What's Your Plan?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the importance, or lack thereof, of a strategic year to year teaching plan. In our ministry setting, if a junior higher enters our ministry as a 7th grader he/she will have approximately 100 weekend lessons and somewhere close to 60 small group bible study lessons under their belt by the time they graduate from 8th grade. Of course this assumes they are involved in a small group and rarely miss either small group or weekend programs.

Sooooo, with at best 150 (add 33% if you have 6th graders) opportunities to speak God's truth into the lives of a group of students who are in the midst of CRAZY social, spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual development, it seems like junior high ministries should have a pretty solid christian education plan, right? It does to me, but we don't. Our team recently had a small, but rather disturbing, "ah ha" moment at our weekend program that caused us to acknowledge that perhaps we need to become more proactive in thinking through our teaching scope.

Sure we have certain areas of studies that we make sure we cover from year to year such as the basics of the faith, sexuality, core doctrine, etc. but honestly there isn't all that much that has been deemed as "stuff we always teach to every group of kids".

So this post is selfish, but hopefully one that will garner some discussion that will benefit everybody.

I would love to get comments briefly outlining your teaching strategy from year to year if you have one. If you don't, then explain your strategy for not having one. Here is some fodder for discussion:

- How do you balance felt need/topical with expository/doctrinal type teaching?
- If you have small groups, do they follow your weekend lessons or stand alone?
- Is it better to expose this age group to lots of topics or pick much smaller amount and repeat, repeat, repeat?
- Given their developmental stage, how much time should we spend helping them navigate this season of their life?
- Knowing that much of our faith is more 'caught' than 'taught', what types of strategies do you employ outside the formal teaching time to help students 'catch' a desire to follow Christ?

Okay, that's enough...I really could go on and on. Let's talk!


dsm said...

First, I must say that this is often a minimal conversation because YM don't stay in one church long enough to follow through with a teaching plan.

When it comes to our ministry (of which I have been here six years) we generally create a teaching plan at the beginning of each budget year. This allows us the opportunity to communicate our plan for the year alongside of our budget. I do not commit to a three teaching plan as I have found that things creep in and cause me all kinds of grief. However, I try to cover certain areas of teaching every year.

I like to do a teaching series on the OT, NT, book of the Bible, Person in the Bible, some sort of theological teaching, something on evangelism, the Christian life and a basics of Christianity. Every three years I will do a big sex series. These are what we would cover in our Sunday worship service. We cover more topical teachings on Wednesday nights. That is where we will have conversations on the tough issues of Christianity, relationships and etc.

Chucky said...

i listened to a man talk once (sorry can't remember his name) that talked about planning. he suggested planning for a year ahead. If you look at the calender, you will find that half of your topics can be based around the calendar. You have Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentines, etc. Being specific about where you are heading will make you look at these dates and then decide where to take the rest.

I'm not sure if i would recomend having a set program for every group of kids. Because then it becomes exactly that, a program. If you adjust your teaching to the group, it seems personal to them. If you address issues you see in the group, it may not seem like the kids listen or appreciate it (well they might not actually at the time) but there probably is at least one kid that notices that "hey, he's interested in US" not just his own program.

I like your idea of faith being caught rather than taught. I think the only way kids will be able to "catch faith" is by someone living it out beside them. You need to live like Jesus 110% of the time. If you don't, kid's will notice.

sorry got kinda long there but thanks for sharing

trav said...

Good topic. Our ministry doesn't have a master plan either. We just go from series to series. Our small groups are volunteer lead and we allow them to pick there own topics.

We have stayed away from plans so that we can be flexible with our series based on needs that arise.

I don't know if that is really a good excuse but I'm sticking with it for now...maybe others comments will sway me.

Digsby said...

This is something I am going through right now with our middle school ministry. I keep asking myself, where do I want our students to be in 3 years? what do I want them to have been taught over those 3 years? what are the non-negotiables that we want our students to leave with?

And like you Kurt, I really don't know where to start in designing or organizing a teaching plan and for how far in advance. Having you share this thought has actually brought some comfort to me. I am relatively new in student ministry and only 1 year into middle school ministry and to see that guys that have been in the ministry for years working through things like this is like a sigh of relief for me.

At the moment we just go from series to series with no solid direction. We have used surveys to get ideas of what our students are dealing with and done series based on that. But as far as a year to year teaching plan, we have nothing at the moment.

Hopefully there will be some more good advice given in the comments to come.

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

We have used the teaching themes from Andy Stanley's Seven Checkpoints as a way of balancing our topics:

Authentic Faith
Spiritual Disciplines (we use HABITS)
Moral Boundaries
Healthy Friendships
Wise Choices
Ultimate Authority
Others First

Its easy to get entrenched in one or two themes for awhile (and we have yearly stuff like sex series etc) and need these themes to review where we have been and where we are going.

I wish it would be as easy as picking a three year plan and running with it... but I am finding each batch of kids comes with their own spiritual history and christian education, so we have to adapt to where the group is at and not assume their background year to year.

Rusty said...

We took the 7 Checkpoint system and made our own.

Foundations (Main things in the bible they need to know, themes or people)
Wise Choices
Spiritual Disciplines
Morality / Character

We often blend things together. Like a 4 week study on relationships using the life of David (a foundational character).

I don't normally plan a year out but 1 quarter at a time.

trav said...

This is the first I have heard about Andy Stanley's 7 checkpoints book. I am going to look into that, it sounds interesting. Are there other helpful books ore websites that anyone has used when it comes to thinking through this topic?

Kurt Johnston said...

The seven checkpoints (or a similar list...)seems to be a decent "bare minimum". By that I mean that maybe it's wise to at least have a list of core topics you make sure every student is exposed to. I'm sure some ministries teach the same "seven" topics over and over....just wrapped differently.

Kurt Johnston said...

The seven checkpoints (or a similar list...)seems to be a decent "bare minimum". By that I mean that maybe it's wise to at least have a list of core topics you make sure every student is exposed to. I'm sure some ministries teach the same "seven" topics over and over....just wrapped differently.

CZ said...

As a protestant, it sure sounds like you are struggling with the "Confirmation" process. Unfortunatly this process has historically been dominated by doctrine. I have seen great results with a curriculm that balances doctrine, relationships, and topics/issues.
I don't want to get into a denominational debate but in a denomination that has ,in my opinion, too many traditions, this is a good one for my ministry. It gives the youth that firm foundation we are all seeking.
Historically parents "force" their children to come to confirmation class. We use this to our advantage to build relationships so youth want to come to class and the other activites and studies that are more topical in nature.
It seems to work for us.

Kurt Johnston said...

I think you are pretty accurate in that assessment. Do us "strugglers" a favor and share a few tips on how we might incorporate confirmation-type education into a normal youth ministry setting (without making it an additional program).

Phil said...

I plan about 2 months ahead.

We teach through books of the bible and mix in topical studies and special series between books.

For example this year we have gone through:
1 Peter
Psalms (6 weeks - 6 different psalms)

Plus special series:
Why are my parent ruining my life
Summer series: Losers Club

Plus easter, thanksgiving, and back to school messages

Every 6 months or so we'll do a biblical dating & relationship & sex message

CZ said...

I would never claim to have all of the answers, and I see that there are may positive and negative attributes to each denomination. So, with those ground rules, here goes.

We teach the ten commandments, the Lord's prayer, confession and absolution, Baptism, Communion, and the Apostle's creed. One year and the OT and NT the next. Sounds very stodgy and well, traditional. At the end of the day I heard it best described by Len Sweet when he said this, our traditions are the anchors we posses. Only they don't hold us back, they are the anchors that we throw in the water ahead of us and pull our boat toward.
Whether you believe that these elements are the foundation of the faith, I think the concepts taught by these traditions are the important parts. We talk about a sex curriculum, well what about the good ole 6th commandment or 7th depending upon the way you number them. You can be very relevant with some really old stuff, you can also be very irrelevant with that same old stuff.
Now to do it in a way that is "not just another program" If you teach these elements on a two rotating basis you will cover all of the ground you want with each new class getting the stuff they were not taught the year before. Yes, you will do some cross teaching between years but that is great for reinforcement. We teach most of these elements in our Sunday morning Bible study format. I have seen churches that use more of a mentor to teach these elements within a small group. They can be taught in a lot of different settings.
Now for the hard part, making it relevant to there lives. This is always the challenge to help the scriptures come alive for them. I pray often for the Holy Spirit to do His job cause I am certainly not Him, even though I try to be some times(with very poor results). He works faith in the hearts of these youth not me. I just pray He uses what we call "a foundation" to create and build faith on.
It sounds like you are on the right track already. It is just you have to build a vehicle to get you where you want to go and I have just had to modify an old vehicle to get where I want to be...with the overall thinking that God is really the one doing the driving. I hope it helps, if not ask some more questions. I find that we have so much to learn from each others denominations.

David Malouf -- said...

One of the "tactics" we used is to bounce between topical, current event, and 'section of the Bible' (a book, a chapter, or a really intense look into a paragraph for a few weeks). On the side: it might be helpful to know that my style as a leader is to have a plan but deviate from it often due to either irrelevance or my boredom with something I haven't even done yet!

Then we became much more strategic with our ministry as a whole wherein teaching became a component of the whole and what we talked on, discussed, pushed, etc. was all a part of 'the whole.' For our community of leaders, this overarching plan was: Love God, Love the body, Love the lost. As such, we did three retreats/camps a year (one per part), for example. In teaching, we made sure we covered these main points using expository, topical, and current-event 'formats.'

For me, the teaching/topics became a tool to accomplish the bigger job. Teaching The 7 Checkpoints is a similar version of this.

HOWEVER! We also found that teaching disconnected from Relationships and Expressions (living it out) seemed to be more "noise" than help. My last years in middle-school ministry attempted to create a program that combined content, relationships, and action (actually living it out). Plus we attempted (as the pay & lay leaders) to live this out, too.

Random idea: use the Christian Calendar (the one that started last Sunday, Nov. 30). We are using it in our family as a way to see our lives as a part of God's story (the Christian 'seasons'). We are NOT liturgical in background. Shameful plug: my wife is helping us and other non-liturgicals with this idea at http://storyformed.wordpress.com/ She even created her own calendar for it. For what it's worth.


Mark E. Eades said...

I've tried to have some basic ideas that I understand about middle schoolers to help me develop all the different parts of our ministry. I know there are more but here are some key ideas that I've found:
Middle School youth need to feel Accepted – The need of acceptance will sometimes outweigh the need to do what is right.
Middle School youth need to feel Secure – The teenager’s life is in constant flex. They are changing almost daily. They need to feel safe with the environment around them while they are going through so many changes.
Middle School youth are Spiritual – They are working out their own faith.
Middle School youth need to feel like they can Achieve – They need to feel they can accomplish things. A feeling of success.
Middle School youth need to experience real Integrity around them – They need authenticity in the lives of those around them. They need to see honest, moral, Biblical lives around them.
Middle School youth need to feel Loved – They often get love and sex confused. They need to be taught what intimacy is.

This is what I start with when I'm developing a calendar.

Kurt Johnston said...

Thanks for taking the time to process that; it is very helpful. Part of what is driving my thinking is that our ministry is so strategic in virtually every other area and it makes sense that we would be in our teaching, as well. What you outlined is certainly a strategic model.

Jon Jolly said...

Over here at our church in the UK, we have a general 3 year overview which covers the basics of the faith as well as relevant topics similar to those mentioned above.
However, the delivery and content of these sessions are not pinned down and so change and develop every time we run them. This way we can tailor it specifically to the current group.

Anonymous said...


these are great questions. we began asking some similar questions as i began to discover that from first grade through twelveth grade some major themes, major characters (like David and others) and ideas were not being taught. so we all got together and sat around a table with one goal in mind, "what does spiritual formation look like for mars hill kids + students? how do we arrange our content in such a way that as the students advance to the next ministry that every developmental aspect of the program advances as well?" so we brought our content to the table, mapped it all out, and then each ministry teacher or leader asked ridiculously hard questions about why we were choosing to teach that. the whole process helped us recognize that we're apart of something much larger...

our junior high ministry now has a 2 year teaching arc, we're on year 2 now and it seems to be going well.

great post.

steve carter

John the Red Wonder said...

This is one of the hardest things for me. If we think about it, if our students remember one or two sermons then they are the exception. That's why i really try to drive home our purpose for the group.

Our purpose statement is: To Discover a real relationship with God, to Grow it in, Share it, Belong to a group that desires the same, so we can all Honor God together. (I'm sure i stole a lot of that...Thanks doug for your book)

So when we plan our teaching, we make sure to cover all of those main 5 categories: Discover, Grow, Share, Belong, Honor. My hope is that when a student graduates they will know that they need to have these 5 things in their life.

We try to do a big sex/porn series every 2 years. We try to have a student testimony night every quarter. And we try to have a worship night (with worship music as well as worship stations to show them different ways to worship) every quarter. Beyond that I pray through with my staff and student leaders what message topics to do to hit the five points.

CZ said...

John it sounds good my question to you is "Are the kids armed for battle with their sword, which is the word of God"? Like Steve said do they know who David is? Do they know that he was a murderer and adulterer? Can they learn from his life? Can they find peace and repentance in the life of David when they mess up in their life?
The Bible is a collection of people's lives. These are the faith stories that are passed down from generation to generation for a reason. These stories need to be told and learned and brought to life in a relevant manner.
I find the year we spend teaching the best stories of the OT and NT is the year that these youth grow so much because they hear true stories they never have really heard before. If they have heard them before they hear them in a new light because they are related to their lives. They go "ah ha "when they find out David is "Every Man" he struggled with the same stuff they have and will struggle with.
Those moments are some of my favorite ministry moments. It doesn't get old teaching those stories every other year because of that.

Kate said...

Deadly post - cos I have been thinking about this a lot as I develop curriculum (aka plagiarise everything I can lay my hands on). Plus being a strategist at heart, I 'm really trying to do things on purpose.

I have kids for 2 years, and have the 2 year plan laid out, but have been somewhat perplexed as to how to get the balance right. Have been wanting to make the most of the time so they do get a foundation.

One year is mainly Old Testament and the other mainly Jesus and Romans. Having taught Romans I am about to rewrite the lessons having learned an awful lot from the kids responses.

Have still felt there were too many holes etc. The comments on catechism give me a different and helpful perspective on my dilemma.

John the Red Wonder said...

CZ, good comment! Yeah actually that's part of the "Grow" part of our purpose statement. We have youth on thursday nights. On those nights we focus more on the Discover, Share, and Belong. (Honor is mixed into everything because that is the point of all of this)

On sunday mornings is where we focus on the Grow part. We are currently doing a series call, "100% Bible Stories: No Artificial Ingredients" I think a lot of the church kids grew up with Super book, or veggie tales, or what ever video was used, and have had a lot added into the bible stories, not so much heretical stuff, but extra stuff. So we are going through the bible, reading the passage, seeing exactly what it says, and then seeing how it relates to our lives. Think that's very important. (Also, not that numbers matter--but our attendance is way up for this long series, and the students claim they are reading their bibles more)

Karissa said...

Great thoughts. At the end of every ministry year, I find myself planning my teaching calendar for the following year (I'm taking a break to read your blog right now.) I feel like this allows me to not only cover some of the foundational principles that I would like to cover regularly but also the felt needs of my group as well. For example, I am working on a series for next year that will cover topics on homosexuality, cutting, suicide, and abortion. These would be felt needs that I have sensed my kids could use some godly perspective on. We will also be doing a series based on a technique called storying. This will meet some of our foundational needs. We just finished a pilot for the storying series, and our kids loved it! If you haven't read Novelli's book "Shaped by the Story" you should totally check it out. I have felt that by planning a year in advance I still have enough structure to hit the important foundational topics, but I also have enough freedom to identify the felt needs of my students; what are they dealing with in their lives this year?

Becca said...


I wish more than anything I could have this convo with you face to face! Or at the very least that my eyes would let me read everyone's comments without going buggy. Youth Ministers by nature fail to plan a year ahead, let alone 2-3. I taught a youth ministry class at a local university and said that very same thing. Youth ministry is in a detriment because as highly relational people, we often teach what we "feel" our kids need to hear.
Who is to say that we are so in tune with our children/youth that we can feel what everyone of them needs to hear? Obviously, crisis happens we have to respond as ministers. We have to be flexible but I think there should definitely be a plan.
To answer your question, I also use Andy Stanley's ideas, but I mix that with our synodical/denomination theology; blend that with Life Together stuff; and add in the BIG IDEA from CCC (Naperville).
I'd love to see what you draw up for this. Wouldn't it be amazing if, as a church we were able to draw up a strong conclusion on what jr high kids really need to learn over those 100-200 hours of teaching/realtional bonding time?

Kate said...

Becca - I echo your thoughts

Geoff Branagh said...

to be honest, and i know as youth pastors we hate to hear this, i think the talks arn't as important as we think. i know they are important and matter, im not saying that, but i don't think they have the impact we would like to imagine.
if we look at our lives and what has really helped us to grow spiritually or even just as people, i bet about 80% of it is through relationships.

i think that relationships are really what help us to grow and learn. they are really what impact us.

so in my ministry i don't look at as having so many talks to get it through...i look it as having 3 years to have a relationship with the students and trying to make the most of it.

so i try to plan and set up as much possibility for relationships between me and the students or my staff and the students. in 10 years i think that is what will have the biggest impact.
any thoughts?

Paul Bammel said...

I've been thinking a bit about what my plan of attack is going to be for the years ahead, and I thought, "Why reinvent the wheel?" There are already so many great resources that have stood the test of time and provide a plethora of material to help out along the way. Use the lectionary, the Westminster Catechisms, or the Heidelberg Catechism among others. In each case, they provide a number of Scripture verses or passages that will hit on almost every topic you could come up with on your own. Plus, tell a parent or grandparent that you are teaching their kids/grandkids from one of these resources and you're sure to have some major supporters cheering you on.

Now, I get that the words lectionary and catechism might sound old and boring to many of your kids, so don't feel that you have to mention those words. Look through the resources and come up with some clever series titles on your own that will really peak the interest of your kids. These resources will help you stick with the traditional church themes throughout the year and help you get your kids into a great deal of Scripture. Also, see if you can find a way to incorporate games and activities to fit the theme that is presented from the Scripture verses or passages that you are using that week.

In any case, Kurt, thanks for asking the question, "What's Your Plan?" I often think through things by talking or writing things out. Thanks again and blessings to all!