Four Numbers That Will Always Matter in Youth Ministry

Life is full of over-reactions…but they are abundant in youth ministry circles.

Have you noticed these swings of the proverbial pendulum?

“Outreach is needed!” “Wait, now we’re ignoring our believers!” “Outreach is bad!”

“We could use events and programs to draw kids!” “Wait, now we’re focusing too much on program, and not enough on the individual.” “Programming is bad!

And now I’m hearing it with numbers again.

“Our youth group has grown to 100 kids weekly.” “Yeah, but the statistic I just read says that all of them are going to Hell…on a bicycle!” “Numbers are bad!”

Sigh.

Can we stop over-reacting and throwing out the baby with the bathwater? (Has anyone actually done this? I wonder if a baby has ever been discarded with bathwater. There has to be a better analogy than this!)

Allow me to be the one to be politically incorrect in today’s ministry world and say it: numbers matter! I realize that some of you think the word “numbers” is the “N” word (you really shouldn’t say that in public, by the way), but I assure you, it’s not. Numbers often open our eyes to the reality of weak areas in our ministry.

Before you scroll directly to the bottom of this blog to post a nasty comment, please hear me out. I’ll keep it simple. Numbers should never be the focus of our ministry, but at times, they provide really helpful information…and a much-needed kick in the butt.

Here’s 4 numbers that will ALWAYS matter in youth ministry:

1.    How many people have you and your leaders led to Christ this year?
Again, before overreacting, note that the Bible actually includes these kinds of numbers. Take a peek at that giant conversion in Acts, Chapter 2. Peter preached, the Lord moved, and “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (vs. 41). (Did I mention that the Bible has a book titled “Numbers?”) What was Luke thinking when he wrote this down! Didn’t he know that it’s bad to keep track of numbers?

Not true. Numbers often tell us that something is happening the way it’s supposed to happen when we allow the Spirit to work.

If we’re doing ministry in our community, inside and outside the church, people should be meeting Jesus. Does this mean that I should be jealous of Greg because he has led 10 people to put their trust in Christ and I have led only 3? No. But let’s be honest…if I’ve led no one to Christ, I might want to ask why. And if Greg seems to be leading about 10 to 20 people to put their trust in Christ each year and I’m only leading three, I might want to sit down with him, talk with him, and see what I can glean from him. (Especially if Greg is Greg Stier!!!!) We have a lot to learn from each other in the body of Christ. (as iron sharpens iron…)

Numbers keep us accountable to what we should be doing. And we should be introducing people to Christ. If we aren’t…ask why.

2.    How many students are you and your leaders currently discipling?
Ministry doesn’t end with people putting their trust in Jesus. Jesus called us to go and make disciples, not decisions. How many young people are you discipling? If your answer is zero, let me be bold enough to say, you really might want to re-evaluate your ministry.

Better yet, compare this number to the number above—the number of people you and your leaders have led to Christ this year. If the first number is greater, ask why people are making decisions, but not wanting to be discipled  (and that’s an entirely different article). These numbers can help hold us accountable to where we are putting our time. Are we spending 4 hours per week on Wednesday night’s funny video while no kids are being discipled?

Whoops!

Maybe this person should look at numbers to remind himself what’s important.

3.    How many students have you equipped to start using their gifts for the Kingdom?
One of the biggest complaints from the church in the last few years is the large number of teenagers who are walking away from their faith after high school. How many students are we really equipping to own their faith to the point where it spills over and becomes contagious?

That’s really the difference between a kid who’s just growing in their faith and one who’s looking for ministry. The “Looking for Ministry” kid isn’t just growing inwardly, they are following the spirit’s promptings to reach out to others.

Maybe we need to remember to not just focus on ministry to teenagers, but introduce a little bit of ministry by teenagers.

How many student leaders are you developing? How many teenagers have you trained in evangelism this year? How many teenagers are you equipping to do ministry?

These numbers, often ignored, can be some of the most productive numbers you ever count.

4.    How many volunteers have you recruited this year?
Yeah, now I’m really starting to meddle! But let’s face it, we’re doing a great disservice in any youth ministry if we aren’t actively recruiting volunteers to connect with teenagers and be a light in their lives.

Sadly, this area is often put onto the back burner. “I’m a youth pastor, not a recruiter.” Actually, that’s not true. Youth pastors need to be recruiters, equippers and trainers. If the church hires a person to just hang out with teenagers, they made a mistake. Why hire one person to hang out with teenagers when instead you can hire one person who will recruit 20 or 30 volunteers who will all hang out with teenagers?

If you’re a youth worker who finds yourself saying, “I hate recruiting” …you’re not alone. You just need to rethink your methodology (here’s some free help).

How many potential volunteers have you asked to come sit in on a junior high Bible study with you sometime? How many potential volunteers have you asked to drive a vanload of teenagers to the music festival? How many potential volunteers did you give just a small taste of your ministry, following up with them a week later, affirming them for their help and letting them know what a difference they made?

These kinds of numbers keep you accountable to recruiting workers for the harvest.

5.    How few Doritos can you eat after tasting one in a bowl in front of you?
This probably isn’t really important, I just think you’re amazing if you can eat less than 5!!!

Please don’t focus on numbers. Please don’t let numbers define your “value.” Please don’t brag about your numbers. Please don’t let numbers boost your personal pride.

But please… let numbers hold you accountable to the work of the Kingdom.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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5 Responses to Four Numbers That Will Always Matter in Youth Ministry

  1. Dave says:

    While I agree that we need a constant reminder of their importance, I think 1, 2 and 4 are obviously important to anyone who has been in youh ministry for awhile.

    I can, however, personally attest to the effectiveness of #3. I hesitate to share this, because I know some will think I’m bragging, but I truly hope only to glorify God and encourage others. I recently officiated a wedding for 2 former youth group kids who are all grown up. They are the very rare exception of a couple who met, started dating in my youth group, and ended up married. At the rehersal dinner, the mother of the bride came by to thank me for being there and she also asked me if I ever stopped to think about how many of those youth group kids from when I was a youth pastor are either in ministry, training for ministry, or faithfully following Jesus today. She then proceeded to list off the names. While I was quite encouraged and thankful she took the time to bring that to my attention, I also asked myself why these kids didn’t become that statistic that walked away. My only answer is that every one them was empowered to serve as a youth and not just be served. They were either student leaders, on the praise team, teaching younger children, going on missions trips, or helping in some behind the scenes way.

    I hope my story encourages those who are still in youth ministry and helps convince those who are skeptical about the importance of #3.

    -Dave

    P.S. I can’t answer #5 until I know how many Doritos are in the bowl

  2. Jon says:

    Food for thought: Jesus took 12 people. After 3 years of in depth discipleship and sending them out to tremendous success, the number grew to 11.

    • Josh Nelson says:

      Then who were the 72 that Jesus sent out to do ministry (Luke 10)? And who were the 500 believers who Jesus appeared to after the resurrection (1 Cor 15)? And then let’s think about those 11 whom Jesus led in 3 years of deep discipleship: what did they do after the resurrection (book of Acts)?

      Even Jesus’ “youth group kids” made bad choices. But they also changed the world.

  3. Christen Bean says:

    One more number.The number of kids your kids have led to Christ and continue to disciple.