We’ve talked about how to change ministry effectively – Do’s and Don’ts of Changing Ministry – but, how do you know it’s time to change? How do you know if ministries are working? Or if they aren’t and need to change? How do we need to know if something needs to be destroyed?

From years of playing and coaching sports, I’m naturally critical of myself and things I lead. One of my favorite things to do is watch game film to see what could be better. That isn’t always healthy, but that is how I’m wired. Because of that, evaluating ministry is not hard for me, especially when things don’t go to plan, go terribly wrong, or it’s just clear that something isn’t working.

It’s a lot harder to evaluate ministry when things are (or at least seem to be) going well. When things are going well, we fall into the old saying of, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!” That isn’t bad, but it sets up a stagnant culture. Another issue we run into is that we don’t know where to start evaluating ministry, which brings us back to the “How” questions above. So, let’s talk about a few ways you can evaluate your ministries.

#1 – Look at the Mission and/or Vision of Your Congregation

Many churches’ mission statement is a rephrasing of the Great Commission. Which is great, since that is the mission Jesus has given us! Not every church has or needs a specific mission or vision statement. Yet, every youth ministry should be working towards young people who are disciples of Jesus for a lifetime as a part of the overall work of the congregation.

If you have a statement, like mine, it can help give you a place to start evaluation. For example, we say: Peace will nurture and educate families in our community, beginning with children, so that they live abundant lives in Christ. This vision statement has given me some “pre-built” questions to ask when evaluating ministries:

  1. Is this ministry nurturing families for abundant lives in Christ? How so? Why not?
  2. Is this ministry educating families for abundant lives in Christ? How so? Why not?
  3. Is this ministry nurturing children for abundant lives in Christ? How so? Why not?
  4. Is this ministry educating children for abundant lives in Christ? How so? Why not?
  5. Is this ministry accessible to the community? Or just to our church, school, and childcare?
    1. Is this ministry accessible to families of our school & childcare that AREN’T members of our church?
  6. Is this ministry “thriving”? Are people inviting friends to it?
  7. Is there a different way we could do this that would better fit our vision?

Asking these questions allows me to see how the ministry entrusted to your leadership fit into the work that Christ has given His church in this place. These questions have been a guiding force for me in making large changes to confirmation and small changes to the structure of the family devotion kits we create.

Use your church’s mission, vision, key targets, etc. to create similar questions to aid you in finding out what needs tweaking, what needs major change, or what is doing what it needs to be doing. If you don’t have this type of statement, consider how the ministry leads people to live in Christ through their whole lives. This focus on a life of faith in Jesus through all ages and stages can help you can create questions as a leadership team that will help you make decisions.

#2 – Program Evaluation Tool

Shout out to Pastor Ben Shrank who gave me this tool at the Best Practices for Ministry Conference a few years ago!

On a piece of paper, make sure it’s in “landscape,” draw out the below table:

Under “EVENT” put the ministry you are evaluating. The next four boxes are the purposes of that ministry. Put an “X” in the box(es) as you see fit. If you have multiple “X’s” you should rank each purpose by priority. When I did this for one part of our Junior High Youth Ministry programing in 2018, it looked like this:

Now, take time to honestly evaluate those boxes you put an “X” in. What does your Bible study format and teaching look like? Are people responding? Are people engaging in fellowship? Are you providing them opportunities to do so? Are you actually doing service projects? Etc. Etc.

After looking at my responses, I realized a few things: 1) Our teaching time was too long if the purpose of this part of the program was fellowship 2) The kids wanted to spend time with their friends and play games 3) The kids liked that we did a service project once a month.

This led my team and I to make a quick change: We wouldn’t have a “classic” sit-down Bible study during this program. Instead, we would play games, and when we switched games or activities, we would take time to share how the previous game tied into our faith and incorporate teaching then.

Be sure that you are prioritizing and evaluating in alignment with the mission and vision in section one. I cannot emphasize how helpful this tool has been for me. I’ve used it for Youth Ministries, Confirmation, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and more.

#3 – Ask Questions

Lastly, there may be other factors that need to play into your Self-Evaluation, especially for Youth Ministry. When those arise, ask questions. Here are some to consider:

  • Do you have enough Adult Leaders? Am I equipping the leaders I have well?
  • Do you have the means to make changes?
  • What are some new skills I should be developing?
  • Do you have a budget? If so, how much? Is it being used effectively?
  • What are the needs of the people in my church/community? Does this ministry meet those needs? If so, how? If not, why?

These questions and many more may help you evaluate and make your action plan for moving forward. I like to do an informal mini-evaluation quarterly on the ministries I am responsible for, but make sure to do this formally each year (typically in May/June). Also, make sure you do this with the appropriate staff and teams you work with. Evaluating on your own is great, but if you don’t get the input of those you work alongside you become a bulldozer when change happens: All alone, charging forward, with no regard to what your plowing through (or the people caught in the plow-head).

Overall, the most important tool – besides prayer! – you can use is PATIENCE. Change takes time, and finding out what needs to change can also take time. No matter how change happens (or doesn’t happen), we need to center everything around God’s Word. The Holy Spirit is at work enlightening and gathering us around the Gospel. Be patient when change isn’t always on your timeline and trust in God’s unfailing love and promises.