A Case for Programming by Daniel Broyles, PhD

The term programming is become a dirty word in some youth ministry circles. It often suggests a leader-driven ministry. While the principle concern is valid and a pressing sin issue in local church leadership, is it wise to delete a useful term as if using another word facilitates real change? In reality, the function of programming is absolutely necessary to build a healthy, biblical local church youth ministry.

The fact is, every time a church gathers there is a program. Local congregations of believers gather at the same planned time and location. The well practiced musicians and choir are in harmony. The outlines displayed match the pastor’s notes. Why?…because there is a strategic pursuit of a vision when the local church functions.

The Church has Always Been Strategic

This is not a new practice. The New Testament church organized themselves strategically supported specific ministries and missionaries.Individually, they worked together for the mutual edification of the body (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; I Corinthians 16:1-4; II Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:1-2; and Romans 15:25-26).  This always involved planning, evaluation, strategy management, and sound leadership. They practically functioned under a strategic, overarching vision; meaning, the ministries of the local church were programmed.

A Program Represents the Local Church Youth Ministry’s Tangible Action Plan or Vision

A local church cannot function as directed in Scripture without vision. This demands the implementation of an intentional program. It is the tangible plan, action, and function of the vision. A local church’s specific ministry to teenagers and their families is no different. A youth ministry should diligently pursue, communicate, and execute the most effective application of the vision.

The mission of the church (and the youth ministry) is absolutely defined by Scripture. The vision, on the other hand, allows a range of freedom. For example, the charge to evangelize and make disciples is the heart of the mission defined in Matthew 28. It is absolutely dictated by Scripture. But, the way in which a local church youth ministry strategically carries out these directives of the church’s mission is determined by vision. One church may choose to facilitate discipleship through Sunday School on the church campus while another through small groups in host homes during the middle of the week. As a ministry makes this determination, purposefully choosing how they will focus their gifts and resources in a shared vision, programming is required. 

Programming is a Discipline That Can Be Learned and Done Well

Programming is a discipline, a competency like others vital to the function of the church (think leadership). It can and should be learned, practiced and evaluated. Youth ministries that struggle to program will struggle to fulfill their mission. They will be a ship without a rudder. They will drift back and forth, reacting to every wave or going nowhere at all.