Since the beginning of time, or at least when youth pastors came onto the scene, there have been lead pastors, elders’ board members and, let’s face it, ourselves, sweating the attendance at youth group. Growth is celebrated, decline is lamented and steady attendance is questioned. Numbers are a funny thing and one of the only quantifiable metrics we have.
Before I came to work as a pastor, I had a great job managing an Auto Collision repair facility. Every night at 8 p.m. I would get a report emailed to me with the day’s numbers. Every aspect of the business was dissected and summarized to show where my opportunities were and where I needed to improve to reach the goals set for my location. For years, I felt the anxiousness of opening the report each day, seeing where I needed to do better and constantly feeling like what I was doing wasn’t good enough.
I was two years in before I had an epiphany and changed my approach to managing my staff and store. I decided I wasn’t going to look at the numbers anymore; each night, the email would show up and I would delete it as fast as it came in. I decided that I had been doing it all backward and switched my approach. Instead of focussing on the numbers, I focused on people. I told my team that I would only let them know how we did at the end of the month, and our focus was strictly on people and nothing else.
I switched my focus to making sure that everyone who came in the door was taken care of, followed up with, and had all their needs known and subsequently met. I knew their concerns, learned about their families and jobs, and took an interest in them as people more than customers. I focused on all the parts I could control and it was a game changer, and within months we were setting records for same store sales month after month.
This is a principle that I have applied to how we do ministry, and here are four ways to stop sweating the numbers:
1—Focus on the ones you have: At the shop, we made it a priority to take the best care possible of every person that walked through the door. The same is true at youth: Our goal is to take care of each and every student, know their name, know their story and know why they showed up. Instead of doing a head count, we commit to pastoring everyone who walks in the door.
2—Don’t sweat the ones that don’t show: I am sure we have all be here, looking around the room and wondering where some of the students are and running all kinds of scenarios as to where they might be. When we do this, we cause ourselves undue stress and anxiety, and more than anything, miss the opportunity to engage the students that did show up. Don’t allow the ones that didn’t attend to lessen the experience of those that do.
3—Control the things you can: There are many pieces of the youth night that we have some control over, like ambiance, games and organization to name a few. There are things that you can do, and things you can’t; we need to do everything within our power to make the youth night the best possible. God is going to do what He is going to do, students are going to perceive what they will, and the Holy Spirit is going to teach and convict. Our job is to help facilitate and create spaces where students can encounter God and be challenged to think about what they believe.
4—Don’t play the numbers game: I may not be popular for saying this, but do your students, leaders and fellow youth pastors a favor and please don’t tweet your attendance. Firstly, because it is not a true indicator of health; it is an indicator that students showed up. Secondly, I am not sure it’s great for the Kingdom. Seeing record attendance is exciting, but I rarely hear about record low attendance, or “50 percent of my students went to a football game instead of coming to youth tonight.” We brag about the highs, but rarely in context, and almost none of us boast of poor attendance. I am convinced that publicly announcing attendance does more harm than good for other youth workers and does more to discourage than build up. Students are less concerned about record attendance than showing up and having their name known and having adult leaders who care for them and pray for them.
—Did you have a great night at youth? Tweet about it!
—Did students give their lives to Christ? Tweet about it!
—Did you have record attendance? Keep that one to your team!
When we live and die by attendance numbers, we allow something other than the Love of God to determine our value.
It was remarkable to watch how the numbers seemed to take care of themselves when we stopped focusing on them and just took care of people. In the context of our youth ministry, we have seen the health of the ministry and spiritual growth increase when we stopped living and dying by how many people we could get through the doors each week. Instead, we focused on the spiritual health of our students because things that are healthy grow.
Do yourself and your stress level a favor and stop sweating the numbers.