Formulating contextualized visions and philosophies

Where youth ministry is going - Part 3If you missed the past several days of this series, I’m sharing some of the trends I see taking place in youth ministry and the implications they hold for our future. There’s been a lot of great discussion so far! Catch up with the, “Where youth ministry is going,” series with these posts:

Here’s the third trend I see taking place in youth ministry.

3. Formulating contextualized visions and philosophies.

There was a trend for the past 15 years or so where churches just looked to the mega churches and copied whatever Saddle Creek was doing. Churches saw what was happening in their churches and thought, “Wow, we’d really love to have that happen in our church, too!” So they adopted their philosophies and strategies and microwaved a bit to call them their own, which basically meant adding their own labels to what’s essentially the same philosophy. They called it “theirs,” but it really wasn’t.

Thankfully, now I see that our churches are discovering that following the Lord’s plan for someone else’s church really isn’t translating to their community the way we hoped. Maybe we forget that the churches we look to for leadership spent years and years in prayer, deeply pursuing God for His vision for their church and thankfully God blessed those efforts. While we have a lot to learn from churches like this, I think we’re now recognizing that each church must do the same because God has a unique plan and vision for each church that’s only revealed over time through prayer and pursuit of God.

I think we’re learning that cooking someone else’s recipe with different ingredients in a different ministry context just doesn’t give you the same end result. I sense that more and more churches are now taking personal ownership over a process of discovering the Lord’s plan and vision for their specific community. I see a lot of this is starting in the youth ministry world and flowing into the rest of the church.

Formulating a vision with no evaluation

However, here’s my word of caution: there are a lot of churches and ministry organizations who are taking ownership of developing their vision, but once they have the vision somewhat solidified, they jump straight to strategy, which is fine as long as the evaluation piece is put securely in place, as well.


  • How do you know if your strategy is even helping you truly accomplish your vision?
  • How do you know if you’re still heading in the same direction now as you were 5 years ago when you set that vision into motion?
  • Every year new kids come in to your ministry and others leave. How does your ministry morph to work with the specific kids in your ministry?
  • What if something you do in your ministry has very little spiritually influence? Will you know it?
  • How do you know what to eliminate because it’s spiritually weak? Or what to pour yourself into because it’s so powerful?

We think about questions like that, but our evaluation is often very subjective. Sometimes it just comes down to, “Let’s ask some people and see what they think,” and we end up with a team of people pooling their ignorance. Sometimes those people suggest we repeat certain events because, “We had a good turnout,” or, “Everyone seemed to have a good time!” as if those are our goals and the standards by which we evaluate the ministry.

While I’m glad churches are beginning to think for themselves, it’s almost pointless if you don’t set down rails to keep your train pointed in the right direction. Otherwise your burning a lot of fuel and making a lot of noise, but you’re ultimately not going anywhere as a ministry.


I’d love to hear your responses to some of the questions I asked earlier in this post. I really would! It will be helpful not only for us to articulate it together, but also to hear other people’s answers in the contexts of their ministry.

A resource about this

Focused Youth MinistryP.S. My ebook, “Focused Youth Ministry: How to discover God’s vision for your ministry, implement it, and make it sustainable,” deals with this topic directly. In fact, in it I outline a 30-step process that will lead you to not only discovering what God’s unique vision is for your group, but also how to develop a plan to move it forward as well as an evaluation system for tracking the effectiveness of its movement over time.

I actually just released a little animated promo video for the ebook. The next 100 people to pick up a copy can use coupon code “YOUTUBE” to get 50% off!

Posted on January 31, 2012

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