Giving youth pastors the tools they need to make and shape disciples.

Crash Test Youth Ministry

I was wondering one day, “I wonder how much it cost to do car crash tests?”

My mind is an ocean of meandering questions like this.

I was thinking of this because I was thinking of doing a short term program change in our youth ministry where I saw our students leading small groups. You have to understand, I have a small group, 8 students on a good night in a rural city in Alabama.

  • Would they want to do this?

  • Are they ready to do this?

  • Would the results justify the shift?

The answer to all of my questions was yes, even though I knew it would not net the results I was hoping for. You see, we haven’t grown but by one student in in almost 3 years. Our church has not grown in almost 3 years. And by grown I mean added unbelieving students, seen them saved, baptized them and seen them reaching others for Christ. Although, I wills say that the one students we did is is growing and making progress in the faith.

Why am I being so candid with you? Because sugar coating my experiences doesn’t help you. Bragging about my successes doesn’t help you. I’m just like you, just a little older.

These past, almost 3 years, have been one long crash test. Now, what do I mean by crash test.

A crash test is what car makers do to make their cars safer. If you’re old enough you might remember commercials like this one

You could learn a lot from a dummy. My students aren’t dummies or guinea pigs but life is a series of tests. We’re testing our relationship skills, our skills and talents always on a journey to discover who we are and it is no different in ministry.

Peter wanted to test his faith and said, ““Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”. Peter walked out, got pretty far, looked at the waves and sank but he did walk on water while 11 other guys watched. Peter crash tested his faith and learned something, I can do this, I just need to keep my eyes on Jesus.

It’s my philosophy that If something goes right in youth ministry, I give God and them the credit. If something goes wrong, or doesn’t go at all, I take the blame.

I’ve spent almost 3 years crashing this youth ministry into “a wall” for two very good reasons

1. I want to know how to improve

That’s the point of crash testing cars? To improve them, make them safer for the road and for those driving them. Going into a crash test, engineers already know what they’re looking for, things like occupant safety which includes airbag deployment performance, seatbelt effectiveness, structural integrity of the cabin and door integrity.

In my latest crash test, we launched 2 four week, student led small groups around a study I wrote called 4 Questions Jesus Still Asks. We have students who live in the town where the church is and some kids 20 minutes away in another town.

The idea was: Would meeting in homes make it easier for students to invite their friends or people they only knew casually. The answer was, ultimately, no and not because it was in homes but because our students, by their own admission, did not invite/remind people that they had a small group meeting coming up.

Like crash testing cars, I want to crash test my youth ministry in order see where the weak points are and where I need to improve as a youth ministry program engineer.

2. I want to know what it’s going to cost to improve

There’s a lot that goes into making the car you’re driving safe. in fact, a quick Google search tells me this:

Crash test dummies are meant to mimic human bodies in crashes, and show where cars need to be made safer. They are also huge investments – an absolutely stripped down legacy model will start at $100,000 and the latest crash test dummies run closer to $1,000,000 – CNBC

When I’m talking about crash testing I’m not talking doing things that are going to break your budgets, put you or kids at risk or screw up the youth ministry. You should try things where you are almost sure of the outcome but you’re willing to be surprised by the results.

The cost was low: I spent $60 on food for our small groups and wrote the material myself.

The negative impact was low: what if no one came, would it make our students feel defeated? Such was the case with one of our groups, they had one person show up over the 3 weeks.

The experience was net positive: When I asked the student leaders if it was still worth doing, they said, yes. I asked, would you be willing to do it again? The answer again was yes.

3 Important Findings From This Crash Test

What did I learn about our students?

Our students are tough.

Our students love God.

Our student weren’t afraid to fail.

What did our students learn?

They learned what Peter learned, “I can do this, I just need to keep my eyes on and my confidence in Jesus.”

Where do I need to improve?

I have to be willing to ask, “What could have I done better to equip you for success?”

If you are like me and are wondering, “Why are we not growing?” I would respond by saying, “You’re not failing enough. You’re not testing enough.” You can’t improve if you aren’t willing to see where the weaknesses and flaws of your ministry are be it in you, in your students or in the programming.

Would you like this kind of youth ministry advice in your in box every week? Sign up for my newsletter, the Youth Ministry Round Up and receive the 4 week lesson I talked about, The 4 Questions Jesus Still Asks.

If you want this kind of coaching every month, check out My Monthly Mentor and you are guaranteed the unadulterated truth about life and ministry.

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“to make sure no students graduate or move on to other courses without proving they have mastered what they have studied.”

This begs the question “Have our students mastered what they have studied?” Never mind mastering what have studies, but what have they studied? How do we know if a student is ready to leave our youth ministry?

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