Owning the Numbers Debate

Colourful preschool numbersI remember my first youth ministry evaluation.

I sat there nervously as the personnel committee reviewed my self-analysis.  Overall, they had positive things to say.  Then came the question all youth ministers fear:  “How’s your numbers?”

My stomach sank.  Sweat filled my palms.  I looked at the chairman and swallowed hard.  “Um,” I managed to squeak out.  “I don’t really worry about numbers.  I see growth as students growing closer in their relationship with Jesus.”

It was well-rehearsed and mostly accurate.  It was also not the answer they wanted to hear.  They wanted data.  I didn’t have it.

Our numbers were actually pretty good.  The personnel committee knew that, but they wanted me to be aware that numbers factored into their evaluation of me as a youth pastor.

You can argue and complain about the value of numbers in ministry.  (Most of which I will agree with.)  However, whether you like it or not, numbers will factor into your job performance evaluations as a youth minister.  The key is to own the numbers argument.

How do you do that?  You keep your numbers and know what they mean.

In the book Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries, he breaks down the meaning of numbers and what you need to look for as a youth minister and church.

First, track your numbers.  Record youth attendance for Sunday School, morning worship, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights and overall attendance.   Some students come only on Sundays.  Others come only on Wednesdays.  This method allows you to track every student that comes into the church doors.  If they’re at church, they’re part of your youth ministry.

Second, record those numbers in a spreadsheet and look for averages and trends.  I record attendance by quarters and compile year-end data at the conclusion of the church year.  This allows me to see trends of growth or decline in smaller portions.

Finally, know what those numbers mean and communicate that to your leadership.  The magic number is 10 percent.  If a youth group is averaging 10 percent or more than the average yearly Sunday morning worship attendance, then your youth group is considered healthy and growing numerically.  If your group is averaging less than 10 percent, it’s stagnating or in-decline.  That’s a warning sign.

Having numerical data on hand, and knowing how to evaluate those numbers, will not end the number debate.  However, it will allow you to control the conversation and back up the discussion with facts instead of perceptions.  That is always a positive thing.

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