How are goals measured? A football team can aim for a specific score or number of winning games. Baseball players quantify success by hits, RBI’s, or bases earned. Business leaders look to profits or reports at the end of a quarter. Restaurants can determine a good day by the number of customers served or money brought in.

In ministry, though, gauging success is not quite as tangible. We hope to build relationships and see God deepen discipleship, but where does that fit on a spreadsheet? How do we establish and monitor objectives for youth groups? Some aims may be specific and measurable, but others are harder to identify. Goals for youth ministry programs should include practical and attainable elements, as well as long-term relational visions. Above all else, Christ should be at the center of our ministry aims, as we recognize that it is the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us to accomplish His work.

The Big Picture

There are several poignant overarching goals that we should have as youth leaders, although they are not entirely within our control. If your group does not currently have a defined purpose and mission statement, prayerfully consider how that might help focus programmatic ministry. It can be helpful to work with students to identify how we want young people to be different because of their time in congregational youth ministry. Such expressed statements should focus on a desire to nurture disciples of Christ and to deepen the connections that teens have with the Lord and with one another. We should be focusing on where God promises to be present, encouraging friendships and prayer.

The long-term hope is that teens embrace their baptismal identity in Christ and continue in the faith long after graduating. We want them to recognize the precious gifts given to us in Word and Sacrament and to place God first and foremost in all things. These should be our aims in ministry. Yet, they take time and are not easily quantifiable. We can demonstrate relational quality, pray for our students, and plant the seeds of the Gospel we hope will come to fruition. We need to take care not to enforce timelines or definite expectations on these big picture goals. Instead, it is the Holy Spirit who works in these young people to strengthen and develop their Christian faith and their lives.

Setting up for Success      

Although we cannot control all outcomes of ministry, it is still helpful and important to establish some goals that can be realistically reached. Creating achievable short-term goals provides steps that eventually aid in realizing the long-term vision. Consider targets that are specific, measurable, and attainable. For instance, youth leaders cannot force attendance, but they can manage how many event opportunities take place, and of what type. Some of the goals you might set could be connected to

  • Planning and setting up group events that help meet young people’s needs
  • Investigating and selecting the topic and style of Bible studies
  • Trying new meeting formats
  • Engaging in new service projects or expanding existing ones
  • Finding ways to connect with other youth ministries that may be nearby
  • Monthly plans for phone calls, newsletters, and face-to-face connections with students and parents
  • Communicating with members of the congregation about what is happening in youth ministry
  • Encourage participation and mentorship across ages in the church
  • Raising up volunteers and helpers who can assist in youth ministry
  • Developing an action plan to equip youth and adults to reach out to friends who are disconnected from church.

Of course, in the long run, we hope to increase youth attendance and participation, but numbers are not everything. Healthy youth ministry can happen at any size. God is at work, so we can focus on what God will do through us to share Him with others. We want to reach others for Christ and augment the size of our groups but accomplishing short-term objectives can help us get closer to our long-term vision of disciples of Jesus Christ for life.

Monitoring Progress   

To track goals that are within our measurable control, review objectives at regularly designated times. Include on leader meeting agendas your short-term goals and the markers you hope will get you there. You might sit down with a pastor, committee, or on your own to assess how you are meeting short-term goals. Have you made the nine monthly phone calls you’d hoped to do? Has the group met for Bible study and game night each week? How did things go, and what should be adjusted for the next period of time? Tracking progress should become a habitual tool to implement necessary changes moving forward.

It is essential to keep broad-scope hopes and goals in mind when tracking progress, but shorter-term stepping-stone goals worked on in a more immediate time frame keeps leaders encouraged. Some goals for youth ministry require monitoring and checking in with young people, even after they move on from youth ministry. Regularly checking in with youth to hear their feedback doesn’t have to end with high school graduation. Instead, parents and supportive adults can also provide information regarding development of individual young people as they transition and perhaps even move.

Continual Motion   

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. -Proverbs 16:9

Ministry is not a destination, but a journey, walking in faith with others and recognizing our utter dependence on the Lord for all that we need in this body and life. It is helpful to set and monitor goals in order to accomplish the daily practicality of tasks in ministry. However, we never fully arrive at a “completion point.” We should always be looking for ways to improve or adapt goals to meet the needs of those we serve. We should find new methods to relate to others and encourage them. Our role should be as that of John the Baptist: pointing the way to Christ, and becoming less as He becomes more. In youth ministry, we hope to raise up disciples with the same goal. We establish plans, but we realize that objectives and achievement of them come from God, who allows us to be part of His Kingdom work.