The Better Question to Ask When Evaluating Student Ministry

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If you have been around for any length of time in the youth ministry game, you have inevitably been asked the question, “How is your youth ministry going?” Most of the time, the easiest answer, besides just saying ‘fine,’ is to give a recent example of success, growth, struggle, or failure.

All of us will evaluate, whether formally or informally, our student ministries and some common questions we probably ask ourselves are:

–   How many conversions were there in our ministry this year?

–   How many students were baptized?

–   What was our average attendance for Sunday school, youth group, youth events?

–   How many students were in a one-on-one discipleship relationship?

–   How many new people (friends) came to our youth group this year?

These are great and helpful questions to consider as we look back on our ministry, but I believe there is a better one. If you could ask only one question of your student ministry to evaluate past effectiveness and fruitfulness it should be:

Do the students have a higher view of God now than when the school year started?

Or, looking ahead:

What view of God will my students have when they move on from the student ministry?

This question is inspired by one of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[1]If you can say that the students who were coming to youth group regularly grew in their knowledge, love, and trust of God because their view of him grew, that is a huge win.

Here are three reasons why this is the best question to ask:

The bigger their view of God, the bigger their view of the gospel.

When students see the holiness of God, his perfect righteousness and justice, they will see their sin and their need for a Savior more clearly. And when they see their need for a Savior, they will see the amazing grace of God displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ – the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The bigger their view of God, the harder it will be for students to walk away for a season.

One reason students walk away from the church after high school is because when their faith is challenged, they’re not sure how to respond. A small view of God in these moments leaves them standing on shaky ground. A bigger view of God will help students to be “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7)

The bigger their view of God, the more fruit you will see in other areas of the students’ lives.

A bigger view of God will help students to “set [their] minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). A robust view of God and the gospel will lead to renewed desires of the heart, to grow in Christlikeness.

The question you might be asking is, “How do I know if they have a high view or growing view of God?” This can indeed be a difficult question to answer, which is why evaluation tools with numbers and concrete answers are always easier to use. While difficult, it is possible to answer this question for individual students or even for the group. It requires discipleship—intentionally entering into the messy, challenging, and time-consuming task of probing the hearts and minds of students—to help them grow in Christlikeness.

In that discipleship setting, you can ask some diagnostic questions like, “If a friend asked you to describe God to them, what would you say?” Listen for gaps or clarity in their understanding of who God is and what he has done. Another thing you can do is listen and observe them in small groups and pay attention to how they talk about the Bible, do they take God’s word or their own word more seriously? Observe them when they are going through trials or big life decisions: Do they run to God, his word, and godly counsel? Or do they withdraw, sit in their doubt, and run towards other comforts?

When each of us were called to student ministry, I’m sure we all wanted to make a considerable gospel impact on the lives of students. Asking the big-picture question of what students will think about God when they leave your ministry will guide you as you plan lessons, write discussion questions, pick worship songs, lead prayer, recruit and train leaders, etc.

Before you ask this question of your student ministry, ask yourself, “What view of God do I have and how is that impacting my current ministry?” Let’s commit ourselves to know the God of the Bible – the God who reconciled us to himself through the death of his Son – more intimately, so that our students see that Jesus Christ is better. Like Tozer encouraged, “We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers.”[2]

[1]The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961): 9

[2]Ibid., 12.

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