At the end of each year, the students in our youth ministry fill out a survey. It’s a pretty comprehensive survey, including questions about their spiritual growth, the events we did, our ongoing programs, and their relationship with the volunteer leaders. It’s proven to be one of the most valuable tools we have for casting vision, evaluating our calendar, and taking the pulse of the ministry. Here are some tips:
Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions
Too often, we don’t know because we don’t ask. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions. One of my favorite questions we ask is, “How often do you talk with your parents about spiritual stuff?” It would be hard to discover that answer without simply asking, and the responses we get from students tell us a lot about family dynamics.
Don’t be afraid to take some time
Our survey is 10 pages long and takes around 20 minutes to complete. It’s worth it! We have to rearrange the schedule to accomodate it, but doing that once a year is an easy trade-off for how helpful the information is.
Don’t attach your worth to it
When we open ourselves up to criticism, it is a very vulnerable feeling. You need to be prepared for honest answers, and the honest answer might be that a student didn’t like an event. There are lots of reasons that could be true that have nothing to do with you. Maybe they were stressing about homework, or felt sick, or were teased, or didn’t sleep well in the bed at the retreat center. One pattern we’ve seen over the years is that for every event, at least one student didn’t like it. We’ve also found that for every event, at least one student picked it as their favorite of the year. That’s just how group dynamics work. Don’t take it to heart when a student didn’t like a program or event, that is very different than saying they don’t like you or the youth group.
Don’t jump to conclusions
You are looking for trends and insight, but be careful not to extrapolate the information beyond it’s intended scope. What I mean is that if your first 4 or 5 surveys show that students didn’t like your fall retreat, you’ll start to think that fall retreat was bad. That thought will stick with you, even if the next 10 surveys say they LOVED fall retreat. We focus on negative feedback and give it undue priority in our decision making, try and be as objective as possible.
Don’t switch to a democracy
The survey is a tool to help you as you lead your student ministry, but you are still the leader. It is very important to try and understand what your students are experiencing and what, at least in their eyes, is working. But at the end of the day, you were hired/recruited/begged to be the one who sets the vision for the youth ministry. The survey isn’t about asking what you should do, the survey is about asking how are people responding to what you’ve done. If a program you feel is important doesn’t get high marks, that might mean you just need to spend more time championing it for the students. The survey should not trump your God-given passions and ideas.
Don’t re-invent the wheel
You are welcome to create a survey from scratch, but if you’re like me and appreciate someone else getting the ball rolling so you can tweak it, then go ahead and download the survey below. It’s a copy of what we gave to students last year. Enjoy!