Youth Ministry: What Do The Numbers Mean?

Youth Ministry 3.0In his insightful book Youth Ministry 3.0 Mark Oestreicher evaluates what he calls “Youth Ministry 2.0,” the kind of youth ministry model held up as the standard during the 1970s  through the end of the century:

“On a good day, in a good youth ministry, this was about helping teenagers, in the context of community, form their spiritual lives in Christ.  The dark side was the creation of the youth group that exists only for itself…

Revolutionary ideas about connecting with teenagers in real ways got commoditized…and Youth Ministry 2.0 became Program-Driven.  The sense was–and remains, as I contend–that if we can build the right program with the coolest youth room and hip adult leaders and lots of great stuff to attract kids, then we’ll experience success…

But rather quickly, the programs and methods became king, and the only real measurement of success anyone in youth ministry cared about was, ‘How many kids are coming?‘” (pages 58-59)

In an endnote connected to that last sentence, Oestreicher wrote…

“This ‘success=quantity’ formula is straight from the evil one, and it permeates many, if not most, of our churches.  It’s so much a part of our thinking now that it’s almost impossible to think differently.  I’m passionate about not being impressed by numbers, but when a friend recently shared with me (in humility, to be fair to him) that he had more than 800 junior highers attend his winter retreat, I couldn’t help myself: I was über-impressed!  I assumed it must be good.  I assumed it should be copied.

Now, numbers do mean something.  They just don’t always mean things are good or right. If a youth group jumps from 12 to 40 kids, then it should be noticed and questions should be asked: ‘Is it because we’re providing a safe and loving place for kids?  Or is it because we’re putting on a really good show?’  Likewise, if a group slowly drops from 40 kids to 12 kids, then different questions should be asked: ‘Is it because we’re irrelevant or unsafe or exclusive?  Or is it because we’ve decided to stop merely entertaining kids and giving out really cool door prizes?'” (pages 139-140)

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