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Applying the 80/20 rule to youth ministry

This post is part of the series on Time Management in Youth Ministry. In an earlier post I discussed the 80/20 rule and how this rule can help you set priorities in your youth ministry. Today I want to delve a little bit deeper into how this rule can be applied in youth ministry. But first, let’s recap what the 80/20 rule is about.

Shortly put, the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto principle) states that there is often a 80/20 connection between input and output, between efforts and results. In short, in many cases 80% of the results come from only 20% of the efforts. But it works the other way around as well, 80% of the problems you face in youth ministry come from only 20% of the students/parents/church members.

Now let’s see how we can apply to 80/20 rule to your youth ministry by asking a whole bunch of questions. I’d advise you to take some time to work these through, you’ll be amazed at the insights you’ll gain.

1. Identify biggest results

What does ‘success’ look like in your youth ministry? In other words: what’s the 80% of results you want to strive for? You can describe success in youth ministry in different measurable parameters, for instance:

  • Number of baptisms amongst youth
  • Attendance in youth services
  • Number of students involved in small groups

But there are also many indicators of ‘success’ in youth ministry that aren’t so easy to measure, like spiritual growth, a good relationship with each student, growth in unity, etc. However you define success in your youth ministry, make sure you do somehow define it. Otherwise you’ll never know how you’re doing.

The number of baptisms can be a way to define sucess in youth ministry, but there are many non-measurable parameters as well

2. Identify key efforts

When you have defined results, it’s time to analyze what factors contribute to those results. You’re looking for the 20% efforts that have proven to be crucial. What could this look like? Here’s some key efforts from my former youth ministry:

  • For number of baptisms: good teaching on this subjects in the small groups, stressing that baptism is a starting point and not a ‘proof of good Christian behavior’
  • For attendance in youth services: personally inviting students to come (I’d invite them during the Sunday morning service for the youth service on Sunday night and communicated how much I’d love for them to be there)
  • For small groups: taking the time to prayerfully put each student into the right small group (match with leaders, match with other students) and then relentless pursuing reluctant students to come to small group

But for your youth ministry it may be your weekly lunch with high school students, the time you spend preparing your small group, or the coaching of a few student leaders. Just spend some time finding out what the things are that contribute to success in your youth ministry.

Once you have identified your key efforts, give these priority above all else. These are the things that will make a difference.

3. Identify biggest challenges, problems and issues

The 80/20 rule also means that you will spend an inordinate amount of time on problems of a very selected group of people, because it’s 20% of the people that cause 80% of the problems. And those 20% will also take up 80% of your time. Eliminate those, and you will free up your time to invest in your key priorities.

Take some time to identify the students, parents, or church members that cause the biggest problems or issues in your youth ministry. Are there one or two families that take up your time again and again? What’s the root cause of this and how can you solve this? Is it time to take it to the next level and discuss it with the senior pastor? Does the pastoral team need to get involved?

Do the same for issues that come back every week or so and that take up so much time. Can you analyze what causes this? Now take some time to come up with possible solutions. Often a one-time time-investment on your part to solve these problems can free up your time afterwards.

Something that comes to mind from my youth ministry was the Powerpoint sheets. I was forever correcting everyone’s Powerpoint sheets because nobody seemed to know how to use the Master slide, what the right font size was, and that a sheet looks different on a computer screen than on a beamer screen. It cost me a lot of time over the years, but it was fixable with a one time investment of two hours, teaching everyone who made Powerpoint sheets how to do it right.

4. Identify key 20% students and leaders

What are the 20% students that are likely to make a difference in the youth ministry, or maybe even in the church? Which 20% of the students influence the other 80%, either good or bad? Focus on them and make a difference.

The same goes for your leaders. Which belong in your top 20%? They will likely contribute to 80% of the success in the area of youth ministry they’re serving in. In my youth ministry, some small group leaders were consistently ‘sending’ students to be baptized, while others hardly ever had students baptized at all. And which 20% of the leaders is causing problems for you and for the youth ministry? Deal with them an free up your time.

I hope these examples and questions have given you some ideas for applying the 80/20 rule in your youth ministry. It’s not a rule that’s written in stone of course and there have been many critics. Some say it’s more of a 30-70 division, some say it’s never been scientifically proven. That may be, but I’ve been using the 80/20 rule a lot and it’s helped me analyze my key results, efforts, problems and people and as such, identify my priorities in youth ministry. So in my humble opinion it works.

Have you ever used the 80/20 rule to analyze your youth ministry? Did it ‘work’ for you?

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