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The Group Gathering – Planning Group Gatherings

There are no recipes for success and no collection of tips for successful, planned gathering. But when you read a few points here and apply them to your goals of your gatherings, it will help.

In my life I have surely planned and experienced well over 1200 group gatherings and programs for over 800 days of vacation camps. Planning and preparing group gatherings takes time. There isn’t always enough time to plan, sometimes the ideas don’t come, one isn’t always in the mood for a gathering and sometimes goes unprepared. In spite of this, and depending on the amount of preparation and planning, every gathering has the chance to become a highlight or “event”. The children will be thrilled and will spread their enthusiasm so that old and new kids will regularly attend. When you meet these children as adults and they tell you of the enthusiasm they had in their youth groups, you can be then sure that you did a good job.

There are no recipes for success and no collection of tips for successful, planned gatherings. But when you read a few points here and apply them to your goals of your gatherings, it will help. One who doesn’t plan and goes to the gathering unprepared, can not be surprised and wonder why the evening falls apart or why over time, the participants don’t attend. (There are so many alternative activities these days.)

Group Gatherings – A Definition

A group gathering begins and ends at a definite time. It is for a specific group of people who have come together as a group with a leader to attend and experience a program.

Subject Matter and Goals of a Group Gathering

The various group gatherings must be kept varied, exciting and interesting. The diversity is our strength, totally opposite from maybe sport clubs, where only performance and training count. A game evening (without balls and performance) is seldom held. The group is made up through group playing, conversation and mutual considerateness from the various components of the game during the game evening. When the group members learn to accept the strengths and weaknesses of the individual and learn considerateness and social behavior, then are important goals for the group and the game evening achieved.

Not only fun and a sense of community by playing, but also belonging, is the examination and discussion of current themes and problems of everyday life, the time and the opportunity to speak about personal problems in the group or with the group leader as confidant possible. Time must be planned in the gathering for this or right afterwards. If this is possible, depends on the leader, and the group itself, as to how far they are willing to correlate with each other.

Orientation and Focus

Every youth group, regardless of what kind, is a group made up of children or adolescents, all within a certain age group. Old and new friendships play a role. The group’s strength is influenced from the attractiveness of the group program, but also from the available alternatives (music club, sports club, shows and TV programs) being offered at the same time. A large or small number of children in one particular age group also plays a large role. In the past, some birth years had not less than 120 members that were divided into 3-4 groups. How big a group is also influences the group program. Outdoor games are not always suitable for just 6-8 players. A discussion or conversational evening with 30 kids might also prove unsuitable. Every program doesn’t work with every group evening and must therefore be well considered if it is suitable for the current group situation.

Preparation for the Group Gathering

The better you plan and the more thorough you are preparing your program, the chance of something going not well is reduced. The group members immediately notice if you are prepared or if everything was done at the last minute.

Goal for the Group Gathering and the Program Points

What theme will you use for your next gathering? What do you wish to accomplish? After the winter months when the weather warms, you can hold your games outside and allow your group the opportunity to let off steam. How can the entire evening become an event in that the individual program sections come together and work well with each other? For the contemplative section: which theme is suitable and how well can it be integrated? Action and fun – but with thoughtfulness! Will you achieve this?

Material (supplies)

Make a list of everything you’ll need for your planned evening and obtain the supplies well ahead of time.

Scheduling and Duration of the Group Gathering

Plan an exact schedule for the group gathering. How long will each section of the program take? Plan the times realistically and hold a few compatible games in reserve.

Realization of the Group Gathering

Only when you have planned and prepared everything well, will your group gathering take off to become a success.

Arrival and Punctuality

The kids usually come to gatherings as much as 15 minutes early. Accordingly, you should also arrive at least 15 minutes earlier to greet the kids and allow for some small talk. This also allows you to briefly speak with parents, if, and as they drop off the kids. Your punctuality is an important example to show the kids that punctuality is mandatory. There is nothing so disturbing as when the kids come late to the gathering and barge in, disrupting the program already in progress.

Group Gathering Phases

Depending on what you’ve planned, begin the program on time. In some groups, the gathering follows a certain order with certain rituals. It can begin with song being sung, continuing with the day’s theme and then followed with a “play” period. At the end, one can perhaps tell a continuing story and by all means have a devotion with a closing prayer. A short summation about the evening and a few words about the next gathering, as well as a closing ritual (all stand in a circle, holding hands, count from 10 backwards to zero and say the youth group’s motto: “With Jesus courageously forward!”) ends the evening. Alternative elements are integrated in these “phase models”. Every phase is not too long so that no one is asked too much of and nevertheless contains much diversification. Also, when the phase is at it’s peak, that’s the time to stop. Some games are played to death and with the umpteenth time, it becomes very boring. Naturally, there are some programs where this phase model can not be used.

Plan Deviations / Dealing with Whiners and Troublemakers

Sometimes the best preparations don’t help when the group absolutely doesn’t want to participate or when something totally different occurs than what was planned. Sometimes there are a few whiners or troublemakers whose goal is simply to disrupt the activity. Plan for this possibility and be prepared for it. Have an alternative plan up your sleeve and react to the situation accordingly. It is sometimes better to break off something than to allow the disruption continue or sometimes better yet to remove the troublemaker or to give him an assignment. In any case, you need to have a delicate touch and skill in dealing with such situations and adolescents. Such situations offer in part, or the adaptation of programs used in such situations, opportunities. Opportunities for good discussions, opportunities to solve certain things in a practical way and the group clearly talk about solutions.

Take the Kids Seriously and take Time to Listen

Take the Kids Seriously and take Time to Listen

Even when you are a few years older than the kids, take the kids seriously. Some questions are important even for the youngest children. You might label these questions as being “stupid or dumb”. Take the time to give clear answers and not slurs, unclear or ironic answers. You can destroy trust when your group members don’t take you seriously or don’t take the time to address the questions. You become a personal friend to the children right from the first day of the existence of the group. You are accompanying the children on their way in life and show them community and fun through your well prepared program. It is therefore important to recognize the hardships, worries and questions of the children, take them seriously and be responsive to them. Miscellaneous for Gatherings

  • Attendance Lists and Birthday Lists

    Keep an attendance and birthday list for the children. With this list, you can keep and eye on whose attendance may be erratic, or who has not attended for a long time or who may not be attending at all anymore. You can maybe invite these children again or find out their reasons why they have not been coming regularly. Maybe there was an incident that lead to the child not wanting to or is no longer allowed to come. A birthday greeting and an invitation to the group can sometimes signal that the child is not unimportant. At the end of the year some groups give a “reward” or certificate (“Youth group member of the year”) to those members who have attended the most gatherings. Something like this is easy to do with the help of a well documented attendance list. Should there be membership dues for the group, enter this in the attendance list as well. Then you can see immediately who has and has not paid. When you have 30 to 40 kids in your group during a year, it is impossible to note all the details of their attendance and dues paid.

  • Yearly Planning / Group Programs

    I know that yearly planning or a group gathering program that runs over a period of 3-4 months is by some leaders simply too much to ask: too time-intensive, too much effort and actually too inflexible. When the kids know what the programs are, they will pick the best programs and won’t attend the more unattractive programs at all.

    There may be something in one or the other point. But I am convinced that when one looks over the long term, a firm gathering program and long term program planning simply work more positively. My experience was at least that groups without long term program planning and groups who did not receive written programs were less committed and quickly lost members. On the other hand, groups with a comprehensive plan and a definite program were larger in numbers. What’s responsible for this?

    • A definite program sends the signal to each group member of commitment.
    • A youth leader who sticks to his program signals dependability and reliability
    • A set program puts the leader under pressure to prepare and hinders a “slackness in engagement”
    • A fairly long term program hinders monotony and provides for variety
    • A fairly long term program allows leeway and lets some things be planned ahead of time
    • Those members of whom today’s program isn’t their thing, may stay away and let the others enjoy the program more
    • A program point not previously announced can lead to the discussion “must it be now?”, or “not in the mood for this game today!”
    • In a well planned program highlights are included: a recreation, a trip, a celebration or a party

    In summation, the program and the committed attendance to every gathering belong simply together. When the group’s members come in spite of (assumed) unattractive programs because of the community and the group itself are more important, then a really good group has been formed.

  • Invitations to the Group Gathering

    Create an appropriate invitation to the gathering, or arrange your program so that it can be used as the invitation to the gathering. The invitation for the gathering must be suitable and be oriented to the target group. At the same time, the invitation should contain as much information so that the parents know what their children can expect. The invitation for the group gathering program should contain:

    • Start and ending time of the gathering
    • Where the gathering will be held
    • Your name and telephone number as contact person for the parents
    • You can hand out the invitations in person or send them by post. Children enjoy getting their own mail. In case a child has a birthday, write a birthday greeting and include the invitation to the gathering with it.
  • Information for the Parents

    If you start a new group or hold a special program, don’t forget to inform the parents. Write a letter to the parents if applicable. Pay attention to proper writing form and minimize writing errors. Try to get to know the parents. In the past, it was common practice for the youth leader to visit the parents or to regularly hold parent meetings in the afternoon or evening. That was of course very time consuming but very effective. The parents are often more willing to support the group with car pools when necessary. Unfortunately these parent visits or parent meetings have not been held in the last few years. But for those who can take the time, it is recommended to use these contacts.


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