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Breaking Out Of Youth Ministry Survival Mode

Breaking Out Of Youth Ministry Survival Mode

The longer I’m in ministry the quicker time seems to fly by.  And when times seems to go by quicker, it’s easy to slip into “survival mode.” Survival mode is the enemy of effective ministry! Survival mode is when you don’t have a plan and instead live by the mantra, “I’ll get ahead by doing the next most pressing thing.” 

But the list of “must do’s” never shrinks. You’re always at the tyranny of the next most pressing thing. You fail to get out in front of anything important. And the feeling of anxiety only increases. 

Survival mode is no way to do ministry. In fact it’s a recipe to complete ruin.  

To turn it around you need to develop a plan, just like a person looking to loose weight, run a marathon, or get out of debt. With no plan there’s no direction, which only leads to an endless cycle of frustration.  

Your plan may look different from mine. But, these are my thoughts for busting out of survival mode thinking.

Know Where You’re Headed

Many times we find ourselves in survival mode because we forget where it is we want to take our ministry. Our destination is simply our vision for our ministry. Slipping into survival mode means we’ve either lost track of our vision, or never to had one to begin with. Defining a clear vision helps us stay motivated and on track.

Know How You’ll Get There

Not only do you need to know where you’re going, but you also need to understand how you plan on getting there. This is all about the concepts of “value” and “focus.”  We spend our time on the things we value. Identify how to advance the most important tasks or initiatives, and focus on how to move them forward most effectively. 

Designate Mini Goals

Knowing where you’re headed and the route you’re going to take is a great start. But you may benefit from mile markers along the way. Setting mini goals within your plan will motivate you and allow you to celebrate small victories. A mini goal could be anything from a small gain in the lives of your students, i.e., a certain % engaging in Scripture reading outside of your group time, to checking off the next task in planning a retreat or event. Whatever the case, identify mini goals and celebrate when you’ve checked them off.

Review Your Plan Frequently

Constantly evaluate your progress in light of your vision. Make sure you’re spending the right time on the right tasks. That means making sure the goals you’ve set and the timetable in which you’ve identified to accomplish them are realistic. You should be able to track daily movement toward your goals. If you’re not seeing it, you need to be able to identify what’s holding you back. Where are the obstacles? And are they recurring trends or isolated setbacks?

Communicate With Your Team

A plan that isn’t shared is one that most likely won’t succeed. Sharing our plan invites insight and wisdom from men and women who’ve been there and done that.  If you don’t share your plan, there’s no accountability in your progress toward execution. If your plan isn’t shared then how can you expect your team to support you?

The irony of living in survival mode is that it’s a sure-fire way to kill any ministry momentum you might have created. Developing a plan takes work. But the alternative simply isn’t feasible. (At least not for very long.) 

What are some of the obstacles to developing a plan? What are some practical tips that have helped you?

(originally posted November 2012)

About The Author

Christopher Wesley

Christopher Wesley

Chris graduated Xavier University (Cincinnati, OH) in 2003 with a BA in Communications (Electronic Media). He moved to Baltimore in the fall of 2003 where he served as a Jesuit Volunteer for a year. During that time he felt God's calling to Student Ministry. In the summer of 2004 he was hired by Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland as a Middle School Youth Ministry. He currently oversees grades 6th-12th as the Director of Student Ministry. Today he lives in Pikesville with his wife Kate and his sons Matthew and Benjamin. Chris loves to cook and create new recipes, he's an avid runner who believes there are no limits. You can read more about Chris and his ministry at