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Back-to-School: The 7 First Steps

In an extended pick-your-brain session with longtime youth pastor Ralph Paige, I sat with a group of young youth workers eager to learn from Ralph’s veteran wisdom as another school year rockets off the launching pad.

In Part 1 of this series, Ralph focused on the foundational importance of prayer. But then a follow-up question: “After you have prayed for God to move, what are some practical steps in starting off the school year strong?”

Ralph emphasized the unique opportunity a fall kickoff represents, for both teenagers and their parents. Over the years, he’s discovered and condensed a short list of “best practices” that have served him well—his “seven steps” for maximizing ministry opportunities in the new school year.

1. Pack and put away summer supplies.

That means beach balls, super-soakers, camp supplies, and so on. Clutter distracts, and summer clutter drags our focus to the past, not the future. Your church custodian will thank you for this!

2. Schedule and plan a fall parent meeting.

Remember, this is the one time of the year that parents look forward to these gatherings. Their focus and interest level on your ministry will never be stronger, so give them a taste of what you’ll be doing and plant in them a vision for what Jesus will do in their kids’ lives.

3. Thank your adult leaders, and strategize about the future with them.

Slow down to appreciate and express your gratitude to the people who keep your ministry running. Plan a special gathering with food and refreshments—make it fun, be specific about your expectations, and create space for their input. End by praying over your team.

4. Meet with para-church organizations in your community.

Remember that we’re called to do ministry together, not in separate compartments. Reach out to key leaders in your community to compare notes, support each other, and look for ways to partner.

5. Offer your support to local schools, and look for ways to serve.

In Ralph’s 20-year trajectory in youth ministry, he’s never had a school turn down his offer to help. Plan a time for your students to do a prayer walk around each school represented in your group. Meet with administrators to discover their needs and concerns. Offer your counseling support. Help out with a sports team or other after-school activity. Find ways to support student-initiated campus ministries.

6. Sit down with your pastor to pray and plan.

Lead pastors have a lot on their plate, so look for ways to serve the wider mission of the church. Remember that a healthy student ministry serves the church’s vision, not its own agenda. Make sure your pastor knows what you’re doing, where you’re going, and what you need. In turn, find ways to compliment what is happening in other areas of the church.

7. Don’t forget about next summer. 

Yes, before you know it next summer will be here. Make plans now for what you’ll be doing—to get the best rates, and to build excitement and anticipation. Make sure you debrief what worked, and what didn’t work, this past summer—while the specifics are fresh in your mind.

As a P.S., Ralph offered two pieces of advice: 1) Invite Jesus into each step, and 2) Remember that our main job is to disciple teenagers, not plan events.


Photo by Rist Art on Unsplash

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Back-to-School: The 7 First Steps

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