"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Programming

Programming Values

Bo Boshers

Many people think Student Impact's draw is a cutting-edge program. When people observe one of our programs, they expect to see bells and whistles. Some say, "Oh, if I had Willow Creek's budget or facility, I could do a great program too, and have a large ministry." When I hear this kind of statement, I question the values that drive their student ministry. Are they simply looking for a bigger and better program?

What many people fail to understand is that Student Impact has not grown because of a great program; our ministry is based on values. Throughout this book, I have described a number of values, such as being purpose-driven; developing a small groups ministry by balancing the scales of discipleship and evangelism; and communicating a vision, to name just a few.

So why has Student Impact grown, if not because of its program? Student Impact thrives because of relationships. Our program is an important part of our strategy, but if it ended tomorrow, ministry would continue. I have found that program-driven ministries quickly die, but people-driven ministries flourish. The challenge over the years has been and will continue to be focusing on the right values and remembering that people should always be more important than programs.

In this chapter, I will explain five values that we strive to include in our programming planning process so that we stay people-driven instead of program-driven.


"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19).

A program should always help the mission of your ministry. Without a mission, programs lack purpose and become entertainment. Student Impact's mission, "to turn irreligious high school students into fully devoted followers of Christ," is the backbone of what we are trying to do programmatically. Anything that takes us even one degree away from our mission is not worth placing in our program. Because our program is based on our mission, we make choices by asking, "Does using this in the program help accomplish our mission?" When you cannot answer the "why" question, there could be trouble.

When we plan programs in our program development meetings, we brainstorm and come up with many different ideas. Sometimes someone will throw out an exciting idea for an upcoming program and start right in on figuring out how to make it happen. Usually another person will slow us down by saying, "Wait a minute. Why would we do this? Is this in line with our mission?" Because we function as a team, we can help each other stay focused on the mission and our targets.

We work hard to understand how the mission and our targets work together. Whether trying to reach the seeker with the message of God's love or helping the believer connect with God, we program to meet specific target needs.

We must always be about our ministry's mission. All of us may hold different values in accomplishing the mission, but ultimately we all desire to reach high school students for Christ. Stay mission-minded.


I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor. 9:22b-23).

In chapter 6 we talked about the importance of knowing your target and the people you are trying to hit. In programming, we need to determine to whom we are trying to communicate and the most effective way we can do so. After a program, it's common to ask these kinds of questions: "Why did we do that? Who were we trying to reach? Did we fulfill our mission? Did the program work? Did we think through the calendar well enough and take into account students' schedules?" These are great questions. Being target-based allows you to zero in on the answers.

I remember a particular night after a Student Impact program when I was asking myself these exact questions and thankful we had thought through our targets. Our theme that night was the love of Christ, and the programming and teaching focused on this life-changing truth.

It was exciting to see the arts used to prepare students to hear the message of Christ. The opening song that night was, "Hold My Hand" by Hootie and the Blowfish, a secular song that presents the world's perspective on love. After the song, four high school students from our drama team performed a sketch on how the word love is so casually tossed around in various real-life situations. The drama was followed by the song "You Gotta Be" by Desiree. It's a secular song that communicates how hard it is to try to be all different things the world tells us to be in order to be loved. When these three segments were over, I could clearly tell how the first song connected with the drama, and the drama with the second song. I was certain why we had chosen and performed each of these elements. We had hit the target and prepared students to be more open to the message.

When the speaker came up, the students were ready to listen. Imagine how exciting it was for the speaker to have the audience prepared and receptive. He affirmed that indeed it is difficult to be loved the world's way; people expect us to be and do certain things. The speaker then had the chance to tell students about God's unconditional love for us. After the message, another song explained more about God's love.

Being target-based allows us to focus the program each week on the audience we are trying to reach. Effective ministry can happen when we know our targets and plan programs accordingly.


And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17).

Have you ever just stopped in the middle of your day and thanked God for the opportunity to serve in student ministry and the chance He's given you to make a difference? I have. I do this every day I drive onto our church's campus. It overwhelms me at times. I can't believe I serve the King! During these times, I get excited thinking about the privilege we, as youth pastors, have to communicate the greatest story ever told. It motivates and challenges me to do it with excellence.

As I said in chapter 2, excellence is doing the best with what you have. It does not mean perfection, but excellence demands that we put forth our best effort with the resources we have been given. To explain the value of excellence in programming, we need to look at two areas: selection and creativity.


Excellence starts with the selection process. Choosing the right programming elements and personnel are key for effective programming. Selection is sometimes more difficult than actually doing the program.

We have learned the importance of using gifted people on stage who walk authentically with Christ and desire to use their gifts to glorify God, not themselves. It's tempting to buy into talent. Some musicians, actors, and other creative performers are more concerned with themselves than with reaching students for Christ. We will not tolerate any of that; we must protect the stage and guard who is communicating from it. Poor choices can be disastrous. Unfortunately, we have made them several times, learning hard lessons in the process.

We rarely use outside bands. Recently, I clearly remembered the reason why. We placed a band on stage that we didn't really know very well. They were talented musically, but we hadn't spent enough time with them to know their hearts or listened closely enough to their music. Once they started performing, I knew right away we had made a bad decision and were one degree away from our mission. We had compromised the stage in our selection by placing musicians who were more interested in performing than communicating spiritual truth. I sat there in my chair with that "Oh, no" feeling in my gut.

What made it even worse was that the evening was Parents' Night and many parents were visiting. Bill Hybels' daughter was involved in the ministry, so he was in the audience too. The next day, I had an all-day, off-campus meeting, so I missed Bill's visit down to my office. When I returned, my staff anxiously told me Bill was looking for me. I knew exactly what it was about. When I went into his office the next day, he clearly communicated his disappointment about our musical selection. I was challenged to protect the stage and never compromise it like that again-too much is at stake.

Each musician and vocalist on our programming team must go through an audition with our programming director as well as an interview process to make sure that every person has willingly submitted his or her gifts to the Lord and desire to be used by Him. Most often, our vocalists and musicians are told what to sing or play and sometimes even what to wear on stage. They quickly learn that it is not about them; they are simply God's conduit to communicate truth.

One year we had an extremely talented vocal director who was also a humble servant. She had chosen to minister to high school students in part because she found Christ while struggling through high school; she knew how much high school students need to hear about God's love. Her prayer before she went up on stage to sing was always, "Jesus, may You be the only One seen on the stage tonight."

She once sang a song called, "What's Going On?" It's a secular song, but it asks a lot of good questions. The first time she sang this song, she admitted that she did so with a performer mind-set. The next time we chose to do the song, God had grown her up. Instead of wanting to get on stage and perform, she prayed, "God, this is a secular song, written by someone who doesn't know You. But I know You. Take what You've done in my heart and my maturity and, as I'm singing this song, be in my eyes, my gestures, and the look on my face. Give me Your heart as I sing and let them see the peace I have in You. Amen." She thought she had to be a performer, but God had turned that upside down. Who you put on the stage is so important. Make your selections carefully.


Have you ever gazed at a summer sunset or been to the zoo and marveled at the colors of a peacock's feathers? Our God is so creative! He has given us the gift of creativity to communicate more of who He is to others. We can be creative by looking at the things around us and incorporating the arts into our programming. Using music, drama, stage design; or video can sometimes make God's truth come alive in a clearer way than words ever could.

"Creativity is like a muscle-it has to be stretched and exercised regularly to keep it fit and functioning." [Gloria Hoffman and Pauline Graivier, Speak the Language of Success, as quoted in Speaker's Sourcebook 11 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994), 79.]

I'm so thankful to be part of a church that values the arts and the gifts of creative people. It is so important that people with these kinds of talents have an outlet for their creativity and ways to express themselves.

Encouraging students and leaders with the gift of creativity to use it in the church is a privilege. I recently did this with my son Brandon. He has expressed his creativity in interesting ways in the last few months. One night he asked me to come into his bedroom to watch a video he had made to show at school. The video featured Brandon giving his campaign speech for student body president. In the middle of the video, he had grabbed a one-dollar bill from his wallet and creatively tried to persuade (bribe?!) his fellow classmates to vote for him. It worked. He won the election.

That video gave me a glimpse of Brandon's creativity. I have told him that certain people see things that others do not; creativity is a gift that can help communicate God's love. You have many Brandons in your ministry. Identify these creative students and encourage them to use this gift.

Creativity expert Roger von Oech said, "One of the major factors which differentiates creative people from lesser creative people is that creative people pay attention to their small ideas."1 Do you have any creative people involved in programming who are excited to develop their ideas, however small?

I do. I believe creativity in programming begins with the programming director, and our programming director, Troy Murphy, is by far one of the most creative people I know. I remember going to lunch with him not too long ago. At our table were some coasters for drinks. Troy looked at them and got that faraway look in his eyes; I knew his mind was racing. "Hey, this would be awesome to do for an Impact program." He went on to explain to me his idea. Seeing the coaster had triggered a creative idea we ended up using several weeks later.

Another time we were walking down a road when Troy saw a chain-link fence. "Wouldn't that be cool to roll up and put on stage and then put some lights on it?" Later in the series, I smiled as I saw a chain-link fence rolled up on our stage and marveled at what Troy's creative touch had done.

I am often amazed at the things creative people can come up with by looking around them and seeing potential in even the smallest of things. We can encourage creative people to use their gifts to serve the King and bring excellence to our programs.


Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2-3).

One night as I walked into the auditorium before a program to watch a rehearsal, I could sense that something was wrong. The rehearsal was not going well and things seemed somewhat chaotic on stage. I saw that the vocalists and drama team were uptight. After observing this for several minutes, I realized we had lost something very important along the way. We had blurred the line between performing and serving so that the pressure for excellence had overpowered the passion for service.

I called the programming team together for prayer and also reminded them that they were on the team to serve the Lord, not themselves. After our time of prayer, I could tell that attitudes had changed and the proper focus was in full view once again. By God's grace, the program went extremely well and many students responded to the gospel that night.

Situations like this one can happen if we get so caught up in the program that we forget the "whys" of what we do and how important it is to value people in the process. We can hurt people along the way and not even realize it until the damage has been done. Process is something we are trying to get better at as we continue to increase the value of people over programs. In the past, we've done some great programs to communicate the love of God, but lost people in the process. It's definitely not the way to do ministry.

I want my ministry to be organized, purposeful, and well-staffed, but not at the expense of the personal touch. I never want this ministry to evolve into a "business." In a business ministry, students become a number in a database, leaders focus on tasks versus relationship, and I spend more time with my computer than with people. I need to make sure my leaders and I are constantly building relationships with students. Life change comes through relationshipsnot because of programs, structures, or activities.

(Pete App, Green Bay Community Church, Green Bay, WI, former Student Impact intern)

In one of our program development meetings, four video projects were assigned to our media director, Dave Cooke, all of which had tight deadlines. Dave did not complain, but I could tell he felt overwhelmed with all he had to do in such a short time. My staff team is full of players who are committed and willing to go the extra mile. After the meeting, I went up to Dave's office and asked, "How are you doing?" He said, "Okay, but I have a lot to do." When I asked him how I could help to lighten his load, he said if one of the videos could be skipped, that would really help. I agreed. Later, Dave said to me, "Bo, thanks. It really meant a lot to me that you were concerned for me and my health and not just focused on putting the program together."

We didn't even miss the video I cut out of the program, but Dave felt honored in the process. Honoring the process also honors the Lord. Ministry doesn't just happen on the day of the program; it happens on all the days leading up to the program as well. It happens when you are planning the program to rehearsing to hanging lights to actually producing the program. Don't ever forget to honor and value people along the way.


And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

Once a creative programming team is in place, it's important to empower them to do their jobs. Programming is a team ministry, not a one-man show. The ministry director cannot do everything; he or she must empower others with the appropriate gifts to help with programming. Over the years I have been extremely fortunate to work with some very talented and gifted people. My role is to trust the programming team God has assembled together and empower them to their jobs. I can do this in several ways. The first way I can empower my team is to show each of them that they and their ideas are valuable. At our weekly program development meeting, we brainstorm ideas for upcoming programs with one rule in mind: There is no bad idea. We use the storyboarding method to brainstorm. When someone has an idea, he or she writes it down on an index card and places it up on the board. This allows everyone to feel a part of the planning process. I value each person's input as we plan programs. Once a program begins to develop, I empower the team to make it happen. I trust each person on the team and encourage them to get the job done.

The second way I can empower those on the programming team is to remind them to fight the right battles and to stay mission-minded. Sometimes those of us in student ministry do not have the greatest reputations with the deacons, pastor, or members of our church because of edgy programming or loud music, and it is easy to start fighting the wrong battles. It is a top priority of mine to make sure that the people on my programming team stay focused on the mission and do not get sidetracked with all the different distractions that can come our way.

Third, to empower people is to inspire them. One of the best ways I can regularly inspire the programming team is by being a "good finder." After a program, I like to go up to a production volunteer, shake his or her hand, and say, "Thanks for serving. You did a great job tonight with the microphones." To a vocalist, I might say, "The song you sang ministered to students tonight. Thanks for using the gifts God's given you for His glory."

I also try to inspire people when the program didn't go well. Everyone can tell when the program just didn't work, and some get discouraged. I can say to them, "It's okay," because I knew their hearts and the hard work that went into the night.

It's amazing to see what happens to people when you show that you believe in them. Over fifteen years ago in southern California, a young high school guy in my student ministry showed an interest in programming, specifically media. He started by taking pictures each week and putting together slide shows. I worked closely with him and often stretched him out of his comfort zone. I believed in him and challenged him to take projects he didn't think he could do. Now, many years later, this young, novice media volunteer has matured into one of the best media directors in the country and he, in turn, empowers others on his team.

Empowering others is a privilege. Several years ago, a young musician became part of the Student Impact band. I could see this gifted young man's heart for excellence and the humility in the way he served. I began to give him more and more responsibility. He thrived and continued to serve joyfully and with excellence. He now oversees production for the whole church.


What programming values permeate your student ministry? Do they help you accomplish the mission of sharing Christ with students? What values do your programming volunteers think, walk, talk, and breathe?

It is so important to build your program on key values. Take time to determine the right values for your ministry so that "God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ" (Col. 4:3b). That's what programming is all about.


What Did You Learn?

Core values in programming keep the ministry people-driven instead of program-driven.




  • Evaluate which programming elements help you accomplish the mission
  • Stay on course with your mission


  • Determine how you will hit the target
  • Ask "why" questions


  • Select personnel and programming elements carefully
  • Identify creative people


  • Recognize that people are more important than programs
  • Honor people along the way


  • Value the ideas of others
  • Help your team fight the right battles
  • Inspire others


What Action Will You Take?

Where would you place your ministry on the following continuum as it relates to the programming values we just discussed?






Just getting by


End product




??? 1. Roger von Oech, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Motivation as quoted in Speaker's Sourcebook II (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994), 79.


This chapter was taken from STUDENT MINISTRY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY by BO BOSHERS. Copyright 1997 by The Willow Creek Association. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. (Permission expires 08-30-05)

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About the Author

Bo Boshers directs Student Impact, the dynamic student ministry of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago that ministers to over 1000 youth. "He is passionately involved in teaching, recruiting, and developing future student ministry leaders." (From the back cover.)