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.