Over the last 3 years, I’ve been working at a smaller church in Northeast Kentucky. When I accepted the position at my current congregation, I was 20 years old and a full-time student. I was young (I’m still young) and inherited a small youth ministry that consisted primarily of young middle school students hungry to learn. Over the next 2-3 years as the youth ministry matured, so did the original middle schoolers. They invited their friends, grew in their faith and we reaped the benefits because of the dedication of these few young believers. But this year after we had our fall launch date, I noticed something. We had very few Junior High Students. For the first time, we had a High School majority youth ministry. At first, I freaked out because this was awesome, lots of High Schoolers. But then, I freaked out again, this time because of the absence of what was always the majority: Junior High students. I started thinking “Oh no, how are we going to grow if our junior high ministry isn’t thriving?”
Attendance Isn’t a Fair Measurement of Health
I was talking with a youth pastor friend of mine about my issue and he told me “Stop. Attendance isn’t a fair measurement of the health of your ministry. Attendance is a good measurement for the date on the calendar, the weather, or determining if it’s basketball season or not. But health? No. Rather, look at the spiritual growth of the students, not at their attendance record.” After pondering over what he said I started thinking. As I was considering these statements I thought about a former Junior High student that didn’t know anything about Jesus 3 years ago but is now a Junior in High School and wants to go into full-time youth ministry, or the Sophomore girl that can’t make it five minutes without sharing something she has learned in her daily Bible reading, or even how the short 7th grade kid that wandered off the street 2 years ago is now a full-fledged follower of Jesus.
My friend couldn’t be more accurate, your current attendance doesn’t define your ministry, rather the spiritual growth of your students does. So, don’t waste your time running the numbers, or recruiting more students just to just get more bodies in the room so you feel better, look at their spiritual growth.
The Psalmist wrote “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” Psalm 71:17-18
So, take the time now when your students are in Junior High and invest in them spiritually so when you hand off these students to the High School ministry, they have a solid ground work that will carry them into High School and the rest of their lives.
- Don’t get caught up in the numbers game. As the leader you are above that. If you start freaking out and get discouraged about your numbers others will feel the loss of energy too. Instead change the conversation to the growth you see in different students. Stay positive.
- Put together a system that helps you get information on different ways your students are growing. Interviewing current and former students about their personal spiritual growth is one way to get an idea of where they are spiritually.
- Find a mentor, or a close group of friends, that will listen. It’s easy to always carry the baggage of your stress and worries with you, especially if you never get it off your chest. I’ve found one of the best ways for me to deal with my worries from church is to share them with this trusted group. After doing this I find myself feeling less alone.
- Keep your relationship with God first and foremost. Your identity is in Christ, not in your ministry. Nurture and care for that relationship first.
-Aaron J. Coon
- How does the pursuit of “numbers” effect you personally?
- What is your framework for determining “health” in our Junior High Ministry?
- What ways can we as leaders shift our mindset to spiritual growth rather than attendance?