Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What's Really Going On In Your Ministry? - Stop, Look and Listen

Over the next 3 weeks we're in a time of heavy assessment of our student ministry.

Every once in a while it's important to push the pause button and take an honest look at what's going on.

Do you really know what's going on in your ministry?  

Do your adult leaders feel served or are they burned out?

Are your parents receiving the information they need to feel their kids are safe?

Is all the time and effort you're putting into planning and prepping effective in helping your students grow spiritually?

Listen, what you don't know doesn't help you.  Sometimes we're like the child who plays hide and seek not by hiding but by covering their eyes.  They're not really hiding, the're just simply not looking.

It's possible to lead ministry, invest in a few kids, experience a couple of great "God stories" and still have a ministry that's suffering from poor morale and lack of effectiveness.

How could we not know?

Well, we don't ask.  Sometimes we simply don't take the time to raise our heads above the clouds and look around.  And let's be honest, sometimes it's easier not to know.

Every effective youth worker I know stepped into youth ministry to see kids come to Christ, grow in Christ and change the world for Christ. (or something like that)  That's the grand goal.  It's so easy to be busy running a ministry without stopping to ask the question, "is there fruit"?

The assessment period

Spring is a great time to take the temperature of your ministry.  As you listen and learn you have time to implement change before next fall.  Here are a couple things we're doing in our ministry context.


Over the next week we're creating and sending out 5 surveys.  I've found survey monkey is easy and cheap.  We're sending them to...

Small group leaders
High School students
Parents of high schoolers
Middle School students
Parents of middle schoolers

Surveys are not the end all but they do give valuable information.  For example, what night are high school students most available?  We all have the programming piece we believe requires prime time.  Are your high school students more available on Wednesday night or Sunday night?  Have you asked them?

Do your parents feel your partnering with them or competing with them?  Have you asked them?

Again, what you don't know doesn't help you.  By carefully asking questions you discover reality but also learn of perception and how people feel.

And by the way, it's almost always a good thing for the people we serve to feel heard.  By asking for their opinion you're showing them you care about them.


During this period we're also having conversations with key leaders.  Key leaders include volunteers, students and parents.  This should be happening all the time but sometimes it's good to have an excuse and say to someone, "we're in a listen and learn season right now".  Having a set season where your giving special attention to listening and learning is important.

It's amazing what people will tell you when you ask them.

Eyes On

We're asking people who don't typically attend ministry programming to show up and watch.  We simply want to know what they see and experience.

I can hear it now, "no one knows my ministry better than me".  Well, maybe.  If you're at your programming all the time you have the curse of knowledge.  Often you're too close to the situation to see what you really need to see.

Take the risk of allowing extra eyes and ears.  You may learn something.


I generally pay very little attention to attendance numbers, but during a season of assessment it may important to take a look.  Knowing how many doesn't tell you everything but it can tell you some things.  If the information is available now is the time to take a look to see what you learn.

For example, if you're ministry is driven by small group relationships it would be important to know kids are in small groups.  If 3000 are coming to your middle school worship event but 23 are in small groups there's a problem.  If you value high school students attending the main worship service wouldn't want to know if only 25% were consistently attending?


Finally, at the end of 2 or 3 weeks we'll sit down with all we learn.  It could be we discover we are the perfect student ministry and there is no need to change anything.  (ha)  Or it could be we simply need to adjust how we communicate.

My guess is that we'll find some areas in need of attention.

Final Cautions

Make sure you and your team have a teachable spirit.

We've tried to create an ethos of coaching and teachability.  This exist from staff all the way to adult volunteers.  Hearing people's opinions about our life's work is going to test this ethos.

Keep a positive tone

Just because your asking questions doesn't mean things are bad.  In fact, it's better to do an assessment before things are negative.  Language like, "we want to be as effective as possible" instead of, "the sky is falling" will serve you well.

Don't make promises

Try not to give the impression that someones's opinion = change.  If 75% of your middle schoolers want a lock in every other weekend you're probably not going to do that.

Don't promise change, just use this time to listen.

Remember the individual

At the end of the day ministry is about 1 kid.  The whole reason we're doing the assessment is to make sure we're doing everything within our ability to reach, connect and deepen that 1 kid.  If you have 500 in your ministry it's still a ministry of individual hearts.  Are they connected?

As a fellow youthworker allow me to encourage you.

Stop, look and listen.

It's hard work to discover what you don't know but taking the time to listen and adjust will result in greater impact on the Kingdom for His glory.  It's worth it.


  1. David, this is great encouragement! Very practical and helpful. I know every ministry context is different and that we need to be asking different questions, but I'd love the opportunity to see the questions you guys are asking in each of the surveys.

  2. Hey Ryan,

    We've completed the one for leaders and are about to send the one out to high school students. If I send you the link do you promise not to fill it out?

  3. A couple of others I would at least consider surveying: First, the other pastors who have ministries that feed into your ministry, get the teens who graduate your ministry, and those that work alongside your ministry (for example, a missions pastor or worship pastor, or areas where teens serve in the church & who is over that ministry.) Maybe even the senior pastor.

    I'd also want to include a few people in the congregation who don't have any vested interest in the student ministry...just those folks that attend. What information are they getting about the student ministry and what are their impressions as members of the church? You know, like empty nesters or young marrieds or young adults or whatever.

    I think both of those might be helpful in addition to the information you're already getting from the "inside."

  4. Yep, thanks.

    We haven't even discussed the "outsiders"... It will be important for us to get their perspective.

    Brent, any ideas of how to tap in to their wisdom?

  5. Thank you for the wisdom in this post! Would you consider sharing past evaluations as samples for those of us who have not navigated this avenue of interaction before?

  6. As far as "outsiders" I'd pick four of five areas where I could find some people who've been connected/involved for a while, say 5-10 years. Like a men's ministry group or a women's ministry four or five men/women with no real connection to student ministry and ask only three or four questions to them regarding their impressions of "visibility" and "effectiveness" and "perceptions." Each with a short paragraph response, not a "bubble" to fill in. I'd pick one entire small group and/or a Sunday School class (if a church has them) and give them the same survey. The goal would be to see what they know about the student ministry as generally connected churchgoers. If you got one from each area I mentioned, you might get 20 surveys which should be enough to figure out how the church-at-large sees the ministry.

  7. Hey Melissa...

    I'll be happy to post a couple evals next week. As you know the context where I serve will be different than yours. Maybe some of what we've put together might spur some ideas from you.

    Please take what we've done and make it better and let us learn from you.


  8. Hey Guys, a couple of you asked for the surveys, I posted them this morning. Hope they help, take them and make them better and yours.