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Three Game-Changer Questions (and One I Added Later)

What if my little youth ministry ship was permanently stuck in a swirling vortex? Here are three “diagnostic” questions that I vowed to use as filters.

Even though I had a decade of ministry under my belt, I was exhausted after months of trying to build a new youth ministry from the ground up. The kids weren’t coming, and frustration was sapping my strength. With no wind filling our sails, I was blowing as hard as I could to get us moving—what if my little youth ministry ship was permanently stuck in the swirling vortex of meaninglessness?

Desperation opened the door to a new habit that changed everything in my ministry. I came up with three “diagnostic” questions that I vowed to use as filters before creating any study or event or strategy in our ministry…

#1: Who is this for? After reminding myself that everything we do must be only-and-always for Jesus (strange how easy it is to forget that in ministry), I start by identifying the target audience. Who do I want to show up for this?  How involved is that “people group” in the ideation, marketing, execution, and evaluation of the idea? Have I asked them what moves them, shapes them, excites them, and propels them forward in faith? Have I truly listened to their answers?

#2: Why does it matter? I knew I had to lay waste to sacred cows and golden calves if we were going to fuel ongoing momentum in our ministry. But, honestly, just because a ministry tradition is old, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer viable. (Tom Brady is the oldest quarterback in the NFL, but he just played in the Super Bowl.) And, conversely, just because a good series worked great in a previous church, it doesn’t mean it’ll be a home-run in your current one. Pushing myself to identify “why” helps me clearly spotlight my own “rituals without purpose,” while also targeting church traditions that are either helpful or counter-productive.

#3: What should the “next step” be? For the “who’s” of the event, what happens next? What do I want them to do or become as a result of their participation? This is the most transformational question of the three. Everything I was doing in ministry was good—getting kids to church, engaging parents, and training volunteers. But without a “what’s next,” my ministry had devolved into events management and speech-giving, not true life-change.

These three questions transformed my ministry life from auto-pilot to intentionality. They deliver thoughtful, purposeful answers when people in “important roles” disagree with me or question what I’m doing. They force me to take a strong look at how I’m leading, who I’m leading, and why I’m leading.

My “new system” worked flawlessly—and then I had children.

Somewhere along the line, I missed that I should be as intentional about my personal calendar as I was about my ministry calendar. With the demands created by three kids under the age of five, it became clear my diagnostic strategy was one question short. My ministry calendar was thriving, and my family was paying the price. So I added an important question…

#4: How does this affect my family? Analyzing my ministry calendar alongside our family calendar led me to abort some ideas, even really good ones. This question pushed me to develop volunteers who could handle ministry responsibilities when their help was most needed, and when I needed margin. And families in my ministry began to appreciate how the question influenced THEIR families.

My three-questions-plus-one strategy impacted everything in my ministry. I’d love to say I’m never out of balance now, but that would be a lie. I don’t always ask the questions in a timely way. Sometimes they don’t get asked at all until the chaos of a hectic season is over and I’m evaluating why it felt so turbulent. But keeping those questions top-of-mind is a little like wearing a rubber band on my wrist—when life gets stretched a little bit too tight, the band snaps back and the OUCH! reminds me that it’s there.

Are you consistently asking these (or similar) questions? Who holds you accountable to ask them? What questions would you add to make your ministry more intentional and more manageable?

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Three Game-Changer Questions (and One...

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