Evaluation. It’s an important part of what we do in Youth Ministry, and yet it is often one of the most easily overlooked and overshadowed tasks of the job. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of programming and running from this event to that meeting to another program and so on, that we miss out on pausing to take a good hard look at whether all of those events, programs, and meetings are really having any effect.
A few weeks ago, we made a difficult decision to take a pause from our regular senior high programming (on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings). While middle school programming hit the ground running this year with high energy and involvement, our senior high programming sort of stuttered and crawled to a halt after a few short weeks.
Maybe it is the fact that many of the “active” high schoolers in youth ministry left with the former youth director and church split.
Maybe it is the fact that from September through November the lives of high schoolers are eaten alive by fall sports, marching band, drama, and other school activities.
Maybe it is the fact that what used to work with that age group just isn’t working anymore.
Whatever the reason, the fact remained the same. It just wasn’t working.
So, rather than continue to spin our wheels planning weekly programming for one or two kids to show up to (and some weeks nobody at all), we have made a decision to pause for a season of intentional evaluation and discernment.
What worked with mid-week programming in the past? What audience was it reaching? Is that audience still present at the church? What cultural barriers are we facing? Who are the high schoolers that are actively involved in our church? In what ways can we best minister to them and their families? What are some new ideas that might work if we give them a shot? What are some new ideas that might fail miserably if we give them a shot? What systems do we need to put into place to help ease the transition from middle school ministry to high school ministry?
If there was one thing that I learned from the pastor I served under at my last church, it was the power of asking questions that start out with, “What do you think would happen if…?” Right now, we are in a season of asking that question.
I’ve tried my very best to make myself available to the congregation–especially to parents–for questions and discussion about what’s going on with high school ministry. I spend a lot of my time on Sunday mornings hanging around, chatting with people as they come through our Gathering Space, and engaging them with lots of questions that often start out with, “What do you think would happen if?”
It would be very easy to perceive that because we have trimmed back our programming for senior high youth that we don’t care, or that nothing is going to happen ever, or that this is permanent.
I make every effort to ensure people that this move is not a permanent one–that we are really just in a season of evaluation and discernment.
We haven’t stopped investing in high schoolers. In fact, I may be having more conversations with high schoolers now than we were before, because we’re really trying to engage them in these conversations, too. We’re still going to high school sporting events, band shows, and plays–being present in their world. We’re still offering semi-regular events for that age group.
Sometimes you have to back away from the details to see the whole picture. And that, my friends, is what we are doing.
How long will this season last?
Until it is clear that God is calling us to something more, to something new.
Until then, we watch, wait, question, discuss, breathe, evaluate, build, and pray.