One of the hardest things to do in youth ministry is to figure out where you are. Early sailors used a sextant to find their position by sighting the stars. Now almost every car has a GPS to help you with two things–where you are and where you are going. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a GPS for youth ministry to let you know where you are and where you are going? At the risk of being cheesy (ok I crossed the line), I want to suggest a GPS outline to assess your ministry.
Gauge your current condition.
The gauges on your car let you know current status of oil pressure, engine temperature, and speed. They let you know in real time what is going on with your car. The first gauge you need to read is your personal one. Personal balance (devotion, health, family, finances) is not the subject of this article, but without it, much of the rest is irrelevant.
Next, assess what is consuming your time? What programs do you have in your youth ministry right now? Why do you have them? Who are they trying to reach? Would you consider them successful (more on this in a minute)?
Do you have an idea for a “flow” through the ministry? If you think about a house, when you invite someone over whom you barely know, they probably won’t come in the garage door and head for the refrigerator. They will come in the front door and if they become your friend, they will eventually end up in the refrigerator. Our task is to create an expected “flow” through the youth ministry from “came for the first time” to “maturing disciple.” What is the “front door” event in your ministry? What is the next step for someone who wants to grow in their spiritual walk? What do you do with and for the most committed students?
People are your most important resource.
An anonymous quote goes something like, “Give me the right leaders and everything else will follow. Give me the wrong leaders and nothing else matters.” The volunteers in youth ministry are the most important people you have. They pour into students, they multiply your time, they invest gifts that complement your abilities and leadership. The old cliche “the Leader is the Lesson” is so true. The lifestyle of your adult volunteers is critical in that more is caught than taught!
Volunteers tend to be more focused if they are given specific jobs. Some time when you are dreaming about the structure of the ministry, mentally treat every position you would like to fill with a volunteer as a job–and write a job description. What specifically are you asking this person to do? How many hours per week do you think they should plan to invest? Who will be on their team? What does success look like? How long do you expect them to serve? What are the non-negotiables?
Success is not a dirty word.
As a youth minister, I resisted the idea that numbers meant anything. As a purely mathematical presentation, I still feel that way. A youth ministry is not successful merely because a lot of students attended. A youth ministry event is not a failure just because it was poorly attended. I want to suggest five measuring sticks that might be helpful as you assess your ministry.
Numerical Honesty – I didn’t say they do not matter at all. Numbers give us the next question to ask. If we accurately count the students and adults who come regularly or to a particular event, we have a basis of comparison. If more came than last time, what did we do well? If the numbers are smaller, let’s try to find an explanation and, if necessary, correct something.
Spiritual Stories – we should help our adult volunteers as well as our students keep their antennae up for significant spiritual victories. Who do we know that accepted Christ? Who do we know that made a decision to change a habit, repent from a sin or reconcile a relationship? Do we know someone who made a decision to become a missionary or a pastor?
Ministry Teams – one of the most important metrics we can use is to count the number of ways that the students and adults in the ministry are making a difference in the lives of others. What students or groups of students are using their gifts, talents, or abilities to serve the church? What mission projects are ongoing? How are we serving the people in the church, community, state, nation or world? How are we serving the body as well as evangelizing the lost?
Kingdom Mindset – this one is a little harder to actually count, but it is still significant. You should begin to see students develop into young adults who genuinely care about the spiritual condition of others, who want to minister in the community and who show a biblical concern for persons who are less fortunate. They are becoming kingdom leaders without necessarily responding to any one thing in the youth ministry program.
Family Connections – most of us would agree that youth ministry has as its heart the intention of coming along side of parents in order to disciple students. We should begin to measure how we are doing at this important task. You can evaluate the connections the ministry is making with parents (parent trainings, parent resources, parent discipleship groups). You can evaluate the connections parents are making with their kids. This one is tougher to evaluate tangibly, but you can still evaluate programs that provide the environment for kids to be with their parents or resources that you give parents to lead their child spiritually. You can evaluate how the student ministry is connected with children’s ministry and adult ministry to impact the entire family unit.