“So Stephanie, exactly what happens at youth group?”

I’d spent almost a year with the questioner, teaching her and 50 others in a small church cohort. And this question comes up now with just a month to go? Yikes! I was frustrated, but not at her. At myself! I had made some big ol’ leaping assumptions. I figured everyone knew what a typical youth group meeting was like. So, it wasn’t in my cohort teaching scope and sequence.

But I learned my lesson and have since added it to our denomination cohort classes. I never want to make that mistake again. So, just in case you were wondering as well… here’s my game plan for what happens at a typical weekly youth group gathering and how you can get one going.

How to start a youth group:

Step 1: Set a start date and be ready to stick with it.

Don’t let others’ busy schedules deter you. You’ll never find a date and time that meets everyone’s needs. Shoot for majority. Pay attention to a time during the week that makes the most sense for most of your families. Sunday and Wednesday nights are the most common meeting nights. Sunday afternoon or evening, there’s generally less competition for students’ time from other places. Many churches have other Wednesday night programming so that makes sense, too.

Step 2: Gather every possible name and address you can for your initial invite database.

Check church records or have a report run for the birth years of the students you want to reach, Sunday school, VBS registrations from the last few years, previous events, etc. Now, go advertise and invite!

Step 3: Line up your volunteer needs for each time you meet:

  • Check-in desk person: For taking attendance, getting updated info, gathering permission slips, etc.
  • Food: Asking different groups in the church to sponsor the snacks/meals is a great way of integrating the young with the maybe old.
  • Games: (I hate leading games so I always find someone to do it.)
  • Adults who like students: They hang out and talk to students, lead small groups and keep an eye on things. Can be combined with the other people needed.
  • Setup/cleanup: Maybe all your adult leaders. While you get ready and put away, you could be talking about the night’s plans.

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Step 4: Set Your Schedule


  • (:30>:00)      (Before) Set up and pray; be ready when the first students walk in.
  • :00-:15           Gathering: students and adult check-in, hang out, chat, play, etc.
  • :15-:45           Food: meal/snack, announcements, and other quick projects
  • :45-1:15         Game Time: 1 high energy game followed by a low energy game.
    (Helps quiet down quiet down and transition into the lesson time. Doesn’t hurt if the 2nd game fits what the lesson is about.)
  • 1:15-1:45       Worship/Lesson with small group time
  • 1:45-2:00       Closing prayer activity.

Step 4: Clean Up and Follow Up Afterward

  • Clean up anything that would make other groups or leaders mad.
  • If you borrowed something, put it back.
  • Take the check-in data and send it wherever it needs to go.
  • See who was missing and make sure 3-4 people check on that student.
  • See who was new and make sure 3-4 people follow up on that student.
  • Go home and thank God for the great night.

Looking for more resources to get you started? Check out these other great blogs:

“Best of Ministry Architects: Youth Ministry Resources FREE”– Ministry Architects
“How to Start a Youth Ministry in a Small Church”– ChurchLeaders
“6 Ways to Cast Your 2021 Ministry Vision for Youth Ministry”– YM360

Stephanie Caro has been involved in ministry to children, youth, and adults in the local church (both large and small) for a long, long time (35+ years). She is now a Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects, which allows her to help churches assess, vision, and formulate their ministry game plans. Check out Stephanie’s blogs at youthministry.com, youthspecialties.com, Princeton Theological Seminary, or email her today for more tips of the trade!