Killing the Golden Goose
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Every student ministry has a golden goose. Maybe you realize it, maybe you don’t. But every
ministry has one. A golden goose is that one event, or that one system, or that one person
(yikes) that is a staple of your student ministry. It’s that thing that if you change, you fear could cause a full-out revolt, whether it be parents, students, or senior leadership. Unfortunately, far too many times, dealing with (or not dealing with) that golden goose can really mess us up.
For most student ministries, chances are, that golden goose is a certain event. It may be a
specific summer camp location or an overnight lock-in during a certain month. It could be a local retreat week or an international mission trip to a particular country. It could even be your regular weekend or mid-week programming times or the order of service. And here’s the truth we all know but dread talking about (at least to those who are big fans of it): The golden goose might be doing more harm than good for your ministry. Let me explain.
New student pastors typically walk into two different situations:
- A ministry with an established vision, history, and foundation of events.
- A ministry in which there is very little (if any) established vision or history.
For those in the established ministry situation, the tendency is to come in and not ruffle too many feathers. None of us want to be the guy (or girl) who comes in and just lobs a live grenade into the established ministry programming. But going the opposite way and just letting things ride could be detrimental as well. Many times, this conversation and the tension that goes with it revolves around a golden goose.
For instance, years ago, I walked into a ministry leadership role where the student ministry had an established weekly Sunday night program for middle & high school students. I didn’t want to ruffle
too many feathers, but I quickly realized that the event in its current state needed some serious change. Of course, that was a scary thought because this student ministry had done things one specific way for a long time. Ultimately after a few months, a good bit of observation, conversations with students, feedback from parents, and a strategic meeting with senior leadership, it was determined that the event needed an overhaul.
The thing we have to remember with a situation like this is the intentionality and heart behind it. Too many times, we just keep plugging away with the same golden goose events because it’s the safe play, we know what is expected, or it’s become a rhythm. But the questions we must begin to regularly ask are:
- Does this event, program, trip, etc., have a purpose?
- Is it still accomplishing its purpose?
- Is there something we can do that would better live out this purpose?
Asking those questions and answering them honestly can prove to be a real catalyst for change. It may be an immediate answer, or it could take a little bit of exploring. The key is to not be afraid to lay everything on the examination table (even the golden goose), evaluate, and weigh it against its purpose. My advice would be to do this with every single thing you do in your ministry. Do it regularly and do it with brutal honesty.
Years ago, I was on a large student ministry team in a very large multi-site church, and I
remember sitting down after EVERY major event and breaking it down: what went right, what went wrong, what did we like, and what did we not like. But the most important part of those examinations came when we pulled the sheet back out that had our previously laid out stated purpose of the event and the wins we wanted that event to accomplish. We did a brutally honest evaluation of the event based on the target we had drawn and if that event (no matter how great or well attended) hit or missed that target (the purpose that we had set out to accomplish). If the event didn’t fulfill its purpose or missed the target we drawn on the wall; then we’d either scrap it or identify why it missed, correct it, and try it again. It didn’t matter if the event had hundreds of students or had been done for multiple years; if it wasn’t accomplishing what it was created to accomplish, then something had to change.
We did this for every single event, even our weekly programming. And yes, that
meant we had to change things as we inched closer and closer to hitting the target. Occasionally
this even meant starting over from scratch. But let me just say this, it was totally worth it! Because eventually, we found what worked for the students in our community, and we found what was causing the misfires. As a result, our ministry experienced growth, extended reach, stability, and buy-in from students, parents, and volunteers. It wasn’t just about sheer numbers; we were seeing fruit. Students were serving, leading, growing, being baptized, and stepping out in faith to reach their peers for Jesus. Even after all those incredible results, we still evaluated and broke down every single event. And you guessed it; we kept making changes if and when necessary.
Eventually, we have to get to the point as leaders where no goose is too golden to be examined, tweaked, or maybe even killed. We can’t continue to just do an event for the sake of doing events. If your event doesn’t have a clear vision and purpose behind it, then why are you doing it? I get it; this goose has a long and wonderful history, and people adore it. But history is history for a reason. Reaching and discipling this generation may require something different. Your church and community may need something different. And they need you, as a leader, to follow the Lord and help provide the students you have today with what they need instead of maybe what your church has always done. We cannot make the mistake of assuming what worked for the generation of students will work for this one. They aren’t the same teenagers as the ones who came before them.
Maybe it’s time to put EVERYTHING you do on the examination table. Maybe it’s time for everything to undergo a brutally honest evaluation. Maybe it’s time to do the hard work of examining if everything you are doing is still fulfilling its purpose or if you’ve become satisfied with missing the target. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to have some hard and awkward conversations about killing a golden goose.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What is a golden goose in your ministry? What is keeping that golden goose alive?
- What are you doing to ruthlessly evaluate everything you do? What standard are you weighing it against?
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