How can we tell if our youth ministry is doing well? People measure effectiveness in many ways: some point to the number of “unchurched” youth being reached, others to “relevance” or unique programs or big groups. What is the measure?

To evaluate our ministry’s effectiveness, I use seven basic questions.

1. Are student needs being met? We need to address both the “felt” needs (like “What about rock ‘n’ roll?”) and the “real” needs (like understanding the deity of Christ).

Focus is also important. Are we answering questions no one is asking? Adults must take care to address the needs of the teenagers rather than focusing on their own needs as adults.

We measure our effectiveness in this area by two standards: Attendance—youth are not often vocal about irrelevance; they register their opinion by their presence or absence. Feedback—we ask students, “Is this applicable to you or your world? What issues are you struggling with?” We are always filled with new ideas after these frank discussions. The key, of course, is listening well and acting on their ideas.

2. Are youth learning the “basics”? The “felt” needs alone are not enough. Students must learn to wrestle with the issues of faith so they can be established as Christians. As Jacques Ellul writes: “We must not shelter the young from the world’s dangers, but arm them so that they will be able to overcome them.” This means not only training them in Christian responses to worldly morality but also equipping them in the basics of Bible study, prayer, and other Christian disciplines.

We gear at least half our Sunday school lessons to these basics, but we still need improvement. Some churches have a “newcomers” class for all incoming students before they proceed to other electives. That is one way to make sure the “basics” are covered.

3. Are we ministering to the “whole person”?Luke 2:52 provides a good model for youth ministry: Jesus grew intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually. Some youth ministries focus on one or two of these areas, sometimes at the expense of the others.

Seminars on “How to Study” or “Maintaining Healthy Relationships at Home” or “Social Skills” are needed as much as regular youth group Bible study. We try to balance a spiritual focus with opportunities to burn off adolescent metabolic energy. We try to have at least two activities a month designed to build friendships. There have even been times when students have been encouraged to skip a youth activity to participate in a school event. Our goal is to help students integrate the life of faith into each area of their lives.

4. Are parents assisted? Parents used to scare me—until one veteran youth leader said he viewed his job as “helping parents carry out their ministry to youth.” Parents truly are the ones responsible; an effective youth ministry builds parents.

Youth ministry can be a bridge between youth and adults. As leader, I help parents understand the world of the teenager and vice versa. It is my job to assist, train, counsel, and console both parents and teens.

5. Are students challenged to serve? To a culture sometimes described as “self-absorbed,” the challenge to serve is not easy. It may be easier to have a group that focuses on “fun and games” rather than outward on the poor, the elderly, the unchurched. But young people can be equipped to minister like any other believers. Leaders who “do it all for you” produce young people ill equipped to serve. For this reason, we offer opportunities to serve through mission teams. We help others gain a vision for the unbeliever through the Youth Evangelism Explosion program. Some students still think evangelism is “for the experts” or “the real service opportunities exist overseas.”

6. Are youth prepared to move on? Youth ministry is transient; each student usually is with us only three to five years. We must prepare them to enter the college or working world, to train them in love and discernment so they can have their own ministries—start Bible studies, witness to friends, apply their faith to studies or jobs.

The only gauge: our graduates. Has the training stuck? I am increasingly thrilled by many who are “walking in the truth.” For me, this is the greatest reward of youth ministry.

7. Are youth gaining a vision for reaching unbelievers? The tendency to become inward, form cliques, and focus only on “the needs of our group” can destroy the zeal to reach out. From locker mates at school to the unreached of China, youth can gain a concern for those who do not know Jesus Christ.

I have learned, however, that their compassion for those outside the faith is often a direct reflection of my own attitude. If I am zealous to reflect Christ, the students are; if I am apathetic, they follow that example, too.

These questions help us evaluate our youth ministry. The answers help us see where we need to go.

Mr. Borthwick is minister of youth and missions at Grace Chapel, Lexington, Massachusetts.

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