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4 Tips for Building an Effective Event Schedule

4 Tips for Building an Effective Event Schedule


Retreats, camps, and events are catalysts for growth for many students and student ministries. Through shared experiences, escape from everyday routines, and uninterrupted time with others, God can draw students to Himself and others into Christian community.

When it comes to planning an event, it’s easy for us to let tradition drive the event's schedule, planning, and other details. We often don’t slow down enough to evaluate and see if what we are scheduling is what we really want to accomplish and whether the event schedule is strategically designed for impact.

When I served as a student minister, we hosted a community DNow (Disciple Now) weekend event. Community DNow was a group effort with several churches that stretched across denominational lines. Our vision was to see students from combined youth groups coming together to see what God could do through all of us united around the gospel in our city.

When the team of student pastors gathered to plan the schedule for the event, we made a decision that seemed completely logical to us but was different from most DNow events around the country. We decided to move the Saturday morning session from the morning until the early afternoon. This schedule shift would allow students to be more awake and alert for the session since they likely struggled with class most weekdays at 8 or 9 in the morning and probably had not slept well the night before with it being the first night of DNow. The Saturday morning session was replaced with a Saturday morning service project. Students would be able to wake up while putting their hands to work rather than struggle to keep their eyes open through a time of teaching. 

Throughout the years of the Community DNow, speakers and bands we brought in for the event from around the country would always comment on how grateful they were that there was no morning session. They would then share stories of how hard it was to connect with students in a morning session and how the energy students would bring to an early afternoon session encouraged them.

Our team of youth pastors was able to strategically design our event because we had learned that building an effective event schedule begins by determining the purpose, considering the students’ ideal schedule, processing the downtime, and embracing flexibility.

  1. Determine the Purpose

There are countless purposes that a student ministry event could have. The goal could be to teach students to have a heart for others through service or mission projects. The event could equip and inspire students to share their faith through evangelism training. Your students might need to draw closer and connect through a relationship-growing weekend. You might want to teach through a specific biblical theme or book of the Bible.

No matter your purpose, it must drive the event schedule. What matters most, as determined through your purpose, must get the optimal times within your schedule for students to walk away with the goal you envisioned for the event.

  1. Consider Student’s Ideal Schedules

Optimal times for students have to be considered. You will need to use a combination of intentionality along with a little bit of common sense when creating the event schedule. Early mornings are difficult for most teenagers; give them enough time to wake up and be functional before asking them to lean in for some deep spiritual moment. Older teenagers have more ability to quickly switch gears than younger teenagers. Therefore it’s unwise to hype up your junior highers if your next expectation is for them to sit still and listen. If you had your students up until midnight the previous night, a focused teaching session in the early morning might not be very practical. If your students are working hard on a mission project, a time to rest and relax may need to follow.

Students will likely go home exhausted from a student ministry event, but we can do our best to manage their energy and time so that their exhaustion doesn’t cause them to miss the purpose behind the event.

  1. Process the Downtime

As any seasoned student minister knows, too much downtime can be dangerous in a student ministry event. If downtime results in boredom, students will seek to fill that space with activities that may or may not be within your vision for the trip.

On the other hand, scheduling every second of the student ministry event doesn’t allow space for the Holy Spirit to move in students' lives through spiritual conversations and the establishment of relationships. In downtimes, students who have ears and hearts that are open may hear from God. The slower moments allow times for students to have deep conversations with each other and their adult leaders where deep relationships can grow.

Downtime is a place of potential danger yet also a space of strategic opportunity for God’s work. As you process your event schedule, how do you create space for the Holy Spirit and the growth of new relationships?

  1. Embrace Flexibility

No matter how well-designed your schedule may be, they never go as planned. Teaching sessions will go longer than expected. Transportation times will be delayed by unforeseen traffic. Students will take longer on mission projects than we ever thought possible.

Though the schedule you design for your event is your ideal, remember that an event that doesn’t go perfectly according to your script is not a failure. God is the One who is in control and sovereign even over our best attempts to prepare and plan. Don’t allow your desire for control to block your vision of seeing God’s hand at work in the unexpected. 

Don’t just open up last year’s schedule for your next youth event, fix the dates, and press print. Take some time with your leaders, student leadership team, and parents to process the purpose of your event and whether your schedule helps or hinders God’s work in the lives of your students.

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • What are you doing in your event planning to make room for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts and lives of your students?
  • How are you letting the purpose of your event drive the scheduling? What has that looked like for you in the past?

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