As youth pastors we don’t like to talk about numbers, or if we do, it’s with wailing and gnashing of teeth as we imagine the elders shaking their heads in frustration at the job we’re doing to reach the students in the community. Or we laugh at the image of the same elders shaking their heads with concern because the numbers are up, but the students you’re reaching are causing problems…serious problems like an occasional swear word, and wearing ear-buds on church property.
Here’s the truth: Numbers matter.
Try as we might to help leadership see the student ministry discipleship process as more than a head count, it remains one of the universally accepted currencies of “health” in youth ministry. Here are a few numbers to keep an eye on.
Youth group attendance
We use a simple head count to track this metric. It matters, especially to see trends in the year, trends by series/topics, and shifts in big picture participation. This measurement is often weighted too much in many church cultures (ours included), but it can still be a helpful number to watch because people do vote with their feet. A growing number reflects a strong ideal entry-point for our student ministry; students are entering the ministry through the top of the funnel. To some degree, this reflects the health of friendship evangelism in our ministry.
Small group signups
There is an additional level of commitment to join a small group, which causes participation to decrease, so we expect this number to be less than the youth group number. Knowing how many students are signed up and/or actually attending can be helpful to make sure students are entering and flourishing at the next step in the discipleship process. This number should grow in proportion to the weekend number; if we had 60%+ active in a small group we would be thrilled.
We try to share about the life-changing message of Christ every week, and once a month we have baptisms. It is continually important and recharging to see how God is changing lives. We celebrate any student who accepts Christ and gets baptized, because it is such an important step across the line of faith. This number is usually compiled from response cards collected at youth group.
Text database / Instagram followers
Texting is our primary method of communication with students, and seeing this number grow is a reflection of the lives we are touching. Students can sign up online and be added/removed with a checkbox on the response card.
Blog/social media traffic/friends
This one is still new and emerging, but it would be nice to see what kind of “buzz” is out there in the wild about your youth ministry. Does your student ministry Instagram have more followers this month than last? That’s a winning number. You can get all into this as well using Google Analytics, YouTube Insight, Twitter Search, and other analytical tools you can see who is viewing your videos, visiting your blog, how many people are checking you out, and see what people are saying about your services and their church experience.
There are other numbers that certainly matter (kids doing ministry, offering, distribution of spiritual growth tools, etc.)—what matters most to you? What’s missing here?
What other numbers matter? How do you deal with the reality of attendance-based performance grading? Speak up in the comments!
This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.