It’s Not About Numbers

As a sister church to North Point Ministries, we hear numbers all the time at Browns Bridge. 55% of our roster is attending this Fall’s retreat. Over 800 middle school students attended Frequency. 134 Leaders. 432 sixth graders. 6 outings. 10 students stopped coming. Only one kid showed up.

Not only does the church freely provide these numbers to us, but we ask for them. Rejoice in them. Show them off to people we meet. And complain about them when they are low.

For our church these numbers are ridiculous, and amazing. We get to reach, sometimes, an unprecedented number of kids. Our church has become a model for many other churches of how to do youth ministry right. So, of course, we run statistics and track attendance and jump up and down when we have more than 15 kids in small group.

numbers are a metric, not the goal

At Browns Bridge we are given the goal: “to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ” and in Transit we are told to help students “find a faith of their own”.

I have been a small group leader in one way or another for more than 8 years. And I have been participating in small groups for the last 15 years (more numbers I know).

In all of that time, I have come to appreciate small groups for a greater purpose than converting people that are not believers, or pulling people back into the fold that have fallen away, as both of the mission statements above would suggest. For most small groups “conversion to Christianity” will represent a very tiny portion of your group, if any at all. But every group I have been in has been an incredible support system for the members of the group.

I have witnessed so many things that could only happen in a group that is trusting, honest, supportive, and not judgemental. A good small group will allow it’s members the space to relieve their burdens, to be emotionally vulnerable, to admit to problems they have kept hidden. Small group is not only a safe place, it’s a place for us to hold each other’s hearts and grow as people. It’s an avenue for finding change in your life. It can be a catalyst for massive growth. Every small group I have been in has made an impression or impact on my life in some way.

That is the real goal. To connect. To change. To be fully and perfectly human. To love and be loved.

Numbers are not the goal. You cannot achieve true fellowship and connection when it’s all about the numbers. No one ever said “My life changed after I attended a retreat. I just couldn’t believe that I was one of 1,000.”

When students tell their stories it is not about the numbers. When you tell your story it is not about the numbers.

The Power of One

There is huge power in the low numbers. In small numbers. The most memorable retreat I have ever lead was when I only had three (three!) students. During this retreat one of my students admitted to struggling with partying and other extra curricular activities that were less than wholesome. She would have never opened up and given a space for that conversation if there had been 30 girls. That trip needed to be small. She needed my singular attention.

When you have only a few students in group on Sunday or a tiny group for a retreat count it a blessing, not a failure. God is at work in those moments. God has given you an amazing gift to give focused attention to those students.

Use those tiny numbers to do things you can’t do with 15 kids. Walk around the church instead of holing up in your small group room. Stay up all night talking about dreams. Go out for dinner instead of eating at your host home.

God has placed those few kids in your care for a reason. God has given you this opportunity that you are passing up because you feel like your time is wasted. Your time with this one student might be the most important thing that they need. But, you won’t be able to give them that attention if you are all fussed that everyone else didn’t show up.

Numbers Aren’t Bad

I want to end all of this with saying that I don’t believe that statistics are bad. We get a roster every week with our student’s names, birthdays, contact info, and how many times they’ve attended in the last 6 weeks. I love this sheet. I can scan through these numbers and make a mental check of the students that might be falling off our radar. These statistics facilitate connection between us the leaders and the students we might not be seeing yet.

Because when you touch 30 or 40 students in your small group it is all too easy to unintentionally allow ones that are on the edge fall off.

Numbers are a guideline, but they should not drive all of your decisions. And numbers should not cause you to forget why you started serving in the first place.

Blending Out Official Launch & Pick-the-Logo Poll

I started Blending Out about a year ago as a place to easily publish articles that were weighing on my heart. I put the website together a little haphazardly, but it served it’s purpose.

Earlier this Fall, I decided to do another tour of Transit, and start with a new group of 6th graders in the summer. I’m beyond excited to get to start with a group from the very beginning. To get to witness a whole new group of students grow up and transform from kids into young women.

I have decided to develop the Blending Out website into a full blogging website. I want this to be a platform and landing place for my Transit small group. Over the next few months I will be adding features to this website, including: a newsletter, article submission, author profiles and more.

Pick Our Logo

My day job is a graphic design and web development, and I just couldn’t help myself. So, I designed a logo for Blending Out. But, I need help picking one. Below you will find four options for the logo. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey, and help me pick the logo for Blending Out!

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Leading When There’s No One to Lead

High school and middle school ministries are the hardest places to serve in the church. Between managing drama among the group, inconsistent attendance, and overall silliness it often feels like your volunteer energy is wasted away into empty space. Even with those frustrations I would be the first to tell you that student ministry is worth serving in. The students are fantastic and funny. They have this infectious, youthful energy that is a joy to be around. They are curious and hopeful and not yet spoiled by adulthood. They think differently, and ask questions that sometimes has never crossed your mind. Student ministry is a great place to serve, especially when you serve at a church that values their volunteers.

But, inevitably you will run into one of the many frustrations of student ministries. I’ve seen it happen in every group I’ve lead and every group my husband has lead. Invariably you will run into one of the following problems: students stop coming, drama and fighting between the students in the group, a co-leader that has to leave the group, or students wanting to switch to another group. Any one of these things can make it feel like leaving and giving it up as a bad job.

When students start dropping or when your wisdom falls on deaf ears, remember that God sees what you are giving. Serving and giving of yourself is an investment in your relationship with God, just as much as it is about loving on your students. God sees your good work. God sees you showing up. God sees you even if your entire group skips out.

Let me repeat again in case you missed it: God sees you.

And just as God sees you, others see it too. To quote Andy Stanely, “You never know what hangs in the balance.” In the first high school small group that I lead I had a lot of girls stop coming. It was normal for me to show up and have no students to lead. It was really disheartening. Especially because it wasn’t like the girls didn’t like me, or appreciate my input in their lives. Ultimately the youth ministry just wasn’t meeting their needs, they needed something more than what our outwardly-focused services could offer. I recognized this way too late. In addition to the service not meeting their needs, my fantastic girls where smart, athletic and leaders, and were probably the busiest high school students I’d ever met.

What surprised me the most was others reactions to my steadfastness despite the lack of attendance. I showed up week after week, not only at church on Sundays, but also at a bible study I was trying to start. I had a long conversation with a server about the church because he saw me show up every week and wanted to know what I was doing. I got a very long text from one of my students telling me that she was sorry that she didn’t come more often and that she appreciated me reaching out to her, even when she hardly ever responded.

Wait patiently for the Lord . Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. – Psalms 27:14 (NLT)

Whatever it is that has you frustrated with your serving experience, God can handle it. Give it over to God. Ask Him to use you and your time however He needs, even if it is reaching just one student instead of ten.