Insights and thoughts on the world of student ministry, multi-site, and the potential to be great...again...too soon?

What Does Summer Ministry Alignment Look Like?

One of our desires as a multi-site church is to have our core ministries aligned across the campuses.  In regards to student ministry we are fully aligned when it comes to the core matters of ministry; philosophy, small group model, discipleship, curriculum, program structure...All of these matters and then some are contextualized for the campus in which they occur but all are aligned at their core and because of the varying contexts & sizes of our campuses there is a tangible growth model present.

In other areas of our student ministry, I would say that we are fairly aligned (80-90%) but there are areas for improvement and opportunities for growth for both us as a staff & organization, as well as, the need to still have freedom within each campus specific context. One of the areas that we strive to maintain a healthy approach of alignment and freedom is within our summer ministry strategy at Woodside Students. 

For this blog, I want to focus on how we align ourselves in the summer and the ownership we give to campuses when it comes to planning & scheduling their summer program.  That word, ownership. has been the biggest lesson we've learned & greatest key to alignment. Giving more ownership to campuses has helped setting everyone up for success while alleviating confusion when it comes to the expectations for our student ministry staff.

In the past when we had fewer campuses, our student ministry team was made up of less people (naturally) who were focused primarily on student ministry in a full-time capacity. In recent years our staff dynamics have changed as more campuses were added & roles changed.  Now our student ministry staff is made up of several different roles from full-time Student Pastors to part-time Student Directors to Family Ministry Pastors. These means that the dynamic has shifted from a small team ministering in a handful of different contexts whose primary focus was on student ministry to a large team ministering in 14 different contexts whose focus varies depending on role.

Tension arose at times in previous summers when it came to alignment and expectations for certain events & programming. It was a healthy tension brought on by the reality of a shifting team dynamic, growth in ministries & campuses, and a need for a better planning & decision making process. 

During this time I had coffee with another student ministry guy from another multi-site church in the area and he shared with me a framework that they were beginning to implement to help with alignment. He had heard it from another staff member and didn't know where the idea originated from.  I've since then discovered a blog from 2014 in which Kurt Johnston lays out the framework. It is the "Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light" Strategy.

The strategy is as such:

  • Red Light: these things are mandatory, must be done, "the buck stops here"...100% alignment and buy-in across the board
  • Yellow Light: just as when you approach a yellow light and need to make the decision of “Should I stop?” or “Should I go?” so it is when it comes to the events & programs we label as yellow light.
  • Green Light: All systems go! If you have an idea that you would like to implement that is aligned with the doctrine & philosophy of the church then go for it!

One of the tweaks we made to this strategy was with the Yellow Light.  With the events that have traditionally in the past been multi-site "red light" events we changed them to yellow light but with an "opt-in" or "opt-own" facet. Here's what that means:

  • Opt-In: A campus can choose to opt-in to the event thus making it a multi-site event. If you choose to opt-in then you will have a specific role and expectations in which you must fulfill as part of the event this includes budgeting for the event and being physically present for the event.
  • Opt-Own: If a campus chooses not to opt-in to a YELLOW LIGHT then they’re choosing to opt-own. This means that they’re choosing to own this event as a campus.  The expectations as listed in the opt-in category may be the same along with any additional expectations you may need to take on as you lead this event on your own. A win for if you decide to opt-own is the freedom you get in tailoring a high capacity event or key milestone for your campus specific context. If you were to opt-own for a milestone event such as Jumpstart or Fresh Start then we will equip you with the teaching materials being utilized for those events.

With this strategy in mind, conversations began to occur as a student ministry staff in regard to the change in approach to planning our summer, the vision behind it, and what the expectation would be for them when it came to planning their summer. From there we began going through our summer programming from the past few years and labeling things red light, yellow light, or green light. Finally, a "Summer Game Plan" document was created (attached below) and sent out to our student ministry staff and the campus pastors.

    As a part of this process, one of the expectations for a student ministry staff member was to get together with their Campus Pastor to review what the Game Plan was and then decide together what summer ministry at their campus would look like.  A date was set for them to decide on whether they were going to opt-in or opt-own a Yellow Light event as well as to submit their summer calendar.

    Approaching our summer planning with this mindset of Ownership & Alignment provided greater freedom on a campus level when it came to planning, it alleviated confusion & frustration in regards to expectations, which has helped in creating an overall greater sense of buy-in & a deeper level of accountability.

    You can check out the Summer Game Plan document by clicking here!

    So what does summer ministry look like at your church? If your a multi-site church, what does an aligned summer ministry philosophy look like?