Too Focused On Numbers?

How do you know if you are too focused on numbers in your youth ministry? Is that even a bad thing? I would says, “yes, and no…” So when are numbers a bad thing and when are they a good thing? Is there a good ‘test’ to tell if we are too fixated with numbers? That’s where we are going today…

Go to a youth ministry gathering and you’ll meet other youth workers who will ask this question over and over as they play the comparison game: “How many students do you have in your ministry?” Or maybe you have met the youth worker who is always talking to others about their numbers and seems to be obsessed with how many show up? Now granted, there are times where the numbers discussions are healthy too. Here’s some of those instances:

  • When we realize that each ‘number’ represents a student who we care deeply about, know them by name, and know their joys and their struggles.
  • When we are tracking attendance to ensure we have enough leaders and resources to care well for students.
  • When we have to give a report to our boss. (OK, granted, that’s not always positive if we have a numbers driven boss).
  • Numbers are an indicator of health. You’ve heard, “healthy things grow” haven’t you?

But, can numbers be a bad thing? Don’t they tell us so much about how we are doing and shouldn’t we celebrate when we have recored turn outs? However, if we are honest, there are many of us who have become fixated by numbers and live and die by them. If you are like me, the numbers game has made me miserable… Maybe you can relate?

How to tell if we have an unhealthy focus on numbers:

  1. When numbers are good, we tell everyone. When they are low, we become emotionally defeated, instead of logically looking at the natural dips and highs of ministry seasons.
  2. When numbers are what we remember more than the names of new students who showed up for the first time.
  3. When we constantly talk about our numbers and constantly ask others about their numbers.
  4. When we have a lower turn-out and we ask the students who did come, “hey, where is everyone?” (This may seem like no big deal, but it communicates that we care more about the people who didn’t come than the kid you are talking to…)

This is my list of things I have done in the past. I  have to work hard to ensure the numbers fixation doesn’t creep back in. What would you add to this list? Can numbers become as unhealthy as I say? How are numbers a healthy thing from your perspective? And finally, how do you ensure that numbers don’t be the focus for your ministry?

Phil <><

2 Responses to Too Focused On Numbers?

  1. Thomas McDade September 18, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    This is a very balanced assessment of the role that numbers should play in youth ministry. I agree that you can’t ignore them completely and you shouldn’t become obsessed with them either. I would say that this same reasoning should apply to ministry as a whole, not only in youth ministry but in the congregation at large. We need to be focused on making personal connections. We should never count someone on the “clicker” without first conversing with them and getting to know them.

  2. Phil Bell September 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Tom, you are right. Our focus should personal connections and not counting people on the “clicker.” It’s so easy for ministry workers to get into this trap and it’s not always easy to get out of it. When we as leaders keep talking numbers, it will infiltrate down to our leaders and students. Before you know it, everyone is basing the effectiveness of the ministry on numbers…

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