Did you know that one 4-week XP3 series takes over 400 human hours to complete? But do you want to know an important secret?
Even after 400+ hours, an XP3 series is STILL not ready for your students.
One misconception of XP3 and any curriculum is that it’s designed to be plug & play. Meaning, you use a curriculum so you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to teach. We certainly want to help give you a strategy and structure. But there’s still some work to be done between getting XP3 content and sharing it with your students.
The truth is, even with some of the best writers and innovators here at Orange, we’ve never met your students. We don’t know the culture of your ministry. But by contextualizing XP3 for your own unique church, you make sure that students are connecting with the content.
CONTEXTUALIZING THE 7 SEGMENTS
Let’s take a trip through the 7 Segments and see how you could start contextualizing so that you get the most out of XP3 for your faith community. Oh, and don’t skip the pro-tips about each segment for some practical ideas from our team of Orange Specialists (OS’s).
PRELUDE: setting the tone for the experience.
You get a suggested playlist with every series, and we hope you don’t just look it up and hit play! That’s because you know your group better than we do. For example, if your group loves hip-hop, you’ll probably want to add some more hip-hop. Along with music, we also give you some ideas on how to decorate your space for each series depending on your unique space and budget.
The Ministry Leader Guide is a great tool to use to plan. It literally tells you everything that needs to happen before anything happens. Look it over with a team (including adults & students) and divvy up responsibilities. Lighten your load by cueing others in on what’s going on so that you all can collectively make it great!
With all budgets being tight, doing a major redecoration of your space for every series is super hard. This fall, we have a series called Real Friends for MS XP3. The month before you are going to do this series, I would ask your students to bring in one or two of their favorite things from their bedrooms. Then use those items to create a space that feels like the room of a MS student. Often times if you pick one unique item and place it in the middle of your speaking space, that will intrigue your students! Maybe its a giant bowl of fruit on a tall stool when you are talking about the fruits of the spirit or hit up your local Dollar Tree for ideas. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to create spark interest in your students.
One of the easiest things you can do is make sure your youth room matches your group. If your group is smaller, make sure there’s not a lot of extra chairs filling your space, making the room feel empty. Students will usually pick up on this and can become distracted by the awkwardness of how the room feels. Another easy way to help elevate the space for your students is to make sure it is clean. This helps communicate to both your students and parents that you have intentionally thought about them showing up. Don’t forget to also think about how your space can connect to your students senses. How is the lighting in your youth space? Is it too dark? Will it make your students want to fall asleep? Create a comfortable environment to the senses so students feel comfortable talking about their faith.
SOCIAL: providing time for fun interaction.
The key XP3 component for your social time is a game each week. Want to hear another secret? [whispers] You probably shouldn’t do a brand new game every week. Yes, we’ll give you a good one, but your students probably have some games they love and that you should do once a quarter or so. There are some weeks where we give you an upfront game, but an all-group game is a better fit.
One idea would be to save all of the XP3 games into a Google Drive or Dropbox folder to look over each week if you feel like the suggested game might not land that week.
As you select games, think about who your target audience is and remember, you’re not the target audience. Don’t not play something just because you don’t want to play it. If you think your students would love it, give it a go. Maybe even charge a few students with the responsibility of selecting a game each week. They know what they like best.
If you have a small group of students, I would look at doing a game that ties into the lesson. Experiential learning is a great tool to help students interact with each other and do some hands-on learning.
Take the time to think through how your games will help engage all students. For example, not every student is an athlete or will be excited about the more physical games. Think about how you can add a mix of games that may include large group activity, trivia, music, drawing, etc. When preparing for your games also remember to equip and include your volunteers. The more your volunteers are excited about and engaged in the games, the more your students will be. You can also create regular rhythms with games. Every year, my students always look forward to our annual fall messy food games. This is an easy built-in game that our students love and know will happen. Lastly, the MOST IMPORTANT element for games is make sure you’re prepared ahead of time. The last thing you want to happen in the middle of a game is to have to try to find supplies for the game. This will not only slow down your momentum, but can also cause you to invite more distractions.
Games can be tricky in a combined MS & HS environment. Some games that MS students love, HS students roll their eyes at. Do your best and maybe even involve your HS students in the process of selecting the games to get more ownership of this time.
WORSHIP: inviting people to respond to God.
If your ministry doesn’t do musical worship, this is a clear piece to contextualize. Ask what it could look like to create opportunities for students to respond to God each week. Maybe creative stations? Moments for contemplative prayer? It might look different for each group, but contextualizing this segment means figuring out how to help students respond to God given your unique environment.
However, If you DO do (#middleschooleratheart) musical worship, don’t miss out on the worship leader guide and the suggested song playlist. But OF COURSE, we want you to adjust that! Your worship leader shouldn’t be reading the worship leader guide from the stage. And we don’t think you should do all new songs each week if your students don’t know them. But, hopefully, you’re using those as a baseline to begin contextualizing.
Side note: Worship song choice (especially for MS students) is really important due to the concepts often described in lyrics. For instance, MS students have a harder time connecting with abstract ideas like metaphors. So, a worship song about God’s love being like a tidal wave washing over us or a hurricane we can’t escape might carry some powerful imagery for a 38-year-old like me. But, it could likely be confusing for a MS student who processes those lyrics literally. With that said, use the suggested song list to get some worship song ideas that connect with the theme of the series, but can be used with both MS and HS phases.
If you’re trying to figure out how to get some sort of worship going, start with your students. I guarantee you’ve got at least one student who can do something – be it dance, sing, step, spoken word poetry, or whatever. Have students share their gifts to show different ways of worshiping. If you decide to go this route and have a combined group of MS & HSl, keep in mind how students might feel sharing their gifts in front of their peers who could be significantly older or younger than them.
It is important to teach students that there is more to worship besides music. Instead of musical worship, what if there was some sort of interactive portion that allowed students to respond to the message? If you are teaching on friendship, maybe have students write down one way that they can be a good friend and then post those tips on the wall of your space. You could set up the experience by playing some soft background music and have students pray, asking God to lead their steps for the week. Once students write down their tip, have them leave it on the wall and dismiss with a group prayer.
Always remember that your song selection helps set the tone for the night. If you have a bunch of slower worship songs playing as students enter, it will have the potential to feel like a slower and even boring night. On the other hand, with too many hyped up songs, you set the stage for a hard transition to your next session. For other worship options, to try other creative elements such as prayer stations or journaling. You can buy spiral notepads from the Dollar Store and give one to every student for personalization. You could store them in in a safe place where others will not have access to them. This helps introduce your students to a different way of responding and worshiping God.
TRANSITIONS: moving smoothly from one thing to another.
The key component for this is the bumper video (included in the Premium package). Since there’s not much contextualizing to do on this end, I’ll just share one quick strategic challenge.
How well your students stay engaged with your programming often has as much to do with your transitions and how you manage their energy as it does with their attention spans.
So, whether it’s transitioning from the game to worship . . . or from teaching to small groups . . . or even from a story to a scripture, be sure to create transitions that help students connect the dots.
For more on this topic be sure to read this blog.
Full disclosure, most youth ministries struggle with transitions. But rocky transitions are even more obvious when we’re attempting to create a youth service that’s a mini version of the adult service. This is a time lean into the relaxed atmosphere that your space creates. Don’t aim for rigid and perfect transitions, aim for smooth transitions that allow your students to feel comfortable.
Setting up the expectation when you are ready to teach is incredibly important. This should be happening each week so that students understand what the next piece of the night is supposed to look like. You could ask students to take a deep breath, centering themselves so that they are ready to listen to The Word.
STORY: communicating God’s truth in engaging ways
It’s fair to say that this segment is the main reason why someone uses curriculum. I know it was true for me. Before XP3, what I chose to teach was often biased toward my interests or comfort level. Of course, I think the Holy Spirit helped guide me toward what I taught. But if I’m honest, I’m not sure how much I gave the Holy Spirit to work with.
Some people scoff at the idea of using curriculum because they feel like it removes their agency to speak to their student’s needs. But for me, having the structure & strategy of XP3’s scope & cycle gave me some really helpful boundaries to get creative within.
While XP3 does give suggested teaching dates that often have a strategy behind them, we are fully expecting every group to shift some of the teaching series around based on when they best fit the context of their faith community.
I know this might sound simple and unnecessary, but it’s so essential to do a run through of your message before actually delivering it. Even if you use curriculum and receive a teaching script, still make the message your own. But as you make it your own, do a timed run through of your message. Make sure you’re not dragging out any points or going over time and make sure what you’re saying makes sense. If it bores you to read it, it will probably bore the students to hear it.
If your ministry is smaller, you should be SO pumped about this segment! There are SO many fun ways to teach when your group is smaller. Take giant sheets of paper, think easel size, using painters tape so the trustees won’t send you an email, tape them to the wall. Using the small group questions, have the students go around the room and answer the questions using different methods. For example maybe one question they draw an answer, one question they can answer with only two words, etc… Then using their answers, teach the lesson while you sit in a circle. Teaching the content this way makes it more interactive and conversational for students. To prep, be sure you understand the content so you can guide the conversation. Be sure to include your volunteers in this!
GROUPS: creating a safe place to connect.
Ready for yet ANOTHER XP3 secret?! This one might surprise you more than the others.
XP3 doesn’t work nearly as well if it’s just used in a large group or teaching only setting without small groups!
Don’t get me wrong, we’re really proud of the scripts we create. BUT . . . they are strategically designed to lead into a time for processing and application. The teaching time apart from that group time, we believe, is less impactful.
And, even though our team can meet for hours discussing the questions that should be included in a Small Group Leader Guide…they still have 2 VERY important edits left: the ministry leader & the small group leader.
Each Small Group Leader Guide is designed to help students process and apply what they learned in Large Group. However, we’re still counting on the ministry leader and small group leaders to make necessary adjustments as well. Our hope is that you’re not just using the PDF as it exists, but are going through them for your own unique ministry setting.
I always encouraged my small group leaders to listen to the message with the Small Group Leader Guide and pen in their hand. That way, they could eliminate, circle, and re-write questions that will create the most helpful conversation possible with their group.
High School Juniors and Seniors can be a pretty tough group to keep connected with the youth ministry. They’re beginning to gain more and more autonomy and they appreciate it! As students get older, think of different ways you can facilitate their groups. If your church has all HS combined, maybe try doing a group of younger HS and older HS. If you have separate gender groups for 11th & 12th grade, consider doing their groups co-ed. Thinking of alternate ways to engage them as they mature will help to keep them engaged. Also, having co-ed groups can help them know how to navigate real life and faith conversations with the opposite gender. This can be extremely helpful in life.
When your student ministry is smaller, leaders tend to want to skip this segment. It is still so important to have other adults speaking into the live of your students. After you teach the message, be sure to have male and female leaders to lead the students through the small group questions. This is gives them another perspective to guide the life application components. It’s ok if your small group doesn’t fit the mainstream idea of what a small group should be! The key is to have more adults invovled in the ministry so that students have different models of discipleship.
HOME: prompting action beyond the experience.
I think we’d all agree that we want a student’s faith to be more than just what happens at church. We want to help them develop an everyday faith that goes with them wherever they are. That’s why we should also be thinking about what we do during the week to help them make that possible.
For this segment, we need to think through 2 lenses: the students & the parents.
Parents have an inordinate amount of time to influence their teenagers compared to what we have as ministry leaders. We have to be intentional about our parent strategy to keep them informed, equipped, inspired, and resourced. Your parents are likely to be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to your students living out their faith in between your events. Be sure to send them The Parent Cue doc that comes with each series. But don’t just send it to them, be sure they understand what it is and how to best use it.
For students, be sure to think through the best ways to use social media and the daily devos (printed or on the Youversion App) to help engage your student’s faith throughout the week.
Yes, what you do each week during your ministry programming matters. But for us to have the best influence in the our students’ lives, we have to help them activate how they experience their faith outside of our weekly experiences.
Engaging your MS students during the week will likely look very different than engaging your HS students. Many of your MS students won’t have access to cell phones, texts, or social media the same way your HS students do. Keep that in mind as you build out your strategy to connect with your MS students throughout the week.
Statistics are clear that students are showing up less and less to in-person programming. This means we need to lean into technology to build a digital proximity with our students. This will helo us continue to influence an everyday faith even when they’re not showing up. Remind your volunteers that their digital presence matters in the lives of their students, not just the physical presence of the students at our programs.
Personally speaking, I have two children. And one thing I don’t need is another item on my to-do list for them! This is honestly why I love the Parent Cue. It’s not another item on a parent’s to-do list. Rather, it’s another resource in their parenting toolbox. The Parent Cue flows right along with your youth series. It recommends ways for parents to engage their children around that same faith conversation. Hopefully, the things the Parent Cue recommends will become the norm of their parent-child relationship. Helping parents to see it this way can be a game changer in getting parents on board with using the Parent Cue.
Ultimately, you can contextualize everything we send your way so that it best represents you, your faith tradition, and your community of students. This is a vital part of the process that you can’t overlook to get the most out of XP3 curriculum.