Before you get all fired up about changing your program time… here’s the best advice I can give you, approach this change with a level head, humility and above all perseverance. Going about making a change like this can upset a lot of people and you have the potential of losing students and parents.
I had been wanting to change our high school program time for 2 years. I will never forget the day that moment had finally arrived. As I watched the clock inch closer and closer to the new program time I became extremely nervous…only one student was present. I had thoughts like, “I just killed our youth group”, “I’m out of job now”, “Can I change it back?”…
While all these thoughts haunted me for a few minutes, sure enough, every student and more showed up to our new program time! This begs a couple questions that every youth pastor asks in this area: Why should I change my program time? How should I go about changing my program time?
Here are the reasons why we changed our program time:
- We wanted to maximize our potential to reach more students.
- We wanted to better partner with the parents, a more optimal drop-off and pick-up time.
- We wanted to maximize relational time on the back end of program.
- We wanted to protect our staff and key volunteers, this new time would help prevent burnout.
Here are some key milestones for making the time change:
- Make a good pitch to your manager or staff that need to be involved.
- Cast vision to your leaders first and make sure they are on board.
- Conduct a parent/leader survey with the time options you are considering.
- Write an email to your whole parent roster making them aware of a potential change, months ahead of time.
- Pilot (don’t commit yet) the new program time for two-three months to help people adjust the idea, this is a true litmus test to see if people are willing.
- Send out a formal email updating staff, parents and student on the time change and when it will officially take place.
- Market the heck out of your new time via social media, celebrate it, make it fun.
Some history on my program change:
3 years ago when I inherited our HS group, we met on Wednesday nights. Through a survey and checking school practice/game schedules I knew I could not reach the same amount of students if we kept meeting on Wednesday nights. I wanted to move it to the time with the least amount of competition for school and family schedules, this lead me to Sunday afternoons…through a series of hoops with leadership I had to jump through (you know how that goes) I compromised to meet on Sunday nights 6pm-8pm. This was ending a bit late for students on school night and not what I wanted originally….something about program ending after dark does something to parents physiologically I believe. They don’t want to get out to pick up kids after dark. For freshmen and underclassmen, we saw parents wanted them home before dark on a school night.
After a year of doing the things listed above, we have arrived at a 4pm-6pm program time for high school students on Sunday afternoons. I copied the young life idea of doing something fun with the time…we meet at 3:59pm, this encourages them to be on time and it’s memorable.
Our program time outline:
- 3:30 – Small Group Leaders Meeting
- 3:59 – Large Group Program Start (Worship and Teaching)
- 4:45 – Breakout to Small Groups
- 5:30 – Dinner (Skinny budget dinner ideas coming soon!)
- 6:00 – Dismissal
Ending at this time on a Sunday allows our students and leaders to capitalize on hangout and relationship building via one off hangouts directly after church. Students are doing it and I myself have already taken advantage of hanging out with leaders after a program, going to the lake for a swim, out for ice cream, etc.
A book that helped me lead the charge on making this change along with other major shifts in student ministry was a book by Carey Nieuwhof, thanks so much Carey for this book…it gave me the courage, boldness and perseverance to press forward in sticking to my convictions and persevering until there was resolution.
You can get Carey’s book here…it’s a quick read and I recommend it for any church or business that are considering making a change.
Any questions on program times? Best practices you have used in making a change? What have been some of your best tactics or worse failures you have learned from along the way?