One of my favorite pastors had always noted, we need to be ministering to who we are accountable for, and that isn’t always who is on our rolls. Rolls are a terrible statistical number.
In the business world a good “ROI” or return on investment in a project is considered pretty successful if it reaches the 5% mark (sometimes less, sometimes more depending on the endeavor). That doesn’t transfer very well to the church world, where every person counts and everyone has to be involved. This is the reality we live with as youth workers.
Years ago my friend Mark DeVries suggested me to a church in my area that was looking for a youth leader. His Youth Ministry Architects had done consultant work with that church and in their report (which Mark gave to me & was made available on the church website) gave me some new understandings to “numbers” in ministry and what is feasible. I have carried much of those numbers with me in keeping some idea on the growth and health of the ministries I have been a part of.
Some numbers have been around for years, and you will probably hear similar in some youth ministry workshop that you go to in the future. Some of these Mark has written more extensively in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry.
1. 10% of the worship congregation makes up a healthy reflection of numbers in the youth ministry. 200 people in church on Sunday then you can range around 20 teenagers. Sure you can be healthy and be higher or lower for varied reasons, but that’s a good measure. It is important to distinguish the worshiping congregation over the church rolls. An unhealthy congregation cannot expect to have a thriving youth ministry that exceeds its own metrics. If it does it may not be sustainable. Churches that look for youth to be the magic pill saving their church are going to be disappointed. Rolls then become your new outreach focus, not group.2. 7 the amount of Friends a teen needs to have in the youth group. (This I believe picked up from on of the myriad of Chap Clark writings) You know the question every teen asks when signing up for an event or deciding on signing up, “Who is going to be there?” They need to know that there will be a collection of friends there to talk to and hang with. This number ensures that someone will be there that they know. Small groups, and small youth groups, help to fill this need. The hospitality of a group helps with this. Cliques are killers to this. Notice who isn’t there, list out their friends from the group, are those friends coming? Can you list seven teens? If that sounds silly just think about where you go that doesn’t have some friendships involved. It is a number that is important.3. 4-6 is the amount of teenagers that an adult can know intimately in a spiritual mentor type role. This makes a great case for the need for many youth leaders in your ministry. Jesus, though he had 12 disciples, is known to have kept just a few of the fellas closer to him and invested in them more than the whole group. This is fluid, a teen you are tight with this month you might have fallen away from the next because you have started to invest in another teen. That’s natural progression and perfectly okay in my book, but you want other leaders in place to fit that spot. So if you have a ministry of 25 youth, then you need 5 adults who are fully invested in the lives of the teenagers, that is if they are equally spread out. Best to have 6 or 7 so that everyone is known.4. $1,000 per kid per year. The folks at Youth Ministry Architects through their work over the years have given a range of 1,000 per kid per year spent on youth ministries in the budget & staff salary for the youth ministries. In the case of my small church, we have 32 youth on rolls, 3 that are irregular attenders (family dynamics), so for the 29 I feel we are accountable that would be $29,000 a year for the budget. We do not quite meet that, but we certainly know it and we work to fill gaps as we can. We also know that we are not going to have bust out growth years without some financial investment.5. 50 the general ceiling of teenagers that a paid staff person can keep up with on an effective basis. Do you see business managers who manage 50 people on their own? No, businesses know it’s a stretch and ineffective so they’ll throw structures/positions in place to help. Youth ministries are generally without that. The solo youth pastor at a 200 youth church (active) might be the manager of 50-60 adults throughout the year. Not to mention the programming and administrative tasks. If this is you, you need to be asking for some help. If help is not available in paid help then search out ways to fill in some gaps with parents gifts and talents. But again, that becomes more people in the equation.
6. 20% ceiling for youth ministry is where numbers can begin to become unpredictable. At this point the numbers associated with investment do not always work directly with growth.7. 1 Family is what you have so don’t sacrifice them. If you are like me then had some ceremony that was before God where you took some vows to another person and thus created a family. You probably didn’t have anything in the vows to uphold, protect, and nurture a youth ministry. If you are single with/without a child/ren similar applies. There is a responsibility to that relationship first no matter what the church says. That isn’t to say that your family cannot do that for a youth ministry, just remember where your priorities and commitments stand first and foremost. Way too often I am seeing youth leaders get caught up with the youth culture and being the ‘everything’ for the teenagers that they are leaving nothing for their family, and sometimes leaving all together. Keeping up with numbers, growth, friendships, and other metrics are great, but the most important number is your family.
As with any statistic you can claim it means something different, but these are pretty observable if you go through writing down who you know really well right now. It probably isn’t that many if you are honest about it. If there are kids who come infrequently then write down who their friends are in the group, it probably doesn’t come to 7. Numbers can fluctuate depending on contexts of environment. Areas that have a single set school system (one junior high and high school) could bring in higher numbers than those who have a spread set of school systems.
So have fun playing with some #’s.
Gavin Richardson is Digital Community Builder for YouthWorker Movement and the Short One at YouthWorker Circuit. He has been in youth work for almost two decades now, has been a writer and consultant on numerous internet and published projects for the church. He’s often a speaker around the country on church communications and community building. His current projects are working on developing online Youth Disciple Groups and finishing a new book “Sticky Sheep.” He is the part time youth guy at Good Shepherd UMC in Hendersonville, TN. If you ask, he will say that he is a “misfit” of the church. He lives in Nashville with his wife Erin, son Brooks and dog Crimson. You can connect with Gavin (and he’s totally cool with that) through http://about.me/gavoweb.