What are our goals?
It is easy to get through years of youth ministry without really setting any specific goals, because it seems like there’s only one factor that the majority of parents, youth and congregation members ask about or pay attention to: attendance. If people are there, then apparently we’re doing something well. If they aren’t there, then we’re doing something wrong. The problem with this line of thinking is that we then change our programming with one goal in mind: to attract more people. The problem is that simply having more people there is not the job of the Church, contrary to what is being preached in many congregations today. We’ve diminished the Great Commission of “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) and turned it into the Not-So Great Commission of “go and get more people in be spectators.’
The words of Jesus in Matthew 28 provide a clear direction for what the Church is supposed to be about: making disciples. Yet it’s so easy for us to put the focus on attendance as the mark of discipleship. If someone has been baptized, have they finished their discipleship journey? If they’re at youth group, worship or a small group have we done our job? If someone “put in their time” being active in church when they were younger, do they now get to coast until the Lord calls them home?
Here’s the simple truth: as long as we are here on this earth, we are continually being conformed to the image of Christ individually and within our believing community. We are called to be active as disciples in loving and serving one another and our neighbors. This is the twofold journey of discipleship, and it is never finished. Our goals in ministry need to be based in these areas rather than just attendance. “Be at youth group” is not a discipleship goal, neither are “join a small group” or “be confirmed”.
Have you read the Matthew 28 passage? How do I get out of the habit of judging by attendance rather than focusing on making disciples? What can “making disciples” look like for our ministry week after week? While there are certainly a seemingly limitless number of answers to that question, we are keying in on three points of application for our youth ministry that we believe are also relevant to any other ministry as well. They are all written from the first person plural “we” perspective because these points are best accomplished by a team of people, not just one individual leader.
First, we need to write out new goals for the youth ministry. These goals need to be specific and focused on making disciples. Our guiding questions are: How do we want the youth to grow? In what ways do we want to see them living out their faith? What skills do we want them to develop? Goals that are focused on answering these questions will give a more focused, intentional purpose to everything that we do.
Then, once those goals are agreed upon, we need to organize what we plan to do around these goals, not the other way around. If we look at our schedule and have a bunch of events planned that don’t hit any of our goals, we may need to find some new events that fit our mission or adapt our current events to fit these goals. Every event, program, gathering, Bible study and meeting needs to address at least one of our goals, and over the course of the year, we need to have ways to measure how we are doing with meeting our goals.
We also need to talk about the youth ministry to youth, parents and the congregation in light of our goals. When someone asks about how an event went, we need to answer not with an attendance figure like “Great! We had 15 youth there” but with a goal-focused answer like “Great! The event was planned by 2 of our upperclassmen with 3 other youth assisting, giving them all opportunities to use their gifts in service.”
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7-9).