It’s All About The Numbers

My first year in student ministry I worked with middle schoolers. I was fresh out of Bible College and anxious to grow a youth program and see students experience Jesus. We met weekly on Wednesday nights for a typical youth ministry night full of games, worship and teaching. I quickly found myself frustrated because the small group that I had when I began at the church never seemed to grow to a larger group.

As a novice youth worker, I was convinced that the only way to measure progress was by the number of butts in the seats. With this being my only metric, I was missing out on some of the more significant growth that was happening that would eventually lead to students inviting friends and a filling of the youth room. It’s all about the numbers, but different  numbers than you might think.

In Western youth ministry, many youth workers have bought the lie that they are ineffective unless attendance is constantly increasing.

Here are three more important metrics to pay attention to that will lay a foundation for eventual numerical growth.

1. Volunteer to student ratio

In my experience, our youth ministry began to increase significantly when I began to place importance on recruiting, training and equipping adults in the congregation to serve students on a weekly basis. Ashamedly, my original philosophy of ministry was to be as cool as possible and see how many kids I could get to come around and watch. Obviously, this strategy was not very effective for two reasons, I was not as cool as I thought I was and God had not called me to something I could accomplish on my own.

In my experience, a healthy ratio for caring adult volunteers to students is between 1/5 and 1/8.  In order to create a welcoming environment, develop meaningful relationships and have a familiarity with each student, this metric is incredibly important. If you want your group to grow in number and in depth, maybe you need to grow your volunteer base first. Perhaps God is waiting on you to create a system that will be able to effectively care for the student he is going to bring you. 

2. Time spent in prayer

I would love to be able to say this is my ministry’s strong suite, however, this is something I must constantly be reminded not to neglect. I am so task oriented that I am quick to jump to things that have immediate results that can be seen and are measurable.

What I know to be true is that there is no significant thing I have been involved in in my time serving in full time ministry that has not been first bathed in prayer. Though prayer can feel like a waste of time, the true waste is when we try and have God-sized impact relying on only our human efforts. Consider creating a daily/weekly prayer time that is focused specifically on the ministry at hand. Use this time to ask for the spirit of God to surround the ministry He allows you to lead and to bring about growth of all kinds.

3. Contact points throughout the week

If we hope to be able to have a lasting impact on the students in our student ministry simply by showing up for 1-2 hours a week, we have missed the magnitude of the task God has given us in our calling. I am a firm believer that you should take the time spent in your weekly program and double it, then spend that time in contact work each week.

To me, contact work is setting up meetings with students for coffee, writing hand-written notes, sending texts and making phone calls.  It’s easy to put out minimal effort during the week and believe it will pay off somehow. Here is the truth, contact work is hard. That is the reason very few youth ministries do it well. Make this metric a measurable task and stay accountable to it. Create a system that will accomplish your goal regularly. Consider having volunteers, upper classman or parents help you to connect with each student who attends your youth room outside of your youth room.  

Don’t get me wrong. You should care who is showing up and who is not. But the way you care is not by becoming frustrated with your numbers, but by paying attention to more important metrics. If you do… the numbers will take care of themselves.