I used to coach soccer and one of the most valuable teaching tools I used was video of our games that was shot from the top of a stadium. This video was valuable because they could see the whole field. I taught our videographers to only pan from one half of the field to the other. They always wanted to be ESPN cameramen and zoom in, but what I wanted was video that would show my players the whole field. When they played in the game they could only see parts of the field; they could not see how all the parts were working together and how to adjust the parts so that we could be more successful.
Mark DeVries taught me the power of this idea in youth ministry. He likes to call it balcony time. Balcony time is a chance to pull back from the immediate needs of ministry and to go into the balcony and watch what is going on. Balcony time can happen by taking a week to allow others to carry the responsibility and watching your ministry happen with a critical eye for how things work or do not work together. Were new students welcomed? Did we start on time? Was the band ready? Was the game prepared?
Balcony time can also happen as a youth minister finds time and space to reflect on all the parts of the ministry and evaluate the health of each part and how they are working together.
Offensive and Defensive Coordinators on football teams bring balcony time and ministry time together into strategic planning on the fly. Many coordinators work from the booths high above the stadium so that they can watch how plays are developing and see the whole field. They communicate with assistants who are on the field relaying the information to the players. Other coordinators like to be on the sidelines where they can directly communicate with the players, but they have trusted assistants in the booths who relay what they see.
Unfortunately in youth ministry we often plan on-the-fly, but without the insight of what is happening in the balcony. We get narrow-sighted by what we are experiencing on the field. We cannot see all the parts and how they are affecting each other and make on-the-fly decisions under informed decisions.
I encourage all of us to take time each month (an hour to half a day is plenty) to get in the balcony and pay attention to how everything is working together, to use that time to strategically think about how we can improve our communication, our response, our ministry so that we offer our best.
Here are some questions that you might use to guide your reflection:

  • Where are we having the most success (as you choose to define it)?
  • What area of the ministry causes me (us) the most anxiety? Why?
  • What are the challenges facing each area of the ministry?
  • Where am I spending too much time? Not enough?
  • What volunteers are ready for more responsibility?
  • What areas are under resourced—money, time, volunteers?
  • What am I doing that someone else could do?
  • Are we accomplishing our mission? Does each program help accomplish the mission?
  • How well are we connecting the youth ministry to the church body?
  • How are our transition points—children’s ministry to junior high to senior high to? Others?

Make actionable steps that you can begin to put into place. Be sure to take it one step at a time! From time to time be sure to get feedback from your team about balcony issues. They may see things that you missed.
Growing together question? How has balcony time impacted your ministry? What advice would you add?