Characteristics of an Effective Youth Ministry: 7. Strategic

The youth ministry has a clear sense of direction and is working purposefully toward achieving God-given goals.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3)

If it were not for a deep belief in the sovereignty of God and the headship of Christ over the church, I could easily be a control freak! There is something incredibly satisfying and comforting about sitting down at the start of a new year and mapping out exactly what I expect to achieve and how. It gives an illusion at least of being able to control what happens but if 2020 taught us anything it is that the future is anything but predictable. 

There are two extremes to avoid when it comes to exploring strategy and establishing plans. The first is to not do it at all, usually under the guise of “just trusting in God”. The belief is that because Christ is the Head of the church, He will guide and direct, regardless of what we are intent on doing. It is an approach that sounds spiritual and is partly true, but ultimately is not entirely Biblical.

The second extreme is to be overly reliant on our own strategies and plans, unwilling to change even when it becomes apparent they are no longer useful, realistic or even God-given. Here, a leader ends up serving their goals rather than serving God and allowing the goals to serve them. Ongoing sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit is replaced with slavish effort and a sense of guilt or failure when goals are not achieved.

As is so often the case, the truth lies between the two extremes. Proverbs 16:3 says it well: “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.” In other words, prayerfully make plans, continually bringing these before God while remaining sensitive to His leading.

Nehemiah provides us with an excellent example of this balance. Before returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls he spent time in prayer (Nehemiah 1:4-10) before heading out when circumstances were favourable (Nehemiah 2:1-6).  On arrival in Jerusalem, he surveyed the state of the wall (Nehemiah 2:11-15) before implementing a strategy for repair in which different sections were allocated to families (Nehemiah 3). When challenges arose, he acknowledged these and reacted by implementing further strategies (Nehemiah 4:11-18).

It is worth noting at this point that in developing his “strategic plan” Nehemiah was operating directly under God’s direction within the Old Covenant.  As partakers of the New Covenant, strategy and setting direction is not the task of one person acting alone, but the task of a group of people operating as Christ’s Body under His Headship.

When I began serving in my most recent church I noted that the small groups were made up of mixed genders and mixed ages and that the leaders' role was primarily to lead a Bible study each week: pastoral care and discipleship were a secondary consideration.

It took one week for me to be convinced that we needed to divide groups according to age and gender and charge leaders with the responsibility of caring and making disciples. Yet I knew that if I did this without the support of the youth leadership team my plans were doomed to fail.

It took three months of “wondering aloud” and “suggesting” before the team was excited enough about a change, to work with me to implement it. These were not three wasted months but three months that allowed God to reveal his will to a diverse group of people. It was worth the wait!

An effective and healthy ministry therefore collectively and carefully discuss what they sense God is wanting to do and looks for His guidance and direction as they set out to accomplish their goals.

In practice, this means that they set specific goals based on their vision and values. This vision and these values define the overall direction, while goals are concerned with what can be achieved over the short term – up to one year. In other words, as we keep in mind what we would like our ministry to be, goals state what we will actually do to make this a reality.

The twenty-eight strategic characteristics of a healthy youth ministry as outlined in this book, are a helpful tool in establishing goals. As you work through them identify up to five which you regard as priorities to be worked on over the coming year.

As I’ve worked with different churches some identify a long list of areas to work on. In my experience, “less is more”. If you set too many goals to work on, chances are you will forget some.

In choosing which goals to focus on, consider which are most urgent and vital and among these include those that can most easily be accomplished. There is nothing like success to increase enthusiasm and motivation.

In setting goals, ensure they are specific statements of what you plan to have accomplished at year's end. Be realistic, but at the same time exercise faith. A good goal is one that you sense is achievable but only with God’s help. If it’s something you can do without God’s help, then it is not a good goal!

Once goals have been set, the next step is to develop indicators for each goal. Indicators are the means by which we assess whether we have been successful in achieving our goal or not. They are specific statements that describe the situation that will exist when the goal has been achieved. They enable you to either say, ‘Yes, the goal has been achieved”, or “No it hasn’t.”

Having to write indicators for each goal is a good way to ensure our goals are specific. For example, a goal that states “Our youth ministry will be better”, is hopelessly vague, a situation that becomes more apparent as we ask the question, “What will indicate that our goal has been achieved?” This question forces us to define what we mean by “better”, leading to a more precise and worthwhile goal.

The final step is to develop strategies for each goal. A goal will say what you hope to achieve, whereas strategies will state how you plan to achieve it. Strategies, therefore, describe the specific steps you will take in order to achieve each goal and where appropriate, will define when the strategy will be implemented or completed. Strategies don’t need to be highly detailed but need to be descriptive enough so that anyone can easily see in broad terms how each goal will be achieved. 

Once these steps have been completed, goals, indicators and strategies can be included in a one-year strategic plan which can be circulated to interested parties.


  • Strategic planning is approached with a deep reliance upon God and His intention to provide direction and focus to the youth ministry.
  • Strategic planning is approached deliberately with care and thought.
  • Strategic planning is done by a team of people – not one person acting alone.
  • Specific goals are set annually and reflect the vision and values of the youth ministry.
  • Goals are realistic and are dependent on the efforts of leadership – not the young people themselves.
  • Goals are also faith-stretching, requiring dependence upon God to be achieved.
  • Each goal has prescribed indicators that make it possible to assess whether the goal has been achieved or not.
  • Each goal has a list of specific strategies that will be implemented to achieve that goal.
  • Where appropriate, strategies contain a timeline for implementation and/or completion.
  • An annual strategic plan exists that brings together goals, indicators and strategies in a single document.