If you work with teens, you have probably wondered at one point or another the same thing I have, how do I know I am making a difference? We know what our goal is, to proclaim the gospel to teenagers for life change that only can come from relationship with Jesus. But that seems fuzzy to track. How do I know if I am doing it? How do I know if the teens are really experiencing and forming a faith in Christ? We know that there is a difference between merely attending church and having a relationship with Jesus, so how do we measure this? Last I checked, there is no window to peek into the heart and soul of a teen, or a tangible item to measure. So how do we measure success?
First let me preface this by saying two things to move us to what I would call a success in youth ministry.
God is ultimately the one who does the work.
Is this not refreshing? Sure, we have a heavy responsibility of loving, discipling, and proclaiming the gospel to teenagers. That is no small task. However, all we can do is sow the seeds. Remember the parable of the sower? It is God who brings about growth in the lives of believers. When I get to heaven, God is not going to ask my parents or my pastors about my faith. Yes, the Bible says they will be held accountable for how they led their flock, but ultimately my salvation is dependent on my own faith in Jesus. My parents cannot accept Jesus for me, which brings me to my other prefacing point.
You will never truly know the fate of anyone’s eternity.
Let me explain this a bit more in detail. As I mentioned it is God who does the “saving” based on the person’s own faith – the truth of salvation is personal. We know the promises which God gives to save all who call upon his name (Rom 10:13). But when we look at Matthew 7:21, we see that there will be people who cast out demons and perform miracles who do not truly know Jesus. Personally, anyone who I see doing these things I am going to assume has it pretty tight with Jesus, but the Bible tells us this is not necessarily the case. Therefore, we cannot truly know any person’s eternal salvation. As one of my college professors used to always say, “I am glad that salvation is far above my pay grade.”
So, what then is the measurement of success for youth ministry? If we cannot know with certainty anyone’s salvation, let alone actually bring it about, what are we to measure? Let me offer three things which I believe should happen every time a teen is at a youth event which I would call a success.
Every teen is connected to Jesus.
While we cannot produce a faith in teenagers, one thing we can do is at least introduce them to Jesus. Laying the foundation for a faith which they can build is the number one win which a youth ministry team can bring about. Jesus should be central to everything which a church and youth ministry does. In teaching, worship, and even games and fellowship, Jesus must be the reason we are gathering together. A rhetorical side question, what is the point of doing church if Jesus is not the central focus? Christ is the head of the church (Col 1:18).
Every teen is connected to a Jesus-loving adult.
This is part of the discipleship process. Not only are teens connected to the youth pastor and staff, but to volunteers who are loving and leading teens. Jesus had a bit of an advantage on us – you know being fully God and fully man, and not sinning – and even then, only had 12 disciples. How can we expect a youth pastor then to disciple more than 5 or 10 teens? The beauty of volunteers is you can get 1 or 2 volunteers for every 5-10 teens to disciple them intimately. When teens feel loved and known by adults, they feel they belong and are much more receptive to Jesus.
Every teen is connected to a peer.
We have all heard the stats and stories of teens feeling alone. In a world where they are always connected, more than ever teens feel they are all by themselves. As the body of Christ, which is meant to be connected, teens should feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and friendship. Not to mention fellowship is a core Christian principle. Teens should be connected to others who they can walk through life with. While being connected to Jesus is a must and connection to a Christian adult is very important, it is also needed for teens to walk alongside others who are in the same part of life as they are. Other teens who are facing the same temptations and pulls of the world are the perfect people for them to be living alongside.
I would say it is that simple. If for every youth event and function, teens are connected to Jesus, Jesus-loving adults, and their peers, we are setting them up for the best recipe to grow in their faith.
I also want to finish this by saying these three ideas are not original to me, but then again, I do not know if any of my ideas are. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” These are principles which I have heard presented in different ways that I have come to use to define success. To me, a successful youth ministry connects teens to Jesus, Christ-following adults, and peers. What defines a successful youth ministry to you?