The Perfect Program

The perfect youth ministry program… doesn’t exist.

There is no one size fits all way of doing youth ministry that can be implemented and succeed everywhere. So, stop looking for it. If you look at the program across town or across the country that’s exploding with growth and simply try to take what they’re doing and replicate it, you’re headed for disappointment. Besides, if you and the church down the street are doing the exact same thing, one of you is unnecessary. Your ministry should exist to fulfill the distinct calling that he has placed on you and to reach the specific people that God has put within your reach. The programming in your church and youth ministry should reflect that uniqueness. 
Design your program around the leadership you have, the discipleship your students need, the infrastructure you have access to, and the culture you’re trying to create. Working in that order will create a program uniquely suited to your students.
As you go about developing the programming for your ministry, keep a few principles in mind:

Take the best. Leave the rest
Be a collector of ideas. Importing the entire program from another ministry into your setting isn’t likely to work. But, there’s a good chance that some of what they’re doing would work for you. Study successful ministry models, look into the details of what they’re doing and find what worth trying for you. Personally, I’ve adapted almost everything I do in ministry from things that have been done somewhere else. I've gained a lot of insight into how to run specific aspects of my program (like small groups) from books written by people who do ministry in a context very different than mine. Every chance I get I ask other Youth Pastor’s what they’re doing and what’s working. It’s often not large programming ideas that I come away with; it’s great little detail stuff that takes what we’re doing and makes it better.

Try it Out. Throw it Out
it’s Ok if you your idea flops. Seriously, it is. A strong well rounded and fine tuned program will be built on the back of a lot of ideas that kinda sucked - and that’s OK! Admit it, ditch it, and move on! Some of my biggest mistakes have been knowing an idea wasn’t working but being too prideful to admit it. When you want to try something out, consider these three things:

  1. Tell your people you’re going to try something out. This way they know it's just a test.
  2. Put a time limit on it. Long enough to give the idea a fair shot, but short enough that it’s not going to kill your ministry if it flops.
  3. Get feedback - invite your people to give you their thoughts on the idea.

Challenge. Change.
As the leader, you need to constantly be asking yourself ‘is what we’re doing working?’ You also need to ask that question to different groups of people around you, such as:
Peers in other ministries. I’ve gained so much from bouncing ideas off of other youth workers. Sometimes you’re just too close to an issue to see it objectively. Asking someone else in the field for their perspective can bring clarity and wisdom
Review everything you do with your leaders at least once a year. We use the “SWOT” analysis each June to look through every aspect of our ministry in terms of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. June works well for us as our programming wraps up for the summer so that gives me some time to think through how new ideas can be implemented.
Get input from students. Get in the habit of asking students for their perspective on your programs. I try to do it informally - at lunches, on bus rides, etc throughout the year, and formally - like where I invite students specifically to give input as a group - once a year.

When it comes to programming, there’s no finished product.  Continually gather ideas, try new things, and evaluate everything. The result will be a program that naturally evolves and changes with your ministry to meet the ever changing needs of your students.