Defining success in youth ministry

Colossians 4:5, “Make the most of every opportunity.”

There’s been a lot of buzz spinning around the blogosphere lately about defining success in youth ministry. What is successful youth ministry? What does it look like and how can we know if we ever get there?

I certainly do not have all the answers to this loaded question, but I tend to agree with Mark Batterson‘s book, In a pit with a lion on a snowy day, when he says this:

Success is doing the best you can with what you have where you are. In a sense, success is relative. Success is as unique as your fingerprint. It looks different for different people depending on your circumstances and gifts. But there is one common denominator that I see in all successful people. They can spot an opportunity a mile away. And they seize the opportunity with both hands…. And that is what opportunity stewardship is all about. (page 131)

Mark Batterson points out that scripture doesn’t say how many opportunities there will be or how large or small they may be. Scripture simply tells us to make the most of every opportunity. We need to train ourselves to notice these opportunities as the Lord brings them our way and then be good stewards with what He provides.

This may look 10 different ways for 10 for different ministries, but, as I posted last year, I pray it characterizes my ministry in at least three ways:

  • Students who are growing in depth and insight of God’s Word.
  • Students who genuinely worship God both publicly and privately.
  • Students who have a burden for lost souls around them.

Posted on April 2, 2007

  • This is one I struggle with a lot. I definitely don’t see success as the largest playground with the most kids. Then you get into qualifiers:

    * Students who are growing in depth and insight of God’s Word.
    * Students who genuinely worship God both publicly and privately.
    * Students who have a burden for lost souls around them.

    These are great goals for ministry, yet they are things only God can do. Only God can give knowledge. Only God can give a heart of worship. Only God can fill someone with compassion for others who are struggling. Only God can draw people to himself.

    There have been times when I have been faithful and had none of these. Granted they were not ordinary circumstances, but they were the reality I was in. I define success as being faithful with what God gives you. This is probably just as slippery to qualify as any of the other measures, but I have fallen flat with every other one.

  • Tim

    Yeah, I agree that we can’t define success based on those three things, but I do pray that they characterize my ministry. I don’t determine success by them, I just pray that they take place in my group. Success I think takes place along the same lines we both mentioned: being faithful/taking advantage of opportunities. Hopefully my faithfulness yields fruit in those three areas and more.

  • OK, my wife and I were talking about this and came to a new conclusion. Basically, a ministry can have these things (or not) apart from the efforts of the youth minister. He might be faithful in his calling and still not see these, or he might be unfaithful and see these things. Either way, his personal success is more a reflection of his faithfulness to God. I am thinking of the prophets when they weer faithful and the people weren’t.

    Having said that, I think a ministry’s success can be measured like you are talking about (which was what you said, I think). So these are good measures for success for a ministry, though they don’t always reflect the efforts of the pastor.

    Hope some of that makes sense. Sorry for airing out my junk here. This really is a personal issue for me.

  • Tim

    Yeah, I know what you’re saying and I completely agree. I just want God to work those things in my group. Not really relating them to “my success” or the ministry’s success.

  • success is an interesting topic. i know it’s one we all struggle with because like Paul said there can be so many different qualifiers. i definitely have some thoughts but I’m going to wait a little to share them…

  • i am beginning to like the following:

    a student ministry is a success when we move out of the way and let God move in

  • maybe the best way to determine sucess in youth ministry is to see where are students are in these areas when they are in the mid to late 20’s, when they have left the safety net of youth ministry. I think sometimes we are too concerned with the “here and now”, and not with how can they do this on ther own.

    Success for me is best seen look back. But that means we must stick around long enough to see the results.

  • Tim

    @ Jeff: “A student ministry is a success when we move out of the way and let God move in.”

    Hmm… I know what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I’d go with that definition myself. It’s too passive for me, kinda like the whole “let go, let God” thing.

    @ Joe: Looking ahead to the future results may be one way to measure effectiveness, but I’m not sure it’s the best way. For some students, the fruit of our labor might not hit until their 60s, in which case we’ll probably be dead and never know. Besides, this is still a measuring stick based on a work that only God can do in the lives of individuals. God can and will do that work with or without us.

    Maybe this is a classic example of having wrong answers because we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of asking, “What is success in youth ministry?” we should be asking, “God, how can I serve you to the best of my ability today?” and let all definitions of “success” go to Him.

  • I just started reading Bo Boshers and Judson Polings new book ‘the be with factor’ and in the first chapter they talk about 3 things that really resonated with me on the topic of success in student ministry. (1)Jesus’ impact was one of personal transformation deep within the souls of those he touched; (2) Jesus was a success despite dismal numbers because the measurement that mattered wasn’t just a short-term body count; (3)Deep transformation of a few who continue to influence others is the measure we should gauge success by in student ministry.
    I think if we are going to think in terms of success it shouldn’t be about “who is where” but “is there anyone that my life has touched that is in turn affecting and impacting lives for the sake of the Gospel producing real life chage.” Obviously real life change happens through the Holy Spirit and not us but are our student ministries producing life changing or life altering disciples of Jesus Christ? I don’t think we even have to produce them in “masses.” But have we touched someone’s life who is now helping to bring about change in someone else’s life because they are living for Christ with a reckless abandon?

  • Tim

    Chris, that’s some great input. I’m actually working on putting together a Student Leadership Team for my youth group. A lot of what you said will intentionally take place in that group and I’m excited to see it happen.

  • Tim:

    I understand what you are referring to. However, I would argue that if we truly do move out of the way and let God move it, ministry will be anything but passive.

    I guess that as I am getting a little older ( even though I don’t consider my self old ), I see that we try to determine success by things that really do not gauge success and it is “tough to measure”.

    Thus, if God is in the ministry and His grace is touching the lives of our students, “great things” will occur.

    Tough Question to Answer .. That is for sure.

    I just know that I am one that is “irked” by success being connected with #’s. Jeff …. why are you going to a smaller church … and the such .. I know you were not going in that direction …

  • Tim

    Jeff, thanks for the clarification. I’m still not quite comfortable with that definition myself, but I understand what you mean and totally respect it.

    I agree, though, that numbers can’t be a determining factor to success in youth ministry. It sometimes can be an indicator, but it definitely cannot define it.

  • From a leadership standpoint, I want to “define success” as the stories are laid out in “Summoned to Lead”.

    Tim, if you are still not comfortable with the terminology, that is fine and I understand. We can break it down more into a practical element if you want to. I did some small writing on success as you know.

    For me, we do set goals and if we “meet goals” people label us that we are succeeding. I am fine with that. We set goals that funnel through our vision and our mission. When we do this, we can and will be a success. But, I still think it puts some focus on us and that is not the wise thing.

    As an oddity, I “define success” for me as a ym when individuals do not know that I am the ym at the church.

  • Tim

    Yeah, that’s the thing: if goals measure success, then we can be successful in anything we want if we’re setting the goals. “My goal this week is to say HI to one student.”

    I guess what we’re really trying to determine is what God’s goals are for ministry, and specifically youth ministry. If that’s the case, we’re probably way over-complicating the issue.

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