It is amazing to me how much ministry numbers totally rule my life. In my mind, I have a threshold number. If that number is reached or exceeded I am on top of the world, loving my job, and thankful for the privilege of being considered a youth worker. If less than that number of kids, then it is down the death spiral. I question my effectiveness, my calling, and a stop off at McDonalds to get my binge eating on is all but given.
I get that I am probably more emotionally unstable than you, but I do know that most of my colleagues in ministry are continually wrestling with numbers and always trying to grow their ministry. And I also know that for most of my youth worker friends, after their first year on the job, their numbers have gone flat. The numbers they grew to in their first year are now the numbers year over year and year after year.
This flattening out of the numbers makes me and some of my friends sick. I mean, after all, we are evangelicals and we should always be growing our ministry and our churches. But the sad truth is that the same trend is actually occurring in big church as well. After an initial staff change and the grown of this new person, the numbers level off and year over year, year after year, the attendance in big church is relatively flat as well.
All of this talk of ministry growth is really besides the point. The real issue is how many students do you have involved in your ministry and is this enough.
Some of you immediately are chafed because how could you even concede if you have "enough" students or not. But before you flip out, lets just take a quick look at the numbers on the ground.
The prevailing wisdom that has been confirmed by my local and denominational networks and on some blogs here and there is that there is an actual correlation between the total number of participants in church and the numbers you should have involved in your student ministry.
If you want to have a true bench mark regarding your numbers, 10% is where you want to be.
Take the total number of people that come to your church on a Sunday morning (or weekend for you big time peeps) and 10% is what you should have involved in your student ministry. This is middle and high school students who attend your student ministry. 500 people show up to church on average, you should have 50 middle and high school kids on average at youth group. 1000 people, 100 students. See how that works :)
If you have less, then you might need to figure some things out, or recognize that your church is old and dying and your hire was the last gasp of life before the doors get shut. Or you may be killing it and have 10% in just high school group. Or if you are like my friend Tim Hawkinson or Erik Anderson then you are blowing these stats out of the water. But these guys are the exception and I am thankful for their effective and incredible ministry. But let's be honest, these youth workers are rare, the top of their class, the exceptions, not the rule.
Chances are you are not exceptional, but incredibly faithful. (Live into that reality)
For us average youth workers who are trying to do good and faithful ministry to the students in our community, we need to get our head around the 10% number. So instead of beating our head's against the wall, or going into some emotional death spiral because our youth group isn't "growing," lets instead, relax and faithfully serve the students that God has given us.
Our student ministry is part of church system. Even my big church youth ministry friends only have big youth ministries because their churches are big. Truthfully, between you and me, most big churches fall well below the 10% threshold. They can't even care for the students in their community.
So, for you faithful youth worker who is continually trying to "grow" your ministry, relax! No matter how hard you try, pray, call, invite, update your graphics or program, you will alway be around 10% of your larger congregation. Just think how much more effective you would be in the actual lives of the students in your ministry if you used all that effort and energy to care for, disciple, and walk with the students you actually have.
As you gear up for youth group this week, may we all not look to the door hoping for the non-existent kids who might walk into our youth room, but rather actually see the real live, flesh and blood, students that do walk through our door and give them our undivided love and attention!