I love change. I would even say I thrive on it. I realize I’m different than a lot of people. Some of you probably think I’m sick at some level for loving change. But I love when things move, transform, and transition. Being a lover of change, though, can result in me moving too quickly sometimes. We’ve recently made some changes to the midweek programs at my church and after a couple weeks there is part of me that wants to just completely change again. But I know that wouldn’t be the best move for our ministry. Here are three thoughts on making sure you don’t change too quickly:
Get some feedback
You can’t move from one change to another without getting quality feedback. This means talking to students about what they see happening and would like to see happening. Also, you need feedback from parents to see where they’re at with the change process. Lastly, you need to touch base with your adult leaders to feel out where they’re at. If all the change keeps happening only because of the opinions of the ministry point person, something’s wrong.
Go all out
If you’ve stepped out in a new ministry direction, you can’t just go halfway. A theme I’ve been hearing from our interim music minister at our church is that we need passion and excellence. A key step before making yet ANOTHER change is to make sure you’re doing what you do with both passion and excellence.
Give it time
It’s nearly impossible to gauge the success of something new after just a few short weeks. It needs months or even a year before full evaluation can take place. Students need time to adjust to something new. They may hate something at the start, but love it just 6 months down the road.
Tonight at Mag, we celebrated our class of 2012. It’s always crazy to me how fast the 4 years of someone’s time in our high school ministry go. In our ministry we definitely lose some engagement from our upperclassmen as time goes on (maybe yours does too….at least I’m hoping I’m not the only one). Here are some thoughts I’m thinking through of how to keep your high school seniors engaged:
Start Early – The key time to keeping seniors engaged is when they are freshmen and sophomores. Students typically come into our high school ministries excited at SOME level. That is the time to connect with and invest in students – when they are just getting started.
Give Ownership – Moving students from consumers to contributors is critical, but it REALLY needs to happen by about Junior year. Once students are making a contribution to the ministry by investing in others through service it will be more difficult for them to drift away.
Ask Them – Sometimes we forget to just ask students what would help them be engaged and plugged in to our ministries. Maybe we’re scratching where they’re not itching. Maybe we’re answering questions they’re not asking. In any case, we need to get feedback for setting direction both short- and long-term.
How do you keep seniors engaged in your ministry?
I’m trying something kinda new this summer. I just started a spreadsheet where I can individually debrief each event. I list the turnout and any thoughts for the event.
For instance, we just had a high school pool party tonight. Some of my thoughts from this event:
- We had a good turnout – about 40% of our average Sunday student attendance.
- We had no new freshmen show up – that’s not good.
- In the future, I need to email our adult leaders encouraging them to come (none were there).
- We had a jr. high event that ended up the same weekend pulling some of the new freshmen guys.
- The big WIN of the night was seeing students connecting with each other. We need to do more low-key relational events like this.
I’m hoping that tracking stuff like this immediately after the event will help me as I do planning and evaluation. It’s tough to remember exactly how a event went a few months later. And it’s also tough to see what the factors were that made the event what they were if they aren’t recorded immediately.
I’m taking a small group of students from our high school ministry to Doug Fields’ Student Leadership Conference this July 5-8 (which if you’re not….you should definitely think about it). I’ve used several different ways to “recruit” students for this conference. Hopefully these might be helpful for you as well.
Method 1 – The first year we went to this conference we used it to launch a student leadership team. We hadn’t done any type of student leadership in our ministry for a couple years. So, I looked around to see who were the students who were serving and had leadership potential. Then we sent a letter to this small crew of students inviting them to take part in the conference. A month or so after the conference we did a full-blown application process to kick off our student leadership “program.”
Method 2 – The next year we did the application process earlier. We had students apply for leadership in late Spring to then serve the next school year. We announced it and explained it in our large group settings. We had students fill out applications and go through an interview process. Then we basically enfolded the leadership conference as a part of that year’s leadership training.
Method 3 – This year is a little different, but pretty similar to Method 1. We haven’t done student leadership in a while so we’re back to square one. I’ve announced it a tiny bit to our ministry, put a blurb in the church bulletin, and did a blog post on our student website. We’ve painted a picture of the type of student we’re looking for (either serving in ministry this year or interested in serving next year). Then I’ve asked our adult leaders to suggest students who they think would be good leaders in our ministry and then I’ve sent them a personal invite on either Facebook or email.
We’ll probably again use the Student Leadership Conference as a launching point for next year’s student leaders. Although my gut is that student leadership in our ministry next year will look much more organic than it will programmed.
How do you recruit student leaders? Are you taking students to the Student Leadership Conference?
I had the opportunity to visit the high school ministry at Immanuel Baptist in Highland this past week on both a Sunday morning and a Wednesday night. Here are a few things I picked up as I was there:
- They have a large group opening time on Sundays before they break into smaller Bible Study groups (our ministry does the same thing). I loved they way they intentionally tied that time as an intro into what they were talking about that day.
- On that same note, a volunteer led most of that time. He did a fantastic job with an object lesson to intro the day’s passage.
- On Wednesday night there were also a few things that were really cool. I liked that the youth pastor wasn’t on stage the whole time. A student led an opening game, students led worship, and a volunteer gave announcements. When you hand stuff off like that, the quality may go down a little, but the engagement level goes way up which is worth it.
- After the Wednesday night program students hung around for quite awhile! I’d say about 80% of the students stayed to hang out. In my ministry 80% of the students are gone 5 minutes after we’re done. A key for this in their ministry: free food. They have a parent that coordinates different Sunday School classes bringing food each Wednesday night.
I had dinner afterwards with their youth pastor Rob Signs, as well as his fiancee Amy. One of the cool things we talked about is a retreat they were doing a couple days later. It’s called Coram Deo (Latin for “in the presence of God”). And essentially it’s lots of guided quiet times and experiences in God’s Word. They camp near the beach in San Diego and are able to pull the whole thing off for $50 a student. I’m thinking about adapting something similar in our own high school ministry. We could use a discipleship-oriented experience in the fall in our ministry, but I don’t want to add another HUGE high-priced item.
Next church to visit: Sandals Church
My church is gracious enough to give our staff a 4-week study leave every 5 years. I’m spending my time working on a revamp of our internship at the church. Here are a few reasons why:
Our Location: If you’re not familiar with Magnolia, we’re located directly across the street from CBU – a Christian college with nearly 5,000 students. We are being bad stewards of our location if we don’t intentionally invest in this up-and-coming generation of leaders.
Our History: There are currently 4 of us on staff at the church who started out as interns. I started at my church as a non-paid intern 12 years ago and now I’m on full-time staff. Our internship won’t be designed to guarantee people jobs, but the reality is that it creates a pipeline of leadership for us for years to come.
Our Situation: We use interns, but it’s here and there, and not necessarily requiring the same thing of all interns. My hope is to come out of February with a workable document and process to recruit, place, and develop interns. At one point we had 4-5 paid interns, but our church (like many others) had to make budget cuts and those positions have all now been eliminated. Our new approach is to develop a non-paid internship that provides value in itself because of the experience and opportunities it opens for interns.