Is your youth ministry actually effective?

Image: Is your youth ministry actually effective?

The best (and worst) ways to measure success in teen and student ministry.

Edited version of original article on the Good Book Blog by Biola University.

In the midst of intense youth ministry, it can be easy to get tired and frustrated.  It is at those critical moments that I am most vulnerable to miss what God is doing all around me.  Yet, the ultimate task of a leader is to see what is happening and act accordingly.  It's therefore important to take time out and consider how do we best evaluate what God is doing all around us.

1. Ask your youth leaders for stories

Some of my best evaluation tools are my leaders’ stories.  After each ministry night’s program, I gather my leaders together to debrief what took place.  This is NOT a time to say the “video didn’t work” or “the drama was great”, but rather a time to celebrate. 

I ask leaders to share with the rest of the team what they saw God do.  I also celebrate them as I share how I saw God work through various leaders.  This gives the entire team a chance to celebrate what God is doing all around that we may have missed. 

One of my leaders told the story of the “God-change” in a student over this past summer.  Through the challenge of a mission trip she was exposed to the needs of others.  She saw God use her in a powerful way.  The result – her life is different.  She has experienced God’s power and wants more of it!  She is now thinking of giving the first two years after High School to go to the mission field to see what else God wants to do with her.  Without offering my staff a chance to hear these stories, the rest of our team may never have known what God is doing in the life of this student who never stands on our stage, but sits quietly in the back of the room.

2. Look beyond the obvious marks of success

Recognizing God at work all around us requires us to look in the right place. 

Programmatic issues, attendance numbers, etc. are not the best tools to see God at work. In fact, many times I can falsely think my ministry is effective because a video was “awesome” or we had a bunch of students.  Too often, that type of evaluation has lead my ministry to be a “mile wide and an inch deep”.  I want more significant God-works than sharp programming.

So we have to evaluate further …

Stephen Covey states one of the keys to highly effective people is “beginning with the end in mind.”  Have you sat down and prayerfully considered what character and faith qualities you want to see in your students when they graduate?  This is a great starting pointing for evaluation.  How are your students developing according to the goal God has given you?

3. Get specific about what growth looks like 

In my ministry we have identified Spiritual Growth Steps that we desire to see in our students take.  These include (but are not limited to):

  • Participate in a worship service
  • Develop godly character through accountable relationships
  • Embrace God’s heart through Bible study and prayer
  • Build relationships with non-Christian peers for the purpose of sharing the hope and truth of Jesus
  • Seek to serve God’s Kingdom through their passion and talents

We have also identified the individual progression for each of these qualities.  For example:  Embrace God’s Heart in Bible study and prayer would have the following growth progression:

  • Attends a small group Bible study
  • Reads the Bible on their own (small group leader follows up on this through discussion)
  • Memorizes Scripture (with accountability partner or small group leader)

Each of these progression steps allows us to evaluate our ministry.  I.e. How many students can we identify that are, on their own, reading the Bible? The result of our findings will dictate our emphasis in the coming months.  The challenge is to communicate these Growth Steps as elements of the journey to know and love God, not “pharisaical” duty-driven “check-boxes” to mark off.

The qualities and questions can be unique to you as you desire; the key is – are you seeking to see what spiritual maturity exists?  And how can you take your students to the next level?  

If you're looking for these works of God in your ministry, I'm confident you'll start to find them. 


Dave Keehn is a professor at Biola University and has served for over 30 years in youth ministry in both small and large churches. Discover more about Biola University today.

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