Has this happened to you after that big event, that retreat, or that big outreach night? You go home exhausted. You sleep it off for a day (add an extra day for every decade of doing ministry). Then your brain reengages, and you think to yourself, What next?
So you come up with the next cool retreat, the next event, or the next bigger-and-better-than-last-time thing. Why? Why does it have to be like that? When I tell you my theory, something in you might try to revolt. But I’m going to ask you to hear me out before you stop reading.
The reason you have to find the next big thing is that you don’t really have a strategy for your student ministry. You don’t have an overarching purpose for what you do, so your purpose becomes having the next great event. You don’t have a clearly defined set of values, so you value numbers and the wow factor. You can’t paint a picture of what you want lived out in your students, leaders, and parents, so you get caught up in the moment. You don’t know the pathway to get from where you are to where you want to be, so you settle for the way you’ve always done it. You haven’t defined a next step, so you take whatever next step comes to mind.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. If you aren’t there now, I bet you’ve been there before. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can build a strategy that works. You can come out of the big event fog and know exactly what should come next.
Here are the key elements for building a solid strategy for your student ministry:
Your mission is the overarching purpose of your ministry boiled down into an easily digested statement. It should reflect Jesus’ great commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19-21. Some ministries like the old standards: “To know God and make him known” and “Love God—love people.” Those are great examples. If that’s your ministry, use those. If not, find a statement that really matches where you are. But make sure it reflects the ultimate purpose of making disciples of students.
Your culture is the sum total of what you value most in your ministry. Of course, some of these may seem more spiritual than others (Scripture, prayer, outreach), but other values may reflect a different aspect of your culture (welcoming, innovating, authentic). Whatever your values may be, your ability to identify them directly affects your ability to teach them, train your students in them, and expect these values to become your culture. Take some time to sit down and clearly define what your culture looks like now and what you’d like it to look like.
Vision is the ability to paint a picture of the desired future. Here’s the cool part: when you know what culture you want, your vision becomes a picture (or multiple pictures) of that culture fully lived out by your students, leaders, and families. Sometimes you just need to take a day to dream about your vision. What would it look like for your ministry? Write it down, share it, and live it.
If your student ministry is on a journey from where you are to where you want to be, then you’ll have to take certain pathways. Those pathways are the basics of what it takes for students to live out your culture. Many times these become simplified words that groups focus on (grow, give, go). Whether these are rhymes, alliterations, acronyms, or just words students know, your ministry will start moving forward when your students start living them. Create the pathway, but train your students to live it.
The fun really starts when you can create your goals around your strategy. You create your short-term goals (three months to a year) around the pathways. You create your long-term goals (one to five years) around your culture and vision. The key with your goals is to make them realistic. You have to be able to know when you’re done. Your short-term goals will be studies, programs, and events that are each focused on one aspect of your pathways. Your long-term goals will be training that works toward an aspect of your culture. Set the goal, break it down, make it happen, and evaluate its impact.
Can you see the bigger picture here? You don’t get out of the “What next?” rut by creating a better event—you get out of the rut by creating a better plan. When you have an overarching strategy, each event or program will have a purpose. And purpose will dig you out of the rut.
With over a decade of student ministry experience, Nate loves seeing the hearts of teenagers turn to Jesus. He also loves seeing ministries changed through strategic planning and training, which he does through WWW.CREATIVEGRIDPARTNERS.COM. Follow him on Twitter: @NATEJTURNER
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.