’t remember how much you spent on stuff for your retreat, they’re going to remember how well you loved them.
4. Can I get everyone there? Nope. Try to pick a time or season when you can get the most amount of people to attend, but realistically you’ll never find a time when everyone can make it. Don’t beat yourself up over that. Do the best you can and roll with the punches. Only you – as a ministry leader – can answer these questions. My prayer is that they help you figure out the best way to communicate Jesus to your students and families.
Joe Smith is a veteran of youth ministry, having served as lead youth minister in multiple churches over the past 20 years. He's also served as a senior minister and preaching minister of churches in Florida, and currently serves on the ministry staff at Shift Church in Gainesville. To contact Joe, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.