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As we look at chapter two of our year long study of Mark DeVries book, Sustainable Youth Ministry, I have to confess that there was a time when I looked for what I thought was the easy button. Fortunately, it wasn't a very long season of misdirection. Instead, I learned early on that easy isn't always easier.
Chapter Two is all about the investment our churches make into our youth ministries. It's easy for us, the youth worker, to complain about insufficient budgets, unrealistic expectations, and exhausting hours. We want to blame our elders and leadership boards. We complain to each other. And we fail to consider the role that we play in teaching/showing our church leadership the importance of healthy ministry investment
As I read through this chapter, I immediate felt myself wishing our elders and financial people could be reading this as well. I thought to myself, "If only they could see..."
But I need to remind myself why I am doing this experiment. I want to learn what it takes from ME to consider and build a sustainable youth ministry. So while my knee-jerk reaction is to point blame to the leadership, I must first consider my role in the equation. How am I thinking about ministry investment? What are my goals and expectations? And how am I communicating the vision, growth, and health of my youth ministry?
I was burning out and I was only one year into my career.
Mark talks about the easy way out, or the "easy button." When churches see their ministries failing, their first reaction is to find the quick fix. They hit the easy button. Whether it's replacing the youth worker, building impressive buildings, or launch new, exciting programs, church too often jump to the, "if we build it, they will come" perspective. The problem is, these approaches are all to short lived.
Early in my career, each week we worked to host events that would impress and draw teenagers. The bigger the event, the more potential students. The problem was, it was exhausting. I was burning out and I was only one year into my career. But, flashy activities, quick fixes, and easy ministry don't make for healthy, sustainable youth ministries.
It's time, proper investment and hard work, all bathed in prayer, that lead to the kind of ministries we want to see.
The Normals. Mark presents what he calls the NORMALS. In his experience, as we try to understand how to manage the expectations of youth ministry, we must consider our ministry capacity. These NORMALS come from his experience working with various churches in different situations.
As I thought about these NORMALS, I want to consider my response, before pointing the finger at our leadership? So let me share my thoughts.
1. $1000 to $1500 per student
Sounds like a lot, right. But I crunched the numbers. Using Mark's parameters (my salary, my budget, and benefits, and our current student population) I was shocked to learn that we are not that far off the mark. With our current number of students averaging 50 (35 middle school, 15 high school), the churches financial investment is approximately $1,120. Not bad.
However, as I apply my growth goals, the numbers dramatically dip. I have set a school-year goal of 25 high schoolers and 40 middle schoolers. That means that by the end of this school year, we want to see 25 high schoolers and 40 middle schoolers participating in our weekly ministry gatherings. Using Mark's parameters, our per student investment falls to $862.
By the end of the year (2018) our ministry goal is to see 50 students in our high school ministry and 50 students in our middle school ministry. That's 100 students total. This number calculated using our current financial situation leaves us at $560 per student. Clearly, if we see the growth we are praying for, we will have to revisit the financial component of our youth minsitry.
2. 1 full-time staff person for every 50 students
Danger, Will Robinson! Here's a problem that I cannot fix on my own, thus I have to figure out how to best handle this one. Currently our weekly programs welcomes about 35 middle school students and between 12 to 15 high school students. Combined that leaves me with 50 students on a good week. If that was only the true number, I would concede to the argument that we are providing what is needed for our youth ministry.
However, if we were to look at the number of students in our database at frequent our ministry at random times, our total student ministry counts would jump significantly. For example, on our high school ministry rolls, there are 15 students that show up every once and a while. They participate just enough to say they come to our ministry, but not enough for anyone to develop a relationship, muchness disciple their heart. But if they were to begin attending on a regular basis, it would increase our high school numbers to 30 almost immediately!
The same would be true of our middle school ministry. We have an additional group of middle schoolers who only show up at random weeks throughout the year. But if we could capture them and work to involve them every week, our numbers would jump to 50 or more! Realizing this is why we set our goals the way we did! Looking realistically at our numbers suggests that we have space to grow.
The trouble in this is our capacity. If what Mark suggests is true, and a church that hopes to sustain the involvement of fifty youth on a weekly basis needs to hire the full-time equivalent of one staff person, then we need to serious consider how we want to invest in our youth ministry for the future! Sure, NOW we are okay, but what do we do when we hit a consistent weekly number of 50 in our middle school and 50 in our high school? After all, that is our goal for 2018!
The sad thing is, I have the perfect person in mind, but risk losing him every time another church comes calling. By being this person on board, we double our capacity for students and increase our potential of building a sustainable youth ministry.
If what Mark suggests is true, and a church that hopes to sustain the involvement of fifty youth on a weekly basis needs to hire the full-time equivalent of one staff person, then we need to serious consider how we want to invest in our youth ministry for the future!
Now, we're not done yet. Mark list's five NORMALS. This is only the first two. Let's come back to discuss the other three in our next posts. For now, let's just consider these two.
What are the NORMALS in your context? Have you looked at your dollar to student ratio for your group? Is it better or worse than you thought? What can you learn from looking at the financial numbers? Is your church investing well? Are you using your budget to the best of your abilities?
What about your staffing? What are your current numbers? Are you at a healthy capacity? If your group is smaller, and you still feel overworked, are you extending yourself too far? Perhaps you have time to spare? What can you do differently to use that time in healthy ways?
I'd love to hear from you! As you read through chapter two, what initial responses are you having? Are you feeling like the expectations from the leadership are overwhelming? Or is Mark helping you to see that maybe you need to reconsider how you think and feel about your place of ministry.
Remember, our goal is to build sustainable ministries; healthy, fruitful, and thriving. I know we might want to jump to things like, how do we disciple better, or what program ideas offer faster results. But easy isn't always easier. We have to make sure our foundations are set so we can grow the kind of life-changing ministries that God has is calling us to! And that requires that we do the hardworking first.
Thanks for joining us today. Watch for my thoughts on the final 3 NORMALS coming later this week!
To learn more about my year-long experiment, visit my The Sustainable Experiment page!
Disclaimer: This is an independent study. I am in no way affiliated with the author or
the organization the author represents.
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 28 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently serving as the student ministry director at a church, located in Western PA. Jay has been married to Amy for over 23 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.