Once I served in a church so consumed with numbers that it had a permanent apparatus in the back of the worship center dedicated solely to them. It displayed last week’s attendance, this week’s attendance, attendance from a year ago, and, of course, the most recent offering numbers.
Numbers matter because people matter, but the bottom-line number doesn’t always reveal what we’re looking for. On a given night, we may know how many bodies are present in the youth room, but at face value that reveals only a.) how many kids find something engaging enough to be here, or b.) how many kids are present against their will, compelled by an outside force.
To truly use numbers as a diagnostic, we must contemplate the right numbers —and go beyond the bottom line of “How many did ya have this week?” For example, consider these questions:
- How many people in this room are here for the first time? That reveals whether you’re attempting and/or succeeding with some kind of outreach.
- Who in this room repeatedly brings guests? That helps you discern which students have enough buy-in to invite friends.
- Are any students here for the first time in a while? That might suggest a life circumstance prompting kids to re-engage with church or with Jesus.
- What’s the level of engagement in the room? Are students talking with one another? Is anyone napping or disinterested? Can students find community? All of that speaks into what you’re programming.
What happens on a weekly basis in student ministry is just the beginning, so even if you’re asking all the right questions, you must count something besides bottom-line attendance. To determine where we are and where we’re going, I regularly measure these numbers:
- How many leaders in the room are new to our youth ministry? How many are perennials?
- What’s our volunteer retention rate? Who’s investing in leadership training?
Everything we do has a built-in next step—something we hope to push students toward. So we measure numbers to be sure we’ve communicated those next steps. Recently, for example, we held two separate events aimed at getting teenagers to join a small group. At one, almost 20 percent of attendees registered for small groups on the spot. The other event gleaned only 0.5 percent. Obviously we missed the mark with that one, both in clarity of communication and the ease of registering.
Year-to-year assessment can be critical in knowing if your ministry is thriving or declining. But if you consider only the bottom-line number, you miss critical pieces within that count. Here are more questions to consider:
- How many kids graduated vs. how many aged in?
- As students age, what does the standard retention rate look like?
- Are you losing a higher number of any particular grade than normal? If so, why?
- Over time, are any outside forces (calendar dates, costs, and so on) impacting camp or trip registration?
We recently started tracking how many teenagers are involved in service opportunities throughout our church. Surprisingly, we discovered that many were finding community through their serving teams rather than through youth group or small groups. They were directly engaged in our church’s kingdom work and were attending worship but had very little direct contact with the student ministry team.
Taking time to discern what the right numbers mean in your church’s context matters. After all, the true bottom line is youth ministry. And knowing the right facts and figures speaks to how well we’re handling the Gospel message.