Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Evaluating Your Youth Ministry Program (part 2)

In this season of evaluation, I'm not only asking questions about programs, activities, and structures; I'm taking a step back and evaluating our values, the hidden curriculum, the overall vibe and feel of our ministry. This requires more than just a few questions about "did we do what we planned?" It's an evaluation of the heart.

If the Stake model evaluates the concrete and objective, the Eisner model is subjective and abstract; it's more like an art than a science. Based on educator Elliot Eisner's evaluation ideas, the Eisner model suggests that one must become a connoisseur of your own ministry. Eisner defines connoisseurship as follows:
Connoisseurship is the art of appreciation. It can be displayed in any realm in which the character, import, or value of objects, situations, and performances is distributed and variable, including educational practice.
To be a ministry connoisseur, one must truly be able to see what is happening in ministry, not just observe. Here are some characteristics and questions that define connoisseurs:

Values. One must have a clear set of criteria in order make an effective evaluation. This requires having clear ministry values that form a basic framework for the discernment and evaluation process. What is truly most important in your ministry? What are the characteristics of a healthy or successful program in your context? What is most valuable; what is not as important? These values must stem from a long-term discernment process and be clear criteria for your ministry identity. For instance, if one of my values is "how to think over what to think," how does my teaching/preaching reflect that? What about my small group discussions? Do my volunteers know and embrace this as a value? Are students actually learning how to think critically for themselves, and how would I know?

Subtlety. While the Stake model is fairly black-and-white, a connoisseur paints in a myriad of colors. Subtle, astute, and perceptive, a ministry connoisseur thinks that the littles things are incredibly important. Like a wine connoisseur, a ministry connoisseur notices subtle differences and characteristics, wondering about the tiny details. For example, we've always set up our gathering space with equal rows of folding chairs, likely because it makes the best use of our space and is convenient. But why rows? Why chairs? What do equal straight rows communicate in this context? Are there other seating options that better fit my ministry values? Chair placement initially doesn't seem very important, but it could dramatically shape one's ministry or reveal what one truly values.

Metaphors, poetry, art. You have to have a good vocabulary and a creative spirit to really evaluate the heart of your ministry. The use of metaphors and imagery can offer insights that simply bullet-point facts can't. Art tries to reveal and communicate what's in one's heart; if connoisseurship is assessing the heart of a ministry, then we need to become artists. As part of an exercise in the YMCP, we described our youth ministry as a person, assigning human characteristics to our ministry. We named him "Hank," then proceeded to describe the kind of person "Hank" was, including his likes/dislikes, his demeanor, his desires, etc. Creating "Hank" was one of the better evaluative moments we've had with our ministry. Draw a picture. Write a song. Create a skit or drama.  And use a thesaurus. Wine connoisseurs understand and use words like "oaky" and "tannins" in their descriptions; ministry connoisseurs need their own vibrant language.


Appreciation. The whole point of being a connoisseur is because you love what you're evaluating. Evaluation out of obligation or as a negative-oriented critique is not helpful. This isn't about getting down on yourself or your leadership for what's going wrong; this is about loving one's ministry so much that you want to see it grow, evolve, and become even better. The motives have to be love-driven. Wine connoisseurs do it because they love wine. Deep down, if you truly don't love youth ministry, the evaluation process will be a drain (or might make you realize that you're in the wrong vocation).

(Part 1 of Evaluating Your Youth Ministry here)

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