There is a movie I cannot stop watching. If it is on television I will be glued to it regardless of where I pick it up in the flow of movie. I watched it while it made its circuit on all the movie channels. My wife thinks I am nuts. My children think I am obsessed. I quote the movie and I believe it has shaped me–I am just not sure to what extent! I read the book to try to figure out my obsession. I recently re-read the book because I enjoyed it so much. Honestly, I cannot quit thinking about it. The movie is Moneyball.
The movie features the life of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team. Billy has the unenviable task of putting together a major league baseball team with a fraction of the budget that other teams have. At the time of the publishing of the book Moneyball, major league baseball was stuck in a pattern of how they evaluated valuable players, built successful teams, and also how they understood wins. Most teams spent vast amounts of money on scouts who would look for players who “had a great face” or a fit, athletic body. The scouts measured things like speed in sprints and the ability to hit the long ball. Billy had grown tired of what he considered outdated forms of measuring a successful baseball player.
Because of his budget Billy was forced to narrow his focus and with the narrowing of focus he found his north star. The most important thing for Billy was simply this–runs! The team with the most runs wins the game, right? So Billy drafted players who got on base. He didn’t care how they got on base. A walk or a single was the same in his mind. The cardinal sin for an A’s batter became swinging at the first pitch, or for that matter swinging at any pitch outside of the strike zone. Batters were supposed to take (not swing at) as many pitches as possible because in Billy’s mind, a walk was a run waiting to happen. Billy’s vision shaped the entire club and in 2002 the Oakland A’s, with unheralded, unknown, misshapen, baseball players made history by going into the playoffs with a 20-game win streak. Though later losing in the playoffs, the A’s did something that most people thought impossible–
BECAUSE THEY DECIDED TO EVALUATE THE RIGHT THINGS.
We begin our youth ministry year with a big event. This event attracts a lot of kids and also includes leadership for countless adults and older youth as well. This is the one event our youth will not miss and so almost all of the youth on our roll show up and take part in the weekend. It is a fantastic event and it creates a lot of positive momentum going into our fall programming. Because it is the one time we have the majority of our youth here we always take the obligatory group picture. We post the picture on our website and through our ministry social media accounts. As you would imagine, the picture gets a lot of positive comments because of the number of youth that are in the picture. One comment simply said, “Nice work.”
The comment, though personally flattering haunted me because the effectiveness of our ministry was being evaluated by the number of people in a picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that numbers matter. I believe that we are spiritually responsible to disciple each student that makes a commitment to Christ through our ministries. However, assumed success based on numbers is like the Yankees assuming they will win the pennant every year because they have the largest budget. It’s not necessarily so!
We aren’t winning because we draw a big crowd and we don’t evaluate our ministry that way.
Unless we decide what to evaluate, how we “win” will become subjective in the minds of others and we will be held accountable to their unspoken standard.
Ministries need to decide (like Billy) what they are going to evaluate and ultimately if what they evaluate will actually mean something for the Kingdom.
What is your student ministry “run?”
Don’t let the “scouts” in your church try to evaluate your ministry for you. You and your team can decide what will become your version of success.
Below is an example of how others might be measuring your ministry effectiveness compared to how you do. It doesn’t take long to recognize where conflict might arise—
Church “Scouts” Measure
- Busy calendars
- “Popular” student involvement
- Reputation in the community
An Appropriate Measurement
- Commitment to Christ
- Compassionate hearts
- Commitment to spiritual disciplines
- Servant hearts
- Evidence of the fruit of the Spirit
- Assimilation into the church body
How do you want to measure the effectiveness of your student ministry?
Don’t let the church “scouts” fool you into evaluating the wrong things. Below is a list of some of the right things. As your team evaluates the ministry year and prepares for fall I strongly suggest you take a deeper look at the following biblical outcomes of a disciple-producing ministry. By choosing and publicizing how you want to evaluate your ministry your church can begin to celebrate success the same way you do and everyone will recognize a “win” when they see it.
- Students who are open to the gospel and are teachable
- Students who make Christ the priority in their life
- Students who are taking steps to avoid sin
- Students committed to spiritual disciplines
- Students who desire to apply the scriptures to their life
- Students who have a conviction to share the good news of Christ
- Students committed to corporate worship and fellowship
- Students committed to helping others
- Students committed to giving of time and resources to the work of Christ’s kingdom
- Students whose life demonstrates the fruit of the spirit.
*List adapted from Fran Cosgrove Essentials of Discipleship (Colorado Springs, Colo,: NavPress, 1980), 15-16