13 Soul Stretching Strategies To Combat The Numbers Game

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.

A Thousand Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Die (And How To Avoid It)

I saw a post on Facebook from a youth worker, and the opening line was

Honestly, we’re not looking to grow our group; we love our kids and are much more interested in quality of program than number of kids.

I sat stunned in silence for a few minutes. Look at the clock and said, “Time of death 2:35 p.m.” But, the time only marked the beginning of a slow death, like being told you have only months to live except this will take years.

The post continued to share about ask why kids were choosing other activities over youth and how to get parents on board with saying yes to you and no to other stuff.

If a youth ministry is not interesting in growing, by default, it is interested in dying. The call to reach out to others is loud and clear and the call to be mediocre does not live in the the mouth of God.

A youth ministry can die a thousand ways, here’s there of them.

Death by disinterest

How long does it take a kid to be become disinterested in a youth program? Almost immediately if there’s no call to something greater than themselves. A kid will stick around until the fun dries up, if fun is the only thing you’re using to get them there and keep them there.

Over the years I have sped up the time line for getting kids involved in leadership much sooner. Leadership, to me, means allowing a kid to serve and develop their gifts as they go rather than to wait until they “ready”. This process has worked good and has kept kids around much longer.

The old adage I live by is, “If you want someone to show up give them a job”

Death by disruption

The forces of attention are alway pulling at us. The magnetic force of sports, plays, video games, homework, etc. have been at work for a long time and have only increased. Youth programs that are not engaging and fulfilling lack the magnetism to draw kids to it.

Our youth group peaked about a year ago. I can’t get any more from them. The disruption came through home schooled kids getting older and they smiley lacked the influence to bring anyone else in. Our church has gone through a similar phase and faces the same issue.

Death by demographics

Maybe you’re like me. You work in a church where 80% of the people are 50 and above are with little chance of younger families or couples coming through your doors. This could be reversed but when people are slow to change atrophy wins.

I have to say, it’s not anyone’s fault that your neighborhood is changing, it is someone’s fault when change is not embraced to meet the needs of a changing community. If the church is not growing and changing neither is the youth ministry or the children’s ministry.

You have to care about the numbers. If the call to evangelism and outreach dies, so does the youth ministry.

I would never ask a kid to come to church simply so “we” could “survive”. To be really honest, in some cases, a youth ministry should die until the right leadership is over the ministry; be it paid or volunteer.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some ideas on how to revive a dying youth ministry. I’ve used these ideas in a few of my youth ministries and had great success but there is no secret sauce, it’s just prayer and hard work.

My hope is that if your youth ministry is on the precipice of decline, my words will inspire you to take hold, hang on, and work hard until you see the breath of life return to your ministry.

Watch  for The Nine Dynamic Ways You Can Revive Your Youth Ministry in coming days.


Is This Youth Pastor Persistent or Delusional?

Think about this youth pastor. His name is Brad, he’s 25 and thinks he could be the next Steven Furtick? Delusional, right? Maybe.

What if he listens to every Furtick message, dresses like Furtick, uses social like Furtick and baptizes a 1,000 people a day? Is he Furtick? Nope. Is he closer to being being Furtick than most? Sure. His persistence has paid off. His skills brought him nearer to his goals.

But what about a young lady named Beth who’s a youth pastor of 12 kids. The church is around 125 with an average age of 50 in a run down area of a big city. She has dreams. She doesn’t want to be the next anything. She just wants to reach teenagers with the gospel and grow the youth ministry and make disciples.

She been there for eight years and has seen zero growth. She’s had a few good events, lots of kids cycling through, but, overall the ministry hasn’t experienced sustained growth and neither has the church. She’s been persistent, worked hard, but the ministry has remained stagnant. Should she persist or is she delusional, believing that something could happen in a place where nothing is happening?

Now, I know what your thinking. “But God can do anything”. He sure can. Then why doesn’t He? Why don’t all youth ministries grow? Are we not following the right formula? The same gospel is preached. Youth workers (volunteer and bi-vocational mostly) are working hard and doing all they can, to know avail.

That’s the thing. Persistence can turn into delusion and we don’t even know it. We soldier on, believing if we change the way we play games, the videos we use, and adjust our preaching  it will work and yet, nothing.

“But if they would just..” Yeah, I’ve said that. Some of this advice is true and would work if implemented on a small scale.

I’m just wondering how many good youth workers are working persistently to attain results that are never going to come and how many youth workers have figured out their delusion, bailed and experienced unbelievable relief.

God can do anything. That doesn’t mean he will, no matter how hard we pray, work, fast, tithe, or worship. Sometimes we have to accept that our effort is just not good enough, and move on.

Is this what Jesus meant by shaking the dust from your feet? “Stop being delusional and move on. They will never accept what you are offering.”

So, is it is easier these days to become Steven Furtick or grow a youth ministry?

What do you think, what’s the difference between persistence and delusion?

How To Double Your Youth Group Attendance In One Year

If you are planning on on being at your church for only a year, then doubling it should be easy, but you have to hurry.

Throw lot’s of party’s and events.

Games, more games,  and game nights.

Keep your messages to ten minutes tops.

Do not challenge anyone to serve or lead.

Give away lots of expensive stuff.

Crank up the hype machine.

Don’t mention the cross or following Jesus.

Don’t talk about giving, sacrifice, or surrender.

Have a hot band with shallow worship songs and a worship leader that just wants to be seen.

Make sure you take lots of selfies with the latest whatever and whoever.

At the end of the year, thank them for showing up to all the cool stuff and avoiding Sunday school, Small Group, prayer times, revivals and anything that remotely looks like commitment.

Pack your car and head out.

Sarcastic rant ended.

Granted, a youth group can double in a year minus some of these tactics. Demographics, church culture, and honest moves of God can all play a part, but why the rush to grow?

You want the real secret to growing your youth ministry?

You ready? Here it is. Patience.

If you’re planning on being at your your church for more than three years you have plenty of time to grow numerically. Until then do this

Love kids.

Show up to their stuff.

Build a foundation of identity and community.

Build a reputation of reliability, faithfulness, and godliness.

Serve the whole church.

Teach and preach scripture with passion.

Love and serve families.

Call kids to follow Jesus, not you.

Encourage small groups and small encounters.

Make Jesus the focus of your worship.


Love kids.

Everything else is a tactic.

Want to draw a crowd? Tactics will do.

Want to make disciples? Patience is the key.

Watch me break it down  below

7 Questions You Must Answer Before Your Youth Ministry Will Grow

 7 Question Grow

Seth Godin’s post give 7 questions anyone should follow if they are interested in reaching the people in their neighborhood. Some people want to reach people in  their neighborhood with a product, a promotion, an event, or a service. I and my youth ministry want to reach kids in our neighborhood with the gospel of Jesus Christ (my guess is yours does too) and in order to do that I have to be honest about these 7 questions.

Every marketing challenge revolves around these questions

WHO are you trying to reach? (If the answer is ‘everyone’, start over.)

In our case, we look at attracting middle class kids in High School and have been successful. I don’t know if it’s as intentional as we’d like it to be but that is what the programming is attracting so we stick with it. In the spring we divided up and sought to draw middle school students with  separate program and it got mixed results so we’ll be more intentional in the fall. Considering we have a bunch of students who are home schooled we are doing better than average.

HOW will they become aware of what you have to offer?

We use Instagram and FB quite a bit. Not a lot of Twitter users in our group. We have some students who are good at posting and sharing their youth ministry experiences and that’s a plus.

I will be volunteering this year at our High School to simply be a presence not necessarily to promote  but I’m sure conversations may lead to that.

I take a lot of video of our YM and share it often.

I engage with my students on Social Media and their friends see that.

WHAT story are you telling/living/spreading?

The main story: God loves you and is calling you to know Him through His Son Jesus Christ. In Christ there is peace, joy, love, hope, and purpose.

The sub-plot: You have God Given gifts, abilities and talents, us them to give others a a peek  at God’s kingdom here on earth.

DOES that story resonate with the worldview these people already have? (What do they believe? What do they want?)

Yes. Most, if not all, people want to know why they are walking around on planet earth and no one more so than the American teenager. Most people in our town want to find hope when they’re desperate, love when they feel cold. and kindness when they feel mistreated. All of these are found in a community called The Church.

WHERE is the fear that prevents action?

My fear is the fear of standing alone with my dream. That if I take the lead into uncharted territory no one will follow, save God.

WHEN do you expect people to take action? If the answer is ‘now’, what keeps people from saying, ‘later’?

We don’t program a ton. We keep things pretty simple. We ask kids to come to what they are available for and not to everything all at once.

I keep things relevant but biblical.

I don’t try to be everyone’s friend so I can be their Pastor.

I keep thing moving along. Boredom = Death.

WHY? What will these people tell their friends?

We believe kids don’t just listen to sermons we believe they can experience God in every service. Thankfully no one is going around bragging on my sermon but they are going around bragging on how they felt loved and how God touched their hearts.

Here’s a sample: This student posted about her one year anniversary with us

So around this time last year Jenny (name change) invited me to come to her church because she was leading worship that night, and I didn’t want to miss service at the church I was going to but I thought “it’s just one night, what the heck” so I went for that one night and haven’t missed a service since then! This year was one of the hardest years yet but this youth group has been there for me and supported me through it all and have become my family. At this church I have made many lifelong friendships and seen God move more than ever before and I am so blessed to be a part of such an amazing youth group! I love you all and I look forward to many more years with you guys!

Nothing about how I made her feel but everything about how the group made her feel and what God has done and is doing in her life #Winning.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I have to ask these questions, pray hard, get wisdom, make hard choices and execute on what I think the right move is. Comments like the one above is a combinations of hard work and God’s grace (with emphasis on the latter).

The good news for you is that comments like these are waiting (if you haven’t gotten them already)  to be posted about your youth ministry and the work God is doing in you and through you and your kids.

Need help answering these questions? Feel free to leave your questions below or click here to check out my Real Time Coaching Package to go deeper.

Your Turn

Which question is hardest for you to answer? Easiest?

Which question is hardest to execute on?

Other Resources About Story

A good article from Youth Specialties on the Power of Story

Your Youth Meeting Is Another Opportunity To Tell A Great Story

The Story That Wins

What’s Your Story?



Four Week Youth Outreach: The Hunger And Thirst Games


I have recently finished putting together the four week series The Hunger and Thirst Games for public consumption. The four week outreach will help draw new kids to your youth ministry and connect Christ and culture to reach kids where they are at.

I will be adding a few nuggets to make the outreach even better, because hindsight is 20/20 right? I usually think of different or even better ideas to use the material after it is finished. If you use the material or just read it and come up with some other ideas, just post them here.

You can purchase The Hunger Games Outreach HERE .