3 Hidden Keys to Successful Weekly Youth Programs | UMC YoungPeople
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April 2024

3 Hidden Keys to Successful Weekly Youth Programs

By Jeremy Steele

In the ever-evolving landscape of youth ministry, the difference between a good program and a transformative one often hinges on the effectiveness of how you manage it week to week. I get it; it’s not an exciting sentence to read, but these tips will help you take your programs from mediocre to great and help you sustain them over the long term.

1. Preparation Is Everything.

Preparation is not just about organization; it's about prioritizing your ministry's heart and soul. The chaos of last-minute preparations not only drains your energy but also detracts from the potential moments of connection and mentorship that define successful youth ministry. Preparation allows you to remember why you’re creating this thing in the first place and ensures that you are tying it to your mission and vision of youth ministry.

The Day Before: My rule of thumb is that I do my best to not leave the office the day before a program without having everything for that program ready to go. Sometimes things can’t be staged in the rooms because they are used before the program happens the next day, but if supplies can’t be placed in the rooms, I place the supplies in piles or bins ready to pick up and walk into the room the next day.

The Week Before: The momentum of each program builds on the preparation done the preceding week. Just as you need to be ready to go the day before, there are several things you need to do the week before to make the day before even possible. After your program ends, the week before, go through and check supply levels and make a list of what needs to be replenished. If a trip to the store is warranted, look at your calendar and put that shopping trip on the calendar; or even better, text your volunteer who makes runs to the store for you and give that person the list. And, speaking of volunteers…checking in with them a week ahead of time makes everything better!

And yes, there’s more preparation needed, but also innovation, so let’s think of longer-term preparation through that lens.

2. Intentional Innovation Sustains Engagement.

The dynamism of youth ministry requires an ever-evolving approach to program management. Stagnation is the antithesis of growth, both spiritually and numerically.

Monthly Innovations: Introducing novel elements or special events can reinvigorate interest and participation. Whether it's a unique theme, guest speaker, partnering with another church, or community service project, these variations breathe new life into your programs, keeping them fresh and engaging. Giving yourself a month’s lead time will help you make those happen regularly.

Also, in that monthly planning, take a moment to look at attendance trends and any volunteers or youth you haven’t seen in a while. If you have an outreach team, give them information about the folks you haven’t seen for a while and a script to equip that team to invite folks in for the special event.

Quarter or Semester Reflections: A reflective practice at the end of each quarter (three-month blocks of the year) or semester (twice annually during the academic year) allows for thoughtful evaluation, strategic planning, and helpful innovation. What worked well? What didn't? Are there emerging trends or needs within your group that require new approaches? This is a time for honest assessment and creative thinking, leading to informed adjustments that align with your ministry's vision and the evolving landscape of youth culture.

3. Communication Enables Connection.

Communication is the lifeline of effective program management. Engaging with volunteers and participants consistently fosters a community of inclusivity and shared purpose.

Volunteer Check-ins: Regular touchpoints with your team allow for a shared understanding of expectations and responsibilities. It's an opportunity to address concerns, offer support, and celebrate successes. This continuous loop of feedback and encouragement strengthens the collective commitment to the ministry's goals. This should be weekly, if at all possible. Additionally, give permission for volunteers to check on you; or even better, have your staff-parish liaison or senior pastor set up regular check-ins to ask, “How is it with your soul?” to find out how you are feeling as you lead ministry.

Participant Engagement: Understanding the needs, interests, and challenges of your youth is pivotal. It informs the program's direction and content, ensuring relevance and resonance. Regular communication, whether direct or through surveys and informal chats, provides valuable insights that can tailor your programs to truly meet the youth where they are.


Effective program management in youth ministry is an art that combines foresight, adaptability, and a deep commitment to relational ministry. By embracing advanced preparation, fostering open communication, and injecting innovation, you can create programs that not only educate but also inspire, mentor, and transform. These strategies are not just about running a program; they're about nurturing a community where young individuals feel valued, understood, and spiritually nourished. In doing so, we reflect the very essence of ministry—serving others with love, wisdom, and a vision for their growth in faith.

When he's not playing with his four children with his wonderful wife, Jeremy is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, CA. Jeremy has spent over twenty years working in youth and children's ministry and continues to train children and youth workers as well as writing and speaking extensively in that field. His most recent book is the "All the Best Questions." You can find a list of all his books, articles, and resources for churches at JeremyWords.com.