Recently, while I was talking with a new youth worker, he asked me what advice I had on how to evaluate a ministry. Beyond being thankful that this youth worker, in his first year of full-time ministry, saw the importance of evaluation, this question forced me to think through what I believe are some essentials to effective ministry evaluation.
The first thing to remember when it comes to evaluating your ministry is to lay your personal preferences aside. It will do no good for you to have “pet ministries” that you fight for, even if they were ministries you implemented. When you evaluate, you need to have an open, honest, and unbiased opinion. If you do not start the process on that level, you will not be able to accurately evaluate your ministry.
After you put away your personal preferences, remember to spend time asking God for wisdom as you enter into this process—wisdom for you and anyone else involved in the process. For me, I like to start my evaluations with 5 questions. The order you ask them is not as important as the answers you will gather.
1. Who is the target audience?
This question is difficult to answer if you are looking at the overall ministry; I try to focus on individual events or programs within the ministry. What group of students do you hope to reach: committed or fringe, high school or middle school, guys or girls, mature believers or new believers, athletic or non-athletic? If you know who your target audience is, you can more quickly determine if your target audience is impacted by the program.
2. Why do we do this?
Every program you run started with a good reason behind it. But over time a program can stay in existence even after its effectiveness has faded. This is why it is important to go through each program you have and ask why you do it. What do you hope to accomplish? What would happen if this program didn’t exist? Is there any other way the ministry could accomplish the same goal? If you can’t provide a good reason you have a program (“we’ve always done this” doesn’t count as a good reason), then you need to discuss how else to use your time, energy, and resources.
(The next three questions, which I modified slightly, I first heard when listening to a Skit Guys seminar on starting a drama ministry within your youth ministry. They were talking about evaluating your skits, but I believe the same questions are needed when looking at an overall ministry or program.)
3. What is going well?
This is a great question to ask the adults who work in the youth ministry. When I’ve asked this question, I’ve gotten responses ranging from “the rooms look nice” to “the students are involved in service.” No matter what answers you get, make sure to write them down and strive to make them even better.
4. What can we do better?
Asking this question can be a little scarier because it can bring up those topics people have been waiting to talk about. This is the question that gives people the permission to be lovingly critical of the current state of the ministry. You might get answers ranging from, “We don’t follow up with students” to “The students aren’t theologically prepared to enter adulthood.” Make sure you write these answers down and brainstorm ideas on how to improve.
5. What are we missing?
This is my favorite question to ask because it causes people to think harder. Most youth ministers spend very little time thinking about what is missing, because there is so much work to do with the stuff we are doing. It is the busyness of the routine that keeps us from being more effective in our ministry. We must start (or continue) stretching our ministries to go beyond the status quo of “what we’ve always done.”
The next three tips go beyond questions and enter into the realm of implementation. Here are three tips to help make evaluation a regular part of your ministry.
6. Take a step back.
You need to regularly take time to look at the ministry from 20,000 feet. Once a year, you need to carve out an entire day to look at the overall ministry. Every couple months, you should spend half a day evaluating individual ministries. But even more important than those two regular check-ups is a monthly personal evaluation. Youth workers need to take a step back and evaluate how they’re spending their time and what they need to change. During these times where you are looking at a “bigger picture,” make sure you spend time asking God to give you clarity.
7. Add programs/focus slowly.
I have a habit of wanting to speed through the process and force a ministry to “be where I want it to be.” What I have found, though, is that when I’ve tried to rush too many changes into a ministry I damage what’s already going on. As you evaluate your ministry and determine ways you want to change, you will need to think through how to intentionally change over time. Add new aspects that will build off each other and lead to bigger changes down the road.
8. Put a timeline down on paper.
As you look at how to change over time, the best thing you can do is put the information into a timeline. Putting together a timeline will do several things for your ministry. First, it will show people that you are putting thought and work into where the ministry goes. It will also provide a checklist to keep you focused on major things you need to focus on each month. I suggest you keep your timeline broken down by seasons and not months—this provides you a little more flexibility.
As you evaluate your current ministry, don’t be afraid to do things differently, but make sure you have a reason for doing them. Change for the sake of change accomplishes the same thing as maintaining a program because it has always been done. Throughout the evaluation process, keep your focus on God. But we warned that connecting students to God means there will be no safe, routine, or streamlined process.