Results. I know it’s not a word we use often in ministry, let alone youth ministry, but it was brought to mind as I’m writing, due to an interview. A masters of divinity student asked me “How do you measure or rate success in ministry?” My answer was one word that I believe is true for all ministry as well as for youth ministry. I told them, to me success in ministry means a result of growth.
You can measure growth in many ways but at the end of the day it means that in some way shape or form the ministry is better now than before. I will push the envelope even more and say that if you are a youth ministry leader and your ministry hasn’t resulted in growth in some way, are you really effective?
Before you leave this article, let me say that growth isn’t just numerical. Growth is also spiritual and personal. Our role as youth ministry leaders is to leave the ministry in better condition than we received it, and to train others to take it beyond what we were able to do.
I have been blessed to serve in several different kinds of youth ministries—some larger and others smaller, some with large budgets and others with no budget where you had to raise your own funds. In every situation and church, from city churches to rural churches to those in between, growth is a key result that you must have. I believe that you can have results in three key areas of growth. The first one, that I know you’re thinking about, is numerical growth. One result of a successful youth ministry is numerical growth. This is not the only thing you should look at, but it is important to see and expect.
If the ministry is making an impact on students and families, they will invite their friends and others so you will see growth. Now growth in numbers isn’t everything, as we will see next, because you can have growth in numbers but those students who make up the numbers may not be growing in their spiritual lives, which isn’t good. The point here is that if your ministry is experiencing success, then numerical growth is most likely part of it. Before I move on, let me also say that it is possible to be effective and great in ministry but not see numerical growth because of other factors such as location and makeup of the congregation that you serve.
Another area to measure and map out a plan for—because you should be mapping out a plan for everything you do—is spiritual growth in your students and leaders. Is their study life growing; their prayer life and their service/giving life growing? Are you as the leader working on ways to ensure that they are studying God’s Word in a meaningful way?—that they aren’t just praying before meals and before they go to bed, but that they have a life of prayer for themselves and the needs of their community? Do they have an active and growing giving/service life where they give and serve for Jesus (See Youth Ministry Spiritual Growth Unpacked for details and examples)? You should be able to measure and gauge the spiritual growth of the students you serve and the leaders who serve with you.
Finally, as you work to be successful in youth ministry, the result of personal growth should be seen. I have believed this for years and have taught it for over a decade. Students in your youth ministry are also people outside of the church and they should be growing in life outside of the church as well. As the youth ministry leader or pastor you should be concerned about their grades, jobs, family and other relationships.
I remember when I was in full-time youth ministry, we would track student report cards, and if students’ grades were slipping in certain areas we would reach out to a professional in the congregation or community who could help them. I never wanted to have a student who was excelling in things of God or church but lacking in school or life. To me, the personal life of a student is still a life that God is concerned with and cares about. No, you’re not their teacher or professor, but you are called to help them be better, and those improvements extend beyond the spiritual to include their personal lives.
My hope and prayer is that this will inspire and push you to think about what makes, or what will make, your youth ministry successful and put together a plan to see more growth in one of these three areas, if not all three.