Well, the plum season is ending here in Saskatchewan (that’s Saskatchewan to my Aussie friends, not ‘So-scratch-yer-arm’ as they are prone to say). This is a sad day for us here in the great white north. Plums are awesome. In fact, fruit is awesome.
So, let’s talk a bit about fruit in youth ministry. Many of us, certainly those who are a bit older, have grown up with the thinking that “numbers are the sign of successful youth ministry”. My guess is many of you have moved on from this specious thinking (specious = shallow). It is not the number of plums that makes the tree (although it would be great to have zillions of them); it is the taste and excellence of the plum that matters. My guess is you’d rather have fewer tasty plums than lots of inedible ones.
It is time that we make the shift away from the old way of thinking about success (numbers) and adopt new ways of thinking about fruitful youth ministry. Your aim is not a lot of fruit lying on the ground rotting around the tree, but a rich harvest of excellence. With that in mind I want to give a few simple suggestions of what a ripe harvest may look like.
[Please realize that there are a whole bunch of ‘fruits’ that can and should be used to judge whether a ministry is successful. Also, there is the obvious list in Galatians 5, however, please allow me to go in a bit of a different direction. May I give you my list? Ok, here we go…]
- Regular attendance. Do the kids in youth group attend regularly? If so, this is a great sign of fruitfulness in your group. I don’t need to tell you that we are now living in a world plagued by busyness. This dreaded disease is the number one pest attacking our fruit today. One of the main fruits we must aim for is youth committing to fellowship with one another in youth group instead of all the other possible activities on offer.
- No texting in youth group. Following on from this, do the youth who attend put away their cell phones and refrain from texting, checking the Web etc.? We noticed in our group last year that the youth began by having cell phone in hand, after a month or two they kept them in their pockets. This is a good sign. Regularity in attendance and engagement in the program are two key fruits.
- Prayer. Do the kids pray/offer prayer points in the prayer time? This is one of the best ‘barometers’ of success in youth ministry. If the kids are praying, they are connected to the mission and goals of the youth group.
- A young adults ministry. Is there a College & Careers / Young Adults ministry that has formed due to the influx of ‘post-youth’ who have graduated from the youth group? This is the number one “plum” to show if your group is producing fruit. Sure, if you live in Eyebrow, Saskatchewan (yes, it does exist… just down the road from Elbow, Saskatchewan!) you probably won’t have a group due to young people moving out. But if you are in an urban center of any size, or have the possibility of local jobs or education some of your youth will stay around. If they all move out, are they giving life to a young adults group in another part of the country?
- A healthy amount of leaders. Finally, are you developing a leadership team due to youth growing up and wanting to give back to the ministry? It is strange how many churches are running ‘numerically strong’ youth programs but see little to no youth move up to help out in leadership. Clearly a fruitful tree will produce leaders to keep tending the garden.
Let me encourage you to continually reflect on your program and work for real true fruit. Not simply the number of plums in the garden.