This is Part II of my interview with Youth Pastor and Risk Taker Mark Cox. You can read part I here
How did the students, leaders, parents, and pastor respond to your wanting to change things?
Right off the bat, there were mixed reviews. Don’t get me wrong; a lot of people were supporters of the idea. However, there were a lot of people that were scared. They loved what we were doing. So it took a lot of selling to help people understand that this wasn’t just a good move for us, but that it was a God thing.
Almost all of our committed youth workers were pumped about it from day one. It just took us a couple of months to hammer out some of the details, because this change affected other areas of our student ministry, too.
My pastor wasn’t the first person I talked to about this move, either. My process looked something like this: As soon as I realized that there was a potential to go down this path, I called Shane Combs, the youth pastor at my home church (Emmanuel Church of Greenwood), because he currently implements this strategy. I picked his brain longer than he was probably comfortable with. Then I talked with a couple other youth pastors about it (you rarely get kick-back from people in your field about big changes, so don’t rely on their “thumbs-up” as your only guidance).
I went home that night, and prayed with my wife about the issue. She told me that if God was leading me to make this change, then she was 100% behind me. At this point, I felt it was necessary to talk to a couple of our core volunteers about it. After a lot of lunches and phone calls, I proposed it to my pastor. He’s not a details guy, but loved the concept of training students to lead their peers, so he was on-board.
Really, the only response that wasn’t a “go for it” kind of response came from my close friends (youth pastors, volunteers, etc) who know my weaknesses (details, foresight, etc). That was a major part of this transition – bringing people alongside me in the process to help me see the side that I wouldn’t naturally see. Overall, though, we saw a pretty overwhelming positive response to the change.
How did the launch go? Was it everything you thought it would be?
The nature of a launch is excitement. The nature of small groups is intimacy. So our launch wasn’t so “launchy.” Sure, the students were excited about it, but it’s much easier to gauge the excitement from a single room, than to read facebook statuses and tweets after the groups met.
OK, that was really narcissistic. The launch was actually really cool. One student got saved in the first week, and four more got saved in the second week. We’ve definitely seen God’s hand on what we’re doing. And as far as numbers go, we’ve never been one of those churches that see several people make decisions every Sunday, so this is definitely a new thing God is doing. Its really exciting seeing God move each and every week. It really changes the way you look at church. Momentum plays such a huge role.
Question: What advice would you give to others thinking about a program change in ministry?
Man. That’s such a huge question. I guess if I was to boil it down to the smallest elements of it all, I’d say three things:
- Make sure it’s from God. If this is a you thing, it’s not gonna happen. God has clearly shown us that true change comes from Him, His Word, and His Son. If you want to drive big change because you read a book and you want to adapt someone else’s model, just make sure God is leading you to make that change for the sake of the people – not because of a fad
- Over-communicate. One of the main mistakes you can make (read: “that I made”) is not bringing enough people alongside of me to go on this journey together. People inevitably have a lot invested into your church. If you come in with a sweet new plan, but don’t include those people in the process somehow, they’ll get burned. I’m not saying to hand the vision of the project off. I’m saying that it doesn’t take much time to purposely give people buy-in. Plus, it will pay off in the end.
- Follow through. I’m really good at starting stuff and not finishing it. There were a couple elements of the change that I put more than enough focus on. Yet others were left needing some work. This is the kind of project that deserves deadlines, reminders, and plenty of detail work. You can’t be too prepared.
There are so many other pieces of advice I have (communicating clearly with your senior pastor, staying positive, etc.), but I think these are the core principles I kept going back to.
Thanks Mark for sharing this critical information on change and taking risks for the glory of God in youth ministry. I’m asking all my reader to pray for you, cheer you on, and consider what risks this interview has challenged them to take,
You can follow Mark on Twitter @markhcox
Check out is blog at http://thinknextnow.com/
We’d love to hear your comments and questions for Mark so ask away.