It’s a perennial question in youth work and ministry – how can it be evaluated? Measured or even- shudder – what are it’s measurable outcomes?
It’s a question that has been asked of me in a couple of settings recently. Not going to give away the details of where. But behind the question is a frustration that the wider culture of practice makes determinations of outcomes & success that make what seems good practice to be sidelined. It’s often a numbers game, or an improvement of the individual game, a rush to ensure a young persons CV is full up. All of which fuel a sense of conformity of those cultures, whether the church and attendance or the neo liberal agenda of funding.
But what is the alternative- how else can youth work & ministry be evaluated?
Shall we start with our beliefs about young people? Or even in faith based work- our beliefs about God and what dangerous discipleship is?
I want to argue that we might evaluate youth work and ministry practice- by how young people perform it.
Let start with youthwork practice. If theres an agreement about its core values then these include, anti-oppression, developing young peoples interests and gifts, Empowerment, participation and informal education.
If we’re brutally honest, youthwork has been measured on how individuals find support within conversation and measurable outcomes like CV building certificates and activities. But that ignores the bigger picture and also other values like anti oppressive practice, challenging inequality, the common good.
What might it look like to evaluate youthwork practice that encourages young people to participate in challenging issues, oppression and inequality that either they or or they see in others?
Or evaluate according to the use of young peoples thus far wasted gifts and talents to create projects, activities, or services for others (and countless other things) .
It becomes about how values of youthwork are performed by young people.
Indulge me just a bit; but to the faith motivated workers, might we want to think about evaluating faith based youth ministry in terms of how young people ‘perform theology’ . I contrast this to youth ministry in which attendance and morality is emphasised (being moral ties in with Christian Smiths, MTD). Which is also only about ‘knowing’ stuff. What if we can asked young people less with ‘growing the group’ by solely evangelism, but performing the complexity of Gods character in the world and evaluating accordingly?
The strange thing is that even young people who don’t know God yet, might be performing aspects of Gods nature without realising. The open youth group that does a homeless project, helps with food bank or sets up a social enterprise for the good of the local community. May be acting Godly, unintentionally. May be performing the love and justice of God.
If I was being controversial it might be to contrast the young people performing the character of God in the world and how performing theology occurs at the youth worship fun festival. (Insert name here). In a way though, that’s less the point. What the role of the worship gathering or group gathering is is to embed young people in worship , and increase knowledge of God for performance.
It may mean we need to agree on what it might mean for young people to perform values, or perform theology, either way, if these things motivate us to our youth work and ministry practice, then helping young people performing them and evaluating accordingly might be what’s needed. Otherwise we’ll still be in a situation where job readiness or numerical attendance drive practice. Or where young people just ‘know’ things. Or they are self improved by how much they know things.
Young people as performing learners? And practice that evaluates the ongoing possibilities of young peoples actions to love, liberate, challenge and create in their local communities.
Just going to youth group got a whole lot interesting…