We’ve all heard the story before – if not from a Catholic parish, at least for a Protestant church – of this youth minister who comes in and takes the youth group from 10 to 200 in only 2 years, or something similar. In any field, there is a tendency to repeat the most amazing and legendary stories of people in that field. I bet with an almost unlimited budget and no scruples, most active youth ministers could do that by bribing teens with pizza, Coca-Cola, laser tag, etc. Obviously we don’t want that. At the same time, I think we all see that numbers have some value. I want to use this blog to explore in what way numbers are important, and in what way they can be overblown.
Ultimately, Jesus wants everyone to reach salvation. The more teens involved in our youth ministry, the more teens receiving the tools to reach salvation. It’s that simple. If I’m preaching to 100 kids, I’m helping more kids know Jesus than if I’m preaching to 10.
Interestingly, the size of a youth group is in an almost direct correlation with the overall attitude (positive or negative). The larger the group, the more satisfied the members are in general, according to Mark DeVries who went out and surveyed teens in Protestant youth groups. It would seem that a positive youth group would also attract more teens. We have a chicken and egg problem. Both seem to affect each other but a positive attitude seems to attract teens more so than having lots of teens creates a positive atmosphere.
Depth is more important than breadth. A youth group with 15 teens who are praying daily, doing deep Bible study weekly, and spending a dozen hours a month serving others is far superior to a youth group with 100 teens who all just show up for free pizza or because mom insisted they go, and sleep or text through anything important. This is not just about those groups which are 100% superficial; so often we help teens get to the “okay” level and stop instead of helping them get to the “saint” level. Long-term depth creates breadth because those who live a fully Christian life will attract others; while breadth without depth won’t last because the bonds holding the people to the youth group will collapse at the slightest provocation.
Another difficulty with numbers is our attitude towards them. If we just look for more numbers to put notches on our cap, or if we treat people as numbers and not as individuals, numbers will do us no good. This temptation is especially difficult for a paid youth minister who knows his continued employment depends for a large part on numbers. (For him, I think there is a purity of intention is necessary in order to avoid this.) At the same point a proper attitude would be as I read somewhere: “We count people because people count.” With that attitude, if really an attitude not just a phrase, one can seek numbers without losing the heart of ministry.
Numbers matter, but they aren’t everything. We want to bring a lot of people to know and love Jesus, but that knowledge must go deep and not just touch many people on the surface. “We count people because people count.”