Celebrate the Little Things: Measuring Success Within Student Ministry

peanuts-celebrate-the-little-thingsThis past Wednesday, we had the privilege of celebrating our largest youth service in the history of our church! It is incredible to sit back and see what God is doing in and through our student ministry! Lives are being impacted and countless students are becoming connected into the culture of our ministry!

Although numbers help measure success, they cannot be the main determining factor. We must take time to celebrate the small victories that help us accomplish our overarching goals. Not only are we celebrating the incredible numerical growth we have seen, but also the little things that have helped us get to where we are!

Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Although Jesus is talking specifically about money here, I believe we can take this and relate it into our individual ministries. When we are successful in the small areas, we will see God bless us with incredible growth. When we fool ourselves and miss celebrating the small things, we will struggle to see large numerical growth.

I have spent quite a bit of time evaluating every aspect of our student ministry over the past couple of weeks. I challenge every church leader to assess and celebrate the small victories taking place within your ministry! As you do this, it will open your eyes to where God desires to take you and I guarantee you will success in ways you could never imagine! Here are four small, yet very important, areas that have helped get us to where we are today.

1. Transformed Lives – This past Wednesday we saw an 8th grade guy give his life to Christ and 2 other middle school students rededicate their lives to Christ! There is a barely a week that goes by where we do not see lives drastically changed for the cause of Christ! Our ministry is filled with leaders who are passionate about seeing students impacted by a life with Christ. They are not afraid to ask the serious questions, challenging our students spiritually! We must approach the heart of our students to see lives truly transformed.

How are you seeing lives transformed for the cause of Christ within your ministry? Even if they are not taking place in large numbers, are you celebrating the victory of each student impacted by a relationship with Christ? I often become jealous of gigantic student ministries that see 20-30 students come to know Christ on a weekly basis. Although we must strive towards big victories, we cannot miss each individual life transformed by the love of Christ!

2. Culture of Discipleship – If you have read any of my other blogs on student ministry, I am sure you have picked up by now how passionate I am about creating a culture of discipleship within student ministry. I would love to say the majority of our students are actively being discipled, but I cannot lie. However, I can celebrate the discipleship culture we are working to create within our ministry. We are spending a great amount of time and energy on our discipleship process. We have brainstormed what it looks like to live, eat, and breathe discipleship, how we measure success, and the difference between coaching, mentoring, and discipleship. We have one key volunteer who leads the charge as our Student Ministry Discipleship Coordinator. She has worked diligently on a follow-up system that will help establish accountability amongst those discipling students.

I recently wrote an article on Leading with Grace. In it I talk about one of our high school students who began teaching at our middle school weekend services. I am proud to say he also began discipling a middle school guy a couple of weeks ago! While many look at this as a small victory, I look at it as a large step towards creating a culture of discipleship! Here is a junior in high school who not only was discipled, but has caught the vision of discipling others! We have developed the system to keep him accountable and help him through the entire process. How are you celebrating the small victories of discipleship within your ministry?

3. First Impressions – I received a phone call this past week from the mother of one of our new students. She was very leery about dropping her 9th grade daughter off to our church on a Wednesday evening. I had goose bumps as I shared with her our passion to see students and families welcomed and connected into our weekly youth gathering! When a new student walks on our campus that are immediately greeted by our First Impressions Team. A New Student Host connects with them, walks them around our entire campus and introduces them to key leaders, their Small Group Leader, and several students who will be in their small group. We want students to feel as welcome as possible as they become connected into the culture of our youth ministry.

We intentionally fill our First Impressions Team with some of our most welcoming, full of energy leaders! Those first couple of minutes on campus for a new student are often the determining factor of them opening up during small groups or coming back the following week. What are you doing to welcome new students? Is this an area you are able to celebrate?

4. Leadership Teams – We often celebrate the leaders who are front and center or the ones who spend the most time impacting students. When was the last time you celebrated those who don’t necessarily lead from the spotlight? We have an incredible team who sets up our environments each and every week – moving chairs, setting up computers, printing out check-in sheets, and putting together leaders’ folders. Our technical arts team spends a few hours each week putting together the technical production aspect of our weekly youth service. Our café team is their week-in and week-out serving coffee, smoothies, pizza, and snacks! Our ministry is made up of so many other leaders who pour into the background and organizational side of our ministry! I am blessed to see their hearts, serve alongside them, and celebrate the awesome love they have for our student ministry!

Do you have leaders who have caught on to the vision of your church and ministry? Are they passionate about what they do or do you just throw them into positions? Celebrate the leadership teams that don’t often experience the spotlight! I truly believe they are just as important as the speaker and worship leader. Without the time and energy these teams spend each week, ministry would not be possible and growth would not take place in the capacity that we desire!

Never miss the small wins that take place within your ministry on a daily and weekly basis! Celebrate the accomplishments of your students, leaders, and families. Never become so wrapped up in the large number of attendance that you miss the little things that help get you to where God wants you!

Attraction vs. Discipleship: What are we Feeding our Students? (Part 2)

disciplemakingmission

Everybody is doing it. Just this one time won’t hurt. Relationships solve every problem. You are #1. Popularity and power are keys to success. Music is life. Image is everything. But he loves me. We are attracted to each other in every way possible!

In a culture that is full of lies and falsities, many of our students are missing the mark of authentic discipleship! Much of our time in youth ministry is spent attracting students, yet we often find ourselves using the same tactics as SnapChat, Nike, Apple, Abercrombie, and Starbucks. The image of our ministry is everything! We want the latest and greatest of everything! We want to be in the spotlight of our schools. We want leaders to thank us and show their appreciation for us. We want our senior pastors to acknowledge our works and abilities. We want parents to see their kids are having fun and staying safe when they are with us. We want to fit in with the ‘cool kids!’ We want to be edgy with our messages and ways of communication. We want students to think we are hip before they mention our love for Jesus.

What are we feeding our students? What do they take away from their time in our ministries? What are we communicating? How are we attracting new students and connecting them into a journey with Christ?

I challenge every ministry leader, every youth pastor, every volunteer, and every parent to see their responsibility of making disciples before they ever think about creating cool ministries full of popular students! We often become disillusioned in our quest for discipleship. We trick ourselves into believing that if we attract the right students we will grow an awesome ministry. While that can be true based on numbers it does not always equate into a culture of discipleship. Here are six warning signs that can appear within a Culture of Attraction versus six key focuses we must strive towards in order to develop a Culture of Discipleship.

Here is an in-depth breakdown of the first three…

1. Emotional Rollercoaster vs. Foundation in Christ

2. Events & Programs vs. Relationships & Community

3. Elevating Self vs. Elevating God’s Voice

4. Reliance on Yourself vs. Reliance on God – It is for us easy to rely on ourselves when life is going great. We can own our success and strive to be more awesome than the person next to us. When times get tough we tend to blame God and point our finger at those around us. Within ministry, it is easy to put one’s successes and failures in the spotlight. We tend to highlight celebration stories and call out failures and mistakes. Through all of this, we become inclined to focus on the abilities of the individual instead of God’s love and abilities through the individual!

Our students need to know they cannot rely on themselves. Every time I trust myself, I fail others. As I fail others I miss the purpose God has for me. When we trust God, we will impact others, and ultimately bring honor and glory to the Father! By relying on God, we will see life in a whole new way! God is love and we tend to be full of revenge. God is patient but we want things done immediately. God is faithful even as we fail Him! Our students struggle with balance, structure, and consistency. Relying on themselves is going to lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy, inconsistent walk with Christ. As we teach our students to completely rely on the Father, they will experience life to its fullness!

5. Large Group vs. The Whole Person – Is your level of success measured by how many come to your weekly student ministry gathering or how many individuals are drastically changed for the cause of Christ? Before I continue, please understand that when we see disciples made, numerical growth will take place. But, often we see numerical growth happen without authentic discipleship occurring. We must not measure success based on the number within the large group!

For many youth pastors, much your time is spent impacting the largest amount possible at one time. In other words, we pour into our weekly gatherings to make them fun, inviting, attractive, and full of energy. Although there is nothing wrong with that at a surface level, are we missing the whole person? In other words, are we missing the individuals God has called us to directly impact? As we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see a model of ministry focused more on the 3 and 12 then on the 70, 120, and 5000. He poured into Peter, James, and John – opening his life to each of them in a very personal way. He looked at every aspect of Peter and desired to see him become whole! Peter took that example and carried into his ministry throughout Acts. Yes, there was time poured into large gatherings, but Jesus had a heart for the individual person.

As you look at your schedule, how do you break up your time? Are you spending a good portion of your time ministering to those closest to you or is all of your time eaten up by the attractional aspect of programs and events? Who are your 3 and 12? What does that relationship look like? Are you living a life worth imitating in order to create a culture of discipleship?

6. Living for the Moment vs. Living on Mission – Culture has brainwashed our students into believing the living in the moment is more important than the overall mission. In others words, the decisions you make today won’t impact your tomorrow. Have fun and enjoy every moment to its fullest. Lie! I made choices in high school that have impacted my relationships as an adult – both with positive and negative implications. Many of those were ‘in the moment’ decisions that were exciting, adventurous, and fun. I did not realize how they would impact the mission God had for me. When we live moment-to-moment we tend to struggle with boredom. I have seen so many students bounce from one ‘great’ relationship to another because they become bored with what is happening right now. This can easily transfer into ministry. I have seen so many youth leaders live in the excitement of one event or one service. When the normal routine of ministry kicks in, boredom hits. I truly believe this is why so many youth pastors bounce from one place to another or from one level of leadership to the next.

As we live on mission, the excitement of God’s calling will always get us through the difficult moments. There will always be circumstances that don’t make sense. As they times arise, are we living in the moment or living on mission for God? Is there an eternal focus and purpose driving every aspect of our ministries or are we just bouncing from one fun event to the next? As we live on mission we will experience the awesome impact a culture of discipleship can have on every moment within our ministries!

My prayer is that our time, energy, resources, and passion are poured into a culture of discipleship! Attraction is important, but seeing lives focused on a love for Christ is most important. We must be rooted in Christ, focused on relationships and community, hearing God’s voice, relying on God, compassionate for the individual person, and living on mission for God! I would love to hear how this is played out within your ministry. Where do you struggle the most? Where do you see the most success?

Attraction vs. Discipleship: What are we Feeding our Students? (Part 1)

disciplemakingmissionEverybody is doing it. Just this one time won’t hurt. Relationships solve every problem. You are #1. Popularity and power are keys to success. Music is life. Image is everything. But he loves me. We are attracted to each other in every way possible!

In a culture that is full of lies and falsities, many of our students are missing the mark of authentic discipleship! Much of our time in youth ministry is spent attracting students, yet we often find ourselves using the same tactics as SnapChat, Nike, Apple, Abercrombie, and Starbucks. The image of our ministry is everything! We want the latest and greatest of everything! We want to be in the spotlight of our schools. We want leaders to thank us and show their appreciation for us. We want our senior pastors to acknowledge our works and abilities. We want parents to see their kids are having fun and staying safe when they are with us. We want to fit in with the ‘cool kids!’ We want to be edgy with our messages and ways of communication. We want students to think we are hip before they mention our love for Jesus.

What are we feeding our students? What do they take away from their time in our ministries? What are we communicating? How are we attracting new students and connecting them into a journey with Christ?

I challenge every ministry leader, every youth pastor, every volunteer, and every parent to see their responsibility of making disciples before they ever think about creating cool ministries full of popular students! We often become disillusioned in our quest for discipleship. We trick ourselves into believing that if we attract the right students we will grow an awesome ministry. While that can be true based on numbers it does not always equate into a culture of discipleship. Here are six warning signs that can appear within a Culture of Attraction versus six key focuses we must strive towards in order to develop a Culture of Discipleship.

1. Emotional Rollercoaster vs. Foundation in Christ – Our desire is often to see our students walk away ‘feeling’ great about themselves. Over the course of a service we take our students on an emotional roller coaster, inviting them to cry, laugh, and feel appreciated. Our goal is to get them to emotionally connect to our worship leader, our speakers, and our leaders. We want them to ‘feel’ Christ, not experience Christ! In the words of Mark Lowry, ‘There are some mornings when I wake up before the sun comes up that I do not feel saved.’ Christianity cannot be based on emotions. James says we must have joy during the most difficult times! It doesn’t matter what our lives look like; we must be firmly planted in our relationship with Christ. Please don’t hear me wrong – emotions are great! Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there isa time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

We need to stir the passions, desires, and emotions of our students as we direct them towards a foundation in Christ. Jesus was emotional and showed compassion on many, but His personal foundation was built on a relationship with the Father! He was rooted in God, not His own personal emotions. He desired to passionately live out the Father’s calling. Are we drawing our students toward us emotionally or into a relationship with Christ that is not wavering on faulty ground?

2. Events & Programs vs. Relationships & Community – How much time do you spend on event planning and programming? Do you spend just as much time in relationships and community? Who are you discipling and who is discipling you?

It is easy to fill a calendar with summer trips, retreats, Disciple Now weekends, small group programming, services, outreach events, pizza parties, middle school ice cream socials, cardboard crazes, Christian concerts, trips to local theme parks, and… well… you get the point. I have felt at times like my level of success is measured by how many incredible events I can do. What parties am I throwing? How many kids were there? What crazy, disgusting games did we do? Who ate the chocolate out of the diaper? Who ate the blended McDonald’s happy meal? Which student won the iPad?

What if we were to narrow our ministries down to 4 major events over the course of the year – summer trip, Disciple Now weekend, fall retreat, and a Back 2 School event? It would give us the ability to pour into the lives of our leaders, families, and students on a personal level. We would see students experience community that would lead to a culture of discipleship! Jesus didn’t throw parties. He built relationships. He didn’t go from event to event. He went from person to person doing the work of the Father!

3. Elevating Self vs. Elevating God’s Voice – Unfortunately, many youth pastors use their platform as a way to promote themselves. Students can easily pick up on this, and it can become detrimental to the culture of our ministries. I have also seen youth pastors promote the individual instead of promoting a relationship with Christ. In other words, they encourage their students to just ‘do what’s best’ instead of teaching to live out God’s Word. I understand there must be grace and love, but without truth you do not get authenticity. The combination of grace, truth, and love creates a culture of discipleship.

What are you doing to elevate God’s voice over selfish desires? Do you even teach that God is clearly speaking to each and every person on the face of the planet? Do your students walk away knowing how to hear God’s voice? Once we realize God is speaking to us individually, we must pause to reflect on those Kairos moments. We are then faced with the choice to move on and ignore God – elevating our own selfish desires – or to obey God’s voice as we elevate our love for Him! Hearing and obeying God’s voice is a simple process that we must be instilling in the hearts and minds of our students!

In tomorrow’s blog, I will take a look at these last three points of difference between a culture of attraction and a culture of discipleship…

4. Reliance on Yourself vs. Reliance on God

5. Large Group vs. The Whole Person

6. Living for the Moment vs. Living on Mission