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The Value of Evaluation

There’s this point we’ve emphasized in our training. One of possibly no use to you in the seminar but of much use now. The statement is: “Unevaluated goals are useless.1

Consider this surprising information on doctors:

Who would you be more likely to trust for advice? The silver-haired doctor or the one fresh out of medical school? Well, it’s been found that in a few fields of medicine, doctors’ skills don’t improve the longer they’ve been practicing. Professional mammographers (doctors who assess x-rays), for example, have a tendency to get less and less accurate over the years.

Why would that be? According to a lead researcher, it’s because they usually only find out about the accuracy of their assessment weeks or months later, if at all, at which point they may already have forgotten the details of the case and can no longer learn from their successes and mistakes.

One field of medicine in which this is not so is surgery. Unlike x-ray doctors, surgeons tend to get better with time. What makes surgeons different is that the outcome of most surgeries is usually immediately apparent—the patient either gets better or doesn’t—which means that surgeons are constantly receiving feedback on their performance. They’re always learning what works and what doesn’t, always getting better.2

Apply this to youth ministry. Experience and how long we’ve been in our field is not what makes us better. Rather, it is how well we learn from feedback. How well we evaluate. In this article, let’s look at three areas where we can use this tool.

1. Evaluate your programs and events

Are you using the valuable tool of evaluation to get better in your activities? OR are you more of an x-ray doctor than a surgeon when it comes to feedback?

The first thing we can do to get better at evaluation is to capture feedback. The group of leaders and volunteers that surround you are the people who can help you with these. Just a little after your event, gather as a team and pool together all your observations on the activity. (Consider using some of the questions listed in the notes portion at the end of this article, specifically #3).

Another group to give you insight on your program is the youth themselves. It is important that we are also hearing from them. You can ask them informally on how the event went or even better prepare a questionnaire for your young people to answer after the event. Another group to ask is those above you such as your pastor or adults of the church. Lastly you could ask your peers. In some of the programs I’ve been part of, I’ve invited leaders from other youth groups to help us get a different view of the activity. Why not try to invite a leader you met at the GYMN training to join your program and ask for their personal feedback?

One reason we hesitate doing evaluation is that we expect to encounter negative feedback. To overcome that take courage that “faithful are the wounds of a friend;” Proverbs 27:6. Even very personal or insulting comments God can use to develop and mold you good. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.  That includes even discouraging remarks.

Take heart too that oftentimes you will also hear many positive things to encourage and lift you up. And whether good or bad, all feedback is to help you get better for the Lord’s purposes.

The second thing to get better at evaluation is to learn from feedback. This might go with out saying but we tend to forget things. Consider yearly events such as camps. Due to how long it is before the next event, evaluation effort could go to waste by just relying on our memory. Past evaluations have helped my team during camps. From regularly doing these, we have been able to develop checklists and documents to remind us of what could be improved. Even for weekly programs, it is of help to document what you learn and go over them just as you are about to plan for a similar event.

It means, of course, that you need to create a system that allows you to store and pull out information when you need it. This could be physical, such as a cabinet of folders and envelopes. It could be on a computer. Another possibly more secure location to store your data is on the internet. This could be as simple as emailing files to your self or better yet set up a way to send email reports to your pastor or fellow leaders.

2. Evaluate the progress of your youth ministry

A second area to evaluate is your youth ministry as a whole. In other words, we should not only be evaluating the moment at hand but over a span of time as well. Consider having yearly, mid-year or even quarterly evaluations.

Unlike the first form of evaluation, doing this one helps you track your progress. Remember, God has given you a picture in mind of where your youth ministry is to go, a vision for your young people that you want to become reality. This type of evaluation helps check if you are headed in the direction you started on.

You can do this individually or as a team. In my role as a youth pastor, I usually had the leadership team go on a retreat just before we began the youth ministry year. In my work as a GYMN staff, we also have regular retreats and quarterly assessments on how we are doing throughout the year. This way we can make changes if programs or methods are not going as planned. Just like in the first type of evaluation, there are some diagnostic questions below (See Note No. 4) that you can ask when you do this with your team.

As you do this, you might feel compelled to compare your youth ministry to others. One danger in that is you get inwardly depressed at your lack of accomplishments. Another is to become full of pride at all that has been achieved. We can avoid both by looking outward at God’s finished work.

If our achievements for the period have been terrible, it does no good to just mourn over it. Keep in mind that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” Lam. 3:22. Yes, we may lament, but contemplate on what God wants you to know in your failures. This will lead you toward a more fruitful ministry in the future.

If we have been quite successful on the other hand, celebrate that! Again, view it all in the light of God’s work in your life. He is the one who leads, strengthens and gives victory. And all glory should go back to Him. JI Packer points out,

“The way of health and humility is for us to admit to ourselves that in the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success the way God sees it. Wisdom says: leave success ratings to God, and live your Christianity as a religion of faithfulness rather than an idolatry of achievement.”

3. Evaluate yourself

This last type of evaluation is by far the most important one. Scripture only gives us glances into the first two types of evaluation I’ve described here but shows example after example of how God is concerned with the inward being. God himself says “…the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

So why not take the points here on evaluation and apply it to your own life. Even the Apostle Paul asked his spiritual children, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” 2 Cor. 13:5.

So, take the instrument of program evaluation and use it to evaluate the daily things you do for the Lord. Take the tool of evaluating your progress in the ministry and use it to test your progress in your walk with Christ.

As you do so, may you encounter in your evaluation, in all your weaknesses and strengths, the God who never fails. May you be led again and again to something better, toward our perfect example, Christ Jesus.

Notes:

  1. If you have a GYMN manual, this is the last point in the session on planning.
  2. This finding is documented in and taken from the book “Moonwalking With Einstein” by Joshua Foer
  3. Questions to consider when evaluating programs
    1. Did we reach our goal? Why or why not?
    2. What was good about the program?
    3. What could be improved?
    4. Did we have control of whether we failed or not?
    5. Do we want to make change to this for the future? Add or subtract, give more time, etc…
  4. Questions to consider for process evaluation
    1. How well are we doing in each of the following GYMN key areas: meeting people where we are, evangelism, fellowship, growth, ministry and leadership, and multiplication? What areas are we excellent in? Where are we merely mediocre?
    2. How can we improve on the areas where we are weak?
    3. How can we celebrate with God on our successes?
    4. Are our activities in line with the bigger picture of youth ministry? Or are there programs we need to change?
  5. For inward evaluation, you may want to evaluate your daily walk with the Lord and how you are progressing as a disciple of Christ Jesus. Discuss this with your team or small group.
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