Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders How to Know When Your Youth Ministry is Off Course

How to Know When Your Youth Ministry is Off Course

Once upon a time, there was a captain of a huge freight ship who had been away from home for three months. He was very much looking forward to being reunited with his wife, whom he loved very much. And so he eagerly set course for the harbor where they had to dock, knowing she would be there waiting for him. But because he was tired and wanted to look his best for his wife, he asked his first officer to take responsibility for the ship while he was taking a nap.

The first officer agreed, but unbeknown to the captain, he had other plans. He’d secretly arranged for the ship to dock in another port because that was much closer to his girlfriend, with whom he wanted to meet up. So while the captain was asleep, the first officer changed course to his harbor of choice.

When the captain woke up an hour before they were supposed to arrive at the port, he discovered the change of course. He was furious and dismissed the first officer immediately. However, the damage had already been done. Because a freight ship is so big and heavy, it can only change course slowly. Despite the captain’s best efforts, they arrived in the original harbor four hours behind schedule. His wife had already given up hope the ship would come in and had gone home. The captain was very sad and angry when he discovered she had left. He didn’t blame his wife—she couldn’t have known what had happened, but he did blame his first officer. It wasn’t only till very late that night that the captain could finally hug his wife again.

Hours and hours wasted because of a change of course that should have never happened! If only he hadn’t taken a nap, if only he’d discovered the change of course sooner. He could have spent so many extra hours with his wife and prevented her from standing on the dock in van for four hours. It was a valuable lesson for the captain …

I heard this story at a management training years ago when I was a manager in a hospital and it stuck with me (which once again shows the power of stories, by the way!). The key takeaway from the story is this: If the captain had discovered the change of course sooner, the resulting time waste would have been much less.

Do you know how your youth ministry is doing? Do you notice whether someone in your team (intentionally or not) is taking your youth ministry off course? Because the sooner you find out, the less damaging the effects will be.

How can you know what’s going on in your youth ministry, you may ask. By setting up a “reporting system” that gives you formal and informal feedback on how you’re doing with regards to your mission, vision and strategic plan:

  • Check in with your leaders regularly and ask specific questions to see how they’re doing and if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
  • Visit your small group leaders, observe them leading a group when possible (or have a coach do this) to see if they are leading as you had envisioned.
  • Create a culture in which people report mistakes and issues themselves, because they don’t face bad consequences in any way.
  • Keep tabs on numbers like small-group attendance, youth service attendance, number of new youth attending, number of baptisms and other statistics that will tell you something about how your youth ministry is doing.
  • Check your financial status regularly to see if you’re still on budget, if all receipts are there, if everyone who has made costs has actually claimed their expenses.
  • Ask your students for feedback on specific activities, for instance after a youth service, a retreat, etc.
  • Keep in contact with the parents and make sure you are informed of any concerns from their part.

The goal is not to judge people, to be a control freak, to point fingers or to kick anyone’s butt for making a mistake, but to identify small issues before they become big problems. Because the sooner you know about a change of course, no matter how small, the sooner you can make changes to make sure you actually reach your destination.

Do you have a system in place to determine if your youth ministry is going off course?  

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Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com