How a season of evaluation transformed our jr. high ministry

How a season of evaluation transformed our jr. high ministryAbout two years ago we had around 20 jr. highers involved in our “go deep” Bible study. It’s a two year course where they study the Old Testament one year and go through the New Testament the next year. By the time each jr. higher transitions into high school, they have a basic understanding of the entire Bible. It sounds like a great program, except that the kids who came were only there because their parents forced them. The jr. highers felt like they were learning very little and the amount of life change we saw coming out of that Bible study was very disheartening.

So, we stopped the program for a summer (like we do with most of the regular programming) and did a lot of hard evaluating, refocusing, and renewing the vision for what it should be like. In short, we decided that it was too academic and needed to be more intentional about connecting God’s Word to jr. highers’ individual lives. The plan was to take the curriculum out of the classroom and put it into small groups where two adult leaders could co-teach gender and grade specific groups of about 5 to 8 jr. highers for two years. We also changed it from a Sunday morning to a Wednesday night and updated the curriculum to include personal journaling about assigned scripture readings every weekday.

The changes were met with some debate, opposition, and pushback from several people in our church, including people in leadership. When it eventually came before our church board, they debated long and hard about the changes. Although the vote narrowly passed, it left me feeling very unsure if the season of evaluation and dreaming would be worth it the road ahead.

But two years later I can look back and say it was definitely worth it. This past year we had about 110 jr. highers actively involved, 24 adult leaders passionately teaching in small groups, and amazing stories of life-change like you wouldn’t believe! It’s not just a special kid here or there that’s been impacted, it’s almost every single one! In fact, you can watch many of them share their testimonies right here. Plus, most of these jr. high small groups will now transition into being high school small groups, meaning our transition rate from jr. high to high school ministry is poised to jump from about 25% to 80% this year.

Maybe you think taking a couple months (or even a year) off is too long of a period to step back and refocus, and for you and your ministry, maybe it is. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who has to be busy doing something in order to feel like your ministry is accomplishing anything. In my humble opinion, ministry is not as much about “doing” as much as it is about “being.” Identity precedes function. Function flows from identity, not the other way around. I take time to focus in our identity for a season and let the function flow from it for the rest of the year.

If I didn’t, then our jr. high ministry would still be struggling with about 20 kids involved. Was the season of a “time out” from jr. high programming worth it for us? Absolutely. Lives are now being changed exponentially because of it.

Don’t be afraid to slow down or even shut down programs for a season in order to change lives. It’s really not as counter-productive as you might think.

Posted on June 11, 2009

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