You hear it all the time, “How big is your youth ministry?” “How many showed up to your fall kick off?” “How many small groups do you have?” The list of questions can go on and on. When I started in ministry numbers were everything to me. My identity and ministry success were wrapped up in the glamour of numbers. Over time, I have come to realized that numbers and glamour are not the most important thing. I have also come to learn that they don’t determine the success of my ministry.
I started my ministry journey as a junior high intern with a youth group that pushed 100+ every single week. The ministry seemed to be growing and successful because we put on large events that drew large crowds. We even had all the cool stage lighting and amazing, bigger than life games. Like that time I waxed my armpits and got shot with a paintball gun point blank (long story). From the outside looking in, you would think everything was awesome and we were a successful ministry. Then God called me to take over a youth ministry that needed to be rebuilt and restructured. I went from helping lead a 100+ jr. high ministry to leading a youth ministry of 6 students total.
At first, I regretted my decision. Then, I fully surrendered to what God called me to do and began to reevaluate youth ministry. What I landed on and found most important was not numbers or glamour. I began to realize that I had missing something because I was so caught up in the numbers and glamour. I was missing the students. I never focussed on creating an environment in which students felt known and belonging. Honestly, I just helped put on a show without ever focusing on who was in the room.
It wasn’t until I understood this and changed my focus of youth ministry that I saw God begin to do some truly incredible things. Relational ministry began to take place. This led a student ministry of 6 students to a student ministry of 50+ students! We had fun. We had events. We did camps. But my focus wasn’t on numbers and glamour anymore. My focus was on building relationships. My focus was on providing a space for students to be known and feel belonging.
The vision was wrapped around relationships. That vision poured into our volunteer team and senior leadership. We wanted to be known for how welcoming our ministry was to all students. Over time we witnessed how students felt a belonging and wanted their friends to experience the same thing. Fact, the numbers take care of themselves when you have clear vision and direction for where you are taking students. Engagement should be the focus. Not how many warm bodies you can pack into a room.
Don’t fall into the trap of numbers and glamour. Again, I’m not saying numbers aren’t important. I do believe in measuring. But when you allow it to be your central focus, you will have a shallow and surface level student ministry.