Everyone Says Numbers Aren't Important: Whatever! Everyone wants to grow their ministry and expand the kingdom of God. Some times it is true that our egos get in the way and our motives are not entirely pure. But at the end of the day, most people in student ministry are doing what they do because they love students and their hearts break for them.
Everything about the DNA of a youth worker is wrapped up in walking through life with students helping them connect to Jesus Christ. At our best moments we want as many kids to come in contact with the saving, redeeming, healing, and transforming work of Jesus Christ. Practically, this looks like trying to increase the numbers of students that can be impacted.
There Are Plenty of Short Term Options:
For better or worse, in my best moments or my worst, trying to grow numerically is always in the back of my mind. I have done pretty shameful things to try to boost my numbers. Some have worked great and others have flopped miserably. For me, any short term numerical gain always seemed to fade. There are many reasons for this short term blip. But the biggest reason is that I simply put a ton of effort into an event or two for the simple attempt to inflate my numbers.
You are probably in a better and more whole place in your walk with God and would never be so petty to try and increase your numbers for personal gain, but often I am not. Thankfully over the years God has continued to refine me and heal me as he has continued to grow my heart for students. And as He has done this, my heart to increase the size of our group has never gone away.
With the internet we now have access to thousands of clever ideas to grow our groups. Assuming our hearts are in the right place and we are striving to connect with more and more students, there are some great tricks, gimmicks, and structures that will allow you to grow your group numerically.
But most of these ideas will work in the short term, unless there is a dramatic change in systems or straight up hand of God, most groups will settle back to their average size. For me, I have found a sure fire way to grow my youth group for the long haul. It isn't with gimmicks, it keeps my ego in check, and it actually cares for the larger church. My trick to grow our student ministry is to invest heavily in our children's ministry!
The Best Long Term Strategy is to Invest in Children's Ministry
There are few things more depressing that working hard all year and to watch God bless your ministry as your numbers grow and kids come to faith, only to watch it all disappear when the seniors graduate and are replaced by a freshman class of 1. Or when a group of solid 8th graders move up to high school and you welcome in one or two 6th graders.
The future of your student ministry is not found in your good looks or charisma. While those are important, it is the base of students who come through every year that allow for the critical mass to have a vibrant and healthy ministry. When these graduates of children's ministry are already on board with the church and with the ministries of the church, the transition into youth group is a normal and natural one. When their parents are already locked in then you are golden!
Instead of taking this transition for granted, it will actually serve youth workers well if they see children's ministry as their farm team and put in some time and effort to help develop these kids and build relationships with their parents. Whether the children's ministry is great and exciting or struggling, any investment a youth worker makes in it will come back 10 fold.
5 Easy Ways to Invest in Children's Ministry as a Youth Worker:
1) Become Friends / Partners with the Children's Ministry Director:
I have no idea about the church you minister in, but I do know that children's ministry workers/directors come in all shapes and sizes. Some are naturally great friends and some will take a movement of God to knit your hearts together. Thankfully the job of a youth worker is to connect with students, and students are the most difficult demographic to win over. View your children's ministry director as a student that must be won over and do it! This person has more influence than you know and being on their good side will be mutually beneficial.
2) Attempt to Make the Transition as Seemless as Possible:
From birth through elementary school, the children and their parents at your church are used to relating to the church and church workers in a certain way. Sometimes those are good rhythms and sometimes they are unhealthy. Now that you and your children's ministry director are such good friends, you can now partner with them to help the kids who they have poured their heart and soul into for the past 10 years make the transition into your program. These people are invested and want the transition to succeed, so partner up and do it.
3) Be a Champion of Children's Ministry
Many youth workers feel under-resourced and under-appreciated so we spend most of our time lobbying and fighting for our own programs, our own budgets, and our own space. But all that does is entrench our thinking and seeing other ministries as competition.
When youth workers champion children's ministry and help elevate it as a ministry of high value, the message that gets communicated is that all children are of high value. Students just happen to be older children. By loving children's ministry first, it will actually build good will among the children's ministry team and soon they will be championing your ministry. Children's ministry and student ministry are truly partners in the faith development of children. By shaping it this way, you have doubled your team and your influence.
4) Have Your Students Help in Children's Ministry
Students in our ministries need help to see that they are not the center of the universe. By helping students plug into children's ministry we have an opportunity to help shape their spiritual formation by putting their life and faith in the context of a church family. There were people who poured their lives into them, and now they get to pour their lives into others.
On top of the valuable spiritual formation that happens when students help, it also elevates the children's ministry and adds life and fun. Children are so impressed and think it is such an honor when the big kids help out. They think they are so cool and many have reflected how they couldn't wait to be in middle school so they could now help. This added life improves children's ministry and paints a picture for parents and the church that children's ministry is of high value and student ministry isn't always just a money suck.
5) Help Expose Your Children's Ministry People to the Larger Children's Ministry World.
Finally, as youth workers, many of us have had great opportunities for educational, spiritual, and professional development. There are great conferences out there like Youth Specialties, Simply Youth Ministry, and Orange which do an amazing job of inspiring and equipping youth workers. Think of how much better we do our jobs now that we have some fresh ideas, fresh inspiration, and a break from the headache of our job. Why should we have all the fun?
In fact, there are opportunities out there for children's workers, and this year I am ponying up the money to take my entire team. My team of four exceptional, hardworking women who have faithfully served our church for years have never been to a conference before. How great will it be when they have their socks knocked off by the music, the speakers and the seminars? How much better with our ministry be as they become inspired and equipped?
I am sure there are great conferences out there. The one we are choosing to go to is the Orange Conference in Atlanta in April. If you register today and tell them, Ben sent you, you will get to for half off!!! Ok, that isn't true, but there is early registration prices and scholarships available.
If your heart to increase the numbers of students who are connected to your ministry so that more and more people can experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ, then bribing is a great place to start. But for long term growth and health, investing in your children's ministry is a solid strategy. Hope to see you in ATL!
Have children's ministry people have the same opportunities. This year I am taking my children's ministry team to Atlanta. My team of part time children's ministry workers are moms who faithfully serve our children. They have never been!