All Things New: Evaluating and Refreshing Your Youth Ministry
The church secretary put a large box of papers on my desk one Monday morning and said, “I found these old youth ministry resources when we were cleaning out the storage unit.”
That’s how it started.
The box was filled with old permission forms, handouts, and student information sheets. I caught a glimpse of the date on one of the faded, yellow papers:
September 9, 1977.
I was looking at materials nearly four decades old. I looked through a few more pages and figured that the box contained paperwork from about 1975 to 1981. Most of it was uninteresting, but then I found a folder labeled Retreat For Teenagers.
I opened it up and looked at the outline for the weekend retreat. My curiosity quickly turned to mortification as I glanced at the outline in my hands and then up at the retreat outline on my computer screen. They were nearly identical.
I set down the folder and sat quietly. In 40 years clothing had changed, music had changed, language had changed, and technology had changed—it was time for the retreat to change, too.
Timeless Truth—Timely Methods
The gospel we proclaim and the God we worship are unchanging. The ways we present the gospel to teenagers must continually adapt to fit the culture in which we preach. Because culture changes rapidly, we need to constantly evaluate our ministries to see if we’re still as effective as we should be.
[bctt tweet=”The gospel deserves our best.” username=”ys_scoop”]
If we refuse to evaluate ourselves and our ministries, we risk offering something less than our best.
I solicit feedback and evaluate our ministerial programs every year, and it’s one of the most life-giving yet challenging parts of my ministry. I love visioning and improving, but it’s hard to hear critical feedback about what was unsuccessful. If you want to give the gospel your best, you need to grow a thick skin and invite Christ into any discomfort you feel as you evaluate your ministry. It’s tough but worth it. There are four things you must do if you want to refresh and evaluate your ministry:
Evaluate right after a major event and also at the end of the year. I always asked for feedback (positive and critical) after events. Immediate feedback is insightful, because it is raw reaction. End-of-the-year feedback allows people to have more perspective and evaluate the year as a whole. There were times we thought an event went really well, but when we looked at it with the rest of the year, we realized it was redundant or not as impactful. The opposite has also been true: programs I thought were failures were revealed to be some of our best when we looked at them again at the end of the year.
Ask the right people.
When you evaluate your ministry, make sure the right people are present to provide feedback. Invite teens from your ministry, parents, adult volunteers, church members, and your pastors. Set two ground rules: honesty and charity.
[bctt tweet=”In order to be effective, feedback needs to be honest.” username=”ys_scoop”]
That means the people offering feedback should praise what went right and be critical of what went wrong or needs improvement. It doesn’t help anyone if someone pats the youth pastor on the back and says, “Job well done,” if this person is actually thinking, Wow, that year caught fire really quickly—and not in a Holy Spirit kind of way. However, feedback shouldn’t be mean. Ask people who can charitably offer feedback instead of blaming or complaining.
Ask the right questions.
When you gather feedback, the kinds of questions you ask make a difference. Don’t ask for positive feedback—ask for glory stories. If you ask for positive feedback, you may get logistical comments or thoughts on how well a talk went. Those are good things, but they may not help you refresh your ministry. If you ask for glory stories, then you’re really asking for people to evaluate the fruit of you ministry. Instead of “Wow, Tammy, you gave a great talk,” this looks like “Tammy, after your talk, the teens in my small group really dove into the topic. One of them came to Christ at the end of the night.” That’s a glory story, and it concerns the fruit of ministry. On the flip side. . .
[bctt tweet=”Don’t ask for negative feedback—ask for critical feedback.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Negative feedback quickly spirals into minutia and pettiness—it actually becomes negative. But if you ask for critical feedback (even constructive-critical feedback), you’ll hear suggestions for improvement instead.
Pray and act on decisions.
If you consult a group of people and prayerfully enter into a dialogue of feedback, you must consider what they say. Once when I asked for feedback from a group of teens and volunteers, they told me I was doing too much of the teaching and they were tired of hearing me. Of course, that hurt to hear. I like to preach and teach, and I feel as if I’m good at it, so I could have written off this feedback. I could have justified it by saying, “Yeah . . . but I can’t trust anyone else to give these talks—they might mess them up.” But that would have been unfair to the group and would have shut down the way the Holy Spirit was moving in that feedback. I did talk too much. The next year, we allowed more people to preach and teach, and it made a huge difference in how well our messages were received. Sometimes feedback will affirm your direction, but other times it may completely redefine your direction. Be prepared to change—otherwise ministry evaluation is just an exercise in self-affirmation.
Joel Stepanek has been actively and passionately involved in youth ministry for over ten years. What began as a simple internship in a parish youth ministry office evolved into an incredible adventure that led him on numerous middle school lock-ins, high school retreats, and ultimately to meet his wife, Colleen, who is a campus minister. Joel is the Director of Resource Development for Life Teen International where he creates engaging youth ministry resources for middle and high school students. Joel is a sought after speaker and has traveled across the world training youth ministers and speaking to teenagers. He is the author of two books, “The Greatest Job on Earth: Seven Virtues of Awesome Youth Ministers,” and “True North: A Roadmap for Discernment.”
Joel received a Master of the Arts degree in religious education with an emphasis in youth and young adult ministry from Fordham University. Joel is an avid Packer fan (and owner), loves cooking, weightlifting, and spending time with his wife and children, Elijah Daniel and Sophia Grace.
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.