What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Youth Specialties
January 3rd, 2015

Original photo by JD Hancock.

We all have those times in our student ministry where we just do not know what we should do next. There are times when we know that something is not working as well as it used to be and we are scared that it will not be working at all soon. These can be very scary times. Below are a few things that have helped me figure out what to do next and have given me some peace about where I am until I figure out where I want to be.


One of the first things that I find helpful, especially for my strengths/personality type, is to get as much data as I can. I like good, hard, non biased data. I first want to look at numbers. I know this feels very dirty to some youth ministers, but get over it. Most everyone else is judging you on numbers, so you need to take this into account as well. Watch patterns and compare data trends over corresponding weeks for the past months and years. This will help you get a sense of overarching trends or determine if something particular happens around the same time every year. It might also help you pinpoint a time when you began seeing a decline in attendance or energy. Whatever you do, DO NOT try to explain away your number situation. “It was a really nice day” or “It was raining” or “there was a really good curling tournament on the Ocho”… Let the numbers speak, dont speak for them.


Ask parents, students, volunteers, friends and mentors what they are seeing. This might be surprisingly therapeutic. I, by nature, am always harder on myself, and when I talk to others I find that things are not nearly as dire as I had thought. I do not ask so that I will feel better, I ask for perspective. I want to hear what others are seeing. Do not ask for opinions in some fatalistic way like “Hey Pastor Bob, why do we suck so bad right now?” Ask more open ended questions like “We are trying to reevaluate what we do on Sunday Mornings, what are you seeing?” These are non-self condemning and they let others know that you care about improving the ministry, not putting a band aid on the hull of the titanic. When you get answers/opinions, do not feel that you need to implement all of them. You are just collecting ideas, not trying to make a quick fix plan.

Be Patient

Now once you have collected the ideas, opinions, data, and brainstormed; be patient. I love to cook. When you have a tough piece of meat, the best thing to do is to let it simmer on low heat for a long time. The name of the game is patience. Let all of that information and data just simmer…

Check out the rest of the post where Stephen expands on his final 2 points “STEP AWAY” and the “THE 20% ADVENTURE” on his website here

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of “Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time.” organicstudentministry.com

Youth Specialties

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.