Regardless of what summer looks like for you, it does represent an opportunity to think about the state of your youth ministry.
It offers a good time for evaluation. What's working? What's not? If you want to improve your ministry, if you want to be as effective as living out your calling as you can be, you have to be willing to do the tough work of evaluating your ministry. Below is a suggestion of what this might look like. It's not exhaustive, or comprehensive. But it's a good road-map with which to get started. When you're finished, I'd love for you to offer suggestions on what I missed, or what you would add or take out.
Here's a suggested path to evaluating your ministry:
Divide And Conquer
Divide your ministry into a few different "sections." The way you do this will vary from the next guy or gal, but it might look as simple as something like this: Staff, Programming, Volunteers, and Students. Then, identify what you want to measure or evaluate for each section. Questions need to include something similar to the following:
- What is working? Where are we succeeding in achieving our goals? [You have set goals, right? :) ]
- What is not working? What goals are we not meeting?
- What can be improved? (This has to be asked of us personally, as well.)
- What needs to be pruned away?
This is just identifying the questions you want to ask, not answering them just yet.
You've targeted the areas you want to address and you have formulated your questions. Now it's time to get some answers.There will be questions that you and your team will be best suited to answer. Budget, programming, etc. But there will be other areas in which you must seek other's opinions. You can't be your own focus group. Maybe you love a certain program or initiative, but the majority of your volunteers feel like it doesn't work. Gathering data means seeking responses from all involved. How do you gather data? Start by crafting a survey for your volunteers and for your students based on the questions and areas you identified in the Divide and Conquer stage. Here are some thoughts on implementation:
- Go New School And Old School—Embrace old and new technologies. Mail surveys to volunteers and students with a self-addressed return envelope included (old school). But, utilize technology to increase your responses. Survey Monkey is an awesome online tool to gather data. Or, simply post questions on a Facebook page and ask people to message you the responses. Providing both outlets will dramatically increase your response rate.
- Follow up—Don't send it and forget it. If you do, you'll be disappointed. Email or otherwise contact folks about 5 days after you send the survey and remind them to complete it.
- Get Personal—Your survey should be the main way you gather data. But consider choosing a few key people (volunteers and students) who are especially invested in your ministry. Seek out their opinions and thoughts in a lunch conversation, or over coffee. Your survey is quantitative. These conversations are qualitative. And they can be invaluable.
Don't let this part bring you down or overwhelm you. Gathering data is fieldwork and it can sometimes be "not fun." But if you can stomach the task of doing this the right way, the dividends can be huge.
Look For Trends (But Don't Miss The "A-Ha!" Moments)
Once you start getting responses in, what you're looking for is trends. Try hard to separate your personal feelings from the data. There will be students who think your messages are lame. There will be volunteers who hate Wednesday night large group. Let these types of comments roll off your back! Look for trends.
Do 15 of your 40 students say they're not spiritually challenged by your Sunday morning programming? That's a trend. You might want to pay attention to this. Do 6 of your 12 adult volunteers think communication is a problem? Trend. It's time to start thinking about how you do things. Identifying trends is key and will probably represent the bulk of what you choose to address in making changes. But don't miss the "A-Ha!" responses. "A-Ha!" responses are those insightful, creative nuggets that a student or a volunteer offers that can be game changers. Maybe it's an idea, or a critique, or a twist on a current plan that is super-outside of the box. Don't miss these. (And don't miss the chance to let the individual be part of leading out in the implementation of the idea, if it gets that far.)
Develop A Plan
This is another post for another day, but basically, once you gather info and address trends, you'll need to make a plan. What will you address? Can you do it all at once? Are some trends more long-term in their solution? Do you have big problems? Are you doing more fine-tuning than bulldozing? Your plan will be impacted by your available resources, but you still need a plan. Don't develop your plan in a vacuum. Use your team. If you don't have a team, make one. Pull in a few key student leaders and your best two adult volunteers (or your only two!).
Find A Sounding Board
Once you and your team have developed your plan, seek out people whose opinions you trust and run your plan by them. And ask them to approach it with a critical eye. After all, you're looking for solutions. Make sure the individual feels empowered to make suggestions.
Once you have a plan, you'll more than likely need to put it in front of your leadership. Don't just show the suggested changes. Be prepared to walk through the entire process, how you got where you are. Embrace a spirit of compromise. There may be changes you will have to let go of or hold off for a while. The goal is improvement. If you can make 3 out of 5 suggested changes, that's progress.
Implement As A Group
As you prepare for Fall and you're ramping up for the new School Year, present your findings and your plan to all your respective groups. If you have a youth staff, present it to them. Present it to your adult volunteers. And present it to your students. Incorporate all affected parties into your plan. Make people a part of the solution. Empower people to push-back or offer suggestions. Keep the plan and the goals associated with it in front of you throughout the year. Do another assessment in January. See how you've done and make changes accordingly.
Complacency is a killer, both in our personal spiritual lives and in the life of our youth ministry. Change is hard. And implementing effective change is especially hard. Wanting to change or be better is not good enough. It takes intentionality and commitment to make real change.
But by utilizing this summer as an opportunity for prayerful evaluation of your ministry, you are taking the first step in the right direction.