When anybody tells me that "Numbers don't matter" in youth ministry I remind them there's a whole book in the Bible called Numbers. It has nothing to do with my point (but it does make them laugh!)
I think what most youth leaders mean by this statement is that it doesn't matter how big your youth ministry is and, to a degree, this is true. Too often we judge youth ministry success based on sheer attendance numbers. Like bodybuilders in a competitive pose down some youth leaders with big attendance numbers will flex these muscles when they meet other youth leaders. After some small talk they'll get around to the big question, "How big is your youth group?", (secretly hoping for that youth leader to ask them the same question.) Youth leaders will smaller attendance muscles eventually slink off like a 95 pound weakling leaving Venice beach.
But youth leaders can get big attendance numbers in a variety of ways. They can come from a big church so the youth group could be naturally bigger due to the size of the church. They can make youth group an entertainment night that is heavy on sizzle and light on steak (spiritually speaking.)
When I was a teenagers I was part of a youth group that was pretty big to begin with but soon ballooned because the leader gave away a 1969 Firebird to the teenager who brought out the most students over three months (okay, so that was pretty awesome.)
I often say that youth leaders are forced to "juggle flaming poodles" to get a large crowd. And many kind of do. Maybe they're not juggling poodles but they are juggling fast moving games, jamming music, drama teams and 15 minute power talks to get teens to come and bring their friends.
Many of these youth leaders have great motives. They want to see teenagers come to Christ. They understand that, if they can get these unreached teenagers on church turf through any means necessary then those teenagers can hear the gospel and believe in Jesus.
But all too often after the party fades the attending teenagers disperse back into their real lives. They'll come back for the BIG bash but not stay on for the small groups.
So, instead of asking "How BIG is your youth group?" let's ask the BIGGER question... "How BIG is your impact?"
-What percentage of your youth group came to Jesus as a result of teenagers reaching their friends with the message of Jesus?
-How big is your student leadership team? Are they "all in" when it comes to serving Jesus and advancing God's kingdom?
-How many of your teenagers know what they believe and why they believe it when it comes to the Bible and Christian theology? Can they clearly articulate the gospel in a way their unreached peers can understand?
-What percentage of your teenagers are involved in small groups?
-How many of your teenagers are making disciples who are making disciples? How many are even close?
These are not all the BIG questions we should be asking in youth ministry, but they are the type of questions we should be asking.
We don't need any more large youth ministry pose downs. But we do need BIG impact from large, medium and small youth groups alike. This happens when we engage our teenagers upwardly in worship, inwardly in discipleship and outwardly in evangelism...all at the same time!
I'd love to hear from some of you youth leaders out there. What are some of the other BIG questions in youth ministry we should be asking?