When I started student ministry as a kids still in high school, I was all about getting groups of students together for whatever event we were doing. Lock-ins, bowling parties, hayrides, summer camp, winter retreats; it didn't matter, the bigger the better.
When I went into full-time ministry, I spent my first year striving for bigger numbers. Each week we sponsored a different event with the hopes that more students would come. It was exhausting.
Then I was told, "Don't worry about the numbers, just focus on who God brings!" And that is partly true, you do focus on the students that God brings. But that thought led me then to focus only on the students who were actively participating in our program. While I still made the effort to invite as many students as possible, it was the students who came out that got my attention.
As I read through Sustainable Youth Ministry, I am allowing myself to rethink student ministry. And some of that rethinking includes recognizing areas that I personally need improvement. Areas where I have become lazy or complacent. While I want a "big" youth group, I don't always work to build that "big" youth group. In other words, I don't always chase down the student that don't show up.
Mark writes, "...a church that fails to determine how many students it would like to have involved on a weekly basis sets itself up for the anemia that comes from terminally vague expectations."1 It was this statement that made me stop and consider how I think about numbers. Or should I say, rethink.
A church that fails to determine how many students it would like to have involved on a weekly basis sets itself up for the anemia that comes from terminally vague expectations.
I always thought, create a good program, take the time to pour into relationships, preach the life changing message of Jesus, and God will grow the group. And for years the formula has worked. The problem? Student would come and go. We grew, but without a clear goal of how many students we were striving for, we found ourselves rolling with the tide.
But no more. It's time to set a reasonable goal. But more than a goal, there needs to be a plan of how we plan to reach that goal. But that plan is a topic for a different blog post.
2. A Goal Helps to Evaluate Your Ministry.
Whether we like it or not, our success in ministry will be measured but many but the number of students involved in our programs. Elders, parents, the personnel team, even other students will look at your ministry and judge it by the numbers. Seeing the rise in numbers demonstrates a certain level of growth. As the youth worker, you should be regularly evaluating how your ministry is growing. Keeping track of the students participating in you ministry will help you see how you are doing reaching new students, while following up with visitors.
3. A Goal Raises the Energy Level of Your Ministry.
There's something about seeing my ministry grow that gets me excited. For instance, last year we took 23 students and 5 adults to our denominational winter retreat. This year we took 34 students and 7 adults. I was so excited to be taking 11 more students. Next year, I hope to take even more! When you see your numbers growing, it helps you, your students, parents, volunteers, and the church get excited about the youth ministry program.
Keeping track of the students participating in you ministry will help you see how you are doing reaching new students, while following up with visitors.
Now while numerical growth is important, we can't forget the importance of spiritual growth. Going from 10 students attending your weekly to 40 student is great. But don't get caught up in the numbers game and forget that students need discipleship and spiritual growth opportunity. We'll talk more about spiritual growth later. I just don't want you reading this post thinking growth is simply about getting a lot of students to come to your program.
Since I am taking 2018 to restructure and grow my ministry, I am setting a goal that I think I can reach by December 2018. What's my goal? 50 students. Right now we average 10 to 15 at our weekly meetings. Unfortunately, out of the first 5 weeks in 2018, we've had to a couple unique weeks with football playoff games and cancelations which have delayed some of our plans by a month. Nonetheless, I think we have both the time and the energy to see our goal as something within reach. This month, we will begin our push to grow our program.
So, as you think about your ministry numbers, let me ask you a question. How big do you want your youth ministry to be? Seriously. How big? I see our ministry reaching over 100 students on a weekly basis. It may take a couple of years to reach that number, but I truly believe it's possible. What number goal do you think is reasonable for your group? Think about it, then share it. Let me know what your student ministry number goal is! Then watch for thoughts on how to grow your group in some upcoming posts.
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.