Summer programming is just around the corner! In fact we will be wrapping up our regular programming in May and switching things up as our students and families change their rhythms and habits. I have served in enough student ministries to experience different rhythms and structures during the summer, but our current ministry context presents some unique opportunities and hurdles.
Living in a tourist community means our town sees an uptick in people but tourists don’t always come on vacation looking for a church or youth program. And while tourists come in to visit the town, the locals head out on vacations to relax and get away from the craziness in town. That means we experience a significant drop in attendance and in the number of volunteers that we have.
For each ministry and ministry leader, summer programming will look different. Some ministries don’t have any changes and run full programming all year long. Others scale back their programming and focus on intentional meet ups and trips. And still others have no programming. Regardless of where you are and how you run your ministry during the summer, intentional programming can help you create buy-in and cultivate a consistent vision that everyone knows and can be onboard with.
1. Understand your community rhythms.
When you know the rhythms and habits of your community, it allows you to think critically about the type of programming you will host. Some student ministry programs will continue running normally because students and leaders will be present. Others may need to think more creatively about what do as much of their community goes on vacation. But as you know and understand these rhythms, you will be able to offer options that best suit your people and meet their needs.
2. Know your volunteer strength.
Volunteers are the key to success for our ministry based on our program model. Regardless of the size of your ministry, you are probably in the same place. Even having two volunteers in a small ministry can make a huge impact for the students you’re ministering to. You may also need a certain ratio of leaders to students or may be required to have a certain number of leaders present due to working with minors.
With that being said, knowing your volunteer strength during the summer allows you to plan events and gatherings accordingly. If you don’t have your normal number of leaders, you will need to think practically and creatively about when to host gatherings and what they will look like. Another thing to consider is whether your volunteers are able to serve year round. Your volunteers–while they may never say this due to their love of the ministry–may need a break periodically. So consider their health and well-being as that is key to their effectiveness and to truly having the full strength of your volunteers.
3. Choose ideas, events, and focuses that highlight your vision.
Whatever your programming looks like this summer, let me encourage you to be intentional in highlighting your vision. Even if your programming looks different than during the school year, you can still make sure that whatever you’re doing is intentionally focused on growing and pouring into your students. The more intentional you are with highlighting your vision, the more buy-in you will generate with leaders, students, and parents.
4. Focus on relationships, community, and outreach.
Summertime presents us with a unique opportunity to reach and engage with our community, especially with those who may not have attended our church or ministry during the school year. Since school and extracurriculars associated with it have ended, students may be more inclined to attend your ministry and the events that you host. Because you may reach people who haven’t come before, I want to encourage you to make the most of these moments by focusing on relationship-building and fostering new interactions as you share about Jesus.
It is important to curate venues and opportunities that allow and encourage your students to invite their friends and interact with new people. Then, as new students are coming, be intentional with what you share and focus on clearly explaining the Gospel. These don’t need to be hours-long tent gatherings, but instead could include carving out 10-15 minutes to share about Jesus and then allow for further community and time for people to fellowship and ask questions as needed. Hopefully the summertime affords you a new opportunity to reach people you haven’t been reaching.
5. Plan ahead and communicate.
This is a big deal for me, probably because I am a planner at heart and love to know what is happening and when so I can prepare for everything. For families and leaders, having a plan for summer and communicating it will allow them to plan their schedules accordingly. It is also important to clearly communicate your plan and expectations to your leaders for the summertime. Doing this will help you know your volunteers’ level of commitment and ability to serve which will allow you to best plan your summer schedule.
In planning and communicating your programming, you should start first with your leaders to make sure you can actually do what you’re envisioning and that you will have enough leaders. Then you should communicate the plan to parents and students through multiple venues (online, emails, newsletters, in print, in person, etc.) and multiple times. I would also encourage you to have your plan ready and communicated at least a month before your summer programming starts. Many people are building their summer schedules earlier in the year and so the sooner you have a plan, the more likely families are to incorporate it into their summer schedules.