5 Keys for Developing Long Term Strategy in Student Ministry

I’ve been asked to speak a few times on the topic of Student Ministry and here lately have had a few great conversations with fellow youth pastors about Student Ministry.  The following is a short version of my notes I have used on occasion.  The bold sections are a revision of my thoughts.


The culture is changing rapidly and it provides us an excellent opportunity to examine how we should change our approach to student ministry. But there is one thing you need to know, even before the culture began pick up the pace Student Ministry was failing. The statistical data on Student Ministry is not pretty. We have a 75-85 % failure rate depending on whose statistics you read. To get a picture of how huge that number is…for every 4 kids actively involved in student ministry one makes it to church as an adult. Much can be said about why, how, and who obtained the various statistics but what I would like to do is use the current buzz around student ministry to help us evaluate our methods and begin exploring what success looks like in student ministry.

Create Long-term Goals

We need to create long-term goals for student ministry. Too often success in Student Ministry is measured in short term numbers. Nothing is wrong with using numbers to measure success. but are we using the right numbers? One sales job I had required you to wait 60 days before you collect your pay check. The reason was simple. People bring things back and you don’t get paid on what gets returned. (I’m not staying that kids lose their salvation, its just that sometimes they don’t really make genuine commitments. I’ve had students “get saved” at a concert because the invitation was offered in conjunction with a free bracelet from the evangelist. The were responding to a free bracelet offer and got counted as trusting in Christ. What is really sad is that i don’t think the evangelist was trying to cause this kind of confusion. He preached a sincere gospel message.)

Be Able to Measure

One of the key problems in this assessment is that most tangible numbers for student ministry are short term (decisions and attendance) and therefore get the most focus. Most long term goals in student ministry are intangible or we just haven’t developed a measuring stick and therefore in many ministries get little or no focus.  The questions we should be asking about student ministry isn’t, “how many?”, but “what do students who graduate from our group look like?”  Our focus needs to shift from entertainment with a christian vibe to discipleship (By discipleship I mean teaching our kids to know and put into practice the word of God in their lives… Not just know how to hotly debate side issues of doctrine.  Jesus tells us in the great commission that part of disciple making is “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” ) One of our measurements at a church I served was having students who are able to teach or disciple others.

Know where you are

Once you have determined the measuring stick, figure out where you are.  Get an honest assessment of how close or far away from the goal you are.  You may need to enlist the help of outsiders to give you an honest evaluation of your group.  If you are new to your position, ask a leader or youth worker who has been around if they know where the students are in relation to your goal of (bible reading, scripture memory, acts of service, leadership, discipleship, etc…) Ask yourself questions.  Ask your students questions  (Something as simple as a survey would work for “how often do you read your bible”)

Develop the playbook

If you set long term goals then you won’t achieve them overnight.  In fact, depending on your students, announcing your long term goal may backfire on you.  Sometimes it is better to establish short term goals that will help you get closer to your long term goal. For example, having students assist in teaching children at a backyard bible club is less intimidating that to disciple a peer.  The next step would be to have a student teach at a backyard Bible club.  Then maybe it is a student Sunday where students team up and teach adult classes, lead music, and preach.  Then maybe its calling on the older students to teach younger students in the course of a disciple now weekend.  Each one of these is a strategic step towards a larger goal of having students who are able to teach.  (Hint: celebrating each step along the way will help students develop the confidence and trust in God to take the next big step)

Stick around for the Results

Unless you build from the ground up or start with just a small handful of students it will take time to see strategy come to fruition.  If you develop a 4 year strategy and leave after two years you were only halfway through the plan.  That is kind of like quitting the game at half-time.  I know that sometimes circumstances are beyond your control or God calls you to go somewhere. But where possible see it through.  Discipleship is a lifelong commitment.

4 thoughts on “5 Keys for Developing Long Term Strategy in Student Ministry

  1. Ralph Rimmer III

    thanks for putting this information out. What we are doing as ym’s is irrelevant if we are not teaching the truths of the Word of God. Students will not turn into super Christians overnight, just like you and I do not learn the Hebrew language overnight. Steady, Steady, Steady. Consistency works well also with a little (burp)every once in a while. Love your blog. PLease be praying for my wife and I as we are meeting with a church about YM position. love ya bro,
    Ralph Rimmer III


  2. Greetings, I agree that grounding students in the Word should be our number one goal. Not to debate side doctrinal issues, but to know the fundamentals of our faith. IMO, based on a number of things I’ve read and heard, that is where the church fails our youth (and older), because as soon as they hit college the mantras of “You gotta have faith” and “Trust in Jesus” make one look silly. It would take a remarkably mature and Spirit filled young adult to last long there.

    A prayer for you Brother Rimmer.


  3. pastorjonathan1

    Ralph. Amen on the Hebrew. I am keeping you in my prayers. Let me know how it all goes.

    Kamatu. Amen on the fundamentals. My worry is that what often passes for discipleship is merely “informational” rather than “transformational.” What does it matter if kids can pass a test or even have scripture memorized if it doesn’t impact the way they live. They need the information, but they need it in a transformational way and that requires leadership (discipleship) and the Holy Spirit.


  4. One big reason as a young adult I “swapped” from Presbyterian (one of the orthodox branches, not PCUSA) to Baptist was that when I was asking questions, from the Presbyterian I basically got answers from the catechism. When I asked the Baptist preacher, he opened the Bible and showed from the Word. Now, the answers I got from both places were correct Biblically, but only one went to the source.

    This turned me off on confessions of faith and catechisms for a long time and only now am I returning to them as an instructional tool. IMO, the problem was the disconnect between younger kids simply memorizing catechism (which is fine, I’m starting it for my little one) to teaching *why* the answers are valid from Scripture.

    If I grabbed hold of the late high school, early college crowd, that would be my first choice for a study plan now. Take a confession of faith/catechism (I’d use Spurgeon’s versions), break them down and go through them point by point with the Scripture references to justify them.

    Personal note: I don’t worry about the informational/transformation issue. As I see my duty, I am simply to provide the information and the Spirit will handle any transformational issues. Not that I won’t pray for support or do my all to make my information transformational, but I’m not going to agonize over it. For me, the return to Scripture from the extracted catechism proved to be the transformation for growth.


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