A Guide to Designing Non-Gathered Programs

​As we prepare our ministry response in the current and uncertain situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no shortage of ideas and resources.  Links, websites, resources, downloads abound online.  The real challenge for ministry leaders is discerning and developing an effective and responsive ministry in this new situation.  Below is a guide  from Youth Ministry Access that can provide some direction and a framework to think through a pastoral response for young people and their families in today's situation.


Here are some guiding principles I would offer ministry leaders right now:

  • Be flexible – You're not going to be able to do ministry in the same way in the current situation. Be creative and allow for flexibility to find what works best for your young people.
  • Give yourself a break - Each day is filled with new significant information and developments. You have probably experienced lots of transition and change in your personal and family life too.  Don't take on too much or expect too much. Plan to be present and faithful to what your young people need.
  • Ask for help – There are lots of resources available online, but your greatest resource lies with the people behind the screens. Connect with your volunteers, adult leaders, youth leaders for ways to best engage and respond to the current situation.
  • Keep it simple – Don't make it more complicated that it needs to be. Most people are looking for a chance to voice their concerns and feelings. We don't need to entertain people right now; we need to accompany them and listen.
  • Focus on the needs of your young people – Don't get stuck planning your online youth night or designing a new logo. Focus on what matters most.  Presenting hope in Jesus through your relational ministry is key.

A Guide to Designing Non-Gathered Programs

This guide is designed to help you develop, implement, and keep track of your non-gathered ministry efforts. The process you will follow for designing a non-gathered program is very similar to the one for planning gathered programs. The important difference is that you will not always have a single event to use as the culmination of your plan.

You may be designing a program that will be ongoing, like the development of a regular newsletter or a system that ensures that each adolescent receives a birthday card from the parish. You may be organizing a mentoring program that requires regular monitoring and updating. You may be taking advantage of non-gathered opportunities that are already in place in the parish or wider community.

Before you begin your design work, you may find it helpful to gather resources such as the following:

  • Youth ministry resources, e.g. program books, videos, listings of resource material, etc.
  • Calendars, e.g., parish, school, sports
  • Information on program costs and location
  • A list of the people who have volunteered to work on the program with you (You may want to invite these additional volunteer leaders to help you in program designing.)

Design and Implement the Program

Use the categories and questions on the Program Design Form to develop your program design. Be sure to transfer the decisions you have made on the first two pages of the Program Design Form onto the Action Steps form. Make sure that each project task is listed with the timeline and person responsible.

With non-gathered programs you may have a start date. This is the date that you should use to determine gauge when planning ends and program implementation begins. A non-gathered effort will require periodic check-ins with leaders to insure that things are getting done as scheduled and any problems can be dealt with in a timely manner. Schedule them and identify what form the check-in will take. Be sure to give a copy of the completed Program Design Form to each leader so that everyone has a complete picture of the program/activity and who is involved.