QUESTION: How do I deal with attendance numbers in Youth Ministry?
Over the last 20 years, I have consistently been asked this question. We have a fascination with metrics in the church, and one of the most natural things to measure in ministry is attendance. By attendance, I mean the physical bodies in the seats/pew every single week. There is nothing inherently wrong with this measure, and it is an easy thing to measure, but often I wonder “why”… as in “why are you asking?”
See, we have a habit of using things we can measure, like attendance, to help us compare our ministry to another ministry within the church or outside of the church. Regardless of who we are comparing ourselves to, the goal is always the same… to see if you’re successful. Success is almost always defined by the person with the most significant number.
Now before you say, “You would never do something like that?”. I would like you to be honest with yourself and admit that you do stuff like this and if you haven’t yet you probably will. It’s the human side of us that wants to be successful, and the world defines success by who has the most significant number. It’s tough to escape this trap… but you can, in fact, avoid this trap altogether.
The way out of the comparison trap is to realize that you are not defined by the “number”. By that, I mean your value and worth in your life, family, ministry or workplace is not defined by your weekly “number.” You are instead given value and worth because God loves you. In fact, He loves you so much that He sacrificed His Son for you. You are a child of God, and nothing can remove you from his hand.
Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now that you know where your value is, let’s circle back and answer the question, How do I deal with attendance numbers in Youth Ministry? The following are 3 distinct ways you think about your attendance numbers in Youth Ministry.
#1 – Snapshot: Each week, whether you realize it or not, your attendance is a snapshot of the total number of students you’re working with at any given time. No one ever has 100% of their students come to anything at any given time. Realistically if you’re knocking it out of the park you might get 45-65% of your total group each week. That means that one particular week is only a portion of the whole. If you want to get an accurate understanding of your attendance you need to balance the weekly snapshot with the monthly snapshot, followed by the quarterly and yearly snapshots. Programs like “Planning Center” can help you track and understand you’re attendance as it relates to your number of registered students as a whole.
#2 – 99/1: Keeping track of your attendance well can help you see the 1 in 99, as in Jesus left the 99 to go find the 1. I’ve been in ministry for too long to fool myself into thinking I can remember every kid every week that comes to youth. It’s so easy to miss a student for weeks or even months because often there are “99” other kids looking for your attention. Tracking attendance and being true to the number can help you see who you are missing. I used to run my numbers each month and any student who had lost more than 75% of youth that month got a call, email or personal visit. Something to say, “Hey, we noticed you were missing, and we missed you.
#3 – 10%: The question I get most is, what does a healthy attendance number look like? And I’m not 100% sure, to be honest, but somewhere very early on in my career, someone told me that a healthy youth ministry is 10% of the adult congregation size. So if you have a 300 person church, that’s 30 students in Youth Ministry. This stat also went on to say that after 15%, there is no amount of money or resources that can for it to grow beyond 15%. In essence, only the Holy Spirit grows a group beyond 15%, not big money or more pastors. Now for some of you, it’s a refreshing thought; however, for others, it might be a bit of a gut punch. I would go back to how all of this started today as saying that you are not defined by this number. However, you and your personality, skills and abilities are also statistically not the reason it will grow either. Understanding this can be a freeing thought if you let it.
Regardless of where you’re at with numbers and specificity attendance, the answer to the question is the same, be faithful with what you have and trust God to give you everything you need to move forward. Numbers do tell us things about our ministry, but they don’t control us or define us
NEXT STEPS: Take some time to think through the following questions about numbers and attendance.
- How do you think numbers/attendance affect how you view success in your ministry?
- How do you know when the “1” goes missing?
- Do you keep track of who is coming t your ministry each week? If so, why? If not, why?