Operation Year

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Operation Year or Op Year for short is a programme that was developed in YWAM England. It is equivalent to the DTS programme and comprises the same teaching and quality as the DTS. However, it lasts 9-10 months as opposed to the 6 months of the DTS.

The origin of the programme comes from Laurence Singlehurst, the then director of YWAM England in the early 80's. Laurence was wanting to boost the evangelism teams in the cities who struggled for team members but found the recruiting nearly impossible. Laurence wanted to create a ready made evangelism team and realised that combining the DTS with evangelism teams meant that the twin aims of Knowing God and Making Him Known could be easily combined. (According to Laurence this realisation occurred whilst he was taking a bath) Thus an Operation Year is both a discipleship team that does evangelism and an evangelism team that disciples too.

Defining Characteristics

There are a few chief differences in the way an Operation Year operates.

DTS Op Year
Teaching 120 hours over 3 months. Intensive 120+ hours. One or two days a week
Outreach a very little during the training One or two days a week
Overseas Outreach 2 - 3 months 4 - 8 weeks
Pace Intensive and brief Deep and steady
Students 10-40 2-10
Life change Power encounter Encounter and Process
Location Mostly large centres in rural areas Mostly small centres always in Urban areas
Mix of nationalities More foreign than national More national than foreign
Relationship with YWAM staff Brief and formal Integrated into life and community of Base

The differences in form are clear but it is the underlying approach that is more subtle and important to grasp. For example, due to the length of the programme and the close working relationships with the YWAM centre staff the students have an honorary staff status. They are often included in normal staff meetings and frequently have accountability group and other pastoral meetings with other YWAM staff. In addition the whole team usually takes holidays too; two weeks at Christmas and one week often after the cross-cultural outreach (high-lighting again how much like a staff post it is).

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths of the programme

  • Long term
  • Strong mentoring input from Staff
  • Good programme for pioneering ministries
  • Students have plenty of time to build up relationships with local non-Christians
  • Students are able to be members of local churches
  • Students have much more time to develop ministry skills. They spend many hours in evangelism/youth work/children's work/social action
  • Programme has enough time to allow specialisations (Creative Arts, Music etc.) and this has worked well in the past.
  • Students are able to live and build relationships in the city they are working in that can last
  • Students that start in October make great summer of service leaders when they finish in July/August
  • Programme works well alongside existing ministries boosting the long term staff with short term workers.
  • Students learn life skills by shopping, cooking for themselves (Rarely are cooks provided)
  • Discipleship is deep and well integrated into the students lives
  • Local church speakers, other staff and YWAM national staff are often invited to speak rather than predominantly International speakers
  • Students have a good experience of what it is like to be a full time staff in an Urban setting.
  • Mentoring and learning in informal settings is often more important than the formal training; the lives of the staff are more influential than the words of the visiting lecturers.

Weaknesses of programme

  • Demanding on staff. The "Live and Learn" environment is very demanding on staff who work many hours a week and also live in very close community with the students.
  • Programme draws smaller numbers of students and often only recruits enough staff to fill the staffing needs of the following school. This makes growing a YWAM centre using an Operation Year hard work.
  • Power encounters with God can be hard unless the team leaders have strong gifts in this area and/or are able to draw in others to help
  • The particular preferences and influences of the team leader can over dominate the team (e.g. overly pastoral, overly social action, overly counselling based, overly prayer based.) Finding leaders of character who can lead via example in evangelism in accordance with the ideal of Operation Year is not always easy.
  • Not ideal for married couples: The intensity and close community much more suits single people.
  • The programme works best in cultures that have a strong "Gap Year" culture. These cultures encourage young people to take a years break between school and university or after university.
  • The programme attracts Gap Year participants. Often they are 18 years old. Attracting early to mid 20's to the programme is much harder but they are often the ones who gain the most, make a large contributions and often stay on to be staff members.

Current State of the Programme

The programme in 2006 is declining. At its height it was 7-8 teams of 6-8 students. Now it is about 2-3 teams of 2-8 students.

It has rarely taken root outside the UK. This is a great shame but mostly due to the lack of a Gap Year culture. In many European countries the University courses take 5 years and adding one extra year in is more of a challenge than the 3 year programmes in the UK.

However, there is great opportunity for the programme in the future; it's strengths speak for itself. One future danger is the loss of expertise from the programme. It is hoped that this knowledge base will be a way of stemming that loss.


Most knowledge rests with people. Here are some of the past and current practitioners.

There are a number of documents and resources from the past and they are available here: