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.



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.

From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about tracking youth group attendance in their youth ministry. Weigh in!

Hey, I was wondering if you have a process for tracking students so you know when they aren’t there on the weekend. We are struggling with this right now – what are the best practices, tools or systems you use that would inspire us to create one of our own. Would appreciate any insight.

In all honesty … we don’t have a system where I serve currently! Please help him out – and maybe I’ll steal yours, too!


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 youth worker sent me an email with a question about preparing for growth in their ministry as they were seeing larger classes in their children’s ministry heading their way – it looks like their ministry is on a path to double soon. Here’s part of how I replied to him, thought it may be helpful to you as well:

Infrastructure is absolutely key. I would definitely start building a team of leaders with all your energy. You might be tempted to think adding more programs but I think people and systems are the best choice.

Adding a position
Getting another staff person, even part-time, is a crap shoot. Flirt with it in your mind, but in my experience that is usually where it stays. Typically leadership waits to see results and staffs late, or staffs intentionall what is hurting instead of what is building. Ironic, but want to be real with you so you don’t get your hopes up. I do think it is time to ask for help before it is too late. And either way, start pouring in to your leaders and building a team of people, paid or not.

Core Leaders
Start a core team of people who are totally on board with the vision of your ministry and love and follow you. These are the people you’ll do life with and know the best. You need to trust them. They will trust you. You need to eat together, laugh together and develop some inside jokes and memories as soon as possible.

More Leaders
Next, I’d work on developing as many additional leaders as I could. Get your small groups/life groups super small next year, so they can scale and grow with more students as they start entering the ministry. If each group has 4 students, you could easily give them 6 the next year and 8 the year after. So make them all super small right now and get the rookies some experience and get ready with an infrastructure for growth.

This is where you can prepare for growth as well – make sure that all of your systems are ready to scale as well.  Take a look at your communications tools, your curriculum, your web presence, your parent ministry – all of these systems need to be able to scale up to double/triple their size. If not, you need to ditch the tool now before it dies under the strain of growth. Take care of these things now and adding students is a breeze.Wait and it will crush you and slow your momentum to a crawl.

Other random stuff/links to consider:


Really enjoyed this post over on Nick Farr’s Everything Pastor blog – this week he talks about numbers in youth ministry and I though it was right on. Here’s a clip of the post:

Myth #1: Numbers don’t matter.

The truth is–numbers DO matter. The Bible talks about numbers a lot. (Read the book of Numbers for an example.) God wants us to have healthy ministries and we cannot know what healthy ministry looks like unless we create specific goals and measure them. Measuring goals is the key. You can have all of the goals in the world for changing your church, youth ministry, community, etc., but if you can’t measure your progress you’ve failed.

Don’t be ashamed–count.

A word of caution: Don’t allow numbers to become everything. Put them into perspective of God’s plan. Just like money can be the root of all kinds of evil, so can numbers. However, money/numbers aren’t sinful within themselves.

The second myth that youth pastors buy into is that they know what’s going on in their ministry and have a good grasp of everything.

Great rest of the article – head there now to finish reading


Recently, I compiled a series of blog posts that have gotten my blog a lot of traffic. There’s an iPhone game, Snappers, that causes more frustration than child-proof packaging. So, I scoured Google, Yahoo Answers, and my game experience, and compiled a list of walk-throughs for the various levels. As I was laying it out, I also carefully key-worded it and SEO’d the mess out of each blog post. Now, when you Google for Snappers levels, more often than not, this website will be one of the top 3 results.

Thanks to these 5 blog posts, check out my web traffic.

Pretty crazy, right? Those are unique visitors (by IP address) per day at my website. I uploaded the first of the walk-throughs on January 21. Between then and the time of this blog post’s beginnings, I’ve had 37,796 individual people come to this site.

This kind of traffic landed me as one of the world’s most visited blog pages.

According to’s Blogs of the Day, I’m a high-influencing blogger. This page varies in it’s order, but here’s the rank (the site lists the top 100) the time of this writing…

Yep…that’s right. right now is the #28 blog in the world (out of blogs using not .org or any other platform). Let’s put this in a little bit of perspective, just to help out. Scott Bourne hosts (or at least used to) a widely followed podcast called Photofocus, in which he answers emails on photography. Scott has over 166k twitter followers, one of the best blogs on with posts featured in the worlds top blog posts of the day on a regular basis, and a wealth of knowledge in his field I will never be able to touch. Here is where is blog was at…

I say all of this not to brag, but to set up this observation. It would be natural to think that kind of traffic would increase influence, traction, and authority. Twitter followers may jump, commenters may arise out of thin air, and the beginnings of a solid network may emerge. But here’s another interesting stat for you…

Painfully revealing. I’d love to hide these numbers. I’d love to pretend the stats aren’t real. The fact of the matter is, in the last 7 days, the unique readers of my true “content” (including my home page, about, and contact forms) are but .007758% of the traffic. .007758% is nothing.

So why am I writing about this, how does this apply to anyone reading this (the .00000005% of my future blog traffickers)? Here’s how it hits student ministry. What do your numbers truly reflect? When you’re talking with other student pastors, deacons, your pastor, or anyone you’re wanting to be looked up to by, how do your numbers come across? Does your ministry attract a LOT of people? If so, that’s awesome, and if done right, there’s a LOT of positives that can come out of that. But looking beneath the surface, is there any depth? Are you discipling students to pursue Christ and lean into His call on their life, or are you just satisfied to count their head at youth and let them chow down on pizza and warheads?

Are you making use of the numbers God has given you, or are you doing everything you can to gain accolades, with no meat beneath the surface? Is there substance to accompany all the hype?

Austin Walker is the Student Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Cabot, AR and blogs right here.

What is it about youth ministry that makes it seem like it’s always a game of shadows for so many of us? I just went out to finally see Sherlock Holmes 2 with two of the guys from our middle school ministry. After begging my wife to go with me since it came out, I finally gave up and took initiative on my own. As a side note, in case my wife reads this, it’s not her fault she never took me up on it as my invitations were always unplanned and spontaneous, and that doesn’t really work with an eight month old child. All this, however, is simply semantics. The movie was as good as I had hoped it to be, but as I drove home after dropping off the two guys it hit me: I’m pretty sure I’ve been involved in a game of shadows in my youth ministry this past year.

I’ve really discovered a lot over the past few months. One of the biggest discoveries came recently when it hit me that I’ve been sucked into the most common traps of youth ministry this side of the Mississippi. It started without even a warning. I simply looked around at all the programs, exciting events, and cool activities going on within our church and thought, “Wow, that’s what positive ministry looks like”.

I began brainstorming, and watched as ideas poured forth from my head onto my white board. Each one looked more brilliant then the last. As I did this, I convinced myself that my motivation was right. I thought, “These shiny new programs and events are what will help create the opportunities for relationships and sharing Christ.

Truth is, all I really did was fill up my plate-as well as the plates of those who VOLUNTEERED to minister along side of me. At the end of the year I found my self chasing hard towards an impressive looking ministry. The problem was I would leave at the end of these events wondering, “is this really the way it’s supposed to be?”. Sure, there were tons of students, lots of growth, and loads of fun, but for what purpose?

I look back and wish for the opportunity to do less, but mean more! I am determined to change things around. This game of shadows will confuse me no more. I am resolved to have a ministry driven by purpose. Not just any purpose, but the ONE purpose to which I am called. A Mathew 28 purpose.

Here’s the point: it’s so easy to get trapped by the pace of ministry, the lure of a dynamic program, and constant increase of numbers. It’s good to have a paced ministry, but be sure that the pace is one that ministers not only to students but also your family and yourself. It’s great to have a dynamic program, but understand, it’s not about you, your job, or your own personal success. It’s about making Christ’s name famous.

Lastly, let’s talk numbers. We hear this stuff all the time, and I realize that, but had it not grabbed me so easily I wouldn’t talk about it.

The reality is, Christ will draw people to himself, and He doesn’t need our help. He has invited us into his work, and wants us to be a part of it, but it’s His show. Listen to this carefully, numbers are a sign of positive Christ centered ministry, but not the sign. The power of the Gospel will draw students to it so don’t be so enthralled with numerical growth that it becomes the driving factor for your decision making as a leader. Let the Gospel of Christ lead, and be thankful for the way in which He uses you! Don’t be distracted by the youth ministry game of shadows.

Eric Upton is the Middle School Pastor at Bridgeway Christian Church and you can follow him on Twitter or roll over to his Tumblr here if you dare.