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!

Connecting Our Students to Jesus

imagesStudents desire to feel connected. Whether it is to a team, a musician, or a youth ministry, middle and high school students want to feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves! All we have to do is turn on the television to see the passion and excitement found within our teenage generation. They desire to fit in and feel important.

The main purpose of youth ministry is to see students connect into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must desire to walk alongside students as they go from where they currently are to where God is calling them! It begins with first time guests and continues on even after graduation. Student follow-up is a leadership wide responsibility through formed relationships, and must not be something that any one person can do.

Too often, I have seen students fall through the cracks of church because of the lack of connection. There is nobody present to reach out to them, to follow up with them, or to pray for them. Students also want to be challenged in ways that will push their limits. Today’s teenagers want to be invited to more than a pizza party with loud music and crazy games. They want to be empowered to change their culture, their schools, and even their own families. I have seen more students share Christ with their unsaved parents over the past two years than I can ever remember!

The vision behind seeing students connected goes way beyond the moment of salvation or the rising up out of the waters of baptism. What are we connecting and inviting our students to be a part of, even after they accept Christ? Are we seeing growth occur within each student that walks through our doors? Do new students not only feel welcome, but also desire to come back the following week? Are your students serving and even leading the charge in specific areas of ministry? What is it like to attend your youth service for the very first time?

Connecting a student to Christ begins the moment they step onto your campus – whether it is their very first time or they were born in your church. Do you have students and leaders greeting everyone as they pour onto your campus for youth night? Meeting new students is extremely important, but we cannot miss the significance behind welcoming a familiar face! Our leadership teams must be relationally intentional when it comes to greeting. That first impression may help determine whether or not your students will listen or tune you out during worship, message, and small groups.

Make your first impressions area visible. Students are already confused about enough in life, they shouldn’t have to be confused as to where to go once they arrive. Use signage, tables, music, lights, and most importantly – people! Designate students and adult leaders who are specifically there to help greet every one as they come on campus. Have information ready to go for all of your leaders as soon as they arrive. Utilize connect cards for new guests, and I highly recommend nametags for all students and leaders! Most importantly – have fun and be intentional with your first impressions team! Students should walk away from check-in feeling excited and important, and ultimately sensing a connection to something greater!

As your time with your students goes on, every leader must be relationally intentional. Students want relationships – they want to be talked to, not talked at. They want to be communicated with, not ignored. Even the most shy, timid, or introverted teenager you may meet desires to be a part of incredible relationships. What are your leaders doing to meet and greet all students? Is there a time to hang out and socialize before your service? I know students also create uniformity with friends. In other words, they often flock to the same people. Some youth pastors call them clicks, but I refer to it as a natural human tendency. I have my closest friends, and honestly I am comfortable hanging out with them any day of the week. There are other friends who know I have to work much harder at developing my relationship with them. It is completely natural for us to feel more comfortable around some people over others.

When it comes to students, clicks and popularity contests can destroy ministries. As leaders, we must create a culture in which all are invited, all are welcomed, and all are wanted. Our students want to fit in – even if their best friends are not present. Are we creating a welcoming culture that carries over into the atmosphere of our youth ministry?

Once our service begins, the connection process cannot end. I have talked to many leaders who think the goal is only to get students in the door. While I see where they are coming from, the goal must be to connect them to Jesus, not simply get them in the door! I know, I know… some of you are saying, ‘Well in order to get them connected to Jesus, we must first get them in the door.’  I get that, but our goal is not to see how many students we can get to show up to our youth service. Instead, our goal is to see students encounter Jesus Christ!

Utilize every aspect of your service to connect students. Is your time of worship exciting and interactive? Are your announcements and welcome full of energy and memorable? Is the message challenging, applicable, and thought-provoking? Do your small group leaders sincerely care about their students? If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to seriously revisit that specific area! The way you organize your youth service is key to seeing students connecting!

Our responsibility definitely does not end once students leave our campus! I tell my core leaders that youth ministry is a 24-hour responsibility. In other words, tragedy can strike at any minute of any day! Students want to feel welcomed to your ministry outside of your designated service time. Whether it is through social media, text messaging, email, or a phone call, it is extremely important to connect with students over the course of the week. Never underestimate the power of unexpected connections! Set the leaders’ expectations high – encouraging them to reach out to the students within their small group on a weekly basis. Personally follow up with every new student that walks onto your campus! I know this takes time, energy, and resources, but I can say from experience that students feel important when they are contacted and connected! And when students feel important they come back! Very few students accept Christ the first time they walk in the doors of a church, but who knows how God will work if they continue to come back week after week!

Do not stop at connecting your students to your weekly service! Challenge them as you connect them. Encourage them to create paths of spiritual growth – whether it is through a mentor, a discipleship process, or community groups. There were times that Jesus looked at the large crowds said, ‘You don’t get it… Spiritual growth is not solely about the large group setting! More importantly, it is about your daily routine to become more like Me!’

We are called to walk through life with our students in a way that brings honor and glory to Jesus! When we accomplish this we will see growth in ways we could never imagine! Connect your students to Christ through discipleship, leadership opportunities, and missional involvement. Make a way for your students to use their God-given abilities and talents. Allow your students to partner with mission organizations and individual families, empowering them to share Christ’s love and compassion with our lost and broken world.

So many of the students I come in contact with are broken, lost, and walking through life alone. Yet, they have the desire to fit in and experience a connection that goes beyond their own ability. We have the greatest connecting message this world has ever witnessed – the love and hope of Jesus Christ! Our responsibility is to create a path that connects our students to the Gospel message! But we cannot stop there! Today’s teenagers are culture changers. They are filled with an unbelievable passion for a cause greater than themselves. Challenge your students, empower your students, stir a passion for life-change within your students, and ultimately connect them to the greatest Person to ever live – Jesus Christ!

I would love to hear how you are practically connecting your students into a deeper walk with Christ! Within our student ministry, we have created an entire Connections Team made up of a Connections Coordinator, Small Group Hosts, Spiritual Formation Coordinator, and Student Vitals Host. I am more than willing to share further, how we have practically laid out our Connections Team. Feel free to contact me with any further questions.

Measuring a Win: Success vs. Fruit

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As ministry leaders, we are often driven by the pat on the back, the attention we receive, the promotion we are offered, and the visible success taking place around us. How do you define a win within your life and ministry?

We often look at a win through the lens of success. We view numbers and goals as a way to determine whether or not we are leading successful ministries. In other words, how many students showed up to youth group this week and are you setting goals that are not only achievable, but that are bringing attention to yourself? Don’t take that the wrong way… I see considerable significance in the entire goal-setting process, but we must never miss the vision God has for our ministries. What is He leading you to do differently? What is the vision God has for your ministry?

Too often we seek man’s approval, and we miss whether or not God is approving of where our ministries are heading. Again, please don’t miss my point… We all need to be held accountable to the responsibilities God has placed before us. I need supervision in the same way those within our Family Ministry need to be supervised. We must seek wise counsel of the leaders God has placed around us when setting goals and measuring wins, but ultimately our identity must be found in a fruitful relationship with Christ.

We cannot measure success solely through numbers and programs. Instead, a ministry win must be defined through the fruit of our faithfulness to God’s calling! Where are you seeing fruit in your life? Are you remaining faithful to the life God has called you to? Are lives being changed through the fruit of your ministry?

When it comes down to it, success will happen when fruit is evident in our lives, but authentic fruit will not always be seen through our human measurements of success. The steps to success are not always the steps towards fruitfulness. In other words, numerical growth should occur if lives are bing radically changed around us, but numbers must not be the measuring stick for success. God will bless our faithfulness to His calling by utilizing us to lead successful ministries!

Here are a few practical questions to help you decipher the differences between authentic fruit and success…

– Am I being faithful to myself and those around me without being faithful to the calling God has placed on my life?

– How do I measure success within my life, family, and ministry?

– Do I spend more time praying or writing when it comes to my goal-setting process?

– Do I seek Godly counsel before setting goals?

– Am I seeking the approval of men before I seek God’s approval on my life and ministry?

– Is their evidence of fruit flowing in and through my ministry?

– Is my life worth imitating and my ministry worth replicating?