This article was written for Youthworks by Nathan Campbell, youth and young adults minister at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Manly.
A couple of years back, as a whole church, we spent time in the book of Colossians. It includes a memorable encouragement:
…just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
It was a helpful reminder to us that the Christian faith goes way beyond a single, initial decision to turn to Christ. It’s a journey of continuing that spans a lifetime! As a church we were good at measuring numerical growth, but weekly attendance can only tell you so much. Off the back of that series in Colossians, we decided to periodically survey our youth as one way of tracking their spiritual growth. We call this a ‘pulse check’.
What is a youth pulse check?
At the start of each year we ask all our youth to spend time in their weekly small groups completing a survey. It’s not an onerous task: a single page with 4—5 open-ended questions that takes around 10 minutes to complete. The survey is anonymous, though we do ask them to specify their age and gender.
Once the sheets have been filled out, the leader puts them straight into a folder (without reading them), and the folder ends up with me. I collate the answers into a table and then distribute the results to the leaders. We then spend time as a team reading, making observations, discussing implications and praying over what’s been shared.
On the survey itself we typically include two types of questions:
The first engages with where our youth are at spiritually. We’ll always begin the survey by showing them several generic pictures, they must then choose which picture best represents where their faith is currently at and explain their choice. We’ll also include a question on what they’re finding hard about their faith, or an area they’d like to grow more in.
The second type of questions relate to the talk series we are planning for the year ahead. This hopefully gives us a sense of their prior learning on the book/topic etc.
How is a pulse check helpful?
The data we gathered from our first pulse check turned out to be very helpful in shaping our approach that year. Many of our youth indicated that they struggled with evangelism and wanted to grow in that area. In response, the leadership team decided to spend a term preaching through Acts. We paired this with some practical evangelism training. That alone was enough to convince us that the pulse check was worth repeating.
The pulse check results have also proved useful in giving us insight into where our youth are at in particular areas (for example, sex and dating, technology use). The ability to quote the results back to each other, or use statistics gathered directly from their own responses has been an effective way of engaging our youth and opening-up discussion on tricky topics.
Our leadership team has also found it encouraging to receive feedback on how their youth are travelling, particularly regarding their spiritual growth. The added insight has allowed them to tailor an approach to the specific needs of their own group.
Finally, we’ve also found it beneficial for simply giving our youth some space for reflection. The set questions helpfully guide this time, particularly for those who need more direction. It also encourages them to avoid settling for shallow answers. Because it’s anonymous, they are free to be as open and honest as they want.
3 tips for creating your own youth pulse check
Do your best to keep it simple and the questions as open-ended as possible. Avoid the temptation to overload it by trying to do too many things at once. Consider using a variety of question forms—rating scale, true/false, multiple choice, short answer etc.
Respect their anonymity. The usefulness of the questions is directly proportionate to the honesty of their answers! The data you collect needs to be treated with care, thoughtfulness and respect.
Use it to complement what you’re already doing. Doing a survey is no substitute for a leader getting to know their youth. If the pulse check is the only time when we ask them how they’re doing, something’s not working properly. It shouldn’t be the driving force of your pastoral care, but can be a great complement and guide.