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

What Does School-Year Ministry Alignment Look Like?

August is here which means that "school-year" ministry is quickly approaching! With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment to talk about what school-year ministry looks like here at Woodside on both a campus-specific and multi-site level. Grab your pencils, we're heading back to school!

Throughout the school-year we run a weekly, predictable gathering for students in which a few key facets of our ministry occur; worship, live preaching, community/fun, and small groups.

Across the campuses this takes on a variety of forms but again these key facets occur. This means that some of our campuses run a combined weekly student ministry program for both middle school (6th-8th) and high school (9th-12th) students.

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Some of those who do a combined model keep the students altogether for teaching whereas others split them for teaching. However, those who generally keep them combined will split them for teaching for certain series throughout the years. Some of the campuses that do the combined model gather on Sunday nights and others on Wednesday nights.

One of our campuses that runs a combined model has their gathering on Sunday afternoon right after their main worship service because the students are already present and it would prove to difficult to try & get them to return for a gathering another time do to the context of their campus.

Some of our campuses run a separate weekly gathering for middle and high school students. Even within that we have various days in which we meet. Several campuses included the one that I lead at has the middle school (Oasis) gathering on Wednesday nights and the high school gathering (Wake) on Thursday nights. Some have their high school gatherings on Sunday nights and middle school on Sunday nights.

One of our campuses who run separate programming holds their gathering right after school gets out. They go to the schools and pick the students up on mini-busses & take them directly to their campus because trying to have students come later on in the evening would not work for their context. Just like our campus that meets on Sunday afternoon, they have to adjust programming a bit and do things like provide a meal as part of their gathering.

Crazy, huh?

But it's the right approach for us. Years ago we had an aligned programming schedule (middle school on Wednesday nights, high school on Thursday nights). However, as more & more campuses began to come into existence a tension began to arose. The tension that a "one-size fits all" approach does not work when you have campuses that are not all "one-size".  Thus begun the discussion of what truly matters when it comes to the gathering of students throughout the school-year; worship, live preaching, community/fun, and small groups.

If it worked better for a group to be combined and meeting on a Sunday evening and another one to be split & meet on a Wednesday/Thursday then let's work together to make that happen & make them excellent. This freedom allows for our Central Director of Student Ministries to work alongside our Central Team and the campus staff to discuss, determine, and decide what model/approach will be best for the campus to reach and minister to students.

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Now this may seem like an "open road" approach, however, there are guardrails that guide the conversation and decision making. For example, we do not hold small groups during the weekend worship service hours, we teach the same series, there is always a live communicator preaching the message....I'll unpack more about the gathering in a separate post and you can read more about how we maintain alignment by checking out the School Year Game Plan document below (I've attached a .doc version of it so you can freely use/edit it as needed for your context. Just don't be "that guy/girl" who tries to pass it off as your own to your CP or team. Let's keep it honest out there ;) )

A large chunk of this post has been spent talking about the weekly gathering but that is not the only facet of our school-year ministry from both a campus-specific approach and a multi-site approach. We have multi-site events, campus-specific events, multi-site retreats, campus specific initiatives...The key for us has been the creation of our School Year Game Plan document. I initially shared about the purpose and framework of the Game Plan documents in my blog post, "What Does Summer Ministry Alignment Look Like?".

This document and approach came after a growing season of ministry coupled with a conversation from one of my peers in student ministry at another local church. It is based off of a blog from 2014 in which Kurt Johnston lays out a "Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light" strategy to ministry.

Here's how it works:

  • 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.

The School Year Game Plan that is attached below from 2018 does not have any "Opt-In" or "Opt-Own" events listed on it but in the future an event like our "Wake Conference" would fall under that category.

Click here to check out the School Year Game Plan document and catch a glimpse of what the Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light Strategy looks like fleshed out

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