How many people come to your youth group? What is your budget like? How many conversions this year? What is your volunteer to kid ratio? How many of your kids have one of those eye-popping transformative testimonies?

If you already guess it from the title, I believe that in the ministry world we often gauge whether we are doing a good job by using bad measuring sticks. 

We look at numbers and not depth.
We compare ourselves to other ministries and their budgets. 
We get wrapped up, so easily, with how things look.

I think the expectations of being a youth worker can be so intense that at times we focus on the wrong stuff in order to deal with all the pressures from so many people’s opinions.

But Shouldn’t We Measure Things?

Absolutely.  Often, where you measure is where you see more growth.  If you are after more kids knowing Jesus, and you start tracking that every year, you will likely begin to actively work on that.  It is good to know where “you are actually at” to figure out “where you want to go.”  I believe in metrics and regularly measuring key indicators in a ministry.

So then what’s the problem?

When I started in youth ministry, I was in college and worked part-time running a Campus Life club.  I think I got paid $184 per month after taxes and often worked 15-20 hours a week.  While this wasn’t expected of me, I loved youth ministry and wanted to give all that I could to the kids I served.  The group was good, but there were always needs beyond my hours that I could not meet.  I longed to go full-time so I could then fully meet the needs of my community.

Yeah, right. 

So I became full-time, and while I was able to do a whole lot more, being connected to more kids just brought more needs. The feeling I had of wanting to do more increased!

The truth is, our job in ministry is never done.  Even in my small town, though our group was large and growing, around 75% of our town’s kids didn’t go to a church or youth ministry.

So what is success?  Is it getting 50% of the kids involved? 60%?  Is it about conversions?  Or is it about how many student leaders I can get to go out and friendship evangelize?

True Success

When I became Executive Director, the question bothered me to no end. 

What was enough? 

I sought out multiple mentors, youth ministry experts and veterans, and other ministry gurus.  How do you define and measure success?  The majority of the answers, unfortunately, were formulas, or contradictory, or left me unsure.

After years in ministry, lots of prayer and consideration, I think success boils down to one word:

Obedience.

If I am listening to God, and then obeying — my ministry is successful.

If you are annoyed that this sounds trite….well, get over it.  Sometimes the most important truths are simple.

Obeying God does not mean your numbers grow in youth ministry, it does not mean you have a big budget, and truthfully, it doesn’t even mean you see X% of conversions every year. 

Throughout the Bible, God called many people to do things that didn’t “look” successful.  They were painful and sometimes resulted in a person’s humiliation and even death. 

At the end of the day, if I believe I have put in the effort to listen to God and to try and do what He has said, I believe I am truly successful.  So should you.

So, Don’t Results Matter?

Yes!  And we should strive for excellence in all that we do!  I remember once sitting with a group of ministers who were considering doing an event.  It was brought up that the event might not be a very fruitful one.  One minister said the age-old line, “Well, if we get just one, then it will all be worth it.”

Inwardly, I groaned.  Yes, it is true, if one soul was saved it would be worth it. Our efforts do matter. One life, or even seeds planted, matter.  But, what if we did an event that was more relevant and got two people saved? Or ten?  And what if we did it with less strain? 

Also – shouldn’t we be measuring depth, too? Not just numbers?

So yes, our methods do matter, and it is good to strive for improvement.  Next month’s blog, in fact, is going to be about being proactive to get better results.  But those goals and efforts need to be God-breathed and from Him.  I do not believe every group is supposed to get large, or every kid in my town is going to meet Jesus because of me.

So be obedient? Or go after results?

Yes. 

A bit confusing, huh?

Listening to God and discerning His will is a big deal, and volumes upon volumes of books have been written and experiences have been shared on “how to” do this.  It is not just “Oh, I prayed and have this feeling about X and so now I need to go do X.”

Personal revelation will never trump or contradict Scripture.  While God has told people in the Bible to do some weird things, they don’t go against His commands or His word. God won’t ever tell you to go punch a kid in the face – if you think He just did, I think you may need to get help in your discernment skills. 

We train in youth ministry to learn the bible, spiritual formation, youth ministry methodology, and more.  This matters.  God wants us to seek wisdom from each other – that’s a big reason the church exists.  It isn’t that you sit with a blank piece of paper and try to reinvent youth ministry by prayer alone – learning from the Bible and from others is really important. 

If methodology or youth ministry philosophies or skill sets didn’t matter, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.  When I am talking about the measure of success, I am not diving into all of the “how to’s” of ministry growth and principals. 

This is not cut and dry.  I like when things are, but measuring success is a debated issue is because it is murky.  The reason I heard so many contradictory answers on this question is because it is complicated. 

We can’t blame our lackluster ministry on the line, “But I’m just listening and obeying.” At the same time we can’t think that more numbers and bigger “results” mean success

I’m just trying to say maybe we need to take another look at how we “strut our stuff” regarding our success, whether we lean towards self-condemnation or towards inflated egos.

Perhaps the real indicator, the most important indicator of success, flows more out of your relationship with Christ than anything else.

Trust Jesus

Please, don’t get caught up in comparing your group to another.  Don’t get trapped by other people’s expectations.  Listen to God and obey.  Don’t get lazy either – none of this is an excuse for not putting in the effort.  If you aren’t sure if you are doing a good job, pray and ask God.  I also suggest seeking out a mentor or someone who has gone before you and ask them good, hard questions. 

May we put aside anything “flashy” and allow our success to be measured by our faith and our obedience.  To this, Jesus says, “Well Done.”

What do you think? How do you measure success? In anything? I’d really like to know! Please comment!