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How to Develop a Strategic Plan in Your Youth Ministry

strategic plan

When I first became a student ministry pastor I had very little training. I had to build a ministry almost completely from scratch. What was already in place needed rebuilding. Over the past 12 years I have learned some ministry tools to systematically make a strategic plan for ministry. There are a few models for creating a strategic plan. I offer this short version: Prepare, develop guiding statements, look at the landscape, develop a plan, and set a date for review and reform.


Assemble a team. There is no substitute for collaboration. In preparing to plan, assemble a team in ministry you trust and can depend on. The trust factor is important because you want people who can tell you what they perceive to be happening in the ministry. What are the current realities? If you develop a plan, how can commitment be generated? How is success going to be determined when your plan goes into action? A team of trusted co-laborers can offer feedback, help assess the environment, and offer suggestions that you alone could not possibly think of on your own. Finally, life in ministry goes far smoother when consensus is built before action is taken.

Develop Guiding Statements

What is your philosophy of ministry? How does that philosophy align with your church’s purpose or mission statement? Before assessing the present condition of your ministry, you must have a standard to measure by. Guiding statements should be limiting enough to weed out unnecessary events and activities, but flexible enough to allow new things to be tried so that learning can take place. Guiding statements should be short and easy to remember. Finally, guiding statements should answer how your ministry is going to impact the world.

At Greenbrier Community Church the purpose statement is Redeem the Lost, Restore the Broken and Resource the Poor. Many churches take ski trips in the winter as a “fun” activity. Yet at Greenbrier, a ski trip doesn’t really fit into any of the three guiding statements—so ski trips are not on the program. Students may go on a mission trip and learn and do servant leadership, but a ski trip is less likely to address Redeem, Restore and Resource.

Look at the Landscape

What are the current realities? What are the present strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to ministry in your church and community? Also, you must determine real needs. A real need is not a cool band or a great speaker. A need is the gap between where your ministry is now to where your guiding statements say you should be. For example, if all or part of your mission is to tell people about Jesus, is your ministry prepared to do so? Are students and leaders trained to share their story and God’s story? If not, the need is trained students and leaders. If your guiding statements declare that you are to serve the community, are programs and people mobilized to serve the community in some way? The need might then be trained people and a process of deployment. Your team and you must look at the “landscape” of your church and ministry to determine the real needs and plan to address them.

Develop a plan

When determining needs, it is entirely possible to see far more needs than your team or your ministry can address. Patrick Lencioni (2006) offers a strategy with your strategy planning called developing a thematic goal. That is, determine a measurable goal that addresses your most serious need and plan to meet it. Continue to “do” elements of your ministry program that work, but add or change those elements that do not overuse existing resources and time and address the most important need. Plans should address three areas—overall strategy, programs and tactics.

Overall strategy is the “how” of fulfilling your guiding statement in the course of a given time period. Overall strategy including evangelism sets goals of numbers of people to be told about Christ and perhaps numbers of friends invited to specific events. Programs are the week to week activities and events that strive to reinforce teaching of and fulfill the guiding statements. Tactics are the nuts and bolts activities that equip the people of your ministry for accomplishing goals set by the overall strategy. Doug Fields’ “Habits” is a tactic for developing student’s discipleship practices, for example.

Set a Date for Review and Reform

After you have a philosophy that has guiding statements to set direction, determined you needs, set goals to address them, and laid out strategy, programs and tactics to meet the goals, set a deadline to see how you did. Culture directly affects the planning and outcome of strategy. You will need to constantly review how you are meeting your goals and adapt, adjust and even ditch some plans. Typically, annual reviews are easier to plan. As a leader, you may need to asses earlier if plans are completely and totally failing. It is not always easy to know when to kill a “sacred cow” (Fields, 1998) or continue a program even though the results are not what all desired. Your team will be essential for feedback and decision making. Make sure you include students on your team; the ministry you are leading is for them. Also, be sure your pastor is in support of changes you intend to carry out.

No process is perfect. But the simple process described here may help you shape a process that will help you create a flexible but firm strategic plan. The last and most important element is prayer. All of ministry should be carried out under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Be certain that it is God’s power through you and your team that will get the results that God wants.


Fields, Doug (1998) Purpose Driven Youth Ministry: 9 Essential Foundations for Healthy Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Lencioni, Patrick (2006) Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable about Destroying the Barriers that Turn Colleagues into Competitors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

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Nate Hogan is Minister to Students and Small Groups Director at Greenbrier Community Church in Chesapeake, VA. Hogan holds a degree in Organizational Leadership from Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. He and his wife, Lisa, have 2 children.