So you care about programming your weekly youth group service? That’s a win… I LOVE programming! 

I’m especially passionate about programming a thoughtful and engaging youth service in the fall. It’s been my experience that a new school year is the best time to really invest in your weekly program – I like to capitalize on the momentum this season naturally brings!

Most youth groups use some sort of “order of service” to plan their program. There’s a kajillion names for this type of process, a “run sheet” a “flow” or maybe a “program sheet” or some even use a software program like Planning Center Online. There’s several ways to organize your thoughts – whatever works for you to keep everyone on the same page.



I like music playing and I’m always searching for a good playlist. Jump on Facebook in the Download Youth Ministry community group and ask youth workers to share their Spotify playlists and you’ll instantly have a TON of perfectly curated playlists. Or just open the app and search youth ministry and you’ll be flooded with suggestions from youth workers (who might be 10% cooler than you) and have given some time and thought into song selections that will work for just this moment.

On the screen

If you have a projector or TV, I like putting something on the screens for students to look at when they arrive. It adds to the room vibe and it allows visitors something interesting to look at. You can rotate different slides to either 1) promote upcoming events, 2) share some of your values, or 3) just to have some fun pictures of other teenagers connecting and having fun within your youth ministry. It’s attractive when teenagers can see teenagers smiling, laughing and having fun. Don’t be afraid to cycle through a bunch of youth group photos from the previous week.

Countdown Video

My preference is for the pre-service time to end with a countdown video that clearly indicates the service is about to begin. I like it because it’s the official start of the service as well as a reminder for everyone to “turn the corner” or grab a seat. 

Filling Your Programming “Buckets”

I would encourage your programming efforts to begin by defining what you want your service elements to include. Think of a programming element as a bucket—each one of the following elements is a bucket you could fill with different ideas. 

For example: 

  • a game bucket
  • a testimony bucket
  • a video bucket
  • a teaching bucket
  • a mixer bucket
  • a song bucket, so on… there can be many different types of buckets.

Once I know what my programming buckets are I can throw ideas in them as I find them. There are hundreds of different games and game types that I could throw in the Game Bucket, thousands of different songs in the song bucket, in the testimony bucket there could be video testimony, adult testimony, Christian testimony, a non-Christian testimony about why they don’t believe, a YouTube testimony of a famous athlete or movie star… you get the idea. I’m constantly throwing ideas into these buckets. I can’t get to all these ideas every week, but I have a program EVERY week so I need to keep adding to these buckets.

Then, since I have a ton of ideas to choose from my programming buckets, now I have to be selective based on my time-restrictions. How much time is my given program? The time-block is crucial and serves as my filter. I live by a simple time principle in that I’d rather leave students wanting more of a good program element than tired or bored of it… which means, I’ll cut things shorter and leave them wanting to get on to the next programming element. Youth culture is fast-paced, and it’s hard to hold the attention of teenagers for very long. Asking them to be part of a program that runs longer than an hour is asking a lot, so keep that in mind as you put your program together!

NOTE: If your buckets are on low or empty I’d encourage you to head on Download Youth Ministry to grab a game or a countdown. Truth be told, I mostly fill my programming buckets from since a membership is inexpensive and allows me to buy so many different items. I can even buy messages there for cheap. I like writing my own messages but I’ll definitely use someone else’s message as a trigger or starting point for my message. The way I think about it is that your ministry with students is unique to what only you can do, but programming ideas can come from the minds and experiences of youth workers all over the world. I want more time with my students and using other people’s stuff for programming saves me so much time. 

Service Flow

Now that we have our ideas and our time frame, the next step is to take some time to develop a service flow. I like to use a few simple templates for how the service should go.

  1. Countdown
  2. Opening Song
  3. Welcome
  4. Game
  5. 2 Min Connect Time
  6. 2 Songs
  7. Prayer
  8. Bumper Video
  9. Message
  10. Song/Response
  11. Dismiss.

Something like that would work. There’s no one way to do it, do what’s right for you! 

It may be best to slowly develop 3 variations of your service flow and mix it up every series or so. The key is that students and volunteers feel like the service is “safe” in that it’s something that they can invite their friends to, but also fresh enough that it’s not predictable—I like surprises to keep them guessing. Getting stuck in a rut is no fun for anyone and being predictable is just short of being boring. 

Remember, you’re in this for the long haul—you’re not just doing one service and that’s it. You’ve got this gig every week… every week! So, be desperate for good ideas. Beg, borrow and steal them… again, Download Youth Ministry is your treasure chest for amazing ideas that will fill every bucket.

The weekly program is the centerpiece of a lot of hard work and as soon as this week is finished there’s another one right behind it. But you’ve got it!

Want to get a hand on your programming for this week and many weeks after? Check out the Gold Membership Deal going on right now! Click the pic below to find out how to get the help you need for your weekly program!

Josh Griffin is a 25 year youth pastor veteran and co-founder of DYM. He’s the Junior High Pastor at Mariner’s Church and always 10 minutes late.