Many small churches suffer from this quickly-spread disease. It’s often caught in the parking lot after church board meetings. Starts out with a fever and is toxic to a youth ministry. The virus spreads quickly and soon the whole church suffers from different versions of the same illness.

Wondering if your church might have such a flu? Symptoms may include sentences that begin with:

“Well, the previous youth director used to…”

“I remember when the youth used to all sit together in church.”

“We used to have 30, 50, 70, or 100 kids here on a Sunday night.”

“I remember when I was in youth group, we used to…”

“We never had to pay for a youth director before.”

Other signs include constant comparisons to the “golden era” of some urban myth of a past youth ministry gone by or include questions like, “Where did that couch of my grandma’s go that I donated to the youth room 14 years ago?”

Remedy? Stop the spread.

Ask everyone to wash their hands of the “in the past, we…” phrases. If the flu continues to cause an unhealthy body, have everyone gather together to take a little sip of wine and piece of bread. The Great Physician prescribed it Himself. One dose taken with sincerity works in everyone to kill off that nasty flu.

- Stephanie

So I was laying in bed last night thinking about this series on uthmin numbers (sad, I know) and a few more numbers popped into my head:

1) 3 Hours per 1 Hour: Want to figure how much time your leadership job should take? Here’s a formula I’ve always used: For every hour of actual programming or required times for you or your ministry, add another 3 hours for all the other stuff it takes to run the ministry. For example: Sunday school = 1.5 hours, youth group = 2.5 hours, weekly staff meeting = 2 hours. Total = 6 hours. 6 hours x 3 per = 18 hours. 18 hours (youth organizational plus the original 6 face-to-face) = 24 hours. This doesn’t have to be done just by the leader; volunteers can pick up some of this.

2) 1x Monthly: Small churches often ask what amount of programming is a good target amount to calendar. From my experience, one extra event (apart from the weekly stuff) is just about enough. Otherwise, too few kids are trying to cover too many events and the already sketchy critical mass number goes down even more. Here’s where this gets tricky: some youth leaders make the mistake of NOT counting church events as the 1x a month event. So take those church-wide things into account. For example,  include the Spring Church Talent Show or the Church Christmas Caroling Party. Your students can have great fun together at times like these AND its intergenerational, too.

3) 1x Weekly: To build the kind of ministry you want for your students, they have to see each other on a regular basis. Weekly is still best, though what that looks like may differ. I just talked with a church last night whose best attended youth program is Sunday school, so my advice was to put most of their youth “eggs into that basket.” Some churches can’t get students into Sunday school even if Jesus were teaching the class, but they can get kids out on Sunday nights. Make that your key discipleship time. You know what? I’ve never seen a “meet once a month” youth group that was ever able to gain any traction.

All for now, friends.


I’ve already covered the ratio for attendance goals, ideal # of volunteers, and a budget formula in the three previous posts. Now onto what a healthy staffing ratio looks like because none of that other stuff matters if your church’s youth director is over-worked, under-paid, over-done, and under-fed. Truthfully, when assessing churches? There usually isn’t just one of these 4 ratio/norms out of balance. When the budget is too low, so goes the staffing.

1 Full-time Staff Person for Every 50 Active Students: Go back to Part 1 and check out how to count the numbers for active. The gist of it is this: count each student just once who comes in through the doors on an average week. All the active youth don’t come to everything, right? And no one gets counted twice, either. (There’s always those students who are at church anytime the doors are open. They get counted once.)

For every 50 students, a church should have equal to one FT staff person at 40 hours a week…or two 20-hour people…or four 10-hour people…or eight 5-hour people…and so on. (Its late, I’ve had too much coffee and so you get my meaning.) This 40 hours covers anyone with regular responsibility towards the youth.  So, the 5 hours the music director spends on the youth choir per week would count into the math. If a church office admin person has 10 hours weekly dedicated to the youth ministry, it counts into the mix.

Looking at it another way, let’s say you have 100 youth on your rolls. On an average week, 75 of them (counting each one just one time) comes through the doors of the church every week. You want to give them and the ministry great care? Your church would need to be supporting 60 hours of staffing on a weekly basis in some combination.

For a great way to figure out how much to pay a staff person, check out Group Mag’s 2012 Salary Survey. has some good job description templates available. (I’ve probably mentioned both of these a million times, I bet.)




Been following along with my train of thought about numbers? Then you know that I said Part 3 is about how to figure your youth ministry budget. (For Part 1 on youth participation and Part 2 on volunteer requirements, see post from 3/18 and 3/20).

$1000-$1500 per active student: Its an easy amount to figure; the formula is solid and based on current cost-of-living factors. How do you land on a spot in the range of money? $1500 per (active) youth head is for major cities like NY or high-cost of living states like CA. The lowest end of the scale, $1000, it usually more rural and more often than not, in the southern states. I’ll give you and example: I recently did an youth ministry assessment for a church in Nashville and the government index showed that the per student figure was $1150. Big city yet less union costs and in the south.

What does this figure cover? Salaries/benefits and program expenses. Whose salaries? Anyone in your church whose job is fully or partially responsible for students in any way. So, if the choir director spend 25% of their time on a youth choir or handbells, then 25% of their salaries/expenses would be figured in the comparison. Easy example: if a youth ministry in my home town of Katy, TX has 19 students coming through the doors on a regular weekly-ish basis, then the amount of money a church should be spending on the outreach to those students settle around $19,000. This would cover any PT staffing hours and programming costs.

For more info, check out two things: 1) and 2) Group Magazine’s 2012 Salary Survey.


Wondering how your ministry measures up? Doing better, worse or equal to the church down the street? Feeling the pressure from your church’s board to perform? Here’s #2 in ways to measure whether your youth ministry is hitting the “sustainability mark” or not. (For the attendance formula, see the post from 3/18/14.)

1 Adult Volunteer for Every 5 Students: This means the “face-to-face,” consistently present type of team members. Usually this covers your Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, choir assistants, and youth group adult volunteers – anyone who your students see on a regular basis. To give them the most relationship for the ministry buck, it means consistent interaction from those called to serve. In my observations around the country as a Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects, this is the number reason why a “too frequent” rotation of adults isn’t nearly as beneficial to the spiritual nurture of your students as adults they see 2+ times a month. So many youth today have enough “revolving door” adults in their life, it doesn’t help when the church is just one more place where relational roots can’t grow deep.

When counting your volunteer ratio, this generally doesn’t cover those wonderful support volunteers who serve dinners, drive, work a sign-up table, etc., unless they’re there every week in that role. Support volunteers have a valuable place in your ministry, but aren’t considered in the 1-to-5 since their participation is more infrequent. This also doesn’t cover paid staff like interns, the pastor…or you.

So here’s the math and its easy: You’ve got 20 youth who regularly attend one of the church’s ministries. A healthy target number for adult volunteer team members is 4, plus you as leader and any other staff.

Next up? What your ministry budget should be. Watch for it in a few more days…


Stepping out from the pages of Mark DeVries’ book, Sustainable Youth Ministry, comes this statement: sometimes it IS about the numbers. Churches that don’t set target attendance goals for their ministries wind up in more conflict, dissenting opinions and staff turnover than those that DO set commonly created, well-communicated attendance goals.

1st Measurable Marker of Ministry Success: How many students should be attending your church’s youth ministry? 10%. 

Of what? Members on the rolls? Active members and visitors? Youth rolls? The answer, long proven by research and Ministry Architects’ work with hundreds of churches is that the healthy youth ministry settles around 10% of the weekly worship average.

Start with this all-important concept: Its important for small churches to understand that youth ministry is WAY more than just those youth that come to youth group. In today’s crazy chaoticly calendared world, youth ministry is to any youth who comes to any part of the church’s programming. Whether you’re the youth leader or the choir director, if you’ve got a student in your programming-you’re in ministry to students. The golden-oldie days of youth coming to worship AND Sunday school AND youth group AND choir AND,etc….are a part of the past. Today, to give quality spiritual nurture to students, it has to be twice as fast because there’s half as much time to do it in.

So the number starts here: 1) Determine 10% of your church’s weekly worship attendance. 2) Count up how many individual students in 6th grade (or 7th-depending where your uthmin starts) thru 12th grade walk through the doors of your church in an average week. NO ONE gets counted twice and don’t count the children or post-high school. For example, your church’s weekly worship attendance is 105 and you have 13 youth living life in your church on a weekly basis. Its slightly better than 10%, so the number of students involved in ministry at your church is solid. Celebrate!

If the answer was “yes” to 10% or higher, chances are that your ministry has a lot of sustainable systems and processes in place. Things like a solid first-timer process, dead-on data management, reaching out to “missing in action” teens and a systematic contact plan greatly increase your critical mass. (BTW: churches rarely get beyond the 20% mark and if they do, its not without other weird circumstances coming up like a uber-unique community program or space/budget issues, etc.). Less than 10% means that something is amiss and usually its more than one thing.

Next number? How to staff your ministry for success coming in a few days. Feel free to ask away.


Yeah, maybe I should have written this sooner, but really – would you have remembered it? So, if you’re a small church youth ministry planning a soiree around the big game Sunday night, here are some tips for a successful event. That is, if success means: students brought friends, relationships were strengthened, everyone had fun, and Jesus was the quarterback of it all. Can’t imagine what success would look like otherwise, but to each youth group its own.

TIMING: Don’t start too early. Kids can quickly get bored with the game, especially if they’ve been hanging around for a few hours before kickoff. If kickoff is at 6:30pmE, then make the party start time at 6:00. Its enough time to get the kids in, food situated, etc.

FOOD: if its strictly youth party, don’t get fancy. Stay away from Pinterest ideas! Cheese and pepperoni pizza is enough. Kids can bring soda and munchie bags. Don’t open too many of the bags, though, because there will be leftovers. Do you really want 6 open bags of Cheetos? Who knows where their hands have been? To make it more “super bowl-ish” I pop for the themed tablecloth and napkins. Gives it a festive touch without going crazy. (This will leave you snacks for your upcoming Valentine’s event. Put it all in a different serving bowl and you’ll look like a generous hero.)

HALF-TIME: In case you didn’t know, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bruno are the entertainment. So, based on that – you can all watch it together OR use that for your devo time. The Skit Guys have put out some great half time stuff. Whatever you choose, make sure everyone knows half-time is spent together. Give away prizes and do a secret ballot for their fave commercial. Those that picked the winning fave get a (youth) team signed football.

HAVING ALTERNATIVES: Have the game on in the main room, but have board games set up somewhere else and maybe even a movie in yet a third spot. Kids will get bored, especially the middle schoolers – so if you don’t want them to leave early, be prepared. You might set a “don’t get picked up before” time. I’ve had a few youth Superbowl parties over the past 20 years where the kids were all gone by the 3rd quarter.

OK, plane’s starting to land so I gotta go. Any other ideas anyone?


MY ODE TO 2014:

I love small churches. If you know me, you know I do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t devote so much attention to how they can be the best they can be.

But these 4 things get under my skin and will cause a rash if small churches keep making these same mistakes over and over again.

1) Assuming: Assuming everybody knows everybody’s name. Assuming they don’t need to keep up with technology. Assuming that folks just know the prayer or the liturgy or the song or the custom.

2) Over-politeness: Born from not being able to hide in a small church, many great ideas go un-brewed for fear that someone’s feelings will be hurt if a different “flavor of ministry” direction is chosen. Programs that have LONG gone past their freshness date still get served up, folks taste-vote with their feet, and churches re left scratching their “it used to work” heads.

3) Ugliness: I don’t mean people, of course!  I mean in physical environment. Let’s be real, people. Some churches look like they gave up a long time ago! Its been so long since their rooms had a fresh coat of paint that it makes me wonder if Jesus Himself picked the paint colors. A good rule of thumb: If it hasn’t been used in 5 years, get rid of it! If its dirty, clean it! If its messy, organize it! Peeling? Paint it. There, I feel better.

4) Small-excuse: Too many churches use the “But, we’re just a small church” to keep themselves from having to keep up, to strive for excellence. There are way more advantages than disadvantages.

More “Lists of 4″ to come as we still celebrate the New Year!