Monday, June 22, 2009

When the extra mile is no longer extra

Recently I wrote about the need to go the extra mile in youth ministry. Youth ministries need to do things that are above and beyond what people expect. We need to have great "customer service."

But what do you do when your "extra mile" becomes common? There will come a point when people begin to expect something above and beyond. And if they do not get that, then they become upset and frustrated. Think about your experiences with businesses going the extra mile. The first few times it happened, you were thrilled. You told all of your friends about the great service you received, recommending that they visit the business. Then one time you experience great service without the extra mile addition. You leave thinking the service was good, but not up to the service you have come to expect.

It is like the usual increase in gas prices. Once they go up, they rarely go down. People begin to expect a certain level of service and if that level decreases then they are not happy.

How can a youth ministry keep the "extra mile" from becoming common?

Part of the answer comes in understanding that you cannot keep something from becoming common. The longer you do something, the more it becomes part of who you are, and the more it is expected. If you want to keep something from becoming common within your ministry, only do it once. For example, if you add a new program to honor your graduating seniors, that program is special (over the top). But after the second year, people expect it the next year and if you do not do it they are mad. This new senior recognition program is tradition and you can't change it without making someone mad.

The other option, which I think a lot of ministries do, is to continually try to "one up" their last program. Each year, you add something new, make something bigger and add more "flash" to your already existing programs. The fear is that if you do not continue to improve (which means make it more appealing and fun) then the students will not come back. I believe this mentality will eventually damage your ministry, because you will not be able to keep up with yourself. The students will only go to church to get something out of it and will become disengaged when they stop being impressed.

So, what else can your youth ministry do? Here are a few thoughts...

1. Modify events each year.
Each year you hold your annual freshmen bbq, do something different. Do not always having relay races or play ultimate frisbee. One year you could do a game show theme and the next make it a old school/vintage flashback party. Plan the same event each year, but make the specifics of the event different.

2. Rotate events.
This works well with fun events during the summer. One year take the group to a theme park, but the next go to laser tag. It will also work with your mission trip or week-long conference. Rotate between mission locations (ie. hours away to within your city). Take the students to a different week-long conference each year (or rotate between a few you trust). This will keep the events from becoming "common" and becoming easier for the students to become familiar with the surroundings.

3. Evaluate each year.
It is important to evaluate your events every year. What is effective one year, may not be needed the next or will be replaced with another event. If you just keep moving last year's calendar onto this year's calendar without evaluating, you will begin to forget what it means to listen for God's leading. You might need to adjust an entire part of your ministry because the person with the passion has graduated or moved. Your students might need to be given more leadership or "spiritual meat" and your ministry is not ready for that. When you evaluate on a regular basis, you do not allow yourself to coast.

4. Do not be concerned with impressing the students.
Finally, it is not the job of the youth ministry to impress the students. When your goal is to "one-up" yourself, you are only trying to impress people (the students, parents, church leadership, other ministers) and that stems from pride. STOP trying to be the "cool youth ministry" and start listening to God's voice leading you. The students will benefit more from having a ministry that stretches them and challenges them to grow than one that is fun to attend.

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