How to Build a Comprehensive Bible Study Plan for Your Youth Ministry
No matter what your title is - youth pastor, student minister, etc. - you are a disciple-maker. That is your calling, your task. And one of the primary things we do as disciple-makers is to facilitate encounters with God.
We create environments and interactions where students are brought into proximity with God, with the intent that He transforms them.
We do this in three main ways: Through the Word. Through prayer. And through worship. You could certainly make the argument that we lead them to encounter God in other ways, but these are the three main ways. And the most foundational of these three main ways is facilitating encounters with God through His Word. After all, the Bible is God’s primary way of making Himself known to us, His people.
We know this is true. We know that it’s vital that our youth ministries be centered on God through His Word. But here’s something that’s also true: there are a lot of youth ministries who don’t have a plan for how to do this. Instead of a pre-determined pathway that guides interactions with the Bible, many youth workers think in terms of week-to-week and topic-to-topic. This isn’t the best way.
The most intentional youth ministries I know are folks who have a comprehensive plan to teaching their students to know and love God through a well-conceived approach to studying the Word.
We HAVE to have a plan, and there are a LOT of ways to do this. I have a specific way I have always led people to consider. It’s not the easiest, and again, it's not the only way. But it's a proven way to implement a strategy that will give you a well thought out approach to exactly what you want your students to cover during the years they spend in your ministry.
I think the most powerful thing we can do when it comes to formulating our Bible strategy is to reverse engineer it. The goal is to go through the process of visualizing a senior about to graduate from your youth ministry, and to ask yourself:
- What has this student learned about God?
- What have they learned about the Bible?
- What do they know about God’s story?
- Describe their theological foundation.
Do this exercise. Make a list. Involve your team. Dream big.
THEN, ask yourself HOW. How does our ministry accomplish this from 6th or 7th grade to 12th? What do we want to teach to achieve our goals (we call this scope)? And what moments over a year do we have to teach it (we call this sequence)? You accomplish this first by defining your possible moments of interaction with the Word.
I don’t know the moments you have in your ministry. But I am going to create a hypothetical youth ministry for the sake of an example, and I am going to define the possible moments this youth ministry has.
In my hypothetical youth ministry, I have:
- A teaching block every Sunday morning.
- I have Wednesday nights.
- I have D-Groups on Sunday nights.
- I do a weekend retreat in the winter.
- And I do a camp in the summer.
In my hypothetical youth ministry, these are my moments. This is the landscape of my teaching opportunities.
If I were to put it in a chart, it would look like this:
So, you define your moments, then you take what you want students to learn, and you backfill.
- Start with Sunday morning and look for a 52-week curriculum that accomplishes what you want students to know. Why start with a curriculum from a publisher? Because 52 weeks is a lot of weeks to come up with your own curriculum! There are a lot of excellent 52-week Bible study options to choose from. Find one that accomplishes your goals and run with it.
- I like to think in terms of quarters for my mid-week service. This is a great place to do thematic studies (relationships, poverty, forgiveness, and so on). This is also a great place to cover Book studies. I like to think in 4- to 6-week series for my mid-week content block.
- If you do a focused Discipleship Group or a Student Leadership time (think small groups where students opt in, sort of a “tip of the funnel” mindset), I like to think in terms of semesters. This content slot is a great place to teach spiritual disciplines and/or focus on leadership development.
- I love thinking strategically about how your Retreat and Camp and/or Mission Trip fit in your overall content strategy. When you think big-picture like we're talking about here, these content blocks become intentional parts of your strategy, not just “one-offs.”
You may have other content blocks in your schedule. And you may have far less than the ones I tossed out. But what doesn’t change is the need to be strategic in HOW we teach the Bible.
The influence of the youth worker has shrunk over the last 20 years. We have fewer institutional moments with students than ever. We HAVE to be intentional when it comes to facilitating encounters with God through His Word. Hopefully, this will help you get started thinking about how YOU want to do it in your ministry context.