4 Plans Every Youth Worker Should Be Making? Part 2: A Long-Term Teaching Plan

In my previous post we introduced the importance of good strategic planning in youth ministry. Even though good planning is not in the DNA of many youth workers, it is a necessity if we want to have greater effectiveness as well as being able to hang in for the long haul.

Today, we’re going to take a look at what we should consider when creating a long-term teaching plan.

1) Consider Your Audience: Depending on whether your students are seekers, strugglers, or sold-out in their faith, will depend on what you plan to teach. It’s good to have different times or programs to focus on these types of students.

For example, our midweek outreach program is aimed at seekers and strugglers. Therefore, we are intentional about hitting topics and issues that are palatable for every kind of student, whether churched or unchurched. Here we address issues like: Dealing with fears, conflict, regret, relationships, making decisions, identity, self-image, life purpose, etc etc. You get the idea.

In contrast, our Sunday discipleship program is focused on struggling and sold-out students, (usually churched), where we teach deeper areas such theology, apologetics, spiritual habits, evangelism, etc etc.

Bottom line: Your audience will determine your content. 

2) Ask Your Students What They Need: This is particularly helpful when teaching many of the felt need topics. Subjects like relationships are always going to be at the top of the list, but you will also glean much about what your students need by asking them. This might seem too simple, but so many of us negate to ask students.

One BIG way to ask students is to do a yearly survey asking them what areas of their lives they need help with. We do a survey like this every May and it allows us to develop some specific message series for the Fall and Winter months. For outreach and large group programs you will discover that you will ‘hit’ many of the same felt needs areas year after year. This is not a bad thing since our students are constantly battling through the same challenges year after year.

Bottom line: Don’t guess what students need, ask them!

3) Work With A Team To Create A Plan: I try to surround myself with sharp youth leaders who are as passionate about students. When I pray through a plan of teaching I also ask some of my key leaders to pray and consider the plan too. I often find that they will give me ideas and thoughts I had not considered.

Bottom line: Make sure you are not planning in a vacuum… Suck others into the plan.

4) Create A Long-Term Plan That Incorporates The ‘Essentials’: This is very important when creating a discipleship plan. Our high school program has a 4 year discipleship plan that has been created and tweaked over the last couple of years. Myself and a small team of volunteers have developed a plan that looks to ensure that by the time students graduate from our ministry, they have walked through the ‘essentials.’ By ‘essentials’ we mean: What is it that students absolutely must own in their faith walk by the time they graduate from high school?

But, if you are like me, you might ask, “but where do we start with this? What should be the essentials that students need to know and own?”

Great question… keep reading…

For us, we use  that incorporates a well thought-out discipleship plan that builds each year. Since LIVE provides 36 weeks for a year, we have added some additional components that we feel we need to add into our plan for the rest of the year. Here are some of the our own ‘essentials’ that supplement or duplicate in the LIVE curriculum:

  • Spiritual habits
  • Serving
  • Sexuality
  • Apologetics
  • Faith foundations / Christian basics
  • Leadership

Keep in mind that what I consider an essential element might not be essential for your students in your ministry. When using curriculum and developing a plan, do not feel bad if you do not choose to use all of the curriculum. YOU know what your students need the most, be confident in your teaching plan.

5) Create A Plan And Stick To It: It’s easy to get swayed by the latest issues or happenings in student culture and therefore continuously keeping changing our plans. Over time, this can mean that we end up ‘fire fighting’ the issues, rather than ‘fire preventing’ what students are most certainly going to face in their faith walk. At some point we need to be confident that over time, our teaching plan will create a solid foundation for faith development in our students lives. With all this said, there will be times when we must adjust our plan and hit certain issues or areas that students are walking through.

Finally, a solid teaching plan can take time to develop and it’s important that you allow time for the essentials to percolate through…

Well, there’s a start for you. I wish I could cover everything! What would you add to this list? What questions do you still have? Feel free to comment!

Phil <><



  • noah

    I have the same kids that come on Sunday come Midwewells well. I have taught topical before on midweek but I have started teaching Jesus parables. I’m going through each one one time a week. I always explain and then try to tie in the main point to what I believe the kids ate dealing with. Is this an acceptable method? Sundays my assistant teaches from a lifeway curriculum.

  • http://youthworktalk.com Phil Bell

    Noah, that’s a great question. I teach topical for our outreach / connection programs simply because I know a topic that we promote will grab their felt needs quicker. It also makes it an easier invite for a church kid to invite their non-church friend to come to when they say, “hey, come to my youth group, we going to be talking about how to get over our fears.” So that is why I teach topically in this way. However, every youth ministry context is different.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with teaching a parable and then bringing it home to them. In fact, as a communicator, if that is how you communicate best, it might be better to keep it this way. As long you and I are creating a great environment for students to be known and belong, I think they will become comfortable with our teaching. Doug Fields says, “students will not become theologically aware until they are relationally comfortable.”

    So in answer to your question, I do it one way, you do it another, but I think they can both work if we have created the best environment for students to receive the teaching. The only question I would ask is whether you are getting unchurched kids there and whether having a topical issue to promote would be an easier invite? Ask your students what they would bring their friends to?

    Make Sense?

    Phil <><

  • noah

    PHIL, honestly I’ve never had students invite friends because of something we teach on even when we taught topically. Most times we get new kids if we have free pizza or food or doing something fun. But yea man thanks for your response and website its awesome!

  • http://youthworktalk.com Phil Bell

    Noah, every context is different, so if this way wouldn’t work for you, that’s no problem. It’s important to know how your students will respond.

    We are like you too. Give away free stuff or feed them and they will come. However, in terms of our regular scheduled midweek program, they have become used to using the message series as an invite to friends.

    I do think that there would be value in asking your students what topics / issues they would like addressed. If nothing else they will gain ownership of what is being created at youth group. For me, this is the biggest win.

    Thanks for your feedback Noah! Keep up the good work mate!

    Phil <><

  • http://www.ramblingsofayouthworker.com Mookie

    Hey Phil! We do something where we teach what we teach on Sundays and then at midweeks we unpack it more in small groups. We have found that our students enjoy it and they get to dive into the topic a little further. I guess, a place where I feel like we are dropping the ball with this concept is that our target for Sundays and Wednesdays are the same. They are both geared to outreach and discipleship which can be counterproductive. However, my thought when we went with this pattern was to make our programs so that it would reach students regardless of where they are in their faith journey.

  • http://youthworktalk.com Phil Bell

    Mookie, I used to be convinced that you had to have a separation in what you teach depending on your target audience. However, I am finding more and more than non-churched students are able to “catch” what we are doing even in environments that seem ahead of where they are in their faith walk.

    I think it’s important to consider where students can get foundational growth opportunities and where they tackle the issues they are facing in their lives. If one of those areas are lacking, I would try to find some way to balance. Sometimes this will happen when we alternates the depth of a message series. For example, 4 weeks digging into a growth series, followed by 4 weeks looking at a felt needs series, followed by 4 weeks of a current event series. You get the idea… Many youth ministries only meet once a week and have to adopt this way of teaching… Given your way of teaching / small groups, I could see this series alternation to be effective?


    Phil <><