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Here’s the temptation we all face at this stage of the ministry season­­ — setting the date for the year-end celebration, hunkering down, using that last bit of energy to make it a show­stopper, and then immediately crashing as soon as the last student or Coffee Break Leader or Cadet Counselor leaves the room.

We’ve done it! We pulled off the best Bubble Soccer game or End of Bible Study Pot­luck yet, and now we just want to put our feet up until August when we gear up for the beginning of the next ministry season. Our co-­leaders and volunteers are only too happy to be released for their own time of rest and it is no surprise that they are reluctant to return for any ministry conversation or planning until sweatshirt weather returns.

Deep down we know that we need one more meeting in order to put this year to rest. We know that it will set us up for a strong beginning in the Fall, but is it worth wrangling tired volunteers when we all know the vacation train has already begun to leave the station? The simple answer is “yes!” The deeper question we need to ask is, “What might we lose by not doing a year-end debrief?”

Almost every vibrant and growing ministry and community endeavor that I have participated in has had a rich culture of regular debriefs. These groups consistently celebrated what went well and regularly attempted to learn from what didn’t. These groups debriefed as soon as possible, so that those involved could easily recall both factual data as well as the tone or emotional impact of the positive and negative aspects of both events and ongoing ministry.

The year-end debrief helped us to capture the overall ebb and flow of the ministry year and helped us begin to dream about what the next year might hold. It also helped us highlight what resources we might need to gather between camping trips and family excursions over the summer. The best beginnings are most often made possible by strong endings.

What does a life­-giving, ministry strengthening debrief look like? A good debrief is where iron can sharpen iron for the sake of ministry effectiveness. An effective debrief:

  • keeps vision at the fore and pushes back against carrying on with the unhelpful “we always”. If necessary it helps recast the vision for the next season or event, supporting forward momentum.
  • is practiced often so that we are consistently in a humble learner mode and where this practice feels normal and safe for all. It is so consistent that team members would think it odd not to end the year with a strong debrief.
  • creates a gracious space to be both honest and loving in its critique and celebration.
  • opens paths for reconciliation and forgiveness when mistakes or oversights are made because the process makes room to identify and address them.

Because of this atmosphere of forgiveness, a debrief:

  • creates space for experimentation and encourages the team to be creative because it is ok to try and sometimes to fail.
  • helps the team to learn from failure.
  • is most effective when those we are ministering to, with, and for are able to speak into the process.
  • allows for regular opportunities to invite new volunteers to participate in the work.
  • isn’t only for those who are leading and implementing a certain ministry initiative.

Jubilee Fellowship in St. Catherines, ON did a great job of doing a congregational debrief video about their Middle School Faith Formation class.

What are the debrief habits of your ministry? Do you have a story that you can share about a time when an effective debrief made an impact on your ministry? Share your story with us in the comments section below! 

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