Back in high school I had to borrow my neighbors car to run a few errands.  As I picked up the car I asked him, “Is there anything I need to know?” He replied, “Keep your eye on the flow of traffic because the speedometer is broken.”  Being a new driver I didn’t realize how big of a deal this was until I was heading down the road passing what felt like a million cops with no clue whether or not I was speeding.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that you need every gauge on your car’s dashboard to head down the road safely.  Without it you don’t know how far and fast you are going.  You need it to track the health of the cars and when you need a tune up.

In youth ministry you need a dashboard for similar reasons, because you need to know:

What Are You Tracking?

This might be a question that makes you nervous because it brings up the numbers game; however, it’s more than that.  Knowing what you are tracking means you are keeping track of the health of your ministry.  Therefore, you need to be tracking:

Who Is Coming: Attendance is more than just a blank number, it can help us determine if we are tracking more boys than girls or more churched than unchurched.  Tracking attendance isn’t just counting bodies; it allows you to understand how you are growing.  Knowing who is coming will also shape the identity of your ministry.

Spiritual Deepening: It’s very difficult to judge a man’s heart (unless you are God); however, by tracking spiritual deepening you are looking at the ratios of teens that are showing up versus how many are going deeper.  Knowing the ratios means knowing that teens might struggle to plug into a ministry versus a small group.  This helps you understand the path you’ve laid out for them in your ministry.

Why Teens Are Coming: Tracking this question may lead to answers as simple as, “My friend brought me.” Or “My mom made me.” however, it will also show you your influence and impact in the community.  Do people know about you?  How are they learning about you?  Are you more present in certain schools, clubs or teams? Know this and you can make your impact greater.

Adult Influence: Tracking ministers might not be a difficult task because you work at a small church or there aren’t a lot of adults serving in the student ministry.  However, if you don’t track who is serving, how long they are staying, why they are leaving and how they got into ministry then you are never going to learn how to grow the number of men and women serving in your ministry.

Budget: If you want to protect or increase your budget you need to know where the money is going and even where it’s coming from.  Finances are definitely not the most appealing area of student ministry; however, it’s important.  Without God honoring stewardship it’s going to be hard to fund the movement you are trying to lead.

Whether you use certain software or a basic spreadsheet you need to be tracking the progress, growth and movement of your ministry.  With no dashboard you are essentially putting your ministry at risk of crashing and spinning out of control.  Talk to your leaders and take the time to answer the question, “What should I be tracking?”

What other aspects of ministry should we be tracking?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more about his blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

A few months ago, I noticed a major weakness in our student ministry administration. It seemed like we had a revolving door of student visitors with no sense of follow-up. We had informational cards, but it never seemed like we did anything with them. The result was seeing new students come week after week, but finding that we were ineffective in drawing them in to stay. A youth pastor friend of mine, Cody Mummau, turned me on to YouthTracker.net last November and it has changed the way we gather information and follow-up with students. YouthTracker is an online database system that inputs students, staff, leaders, and parents into one easily accessible dashboard. As a result, we have seen more consistency in our core group of students and it has given us an idea of the new students and MIA students that we need to follow-up on. The work on the front end is a little tedious, but it’s so easy once it’s set up. Here’s how we roll…

1) First, we have students fill out a basic info card that looks like this, just for some starting details to create a student profile.

2) One of my volunteers searches for the student via Facebook/Twitter and adds them. There’s a place where you can go into their YT profile and link it to their social networking profiles. This makes it easy for one of my volunteers to search for a student and makes it super easy to match faces with names. After that, we’ll invite the student to add or “Like” our ministry Facebook profile or page.

3) The next time that a student comes in to our service, all they have to do is sign-in with their name via one of our computer kiosks! An event is created prior to the service, but all the students see is a sign-in screen. At the end of the night, I can check the event details to see which students were present and which ones weren’t. You can even update it on the spot in case someone forgot to sign-in. When my volunteer inputs the new students and signs them in, the event details show “NEW” beside that student’s name.

Here are a few of the features we’ve found most effective:

  • Event Numbers — I know, I know, you’re NOT about the numbers. But that nifty line graph helps give you a true idea of your week-to-week attendence.
  • Contact Reports — This feature shows every student in your ministry along with two sections: the last time they attended an event and the last time they’ve been contacted (a leader has an option to record a contact {i.e. phone call, FB message, one-on-one time etc.}). This ensures that no student falls through the cracks. There’s also a sub-feature here where it will make a student inactive at a set time. Ours is 120 days. But if that student returns and signs in, no big deal. It makes them active once again.
  • Address/Google Maps — Ever had your volunteers call you looking for a student’s address? No headache now! Their address is synced up with Google Maps. Schwweeeeet!
  • Text Message/Email Service — You can text (5 cents per student) or email (free). The great thing about this feature though is that you can target certain students according to your events. So you can send a text to the students who were at your large group meeting saying, “Hey guys! Thanks for a great night! Remember to love extravagantly this week.” And to the students who could make it: “Hey guys! We missed you tonight. We read from Matthew 22:34-40 tonight and talked about loving God extravagantly. Hope to see you next week!”
  • Address Labels – This has saved us hours of time. To send out postcards, just go to “print address labels” and WAH-LAH! That information you put in from the info card transfers right onto an address label template.
  • Demographics/Schools – This gives you an idea of your student makeup from a list of schools (you can also input the school address and the student’s lunch), grades, gender, nationality, etc.
  • Student Growth – You can move students through various stages (core, committed, community, visitor) and log their commitments (salvation, baptism, filled with the Spirit, etc.).
  • Student Account — Your financial volunteer will love you. You can utilize the student account feature to keep up with retreats, trips, etc. It even has their T-Shirt size for that missions trip!
  • Areas – Want to track your middle-school and high-school ministry separate? No problem!

There’s a host of other details that would take me forever to explain. This resource has been so valuable to us. Though we all hate administrative duties sometimes, its kind of a necessary evil in student ministry. This tool makes it easy to get past the follow-up and informational stuff, freeing up time to do what’s important: build relationships with kids. The best $25 a month we’ve ever spent. Check it out!

Bradley K. Chandler is a graduate of Southeastern University and is the Student Ministries Pastor at Trinity Worship Center in Burlington, NC. Be sure to subscribe to his blog here — good stuff for sure.