This morning I woke up and read Adam McLane’s excellent blog post: You’ll never know. I read it and kept thinking, “Yep, that’s right. That’s right. I wish it were more clear and obvious our impact, but he’s right.”

Adam wrote:

That’s the thing about youth ministry. You’ll never know.

You’ll never know, in the moment, what is sinking in and what isn’t. You’ll never know if the lessons you work so hard to prepare are making a difference. You’ll never know if your ministry introduced them to a lifelong walk with Jesus or if they just kind of held Jesus’ hand through high school. You’ll never know who is going to walk away, who isn’t coming back, and who will come back. You’ll never know if your ministry helped a person become a better parent or soldier or engineer.

[to read his entire post, click here]

I began “doing” youth ministry in 1979 when I was a junior in high school and asked to lead a junior high small group. Thirty-three years later I’m still doing youth ministry. This last Wednesday night was the year-end group for my 10th grade guys. We ended with a party, lots of food in the backyard and swimming. About 30 minutes prior to leaving, we gathered in the jacuzzi and I asked a simple question: “What was one thing that you learned this year from small group?” I was expecting comments about the curriculum and the focus we had on following Jesus rather than merely being “Christian”. They said things like:

1. “Every week I kept coming back thinking, ‘I can’t believe Doug & Cathy open their home to all these guys.”

2. “I remember that one week when we were talking about sex* and Cathy walked thru the kitchen and you said, ‘Cathy, these guys think we’re too old to have sex, they don’t believe me that we have it all the time.’ I will never forget that moment–it was so cool.”

3. “I loved the Bible studies and I learned a lot about Jesus, but I liked getting a hug when I entered the house and when I left.”

These statements align with Adam’s post. There’s the planned, curriculum types of things that we do in ministry that are so important. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in planning. I believe in good curriculum (subtle plug). But, so much of what’s remembered in youth ministry is the unplanned, spontaneous, “I didn’t know that would make a difference” type elements of youth ministry that are so memorable.

Bottom line: Plan, focus, think-thru your ministry efforts…absolutely! But, don’t underestimate the little actions that make a BIG difference (the focused time of listening and looking in their eyes, remembering their name, a gracious smile and hug when they walk in the room, noticing a haircut/braces/subtle changes, affirming words, acts of service, etc…).

It shouldn’t surprise us that the little things work. Jesus made a big deal out of little actions with big, pure motives (cup of cold water, the woman who gave a small amount–but it was all she had, faith of a mustard seed). Your small actions make a big difference. A good youth worker will develop skills in the “little things.”

*(it didn’t matter what we were talking about…with 10th grade boys, the conversation always moved toward sex)

Question: What is one small action that you regularly take in youth ministry that nets big results with kids. Let’s learn from one another. Share it here.

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