Is It All About The Numbers?

Yes and No.  Numbers are always part of the equation if numeric growth is part of the vision. Youth Ministry is about relationships, the depth and feh quality of those relationships do not have to be hurt by paying attention to (not focusing on) the numbers.

In carnally minded leadership, it’s about money and image (pride) not numbers. More kids, at least in the leadership’s mindset, should mean more families which = more tithes which = success and bragging rights . Lack of numbers = lack of money and it makes some people worry. So, youth pastor, do your job, only better. 

In healthy, spiritually minded leadership, numbers are treated as an indicator not a goal. They ask, “What can we do together to reach more/keep more?”

That’s a simple description of two ways to look at numbers. The hard work begins when we stretching our souls to come up with some real solutions to the issue of numbers or lack thereof. Here are 13 strategies to combat the numbers albatross around your neck.

Ask what success means

Someone has to decide. Your Pastor, your board, the committee owes you a clear, concise meaning of this word so you can either shoot for it or decide the expectations are too unreasonable.

You must also determine your personal success. What does it mean to succeed in ministry and make your work ethic match your definition.

Do everything you know how to do. Research. Coaching. Reading. Etc. 

No matte who your leader is, no matter how compassionate and laid back they are, shrugging shoulder is not an acceptable answer to, “What are you doing to  grow yourself?

You’ve heard it before, Leaders are Reader or Leaders are Learners, etc. the question is, how much are you investing in yourself? Are you reading the books that will help you understand your issue? Are you listening to podcasts? Are getting some coaching?

How do you spend your time? Playing Fortnite for six hours or working on yourself, praying, and strategizing to get ahead of the game and make yourself and the ministry better?

Examine Your Current Strategy

What are you currently doing? How can you tweak it? What is working and what is not? These are important questions and if we’re not asking them, we will only get more of the same if we double down on things that do not work.

What have been key outreaches you’ve done and what made them successful? How long ago? Culture changes and what worked last year may not work this year.

Define Expectations With Your Leadership 

There are written and there are unwritten expectations with every job. leader only expects you to stick to he job description. The job description is the starting point. Expectations change, they just forget to tell you.

At your next review, ask, “Has any of your expectations changed since I was hired? How can I best fulfill those?” or “I think those expectations are unfair in our current ministry climate.”

Define and re-examine your expectations.

What Does Your Discipleship Look Like: Education vs Action 

If you are only educating your kids on how to be a a disciple, this may be part of the issue. It is in the practice of he gospel where disciples are made. How much education and how much practice are you giving them?

Clearly, education does not always translate into action, but action is always followed by an education. Kids, and all other people, learn by doing. If you are teaching them how to share Christ but not giving them an opportunity to share Christ, don’t expect to much progress or growth. Where can you take the education and turn it into action. Action should be the default switch.

Its not Either/Or Its Both: Attendance and Engagement

I read a quote that said, “what matters is engagement, not attendance”. Well, and if I can channel how a former pastor of mine and how he would respond, “it may be so, but engagement does not pay the bills, not does it?”

Actually it could. We should take every opportunity students will give us to engage with them outside the youth ministry. I used to have breakfast with two freshman guys every Tuesday before school. I recently did one of their wedding and about to do the other. Neither one of these guys were big guest bringing, but they did have influence and they knew my heart for the lost.

Engagement is only one element that drives attendance; the rest is about prayer, preaching the gospel and discipleship. The outreach you put on is an opportunity to engage with lost kids but it is not a silver bullet for increasing attendance.

You can catch some of my other thoughts in the video

Paid to do versus biblically mandated 

Lines can get blurred when working in a church. The line between what we are paid to do and what we ought to do. You would think they would line up but its amazing how they often conflict.

The job description doe snot say was kind of kids you should reach, so you reach all kinds only to find out your church does not want to reach those kinds of kids. When it comes to your job description and the Bible, the Bible wins.

What is your job description? No matter what says, it never reaches the veracity of what Jesus asks us to. Do your job, then do what your called to do.

What are you measuring? 

“If it’s worth doing it’s worth measuring” they say. Part of the problem of gaining more kids, is that the kids we have, are not born again. They do not see the value in inviting others to youth let alone reaching other people for Christ.

Measure how many kids know the Lord.

Measure how many disciples you have.

Measure the passion level.

Measure the opportunities (reach) they have (how many homeschool, public, private, etc)

If you’re only measuring attendance, put away your measuring tape.

Don’t Use The Quality vs Quantity Argument 

This is a dead end. You may have gotten into youth ministry for the quality of relationships you can foster with teens,  but many of your bosses aren’t measuring that. If I was your pastor and you told me, “its not about the numbers” I would say ok, Well, the church  doesn’t have enough numbers to pay your salary.” Numbers do matter.

Quality and excellence draw people. The quality of the program should play a part in whether the numbers are there. As a parent, I want to know the youth worker has a plan and that he/she is going to do everything they can to the best of their ability. Take a look around and inward and eliminate all the sloppy parts.

Don’t Let The Pressure Get To You

I’ve lost sleep over numbers. I’ve had panic attacks over numbers. I’ve gotten sick over numbers. That’s what pressure can do. If you’re anxious or stressed out, remember, you can only do so much.

There are other factors and forces, mostly spiritual, at work as to why your youth ministry will not grow, but hat’s not to excuse to give less effort.

Change Your Language 

Numbers may come up in a conversation about your youth ministry, but that does not mean that’s all you have to talk about. In addition to numbers, talk about kids who are growing, kids who are having a breakthrough, kids who have responded to the message or later time, and kids who are going though a rough time and could use some extra prayers.

Yes, get around to the numbers, but share those numbers within a framework of progress. Move the conversation from numbers to people and stories.

Be Honest About Why You’re Not Growing

Nothing can start without honesty. Be honest about every aspect of the program including your leadership style, management style, and preaching/communication style. If we, as leaders, cannot be honest, how can we hope that others will be honest as well.

Be honest about challenges that exist. Nothing is worse than creating a separate reality and then trying to operate in that realty as if those challenges did not exist, it’s counter-productive.

Be honest about any feelings you may be having like doubt, disappointment, hurt, frustration, etc. Just because you’re a Christian and pastor does not mean you are not human It’s ok to feel, it’s not ok to wallow in them. Identify all the negative feelings, call them out, and then affirm that God is for you and loves you.

Be honest about the changes you must make. This may be the toughest part of this process. Once you’ve had your “come to Jesus” moment begin planning how you will make change, first, in your self, next with the program.

Ask for feedback

Once you’ve evaluated your ministry, share your findings with your supervisor/pastor but also include your suggestions how you might overcome some of challenges you’ve discovered.

Begin to list the reasons there may be some pushback and answer those questions before you have a meeting.

There may also be some criticism, but take it all in and then separate what is true from what is not.

I hope these thirteen principles have, in fact, stretched your soul. I hope God works in you and through you to do all He desires. Every kid you serve is a person, not a number, but they should counted. Follow these principles and you may find yourself counting more stories, more changed lives, and yes, even more numbers.

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