Volunteer / Youth Worker Development

3 Ways To Measure A Healthy Youth Ministry

Jeff Harding
September 2nd, 2021

Going to the doctor is something everyone loves to do. Going to the dentist – even better! However, both fall short of the ultimate enjoyment, which is having a bowling ball repeatedly dropped on your foot.

In case the bowling ball wasn’t obvious enough, I’m being sarcastic.  Although, I have met people who genuinely love going to the dentist. It is truly baffling. My wife is one of those people, so we might qualify as being unequally yoked.

Why do you think many of us can’t stand going for health check-ups? Here’s my wild theory: We anticipate being told, in so many words, that we’re not healthy. 

Several of us have similar hesitancy about annual or semi-annual evaluations at work. Those of us in vocational ministry may feel even more pressure, especially if our church’s definition of success is rooted in attendance or a specific number of salvation decisions.

The point of this article isn’t necessarily to alleviate anxiety that results from evaluating the health of your ministry, but I want to emphasize how clear expectations, personal boundaries, and accountability can help that anxiety. It’s important for you to have clear communication with your leadership to confirm you’re on the same page regarding the definitions of health and growth. In addition to your spouse, if you’re married, regularly speak with wise friends who are further along in their ministry journey. Talking to a counselor is also an excellent way to evaluate and measure your ministry. 

The measurements laid out here are not meant to criticize the state of your ministry. My hope in suggesting these is to simply suggest them as a guide in your efforts to be faithful and invest in your students. The following are 3 ways to measure a healthy youth ministry.

Ask Yourself What The Ministry Would Look Like If You Weren’t There.

This is the indicator many of us have heard most, and while it’s a powerful metric, it needs to be understood in the proper context. Regardless of a ministry’s health, our absence will create an unmistakable impact. The reasoning behind this method isn’t to pat ourselves on the back for being awesome, nor to burden ourselves with the unrealistic expectation of keeping an entire ministry afloat by ourselves. 

This exercise allows you to gauge how well you delegate, train, and empower your leaders/students to function within the mission and vision of the ministry instead of simply following your instructions from the stage or watching eye around the room. More importantly, the hope would be that relationships grow tighter and more supportive as they depend on Christ and seek discernment from the Spirit. Think of it as an extended workshop exercise for your leaders, and a controlled pre-launch of your students before they actually launch into college or a career. 

Identify Your Core And Think About What A Visitor Would Experience.

Whether you’re in a new ministry, or there has been significant turnover due to students graduating and leaders rotating, it’s always good to have a sense of who comprises the core of the group. You should make sure the core is healthy (that could be its own blog post), so that you have a grasp on what a visiting student would experience. Social integration for teenagers can be complex, which means there isn’t a ministry with a 100% visitor retention rate. However, there are many ways to ensure a genuine and encouraging atmosphere for anyone who walks through your doors. 

What do students see and hear in their first 10 seconds? Does anyone greet them? Are they forced to immediately join in awkward conversation with a bunch of strangers, or is there space for them to observe and interact as they’re comfortable? These are just some of the elements to consider as you measure the experience for those visiting, especially if they don’t know Jesus.

Evaluate How Much You Focus On Evangelism And Discipleship.

This metric is interesting. I think you could have a large group of youth workers all agree that the correct ratio is obvious, but then hear them provide several different answers. Whether you focus on the Sermon on the Mount/Upper Room Discourse, Matthew 28/Acts 1, or the pastoral epistles, it’s clear that the Church needs to highly value both evangelism and discipleship.

Those who emphasize evangelism usually play the salvation trump card, and believe that aspect of youth ministry is what really matters most. I fully agree; however, solid discipleship can help those who haven’t truly trusted Christ realize it, shed their pride, and do so. I’ve seen many students in various settings over the years, and even some leaders, who responded to the Father drawing them to Himself to their own shock and the shock of many who thought they already had long ago. 

The tragically large percentage of students who walk away from their faith after high school can also be helped by discipleship. A throng of new decisions for Christ on a Wednesday night or at camp is fantastic, but if a large number of these end up considering it a vapid, irrational, meaningless decision they were “tricked” into…how does that honor Christ or edify His Bride?

We should never assume that everyone in our ministry is a believer, or that none of them can handle deep discussions. We should provide a healthy balance of milk and solid food (Hebrews 5).

I pray that this list helps as you depend on Christ and point your students to Him. Press on, brothers and sisters…

…and don’t forget to floss!

Jeff Harding

Jeff is a 17-year youth ministry veteran. He’s a Phoenix native, ASU Sun Devil, Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, and Chipotle fanatic. He currently serves as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries, as well as the youth minister at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, TX. You can also hear him on his weekly podcast, Youth Ministry Maverick, at youthministrymaverick.com or wherever you stream podcasts.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.