Boot Camp: How We Plan Series

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Over the years we have tried a ton of different ways to creatively plan series. Teams change, leaders and leadership styles come and go, goals of the programs go in new directions and even adding additional campuses has altered the way we plan our series. So, we wanted to give you a glimpse of what our (current) series planning looks like so you can pick it apart and hopefully take something away. You may find a new way of thinking or that what we do is terrible and doesn’t work for you. Whatever the case, here is how we plan series at Southeast student ministries; may I present — Boot Camp!

The Context

Before we dive into that though, I need to give you some context. First, we meet at 4 campuses and those campuses each have their own student ministry teams which don’t have to follow each other — they are, for the most part, independent. These campuses range in ministry size from 30 to 750. We also have two drastically different age groups (middle school and high school), which have their own challenges.

Middle school doesn’t have to follow high school, and vise versa, but decisions made up front will help us to work together and use church resources more wisely, so we’re encouraged to come up with something that works for both ministries and on all campuses. Some campuses only have one service per age group. Some meet in the evening, others follow times of the services of “big church”. Some have gigantic stages and others have a corner of a room. Some do groups in service and others in homes throughout the week. All this to say, we believe that each campus and age group has unique needs and we can’t create a machine that stamps out series. But, we do want to use the collective to create tools that will help our communities communicate Jesus better.

The staff usually meets two-to-three times a year, two months out from the first series being talked about to come up with series details. We talk through 4 to 6 months worth of content (usually 4 to 6 series). This meeting last about 4 days (not for everyone). Coffee is provided and needed! We call it Boot Camp, and it lives up to it’s name!

The Goals

The goals of the meeting are to walk away with:

  • The series title
  • The series main idea and tagline
  • The week titles and tagline (these will probably not reach a student directly, but will help teachers to communicated one clear point).
  • Scriptures used in weeks
  • Graphic or theme ideas that go along with it.
  • Potential games, videos, stage elements, room responses
  • Extra service material ideas. This includes, booklets, websites, apps, handouts, followup events, and group materials.

From this meeting, teams can then meet together in the weeks that follow and crank everything out. The goal would be that before the first series starts, all of them are done! This means series graphics are done, curriculum is being worked on, print work is being sent out. Obviously this is a lofty goal and unrealistic, but it pushes us to get as much of this stuff done before the series so we can do more ministry and less busy work. Sermons will still be written the week of, but the group curriculum is done so you have something to work off of.

The Team

Because our team is so large and large groups have a hard time being creative, we have a core group who leads the meeting. This core group includes the lead teachers from every campus ministry. So, if we had full teams this would be 4 middle school teachers and 4 high school teachers. But because we have high trust among teams, and two campuses only have one guy, this team is only about 4 people. We also have one representative from the admin team who understands the master calendar (important school dates, church wide events, other conflicting ideas, holidays, etc.). We also have one representative from the creative arts team who is responsible for objectively leading the meeting and the “voice of reason” at times.

The Schedule

Day 1 (Thursday AM)
The first day is just the core group. The goal for today is to walk away with the topics that a students needs to learn. The core group has already been thinking of things to bring here based on conversations they have been having with students and parents in the ministry. We want to walk away with series concepts, very general ideas and how these things will lay out on a calendar. An example of this is that we want our students to walk away with the skills needed to read the Bible, so we’re going to do an exegetical series on Ephesians. It looks like it would be great to divide this series into sixths (since Ephesians has 6 chapters). We may develop a guide or book or something to help students learn how to study the book and learn that they can use these skill on other books of the Bible.

Day 2 (Monday AM/PM)
First thing Monday everybody (all campuses, all teams) meets. We lay out the series ideas that were decided upon by the core team the week before. One series at a time, we divide off into small groups to further develop the ideas. Here we are looking for ideas, so everything is written down (no bad idea). We’re looking for teaching elements, series titles, weekly takeaways, creative elements, etc. We then get back together and groups present all the ideas. Everything is documented into a Google Doc live on a projector. We do this for every series, until we’re done!

Day 3 (Tuesday AM/PM)
The core group then gets back together on day 3. Here ideas are combed through. It’s super hard to get a large group of people to make decisions, so we trust the core group to make the the final decisions. The goal is to come away with the series titles, week titles, object lessons, teaching ideas, taglines, creative elements, and extra service materials. These are not refined, just decided.

Day 4 (Wednesday AM)
On the final day, we meet to go over what was decided with the core group. Then we break out as high school and middle school teams. In those groups we go through the ideas, refine them or decide if we want to do them altogether. Walking away from this meeting we want to make sure that the ideas are clearly understood, it’s clear what the idea is used for, that everything has a due date and a person assigned to it, and that everyone stacks hands. Everything is documented and handed off to the creative arts team to manage it all.

The Aftermath

Dave, who is the creative arts liaison, makes a spreadsheet with actual tasks, who owns them, and when things are due. He will then make sure the follow through happens. He will then keep track of the progress and teams finish what they need to.

I won’t say this is the most efficient or even the best way to hammer out what we need to, but it is our current one. With each Boot Camp we continue to refine the process. The ultimate goal is to not spend every moment in the staff office building working on things for a series, but to cram as much of it into as few of days as possible so we can then go out of the walls and do ministry. Because of that, we realize we may need to suck it up for a week to crank out a few months at a time.

How do you plan your series?

Steve StoneBoot Camp: How We Plan Series

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