As youth pastors we don’t like to talk about numbers, or if we do, it’s with wailing and gnashing of teeth as we imagine the elders shaking their heads in frustration at the job we’re doing to reach the students in the community. Or we laugh at the image of the same elders shaking their heads with concern because the numbers are up, but the students you’re reaching are causing problems…serious problems like an occasional swear word, and wearing ear-buds on church property.

Here’s the truth: Numbers matter.

Try as we might to help leadership see the student ministry discipleship process as more than a head count, it remains one of the universally accepted currencies of “health” in youth ministry. Here are a few numbers to keep an eye on.

Youth group attendance
We use a simple head count to track this metric. It matters, especially to see trends in the year, trends by series/topics, and shifts in big picture participation. This measurement is often weighted too much in many church cultures (ours included), but it can still be a helpful number to watch because people do vote with their feet. A growing number reflects a strong ideal entry-point for our student ministry; students are entering the ministry through the top of the funnel. To some degree, this reflects the health of friendship evangelism in our ministry.

Small group signups
There is an additional level of commitment to join a small group, which causes participation to decrease, so we expect this number to be less than the youth group number. Knowing how many students are signed up and/or actually attending can be helpful to make sure students are entering and flourishing at the next step in the discipleship process. This number should grow in proportion to the weekend number; if we had 60%+ active in a small group we would be thrilled.

We try to share about the life-changing message of Christ every week, and once a month we have baptisms. It is continually important and recharging to see how God is changing lives. We celebrate any student who accepts Christ and gets baptized, because it is such an important step across the line of faith. This number is usually compiled from response cards collected at youth group.

Text database / Instagram followers
Texting is our primary method of communication with students, and seeing this number grow is a reflection of the lives we are touching. Students can sign up online and be added/removed with a checkbox on the response card.

Blog/social media traffic/friends
This one is still new and emerging, but it would be nice to see what kind of “buzz” is out there in the wild about your youth ministry. Does your student ministry Instagram have more followers this month than last? That’s a winning number. You can get all into this as well using Google Analytics, YouTube Insight, Twitter Search, and other analytical tools you can see who is viewing your videos, visiting your blog, how many people are checking you out, and see what people are saying about your services and their church experience.

There are other numbers that certainly matter (kids doing ministry, offering, distribution of spiritual growth tools, etc.)—what matters most to you? What’s missing here?

What other numbers matter? How do you deal with the reality of attendance-based performance grading? Speak up in the comments!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

After a long ministry season, things are winding down for the school year and I am starting our usual post mortem on the year and thinking about the all of the things that we would do differently. I think this year more than any other that many of the things I would change have more to do with my heart and perspective than anything we taught or sang. Maybe you can relate to the things I am asking the Lord to work on in my heart.

Pre-service stress: My favourite moment of the night is always right when we start because once things are moving, there is no changing it, we are LIVE! Unfortunately I have made the time leading up to it an often-miserable experience. I find myself wondering what else we could have prepped? Is the message as good as I think it is? Where are all the kids? Did the leaders call their students? I allow myself to worry about things that needn’t be worried about. The truth is, we were prepared but I still allowed doubt to cloud my mind and that has to stop.

Number crunching: I am pretty good sometimes at reading a lot into attendance numbers and can be pretty hard on myself when there is a low night. I feel responsible; wondering if we offended students the week before, or maybe our group is boring, unfriendly, cliquey, and spiritually shallow or any number of things. My colleague Jason was meeting with his grandfather who worked in youth ministry who shared with him this incredible piece of wisdom. “We used to give each other high fives when 40 students showed up, and beat ourselves up when only 39 came.” It’s so true, and I have been guilty being frustrated when students don’t show up and allowing that to distract me of ministering to those that did come and that is a lose-lose situation.

Not trusting: This can be a big one, where I sometimes don’t trust. I don’t trust that our leaders read the curric or called their kids, that the worship team is going to be ready, that my message is good enough. Worst of all, I don’t trust that God is going to make it happen, and when I do that I try and do it on my own. I have been there so many nights where God did crazy things and transformation happened but somehow that doubt creeps in that tonight might not be that night. I know He is in control, and our leaders care so much for our students and sometimes life gets busy for them too.

I am sure each of us have been here at some point, but the Fall is right around the corner and its time to spend the summer focusing on my heart to make sure that next year I do a lot less of these things. It sounds like I am going to read Philippians 4:6 a few more times too I think.


Where are you letting doubt enter your mind and how does it affect your ministry?

Geoff – (Twitter)

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.

We always start the Life Group year off strong in the fall and expect a dip in attendance this time of year. Right now, we’re at between 60-70% attendance of those registered in the group. How about you? Vote in today’s poll!


[RSS readers, you can vote in the poll by clicking here]

Tonight a dear friend of mine said that he will be pay me $1,000 if I lose 20 pounds in one year. I need carrots. This is a nice carrot.

I am fascinated by the effective use of incentives (carrots) that parents use to motivate their teenagers. I’ve heard of cash for grades, clothes for good behavior and even a new car for remaining a virgin throughout high school. I asked several of my high school friends about carrots and many of them receive all kinds of perks if they follow through on the activities that their parents value the most. So I asked, “should parents give carrots to teenagers for attending church, reading the bible or serving the less fortunate?” I could tell by looking at their faces that they were uneasy with this one.

I’m willing to bet you that if you took a look around the children’s ministry at your church you will find carrots galore! If you show up on Sunday you get a star on the chart or if you memorize the verse of the week you may get a tootsie roll. These are not trivial tokens! Imagine giving some smarties to a 2nd grade boy but not his four buddies seated near him or the over achieving girl who didn’t get an attendance star because she was out-of-town visiting her grandma. DRAMA!

Starting in middle school and especially in high school ministry you see a transfer from carrot encouragement to the focus on consequences. Where a kid once got candy for coming to church, now he can’t play in the praise band if he doesn’t have adequate attendance. It is this very mindset that propels we youth ministers to focus more on what Dallas Willard calls “sin management” instead of authentic discipleship. I am fully aware that God has consequences for his children, but I don’t see that He uses consequences as His primary motivation. Having said that, I’m not convinced that I see the use of “carrots” as a means for spiritual growth, except for………

The Kingdom Carrot-
Is the promise of a new heaven and new earth or eternal life enough for a 16-year-old? Should we focus more on passages like John 10:10 describing the abundant life as a means to spiritually motivate young people? I may have more questions than I do answers about this post, but doesn’t the Promised Land seem to be a decent carrot to encourage tired, thirsty people to follow God? There is also a good question that some folks on my team brought up about the difference between a salvific carrot and a Christian leadership carrot, but I digress.

Matthew 6:19-24 is a classic Jesus response about the ultimate carrot and how distracting earthly possessions can be. It is no coincidence that Jesus ends by saying we can’t serve two masters in reference to money, which might give us some insight on the dangers of certain types of spiritual carrots. While I confess to you that I needed the $1,000 to lose weight, I pray that for you and I, the Kingdom carrot will be enough.

Nate Stratman is the Director of Student Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, CO.

Don’t be shocked when your small groups start to really fall off at the end of the year – unfortunately in my experience and conversations with other youth workers it is completely normal. I think there are a few ways to fight it (that would make a good post in the future) but here’s the reality of our small group attendance each year:

October – 95%
This is the kickoff season of the year but even them we can never quite get 100% of everyone that signed up actually in attendance. There is a great launch momentum piggybacking on the back to school season that helps bring everyone out to group. We also charge $30 for small groups, and that investment helps everyone value that while the cost is still on their mind.

January – 75%
Attendance is usually pretty good through the fall and the start to a new year, I’d be happy with a consistent 3 out of 4 students in groups, but as the school year wears on regular attendance becomes more challenging. We hold close to this number I would guess through Spring Break. Prom season, homecoming and sports seasons are particularly challenging and sometimes in direct competition to groups. Quick aside: just because a group isn’t meeting doesn’t mean great things aren’t happening relationally between the small group leader and their students.

May – 60%
It is hard to believe, but by the end of the school year many groups have just over half the kids they started with. There are bright spots in the groups, some are going strong and a few have all but disbanded. We do our best to keep on trucking through the end of the school year and break for summer.

What does your small group attendance look like especially this time of year?


I liked Terrace Crawford’s post this week about students fading out of youth group. It happens to the best of us. He gave 5 reasons why this happens – some are pretty insightful and especially timely this time of year. Here’s a clip of his thoughts, head there for the rest:

1. Everything is predictable: We live in a world that is constantly changing. It’s moving at such a fast pace. Old things are being replaced with new things and what worked 10 years ago doesn’t work any longer. Church leaders don’t seem to get this. We move at a slower pace, aren’t apt to change, or still take stock in last year’s offerings. The truth is, we’ve become boring and predictable… and teens lose interest quick. Action item: Take as much time each week to think through the environment you are creating as you do on the message or program itself.

5. The problem isn’t you: Youth pastors get blamed for many things. Sometimes we put the blame on ourselves. Over the years I’ve probably been hardest on myself when I thought a student stopped showing up because of me. We must realize that in many cases the problem isn’t us to begin with. Sometimes teenagers don’t show up because of circumstances outside of our control. I’ll offer 3 possibilities here: the student is involved in extra curricular activities and cannot come, they cannot get a ride to church, or my personal favorite, the kid is grounded from church! Action item: Continue to reach out to teenagers who aren’t regularly attending. Students need to know you care about them regardless of whether or not they are present for your program.


Thought that Youth Ministry 360 had some great stuff today on reaching out to students who used to attend youth group but have disappeared. This is a great article I want to send to our volunteers as they reach out to students who start the year in their small group, but drop out along the way. Here’s a clip:

Don’t Waste Any Time
Don’t wait to connect with a disengaged student. If you wait two or three or four weeks, you miss the window of opportunity that says, “I care about you. I noticed you were gone. You matter to me, so I called you.” If there is a problem, you can insure that you are quickly addressing it.

It should be a habit of yours that if you have a student miss your small group, or Sunday School, you should send him a Facebook message or text the same day he misses. Even if you know the reason. A timely response to a student’s absence says to him that they do matter, and that they are missed.

Address The Problem
If there’s an issue within your group that has caused a student to leave, you must do everything within your power to address it. If it’s a disagreement between students, you have the amazing opportunity to help facilitate the dirty work of reconciliation. Internal group issues are very difficult to address, but they provide great opportunities to teach students that despite differences, the Body of Christ is to be unified. It’s hard work, but effectively dealing with the interpersonal strife of a small group can increase the strength of the group immensely.

Maybe the problem is outside your ability to address it. I know a student who suddenly stopped coming to Sunday School. When a leader looked into it, she found out this girl’s parent’s divorce had been finalized. She had begun to spend the weekends with her Dad who lived in another city. Sometimes the reason for students’ disengagement is out of our hands.