Monday, October 13, 2008

    Youth Ministry and Numbers

    Last night, our attendance was lower than normal. I tell myself not to worry. After all, it was a big football weekend with a late Saturday night game (the MU Tigers lost) and church attendance as a whole was down. Plus, I know that it’s not all about numbers. But, I can’t help but ask the question: Why am I concerned about the number of people attending youth group on Sunday night?

    I know this a rather cliché question. Almost any book on youth ministry tells you not to focus on and worry about the numbers. But it’s difficult, at least for me, not to be concerned with a lower attendance. In fact, I think numbers can give us certain indications.

    Taking note of attendance, without obsessing over attendance, can help us answer several questions: Is this a good meeting time for my youth? Are we adequately planning for our events and ministry? Do we need more adult volunteers? Do we need to do a MIA (missing in action) and call those we haven’t seen lately? Are we using the most effective teaching techniques for the size of ministry we have? Are we spending enough time preparing?

    Perhaps all of this is to say, it’s good once in awhile to sit back and reevaluate our ministries.

    How about you? Should youth ministry pay attention to numbers?



    Anonymous said...

    qualified yes--
    if you read christian smith's "soul searching," religion starts to have a positive influence on youth only when they attend regularly every week. so we should track who's coming each week.

    St. Brianstine said...

    Jesus had 12...lets minister to who God puts in our way.

    Anonymous said...

    I think there is a balance.

    On one hand, you don't need to compare yourself to other youth ministries and think that you are any less or more successful because you have more or less teenagers than everyone else in town.

    On the other hand, I think that keeping up with who is missing may give you a sense of who you need to contact that week. Just this week I saw a guy I hadn't seen in a while and right after we talked he sent me a text asking me to pray for him.

    Also, if you want to be reaching other teenagers, I think that at some point your ministry needs to be growing. Of course, it isn't all about just growing numerically, but we do want to be reaching others, right?

    Maybe it should work like this - instead of numbers, we need to ask ourselves some questions like, are we reaching out to others? Are the teenagers we have growing spiritually? Is there anyone I haven't talked to or seen in a while?

    holyman44 said...

    St. Brianstine, Jesus had 12 who were his key leaders. He ministered to crowds in the tens of thousands of people. I don't mean to be argumentative, but I do believe that numbers matter in a sense. They aren't the most important thing, but our goal is to make disciples of all nations, not just who God "puts in our way."

    Marv Nelson said...

    Yes! I agree with you. Youth Ministers should worry about numbers, but not be obsessive about them.I feel it when my numbers are down and when its bad enough, I ask my teens what gives. I generally receive good: a. constructive feedback on things that changed and people don't like, or b. what was going on at school I wasn't aware of.
    Both are good. We need to know what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong and I believe the numbers can be indicative of things we may be failing at. However, this comes at a balance where shouldn't PANDER to the teens desires in order for them to come more often.
    But here's something to ponder; if this generation is more open to being real than any other, I'm sure they'll give you a straight up answer as to WHY the numbers are getting lower...if it coninues...ask your teens!

    Danny Bradfield said...

    I arrived at my new church six months ago; this fall we are trying to start up our youth groups.

    This past Sunday, I only had one youth show up. Even my adult volunteer was a no-show. Part of me was disappointed, but part of me was also excited... this one youth had been asking me to teach him some chords on the guitar, so after checking with my wife and his parents, I invited him over to my house. (That way it wouldn't be just him and me in an empty church.) We got out our guitars, but also had some great conversation, and I got to know him a lot better.

    Of course, I still hope to get the kids we have committed to attending and helping the group to grow, but sometimes, having only one or two provides unique opportunities for ministry.

    yoyojoe said...

    This is a question which has come up recently with my summer camp. Numbers are down, but the overall feedback has never been better.

    We do need to minister to those whom God presents to us, but is not one of our goals to spread the word?

    Numbers is a dangerous and all consuming thing if you let them be. Numbers are not the end all be all either.

    My belief is that if I affect the life of one child, then I have done something to be proud of. Sounds cliche, but it helps...

    Randy said...

    Absolutely we should pay attention to the numbers, two numbers in particular.

    One is the totals number and which way they are going (up, down, or flat). This number and it's flow gives us one significant indicator (no, not the only nor necessarily the most important yet still significant) of how we are doing in reaching the youth in our flock / on our rolls / in the community.

    The other is the particular numbers and which way they are going. Pay attention when Jon (#3 on the roll), who has been a regular for two years, becomes erratic in attendance or disappears. Maybe I better check on him or his family situation and etc. Pay attention when Emma (#17), who was fairly regular two years ago, then became irregular, then disappeared last Spring, is suddenly here every week. Maybe I better think about what is going on that has brought her back and what it means and how to build on it for relationship and growth and ministry and care.

    Absolutely the numbers matter. Not for the sake of the numbers but as one of the indicators which can guide us into more effective ministry with each young person and with all of them.

    Jacob said...

    These are all great comments and suggestions. I tend to agree with the overall response that Yes numbers are important. But, like anything, numbers must be interpreted and used appropriately.

    Thank you to everyone for the good conversation. It's great to have a community of youth workers who are able to converse with one another.

    Anonymous said...

    Sorry...just catching up. Our numbers were down too. I hate numbers...the vampires in my head tell me I am not effective anymore after 20 years of youth ministry. I know there is more going on...

    BUT, I also know that young people are busy. I know we want them to make the choice to come to church- but it is not that easy. Must we continue to add things to their calendar and make them choose. Or should be be more concerned about the relationship we build with each youth on their turf?

    I am going for the relationship. :)

    Sheryl said...

    You know, when I took my first professional (paid) youth ministry job, I caught a lot of flack because the number for our youth ministry nights dropped from about 150 a week to 100 when we started to do more than just play games. I also got told that I couldn't continue to do a movie night one Friday night a month because "only" five kids were shoping up for it.

    Both were incredibly frustrating, but especially that last one. Those five kids who were coming to movie night were the kids who weren't getting invited to parties, who weren't popular or cool. But they started to form a community, and they started coming to other events because they knew they would have someone to talk to. But I had to eliminate the event because the numbers weren't there.

    That attitude (along with some other not-so-nice things that happened at that congregation) made me question not only my ministry (and, really, the purpose of ministry in general), but also my denomination.

    Now, I belong to a small congregation in a different denomination, and, after several years to heal, I'm doing youth ministry again, on a volunteer basis. Now, I'm encouraged to plan things even if only two or three kids show up. They are thrilled that our teens are staying involved. I have 70% of our high schools students showing up for Sunday school every week. Granted, that's only 7 kids, but those 7 kids matter. And I'm thrilled with those numbers.

    Kristin said...

    I struggle with this question as well. The church I am a youth minister at has small numbers. And people are constantly asking about numbers (not about what is happening in the ministry). I think the youth know when all they are is a number. At the same time I agree that we need to know how to reach the youth. However, I also really struggle to find resouces for activities for groups of 2 - 5 youth. Help!

    Anonymous said...

    Last night I had the opportunity to evaluate the success of my current ministry against what I know of the new church I am going to starting in January. I am scared. Currently I am on staff with an amazing team of 3 youth pastors and we reach a-ton of kids every-week through a variety of ministries. Now as I am getting ready to leave this ministry and move on to another I am frightened of the numbers game for three reasons.

    1. Going from team to Me

    2. A Significant decrease in budget

    3. Expectations of the hiring committee.

    Granted, I know these people are seriously growth oriented, especially within the last 2 years, but as I look at what I am leaving to where I am going, the numbers are keeping me from experiencing the joy I feel like I should have. I know in my heart numbers are silly, but trying telling that to the elder who runs a business, or lay-man who owns his own company. Sometimes i feel like all it comes down too is butts in chairs equals more money in the coffers, and more money means more programs, and more programs means more people and more people, means more success....Sigh. I need some encouragement

    Brian said...

    I am posting your message on our front page in hopes that some of our regular readers can pass on a little advice.