Counting heads – Things youth pastors do (part 1)

Youth pastors tend to be creative counters of people. I have a friend who is a youth pastor of twenty plus years experience. He once told me that he counts the attendance, adds five and then rounds up to the nearest ten. For example if 31 young people turn up he tells the senior pastor 50 young people were at the event next staff meeting. And he now runs a huge international youth ministry. At least I think he does, now that I know how he accounts for participants maybe its one town in one state but who’s checking right?

If you go to any gathering from a conference of youth pastors to a coffee with the new youth guy from the church across the street. Chances are you’ve been asked “so how many students do you get to your youth program?”

This question, much like a round of golf gives me a flood of extreme emotions all in a ridiculously small space of time. Is there a wrong answer to that question and am I being measured in terms of my capability as a pastor without any other factors being considered?

I’ve pastored big and small youth ministries, in my experience some of the most incredible pastors are the ones that are making fruit in very difficult small church environments. I pastored a youth ministry with a tiny annual budget and then the next youth ministry I was given nearly twenty times that budget. I actually think I did a better job with less. We became more about what we had (the young person). With the bigger budget there was a lot more expectation on the spectacle. How were we going to decorate? What was going to be the next event? What can we give people at the door for attending?

These were great opportunities and we were certainly able to be a lot more ‘attractional’ with the bigger budget. It was good answering that question over coffee with other youth pastors too. Sadly I can count on my fingers the number of young people that actually want to stay in touch beyond their time in that ministry whereas far more young people in the smaller ministry have gone on to be leaders, pastors and real influencers in their fields of work. They regularly email and facebook message me with ways in which God is still moving in their life. They minister to me with texts of bible passages and prayers. The bigger budget didn’t cause us to fail, a lot of good came of it, alot of young people met Jesus but we didn’t have the inter-relationships that the alternative demanded. (We’ll talk more about this in part 2)

So why do we ask how big is your youth group? Why is that question even important? What I wouldn’t give for someone to ask me, which of your leaders needs the most prayer, how can I help you serve them better? That’s what I want youth appeal to become.

I’ve often wrestled with the how many students question, so how can we respond to each other in a way that instead of measuring against inspires support and in turn growth in each other’s ministry? Sound off in the comments below



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