Are numbers in youth ministry important? Yes. Are they the only metric we should be looking at to determine whether our youth ministry is successful? No. Then why do youth ministries, still, seem to be hyper focused on how many kids come to youth versus how man kids are following Jesus?
Let’s be honest, numbers obsession is not driven by youth pastors, they’re driven by pastors and boards who spend time crunching numbers to ensure the church is solvent. On the other hand, if a lot of youth pastors had their way, they wouldn’t pay attention to the numbers at all, they’d be happy with ten kids showing up every week. On the other hand, there’s a lot of youth pastors who would want full room for the sake of ego, because numbers equal affirmation.
There has to be a median between “go into the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in” and “us four no more”
My concern is that churches have adopted the same metrics of likes, viewer counts and shares that the world uses to gauge success and that certainly will convolute discipleship. My concern is that that questions about making disciples has become secondary to how well the church’s Tik Tok account is doing.
Science writer, K.C. Cole used a new word, to me anyway, in an article she wrote called The End of Grading, the word is deconvolute and she uses it in relationship to how being hyper focused on measurements actually gets in the way of what you’re truly trying to find out, she says
The true cost, however, is more than irritation. Misunderstanding measurement misunderstands understanding itself. The ubiquitous, incessant surveying smothers knowledge with noise, drowns out the information we actually need for finding out how things work, what’s going on, what we’re doing, what actually matters.
She offers an example of by quoting the CEO of the Mattel toy company,
The CEO of Mattel blamed a financial slump on creative doldrums he attributed to “a fixation on the numbers. The company was being driven by spreadsheets and checklists … We weren’t really asking ourselves, ‘Are we making good toys?’”
Slow clap. If you missed the comparison, allow me to rephrase this as if a pastor were saying it,
“We were so fixated on numbers, whether everyone was happy and if we were in line with the latest polls we forgot to ask ourselves, are we even taking up the call to make disciples”
‘Are you saying we should throw away all data and measurement when it comes to youth ministry, Paul?” Of course not. The bible gives us clear standards and measurements when it comes discipleship.
In my book, The Disciple Project, I offer five scriptural measurements for those who would call themselves followers of Christ, and they’re straight from the mouth of Jesus,
Core Value: Love
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must
love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one
another.” John 13:34,35
Praxis: Measured through Sacrifice
Core Value: Humility
“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have
cannot be my disciples.” Luke 14:33
Praxis: Measured through Surrender
Core Value: Holiness
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must
deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
Praxis: Measured through Separation
Core Value: Persistence
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching,
you are really my disciples. John 8:31
Praxis: Measured through Study
Core Value: Progress
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves
to be my disciples. John 15:8
Praxis: Practice (Habits)
So, yes, by all means let’s measure but let us measure correctly, measure scripturally. Let’s not let the essence of relational discipleship be convoluted by hyper focusing on the measuring tools, digital or otherwise.
You have kids showing up every week, who are not numbers. They are real kids with real problems that need real solutions. They’re not one of a hundred or one of ten, they are one of one, unique and worthy of your time and attention and deserving of a biblical call to follow Christ.