Cars, Cards, and Parents @ Youth Group – How We Measure Success

About a year and half ago, we began investigating the Orange philosophy, and spent a lot of time discussing it, working through the book, and praying.  We implemented a five-year plan to move our children’s and youth ministries to the Orange philosophy this year, and now we are almost one year down.  It’s been pretty great!  We’ve learned a ton, and have much more to figure out.

One of the big values we are holding to is taking small steps and counting them as a “win”.  It is so incredibly easy to get all pumped up about what could be, what might come of this, what changes could happen in our church, families, and community.  In and of itself, the excitement is necessary and is a fuel for the process.  But we’ve determined that we can’t let the excitement and passion be what guides the decisions and timing.  If we do, we will run out and begin an Orange blitz, inundating our congregation and staff with a flood of Orange posters, videos, terminology, and pressure.  We will set unrealistic expectations, and put up benchmarks that we can not meet.  We’ll call it “vision”, but it’s really undisciplined desperation.  It happens in organizations all the time, and churches are just as guilty as anyone of running too fast, too soon, with too few team members on board.  We become impassioned, and believe that with the right “branding” and excitement, people will just flock to our newest, shiniest, flashiest thing.  Unfortunately, we all tend to underestimate the “latest thing fatigue” that our church members and families suffer from.  They’ve heard it all, from Purpose Driven, to Seeker Sensitive, to Financial Peace, to the Alpha Project.  All of these systems are great, but too many churches saw them as quick fix, a program to enroll people in, so that we don’t have to do the hard work of long-term discipleship.  They were viewed as microwave fixes for a starving group.  Trying to turn a philosophy into a quick fix program does not work.  It is the churches that took the time to slowly build the core values of these concepts into their DNA that have succeeded in making disciples.

So, let’s say it right now.  Orange is not a program.  It is not going to double your group attendance in the next 12 months.  It is not going to get you a 60% raise, plus a Christmas bonus cruise in the Caribbean.  (If it does, please tell me how you made that happen.  My tan needs some work.)  Orange is an explanation of the Biblical principles of family and faith.  Principles don’t tend to be known to “explode”.  (Some principals do, but that’s another article).  Because of this, the metrics we need to set up to measure success need to be on a different, long-term scale.  Hence our celebrating the small wins.

For us, it is things like my intentionally meeting parents after middle school youth group.  Instead of standing inside the building talking to students, my wife wisely encouraged me to go out to the parking lot and greet parents as they pull up to pick up their kids.  The 15 minutes I spend doing this is some of the best family ministry I do.  I am intentional to introduce myself to parents I don’t know, tell them something great we see in their kid, and let them know we are here to help them win as they teach their kids about Jesus.  It’s awesome to see that thought sink in a little at a time.  Every parent I meet and have that 90 second discussion with for the first time is a win in my column.

It is creating simple Advent cards and giving away a bundle of them at our children’s sign in desk.  Many of our families don’t take part in Advent, so we made simple little cards, one for each day, on cardstock.  On one side is a picture from Christmas, on the back is a 2 minute devotional for families based on that day on the advent calendar.  We’ve given out a ton of them.  If one gets used, then that is a win.

It is having families spend time in our ministry who are not believers yet.  I have parents who come to youth group because they have no church background, and aren’t sure if they believe or not.  But they like the lessons, because they learn from them.  Our conversations about trusting Jesus and faith include conversations about how they can lead their kids now, with honesty, about where they are spiritually.  They are taking small steps forward, both personally and with their families.  That’s a win.

I am a visionary, passionate person who has burned my leaders, family, and congregation for failing to understand the dynamics of long-term change.  We are finally starting to get it right.  Small steps, any step, is a win.  Give yourself grace, and your ministry time.  God will move.  We just need to listen and be faithful.

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