Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Summer Youth Ministries: The Whole Enchilada!

Summers Always ROCKED!!!
I suppose this counts as a rant...

Every year around this time I begin to see links on Twitter to articles and blogs proclaiming that it is in the best interest of your student ministry (or at least of the youth pastor) to cut back on the schedule of activities for summer- and every year I think my head is going to explode!!! I have been out of youth ministry for a while now, and maybe everything has changed since I left. But somehow I seriously doubt it! Summer is not a time to slow down- it is a time to crank it up! Why would you slow down during a season when many students actually have spare time, are bored and are searching for activities and ways to connect with one another? For me, summer was always a time to go absolutely crazy and give yourself as many opportunities as possible to build relationships and expose the students of your church and your community (because their friends are just as bored as they are!) to the love of God whose name is Jesus. So today I will answer the question "What exactly did a Carl planned summer ministry look like?" You may not believe we really did all of this, but every summer I believed in giving students The Whole Enchilada! And for many of them, their best memories of youth group are rooted in our summer ministries. So enjoy, hang on...and remember, summer ministry is not about those who can't and won't be there because of vacations and camps. It's about all of those who can- and who need a place to belong! 

From 1987-2006 every summer began with the publication of a summer booklet with a theme and a calendar. The calendar was mostly for parents; the booklet described events in detail and had contests and a lot of silliness. I would usually get it in the mail a month before school let out. We would begin to advertise on the Youth Group Hotline, or in the later years have the website ready for summer at that time as well. Of course publicity and sign-ups for the big trips would have already happened, but the bulk of the summer ministry would be announced in the booklet. Here is a brief synopsis of most everything we did in an average summer. This listing is out of the 1999 booklet (pictured at right) from FUMC-Kissimmee, my last summer there. Links are provided to help you understand my personal glossary of terms and to let you read about the specifics of any events that interest you. The details changed from year to year, of course, but this will give you a general idea of how my summers went for nearly 20 years. And if I were still in ministry, I would do it all again this summer...

* A kick-off Progressive Dinner to welcome our new middle school students.
* The annual Chain of Prayer.
* Our Schoolzout Blowout trip to Atlanta for Six Flags and a Braves game.
Wonderama, featuring a live band, Gladiator Jousting and a Velcro Wall.
Winning the Great Race with a team pyramid!
The Great Race, with the winning team earning a Kitchen Sink on the Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash coming later that summer. (For perspective you should note that all of the other events listed above took place the first week of summer vacation!)
Middle School Madness, 3 separate events for middle school students only. In 1999 this included a Video Scavenger Hunt and a Mall Invasion!
SHO-Time (Senior High Only!) at the All-Star CafeMacaroni Grill and Roadhouse.
Wednesday Night Live! This was our weekly mid-week meeting. The first hour was bible study, which in 1999 featured the theme Sold Out For Jesus. The second hour was for playing games, hanging out and occasionally hula dancing. But mostly 4- Square- the old school version.
Jason Fry doing lawn work at a Nashville Orphanage
* Our summer Mission Trip was a 6 day adventure to Nashville to work with the Center for Student Ministry. An awesome trip, by the way.
* We also had local mission projects. We spent a morning picking up trash in our church's neighborhood. We worked to raise money for Graciela, the little girl from Bolivia we sponsored through Compassion International. We volunteered a day at the Orlando Second Harvest Food Bank. And every Sunday morning for the 8:30 worship service a team of our students taught Children's Church for 5-8 year olds.
* Almost all of our youth served as teachers and helpers at Vacation Bible School.
* The annual Youth Week was always a big event. In 1999 it was HUGE! To read specifics of that week, click here!
* We had both Babes Night Out (females only...although the guys would try to crossdress and tag a long!) and Dudes Night Out.
* Three days were set aside to do One on One, where students could sign-up for an hour of my time and we would grab a coke or a milk shake and just hang out. These were very popular days, especially for the kids who signed up first and got the breakfast and lunch appointments!
Hamming it up at Kyoto's!
Each summer we would set aside a night for a large group to go eat at our favorite Japanese restaurant, Kyoto's. 1999 was no exception.  
* There was a "Carl's going to a movie" Night. I announced I was going, told anyone interested to meet at the church at a certain time, and then we went. I did not tell them in advance what we were seeing.  A Mystery Event!
* We had a small group, overnight spiritual growth event called The Radical Sabbatical. One of my very favorite things ever.
*  Our Sunday night UMYF continued to meet each week for worship, study and fellowship.
* On 2 Sundays we would stretch our UMYF time out and do what we called SNACSunday Night After Church!  One night we did a movie (Short Circuit) and world's largest bowl of popcorn; the other night was the famous Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash
* There was, of course, a Movie Marathon!  In 1999 it featured movies from Outer Space!
Myrtle Beach, 1999
* 45 of us participated in Myrtle Beach Days, a week-long excursion to the Betsy B.
* We did one day at Walt Disney World and another day at Cocoa Beach. (If you are keeping score, there were 75 days of summer vacation that year, and we had some sort of youth event on 70 of those days...)
* And even though technically it was after school started back , our summer ended as it always did in those years- with the Last Gasp Summer Blowout at Melbourne Beach.

Ahh... SUMMER!  The absolute best time of the year for youth ministry. Most churches, youth pastors and student ministries are probably neither prepared for nor interested in doing The Whole Enchilada these days. I get that. But I do hope maybe this bit of madness will inspire you to kick your summer up a notch. But whatever you do, please- don't neglect your students this summer. You don't want to have my exploding head on your conscience, do you? :)

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous5/14/2014

    You must have had a huge group to do all of those things. We could never pull off that many events because we would only have 4 or 5 people at most of them. But thanks for sharing some great ideas. - Youth Pastor Sam Stevens

    1. Thanks Sam. I have to say a couple of things in response. First of all, we did have a large group, averaging 75 or so on Sunday nights during the school year with about 150 active students. But because of our variety of activities we would GROW in summer usually see around 300 kids at the various activities. Also, I did the same kinds of schedule at a church that only averaged 150 in worship on Sunday mornings,and we would see 125 youth or so during summers! It's all about who CAN be there. And finally, is it bad to have events with only 4 or 5 kids present? Such great relationship building opportunities. Just a few thoughts. Be blessed!

  2. Anonymous5/14/2014

    Dude....every now and then you just blow my doors off with youth ministry stuff and make me want to bow down and scream, "I'm not worthy!" Great ideas, great inspiration. And quite a challenge to live up to. ~Chris Cooper

    1. Nope. I'm the one bowing down, Chris. You are still doing youth ministry, still in the trenches. Anybody can write about it. Hang in there and be blessed my friend!

  3. Anonymous5/15/2014

    You must have had a huge budget for student ministry. Either that or very rich kids. That could not have been a cheap summer.

    1. We did have mostly middle class, kids but we also always had scholarships available for anyone who needed help.My experience was you could always find ways to make the money work. We did have a large budget in Kissimmee, but we did very similar things at Springfield on an $800 a year budget. You just have to get creative. One of my former youth claims I must have been part wizard. :)


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