Exemplary Youth Ministry Markers

It’s still the standard question. “How many students do we have involved in our youth group?”

Churches ALL want to be doing quality, (yes, even exemplary) ministry with young people.

So let’s consider what the “markers” of successful youth ministry have been. When you think about how people define youth ministry success, what are your congregation’s pictures of youth ministry success?  Not your pictures….the people in your pews.

For many churches, the marker for success is still the number of students we have attending our youth group.

As if youth group=committed faith.

As if faith grows by group.

AND, concerned about our youth ministries, we go to conferences and read books to find new ways to meet THAT goal:  more students in our youth programs. We are constantly on the lookout to find NEW ways to meet the same old goals.

We’d like to assert here, that one of the most significant things about the Exemplary Youth Ministry study is that it began with a very specific and different set of markers.

It set out to find churches where young people scored higher on a measures of faith maturity.

You can find the measure among the documents at www.exemplarym.com

Some of the churches they found when following these success markers didn’t even have a youth room.  Several had volunteer leaders only.

But they were all focused on the faith of youth people.  That’s a different goal than youth group.

What could that look like at your church?  What does that look like at your church?

Dr. Nancy Going is a 20-some year veteran of congregational youth ministry.  She coordinates the Distributed (distance) Children Youth and Family Ministry Program at Luther Seminary.  She did her PhD research by interviewing adolescents from several of the Exemplar congregations.

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  1. Great contrast between the goal of faith growth or the goal of creating a group! Baptism and Discipleship are goals of the great commission. Community in the book of Acts is the byproduct. I wonder when we start with creating a group as a goal (maybe because we know faith is formed in meaningul trusted relationships) we aren’t putting the cart before the horse?

  2. I’m as averse to numbers as anyone else, but I think I’m starting to come around a little bit from my extreme anti-numbers stance. Isn’t there a place for numbers somewhere? Shouldn’t healthy churches (and thus, youth ministries), be growing numerically over the long haul? It seems like in Acts, that was the case. They weren’t obsessed with growing churches, they were worried about the proclamation of the gospel. But numbers definitely seem to be a byproduct.

    • Jean Berry
    • February 9th, 2010

    I think exemplary youth ministry involves a heavy dose of mission – walking the talk of a belief system – and building investments with young people through invitation, saying to youth, “please be with us and share your talents.”
    Being inclusive is also critically important. We don’t serve some and not others. We love as God loves, as Jesus loves, as Spirit moves us. Knowing that the world needs us to step up is a profound invitation: everyone, all gifts and talents, come together and serve others, in the name of Love.

    • Eric Hamrick
    • February 14th, 2010

    The difficulty is that most people have no idea what to measure when it comes to youth ministry or how to go about measuring. The only things we can really measure are changes in knowledge, behavior and attitutde. I measure the opportunies provied to children, youth and families as we can only really change ourselves and how we go about providing ministry. We first need to know what it is we are doing by providing ministry. If it is simply relational ministry, then that is all it will ever be. But if we want folks to have an understanding of stories of faith, a collection of faith practices and abilities to build relationships with God and others, ministry skills to serve and care for others, (and the list goes on) etc. Then we need to measure our selves first and how we go about providing these opportunities and how successful education is. If we want our youth to know how to use the Bible, then we need to state this as a goal, make sure parents and youth have buy-in and provide the best opportunities to learn as we can through the years. At set intervals we measure how we ourselves are doing as educators first, then how well our youth are doing. We use milestones as benchmarks along the faith journey of our families (from birth to the grave). Like a developmental chart that pediatricans use to mark how well a child is developing physically, milestones can help us to mark the developmental process of faith. One can never measure how much faith a person has, but only knowledge, behaviors and attitudes toward faith in God. Lastly we need to beable to equip parents with skills necessary to support faith activities in the home. This is also based on knowledge, behaviors and attitutdes. Ministry initiatives to support parental skills can also be measured. Asking how many youth came to any given event is overly simple for what we should be doing to equip young people for lives of ministry. We need to stop waisting time and resources doing entertainment ministry and start thinking about how we make disciples of all nations and then equip them to be apostles to go and live out their ministries. It’s only then that the numbers will make sense.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Eric. You are absolutely right. That’s what makes the EYM study so compelling. It identified these very specific “signs’ of maturing faith, and based the study on looking for them. So exactly what you are talking about.

      But you are also right, as much as we might know and look for the markers in our students, people in churches need to be helped to see these markers. How does that change our jobs?

    • Don Marsh
    • February 14th, 2010

    Like many Youth Workers I do not like to use numbers as a marker for success, however, I certainly realize that most people in a congregation do. I am not so sure they mean anything by it when they ask “how many kids did this…or that” I think they are just looking for a handle upon which they can hang their desire for “success” in YFM. I echo some of the comments of those above. We do need to stop wasting so much time and effort on fun events and do more to develop faith and to make disciples. I believe we do that in a balanced sort of way. We do teach and train youth. We do meaningful service and mission yet I sure like to think we are still having fun while we learn, grow and serve others.

    For my two cents worth I am all about the number and depth of relationships we can foster between the youth and adults of our congregation. I have witnessed the power of those relationships time and time again. If I am pushing anything these days….it is to look for any and all ways to initate and develop faith based relationships between the generations.

  3. So Don, blog about that for us. What does that look like? How do you do that? What kind of power to they really have? Let me know when you want to write more!

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