Yesterday I reposted a blog I wrote back in 2009 about how to sustain momentum after an event. If you haven’t read it yet (today’s blog won’t make much sense), you can read it here. This is my first blog in this series of blogs responding to my former self, so I’m still trying to discover my voice a bit.
Here were my six suggestions for sustaining moment after an event:
1) Provide lots of videos and pictures of the event
2) Make all video and pictures available to the participants
3) Always have something exciting in the near future
4) Carefully space out your events
5) Keep focused on why you’re doing what you’re doing
6) Remind people how far you’ve come doing what you’re doing
Four years later, this list is still a solid list of suggestions for how to sustain momentum.
When I re-read this post, it first took me a few minutes to figure out the distinction between 1 & 2. Then I remembered, “Facebook hasn’t always existed.” Today, when I have videos or pictures from an event, I immediately think about sharing on Facebook. Back in 2009 I saw a big distinction between having photos and being able to share photos. Now, Facebook did exist in 2009 (I’ve had an account since 2006), but it didn’t have the mainstream acceptance in my community just yet (at the time most of my students were in the process of transferring over from My Space). All of this to say, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr (and whatever’s next) are making it easier than ever to share what your’e happening with your students and your community.
CONFLICTING THOUGHTS: Momentum Vs Morale
Where I would likely somewhat disagree with my former self is in the emphasis on events and momentum. The reality of student ministry is that it’s cyclical. To some extent, every year I’m going to do largely the same things as I did the previous year, and every four years I have an entirely new set of high school students. Once you have a predictable annual calendar, students anticipate upcoming events not because of the event which just happened, but because the previous year was so awesome.
Instead of focusing on momentum (which is event based), now I use group morale as a better test. Morale focuses on the quality of the community of the group rather than peoples anticipation of events. Whereas momentum requires new and innovative ideas, you can have high morale with ideas which are highly repetitive and cyclical.
One of the healthiest shifts our student ministry has had occurred in Summer 2011. Earlier in 2011 our church transitioned from a meeting in a school and shopping center into a permanent facility. In this transition our high school ministry lost our meeting space for three months. During the transition we started meeting in a house, and when we finally moved into our new building the high school still had no official meeting space. Morale was really low.
Then in Summer 2011, I had two very strong college interns (who had graduated from the ministry the year before). After several brainstorming sessions we devised a series of events, tweaks, and changes to boost morale. We changed our primary high school gathering to be less about what was happening on stage, and made it more about interacting with each other. Instead of sitting in rows (where they only interact with the person sitting next to them), we put students at round tables so they look at each other. Then we scheduled a series of events for the specific purpose of building morale. This changed the way we organized the events and how we promoted things.
By the end of the Summer we’d gone from very low morale to very high morale. Attendance at our gathering tripled over the Summer (I don’t say that to brag. Attendance was incredibly low at the start due to not having a meeting space). There were a number of students who had been at the church for months (or years) who finally connected to the group. Several of those students quickly sky-rocketed spiritually and became some of my go-to student leaders.
All of this radically shifted the nature of our youth group. Whereas before Summer 2011 our group was defined by students attending events and gatherings together, after Summer 2011 we formed an actual identity as a group. Events caused that to happen, but they were events with a specific purpose.
LEARNING FROM MY PAST
The big challenge I take away from my old self is, I can’t believe the lie that every year is going to be like the previous year. While ministry is cyclical, that doesn’t mean that every year is the same. To keep your ministry exciting and fresh, you need new ideas.