I looked around at the meager crowd that had gathered. I felt a wave of disappointment mixed with frustration rush through my mind. What had gone wrong? I had worked so hard to plan this event designed for students to come, connect, invite friends, and build momentum in our student ministry. But the turnout was just so “meh.” If you’ve been in ministry for more than three months, you’ve seen what I’m talking about.
So what was the problem with that event where nearly no one showed up? Nothing—except it was the month of May. I may not know your ministry contexts, but I am sure that wherever you are calendar rhythms exist. For a few brief moments, let’s look at some typical rhythms of the calendar tide. I hope you’ll come away with insights that’ll save you from head-in-your-hands moments like I’ve had.
I’ve got a tattled old piece of paper that I’ve kept over the years. I crafted this a long time ago after figuring out the calendar’s rhythms for the ministry where I serve. Disclaimer: You’ll need to contextualize for your ministry setting, but I bet there are some common threads you’ll find here. Because I’m in student ministry, the rhythms flow much more in line with the school year for students than the calendar year.
Because I’m in student ministry, the rhythms flow much more in line with the school year for students than the calendar year.Jerry Varner
Our school year begins toward the end of August. So for the first 9-10 weeks, our focus is on connecting people to people. Programs help with this, but since ministry is about relationships and not programs, be sure that your relational focus is stronger than your programmatic focus. That’s a big misstep I’ve made in the past and I don’t want you to do the same. You’ve likely figured this out by now, but the “build it and they will come” approach might have worked with Kevin Costner’s vision of turning a cornfield into a baseball field in Field of Dreams, but those days are all but vanished. This season is about re-engaging students as they head into the school year.
From mid to late November for about 6-7 weeks, focus students on ministry and serving. There are myriad opportunities that arise in November and December, so be sure to leverage those times. Inviting students to include unconnected friends is also a great idea here. Doing a sock drive for the homeless in preparation for the winter cold is something even an atheist can get behind. Look for ways students can easily give of themselves.
January through May will be your longest stretch of emphasis. This season will focus on discipleship and mission. By now, your small groups (or however you define them) have gelled and should have a good sense of group identity. Build on that foundation by helping students engage in the dailyness of their faith walk. We use the analogy of a lifeboat we’ve all gotten into. We don’t huddle up and say “Isn’t it great we’re saved now?” when there are people yet in the water all around us. Discipleship isn’t just more information–it’s about transformation. Help students see that when they buy up Spirit-led opportunities, spiritual growth happens.
And then there’s May. I’m not sure how things shake out where you are, but May means springtime is in full swing and people are itching to get out and go. Not to mention proms, end-of-school-year stuff, and spring sports equals that the typical family’s schedule is done hibernating. We plan very little extra stuff (if any) in May. Instead, focus on equipping parents to help their students navigate the decisions in front of them.
Then, through June and July, we come back to a strong emphasis on giving students opportunities to connect more in outdoor activities in order to take advantage of the nice(r) weather. We plan day trips to an amusement park, evenings in the local park, outdoor hangout/movie nights, and ways that students can easily gather and invite unconnected friends. If you have a permanent location, do as much as you can offsite as possible. We’ve found plenty of people are leery about coming to a church building. Meet-ups are a key step to establish connections, especially in the summer.
So there’s your year and its likely rhythms. Lastly, I’d invite you to ask yourself an important question that’ll help you formulate a philosophy on calendars and ministry scheduling:
Am I opposing students’ school/sports schedules as if I’m in a tug-of-war with their world, or am I connecting and equipping students so that they view their daily life as filled with opportunities to love and serve as Jesus did—opportunities on the soccer field, in the classroom, at the part-time job, and with their circle of friends, to name a few?
…am I connecting and equipping students so that they view their daily life as filled with opportunities to love and serve as Jesus did…Jerry Varner