The youth ministry regularly assess itself and identifies areas which need to be strengthened or developed.
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. (2 Corinthians 13:15)
A church had invited me to come and do an assessment of their youth ministry. Some questionnaires were completed and I arranged to meet with a cross section of leaders, parents and young people. My first questions was, “If you had to give a speech to celebrate everything that was good in your youth ministry, what would you say?” Immediately one of the parents spoke up and said, “I’d tell people about our fantastic youth pastor!” I looked at the youth pastor and saw him visibly relax!
No one enjoys an outsider coming in to assess something you have put your heart and soul into and not surprisingly the youth pastor had felt anxious about what the assessment might uncover. Still he proceeded with humility giving his full co-operation to the process. The outcome was very affirming but it also uncovered some areas to work on. The assessment helped a very good youth pastor become even better.
This example raises the point that any assessment of a youth ministry will either directly or indirectly include assessment of those in leadership.
Two of the most important capacities a leader needs to develop are firstly the skill of self-assessment and secondly the humility to receive feedback from others.
Recently a young woman who was an intern in our youth programme, bravely preached a message at church which was assessed by three of us who had been in paid ministry positions for many years and were experienced preachers. After the service she met with us and we invited her to firstly assess herself, which she did, making some very worthwhile observations in the process.
She then listened to our feedback that included a mix of affirmation and suggestions of things to work on. I was left with a confidence that she would go on to be a very good leader, not because her sermon was outstanding but because she was outstanding in the way she humbly listened to each of us and took on board our feedback. Such willingness to undergo assessment will always yield good fruit.
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul exhorted the believers to examine and test themselves ensuring that Jesus Christ was in fact among them. In the context of all he had to say in his two letters to this church, it is clear this exhortation was intended as a corporate assessment designed to improve the overall health of the church.
A healthy and sustainable youth ministry is not afraid of assessing itself; in fact it does so regularly and systematically. One aspect of assessment concerns the direction of the ministry and progress in implementing goals and strategies in moving forward. At times, assessment will cause you to doubt the worth and usefulness of your goals. This may be because progress is difficult and you need to double your effort, or it could be that some goals were wrong and you need to change tack.
If that is the case don’t hesitate to act and make changes. Setting direction is like shifting the rudder on a ship. When the ship is stationary it has no effect but if the ship is moving, the rudder can alter its course. Similarly, even if the plans we establish and the goals we set are not ultimately God’s will, as we set a course, He is more easily able to direct us than if we gave the future no thought.
You will also want to assess your programmes. Are they achieving what you set out to achieve through them? Are there gaps in your programming meaning important needs are not being met? Do you have the resources (time, money people) to continue programming as you have? Or is it time to expand what you are doing because you have more resources than are currently being used?
Don’t neglect to assess individual activities and events. Make a note of what went well and what didn’t, along with ideas for improving things. Next time you run that event refer to your notes and make the necessary changes.
Assessment needs to be a collective responsibility, and not something you, the key, leader does alone. Involve other leaders and get feedback from the young people, parents, and church leaders. It can done formally through regular evaluation and written feedback as well as informally through conversation as the year progresses.
A final part of assessing a ministry is to assess the effectiveness of people in leadership. To do this, develop a culture of self-assessment where leaders are constantly looking to improve for the sake of the ministry and the young people they serve. Provide leaders with a list of expectations and guidance in performing tasks effectively. Meet with them regularly and allow them to share their own assessment before offering positive feedback along with suggestions for further improvement.
Again, having people assess what we are doing doesn’t always feel comfortable. Yet effective assessment of people should be viewed by all parties as a positive and constructive exercise, identifying both that which is good along with specific direction for working on what needs attention. The process should never leave people feeling condemned, even when criticism is implied. We assess leaders because we love them and want God’s best, not just for the ministry but for them as individuals.
A positive approach to assessment will motivate leaders who are struggling but at times I have had leaders for whom no amount of encouragement will help. Either it has become apparent that they are simply not suited to the role, or personal struggles have meant it is best for everyone if they step down. In all my years of leading I’ve never had to stand a leader down though clear expectations and regular self-assessment has meant that people have come to their own conclusions that it is time to step aside or serve elsewhere.
Finally, and most importantly, when it comes to assessment, it is reassuring to know that God has already done His own assessment of what you are doing, identifying what is good and what needs attention (see Revelation 2 & 3). Knowing this reminds us that assessment is primarily an exercise in spiritual discernment. Yes, we can send out surveys, interview people, and consult together, but assessment is not primarily about discovering what we think but discovering what God is saying.
CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS OF AN ASSESSED YOUTH MINISTRY
- Assessment of the youth ministry is carried our systematically and regularly.
- Assessment is a positive and constructive exercise, free from personal condemnation.
- A culture of self-assessment exists in which leaders are encouraged to regularly assess themselves.
- Assessment includes giving leaders feedback that is both positive and constructive.
- Assessment includes examining the overall direction of the youth ministry along with goals and strategies.
- Assessment includes examining the overall effectiveness of weekly programmes as well as individual activities.
- The process of assessment is a team one – it’s not left to one individual.
- The process of discernment involves seeking feedback from those outside of the youth leadership team including young people, parents and church leaders.
- Assessment takes place both through a formal process and informal conversation.
- Assessment is approached as an exercise in spiritual discernment in which those responsible seek God and discern His leading.