7 Youth Ministry Numbers You Really Should Know

Youth Ministry Numbers TalkThis article was originally published October 4, 2011.
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.


  1. Here’s another number from Lovett Weems – 125 in worship to be able to pay for a full-time seminary educated elder. So how many in worship before the church can really pay for a youth minister?

  2. I’ve always struggled with that 10% number and the budget number as well. It’s generally a given that the weekly worship # is a percentage of total church attendance, but increasingly youth attendance also reflects a percentage of total “active” youth. And how often a week can you expect to see that 10%? Our program has three distinct meeting times a week for a total of 6 hours of program (too much, IMHO). Our worship attendance is right around 350-375, our youth Sunday school draws about 18 kids a week, Sunday night program around 25, and our mid-week youth worship is around 55 and growing. We have over 100 “active” kids that come on average every other week to SOMETHING.

    So. It’s currently for self-reflection, but is my best shot at estimating my “group health” to look at my single largest gathering, or take an average of the three? And do I base healthy budget consideration upon average attendance or total active youth (considering the latter number is nearly double the former)?

    Further clouding all of that is that our church insists on counting our Sunday night & Wednesday night programs toward the total worship number of the church for the week (essentially, we get added to the Sunday AM worship total). Cute. Anybody else dealing with that?

    • Hey Kevin, thanks again for reccomending this article. A question for you, and anyone else out there… what is a fair way of estimating “active youth”? I have maybe 20 in Sunday School, 25 on Sunday nights and 30 on Wednesday nights. I estimate that in any given two-week period, we may see 40-50 different kids (as many of the three meeting times are the same youth). Probably nearer 60 if you throw in youth that we will see in a month’s time (at least one thing). Then, possibly as many as 80 we’ll see at least once/year. Which of these #s would be more accurate in estimating “active youth”?


      • Hi Kevin and Harrison, I would recommend looking in a couple directions. What is your average total weekly attendance for students? Secondly, how many youth would you consider frequent attenders within the last 3 months. We consider frequent those who attended one or more student events, 50% of the weeks or more. More important than the 10% figure, which could be calculated many different ways, I would encourage you pick a metric, track it over time, and to cast vision towards a goal. Additionally it would also appear that the 10% figure would vary quite a bit for church of 200 vs. a church of 2000. One last note, In light of #5, I think it is extremely important to track volunteer team sizes over time as well.

  3. Also – Can you explain a bit more #6- 20% “ceiling for youth ministry” … i’m not familiar with this experession. Thanks again!!

  4. I was curious about that 10% number as well- where is that number from?

    • Hey David, This is a common number that gets highlighted a lot through the work of Youth MInistry Architects, which is consultant group that has worked with churches for more than a decade. Mark Devries also expands on this number in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry.

  5. Hello Gavin.

    First of all i want to thank you for what you are doing. I have been thinking about where i can get statistics about the youth ministry but i had no idea how to get them. Your ministry is very important to enable churches to get the best ROI on their youth ministry.

    I know that you said that it costs a thousand per youth to have a youth ministry. But what percent of a parishes money could realistically be spent on the youth, based on churches you know that have a vibrant youth ministry?

    I come from a parish that is perhaps a little different when it comes to the numbers. Our parish has about 5000 parishioners, with about 1200 attending every weekend. However, the church for some reason cannot justify spending money on a full time youth minister. I know that they definitely have money for it (because my wife is on parish council and knows how much they spend on other “investments.”

    Also, as a side note, you might want to optimize your website for smartphones because when I read the article, I had to read it one word per line. there was a lot of scrolling 🙂

  6. My Youth Group runs about 85 on average on Wednesday Night. Our church averages about 300 on Sunday Morning. So that puts us at 28%. I can tell you, it is an incredible challenge to keep up with all the kids. We may average 85 but there is well over 100 kids that would call our group their youth group. I feel like i can barely get to know any of them on a personal level. I am looking for some ways to help connect with students.

    I am also very curious about the 7 friends thing. Is there somewhere I can read more on this? Any recommendations about increasing the number of friends. With many of the shy kids its hard to get them to interact with more that 1 or 2.

    • I would affirm the recommendation made by Gavin above: Mark Devries book “Sustainable Youth Ministry” offers excellent content related to these and other ministry questions. Extremely helpful book, and easy to read and actually apply.

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