What makes a successful youth ministry?

Andy Jung Image Andy Jung | Jan 26, 2023

Good leaders manage their egos well.

It isn’t that good leaders don’t have egos—because we all do. But an unchecked ego can warp our perspective or twist our values.

When I served as the youth pastor at a mid-sized suburban church, it was hard to keep my ego in check at times. In my tradition, we measured success by the 4 B’s: budget, baptisms, buildings, and butts (in pews). By those metrics, we were doing pretty well. The youth ministry increased in numbers as the church grew. We continually had more students on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and at special events. We took more teenagers on retreats and mission trips year after year. The students wanted to be together, and we experienced God’s goodness in many ways.

Success hinged on numbers, and I was doing well by that metric.

Don’t get me wrong: numbers are not always bad. But they are an incomplete measure of success. What if there are better metrics we can track?

We want students to know Jesus, love Jesus, and serve Jesus. If we cut through all of the noise, I think everyone (parents, youth leaders, pastors, and church leaders alike) would agree that the goal of youth ministry (and the church at large) is to help people be faithful followers of Jesus for a lifetime.

So, what if we measure success through the lens of helping teenagers become lifelong followers of Jesus?

Redefining successful youth ministry

Changing the metrics is not a new conversation. Ministry leaders have been talking about shifting the metrics of success for decades. The prevailing thought in recent years has been to measure engagement rather than the traditional 4 B’s.

But what does that really mean? How do we measure young people’s engagement in practical ways?

If the mission is to help teenagers become lifelong disciples of Jesus, then the real measure of success is in the number of students who remain engaged in their faith into adulthood. Unfortunately, success can’t be measured until 5-10 years after students leave our ministries.

Having said that, there are some short-term, immediate ways we can measure the success of our ministries that will help build the scaffolding for young people to pursue lifelong faith.

Ask yourself these questions when measuring success for today’s youth ministry:

  • How many teenagers actively engage in spiritual practices such as Scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines?
  • How many teenagers serve the church in their areas of passion or interest?
  • How many adults in your church have meaningful relationships with young people that helped a young person feel understood and supported? Do the teenagers in your ministry have at least five caring Christian adults relationally investing in their lives?
  • How effective is your training of volunteer leaders? How many volunteers do you have? How many have you been able to inspire adults to invest in the lives of students?
  • How is your youth ministry equipping parents to have faith conversations at home? How many parent meetings or trainings have you offered in the last year? How many conversations have you had with parents about their teenagers’ faith development?
  • How many teenagers are involved in ministry outside of the church building?

The true measure of youth ministry success

Recently, I came across a picture of a youth group graduating class from the past. Even after ten years, I’ve maintained a relationship with many in the picture. As I went through the picture and reflected on each young person, I wondered about their faith journey. I wondered if they found peace, comfort, and joy in their relationship with Jesus. I wondered if their faith still mattered to them as it did in high school. I wondered if they were actively engaging in a faith community.

One thing is for sure, success was no longer about my ego. It wasn’t about me.

It was about Jesus. It was about the young people in the picture and whether their faith still mattered to them. That’s the true measure of youth ministry success.

Tweet this: How can we measure success through the lens of helping teenagers become lifelong followers of Jesus? Try these new metrics for your youth ministry.

If you're tired of youth ministry that fails to change lives, it's time to change youth ministry.

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Andy Jung Image
Andy Jung

Andy Jung is the Senior Director of Church Engagement and Business Administration at the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI). He focuses on developing relationships with church, denominational, and network leaders, finding ways for FYI's research, resources, and training to support their ministry. Andy earned a BS in Math Education from North Carolina State University, an MDiv from Campbell University Divinity School, and a DMin from Fuller Theological Seminary in Youth, Family, and Culture. He has served as a youth minister for 20+ years and a senior pastor for five years. In addition, Andy also served as a state executive leader for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of NC for two years before joining FYI's staff in 2020. In addition to his work at FYI, he is a current ministry practitioner as he serves as the Minister in Residence for Young Adults at Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Andy lives with his wife Amy in Raleigh and is passionate about helping churches better love and care for young people so that teenagers and young adults can thrive in their faith.

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