Though the first official day of summer is still a few weeks away, once you put prom and graduation in the rearview mirror, you know summer is here. This means for youth workers that our ministries look very, very different from the rest of the year. For some, summer is a welcomed break. For others, it can be equally as hectic as the school year, without the benefit of a familiar routine.
Regardless of what summer looks like for you, it does represent an opportunity to think about the state of your youth ministry.
It offers a good time for evaluation. What’s working? What’s not? If you want to improve your ministry, if you want to be as effective at living out your calling as you can be, you have to be willing to do the tough work of evaluating your ministry. Below is a suggestion of what this might look like. It’s not exhaustive, or comprehensive, but it’s a good road-map with which to get started. When you’re finished, I’d love for you to offer suggestions on what I missed, or what you would add or take out.
Here’s a suggested path to evaluating your ministry:
Divide and Conquer
Divide your ministry into a few different “sections.” The way you do this will vary, but it might look as simple as something like this: staff, programming, volunteers and students. Then, identify what you want to measure or evaluate for each section. Questions need to include something similar to the following:
What is working? Where are we succeeding in achieving our goals? [You have set goals, right? 🙂 ]
What is not working? What goals are we not meeting?
What can be improved? (This has to be asked of us personally, as well.)
What needs to be pruned away?
In this step, you are simply identifying the questions you want to ask, not answering them.
Once you’ve targeted the areas you want to address and you have formulated your questions, it’s time to get some answers.There will be questions that you and your team will be best suited to answer, such as questions about budget and programming. However, there will be other areas in which you must seek others’ opinions. You can’t be your own focus group. Maybe you love a certain program or initiative, but the majority of your volunteers feel like it doesn’t work. Gathering data means seeking responses from all involved. How do you gather data? Start by crafting a survey for your volunteers and for your students based on the questions and areas you identified in the divide and conquer stage. Here are some thoughts on implementation:
Go “New School” and “Old School” — Embrace old and new technologies. Mail surveys to volunteers and students with a self-addressed return envelope included (old school). But, utilize technology to increase your responses. Survey Monkey is an awesome online tool to gather data. Or, simply post questions on a Facebook page and ask people to message you the responses. Providing both outlets will dramatically increase your response rate.
Follow Up — Don’t send it and forget it. If you do, you’ll be disappointed. Email or otherwise contact folks about five days after you send the survey and remind them to complete it.
Get Personal — Your survey should be the main way you gather data. But consider choosing a few key people (volunteers and students) who are especially invested in your ministry. Seek out their opinions and thoughts in a lunch conversation, or over coffee. Your survey is quantitative. These conversations are qualitative. And they can be invaluable.
Don’t let this part bring you down or overwhelm you. Gathering data is fieldwork and it can sometimes be “not fun.” But if you can stomach the task of doing this the right way, the dividends can be huge.
Look for Trends (but Don’t Miss the “A-Ha!” Moments)
Once you start getting responses in, what you’re looking for is trends. Try hard to separate your personal feelings from the data. There will be students who think your messages are lame. There will be volunteers who hate Wednesday night large group. Let these types of comments roll off your back! Look for trends.
Do 15 of your 40 students say they’re not spiritually challenged by your Sunday morning programming? That’s a trend. You might want to pay attention to this. Do six of your 12 adult volunteers think communication is a problem? Trend. It’s time to start thinking about how you do things. Identifying trends is key and will probably represent the bulk of what you choose to address in making changes. But don’t miss the “A-Ha!” responses. “A-Ha!” responses are those insightful, creative nuggets that a student or a volunteer offers that can be game changers. Maybe it’s an idea, or a critique or a twist on a current plan that is super outside of the box. Don’t miss these. (And don’t miss the chance to let the individual be part of leading out in the implementation of the idea, if it gets that far.)