The Problem With Numbers in Youth Ministry

Here’s the obligatory dialogue about the role of numbers in ministry.

Full disclosure: I run a fairly large youth program.

We count our attendance every week and we keep track of numbers.

There is nothing wrong with that.

But there are very real temptations that come with the territory…

…and I haven’t seen too much written about those.

It’s fine to count our ministries, but it’s not okay to become completely driven by those numbers.

Your ministry to the kids who like chess isn’t less successful than your friend’s ministry to students who like basketball.

There’s a good reason that your dodgeball tournament drew a hundred students, but Manga night only drew a dozen.

We reach different students in different ways in different numbers and at different times.

And if there’s one thing that’s more important than running big ministries…

…it’s running the ministries God wants us to do.

That’s an important idea, and I hope you’ll share it with a friend. That’s what this next box is designed to do.

It’s good to run a large ministry, but it’s even better to run the ministry God called us to.

Certainly some of us are called to reach hundreds of students at a time.

But at least some of us are also called to reach the shy and quiet teenager who’s afraid of large crowds.

Some of us are called to reach students throughout entire cities, and some of us are called to reach the handful who remain in a declining farm town.

So the biggest temptation inherent with numbers-centric ministry…

…is to abandon our ministry calling in favor of a larger one.

Is this the most successful ministry I’ve ever seen?

Linda started her youth ministry, on her own and in her home. It was never her job and it never delivered a paycheck.

She did it because she felt like God was calling her to reach…

…deaf teenagers in her isolated, small town.

It was a niche, to be sure.

Linda’s programs usually ran four students, which just happened to be 100% of her target population.

The most important question I ask.

If you’ve ever met me or attended a SmarterYM meetup, you already know the first question that I ask other youth workers:

What makes your youth ministry unique?

There are definitely times when I’m not sure how to respond, but Linda has never struggled for an answer.

She knows what God has called her to do and she’s doing it well.

There’s nothing wrong with counting students or measuring progress, but let’s at least be sure that we’re measuring progress toward the ends that God has in mind for us.

Because before you start counting things…

…you need to make sure those things actually count.

I’ve got a few things I’d like you to do today.

1. Leave a comment below and tell me what makes your ministry unique.

2. Tell TWO friends about this post so that they can share too.  

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Aaron Helman
Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

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