I enjoy getting in my car and just driving around in my county in northwest Alabama without any map or plan. (My dad does the same thing so maybe it is some weird genetic thing that motivates us to drive just to see where we might wind up.) When I go off on one of these trips I usually find myself saying, "How in the world did I get here?" Unfortunately, in my early years that is exactly how I approached my work in student ministry: no real plan, no real purpose, and no clue how or why I was seeing any results in my work.
Good student ministry has clear direction, a plan. And I believe that begins with a purpose statement.
When I was younger, I had some pretty good programs for our church's student ministry. We did the camp thing every summer and provided mission experiences for the students. But I lacked a vision for how everything we were doing fit together.
Then I read Doug Fields' book, "Purpose Driven Youth Ministry," and it hit me that I had no purpose statement. I was taking my students on that random drive in the country. So with God's help, I wrote down a simple three-part purpose statement for our student ministry which went like this: "Students at First Baptist Church will have the opportunity to discover how to KNOW the way to accept Christ as personal Savior, GROW in their faith, and share Christ by GOING into the world serving in missions and ministry."
Next I used the purpose statement as a sort of a litmus test for our weekly teaching times with students. We have three teaching times with students each week and I wanted to make sure that the materials we were using were helping students KNOW, GROW, and GO. In our situation, I was able to designate each teaching time as a primary, but not exclusive, time to work on one of the three purposes.
- The midweek time became the KNOW moment with an emphasis on light, entry-level Bible study, games, and giveaways. This got the students bringing their friends from school and opened the door to presenting at least one evangelistic lesson per quarter.
- Sunday morning Bible study was the natural time to focus on the GROW part of our purpose statement.
- Sunday nights became our GO or heavy discipleship time. This turned out to be a tremendous help in planning all of our teaching time with students throughout the year.
There was still one more place to apply the purpose statement test in relation to student ministry and that was in our yearly events. If teaching time should help us reach our three purposes, then events and trips should, as well. I identified all our activities with students and asked myself what purpose the activity was helping us accomplish. This did two things - helped me create balance in our approach to activities, and gave me the freedom to say no to some things that served no purpose.
- I considered KNOW activities to be entry-level events; you could even call them seeker events. These included things like the Youth Ice Skate Trip, our annual Surprise Trip, and concerts.
- Our big GROW events included Youth Camp, Disciple-Now, and a yearly Junior/Senior Retreat.
- GO activities revolved around mission trips, local Day Camps, and ministry projects like Samaritan's Purse, Souper Bowl of Caring, and a Christmas mission project we do each year.
Someone once said that if you plan for nothing and that is exactly what you will achieve. I like spontaneity and flying by the seat of my britches sometimes as much as anyone, but when it comes to Kingdom things I believe students deserve a ministry that has both a plan and a purpose. KNOW, GROW, AND GO, three simple words changed my whole approach to student ministry. And that changed my student ministry.
- What is your purpose statement for your youth ministry?
- How have you been effective at measuring your ministry against your purpose statement?