Church, Discipleship, Youth Leadership, Youth Ministry

Numbers Don’t Lie: Rethinking how we measure success in youth ministry

I grew up a Blazers’ fan.

I lived in Portland, and I loved basketball, so it made sense that I would root for the hometown team.

One of my favorite players growing up was a guy named Rasheed Wallace. The dude was not a role model by any means, but he could play some serious ball.

Rasheed was a trash-talker too. One of my favorite lines he’d say a lot to opponents was, “Ball don’t lie!” If a guy missed a free throw, Rasheed would say, “Ball don’t lie!” just to mess with him and get in his head.

If you’re in ministry, I want to mess with you and get in your head for a minute.

I want to say to you, “Numbers don’t lie.”

But, the numbers I’m talking about are not the numbers we tend to measure. We like to measure how many students showed up at youth group, how many of them went on the mission trip last summer, how many of them have been baptized…I think you get the point.

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I’ve heard it said before that ministries determine success by what they measure. It’s not rocket science I know, but generally we find fulfillment and success in the things that we think should count.

So, we count bodies. As in, “We had 50 bodies show up at youth group last night!” It sounds demeaning when you say it that way, but that’s how a lot of us measure success in ministry.

But, what if 25 of those 50 bodies walked out the doors of your ministry and walked away from God? Would you really feel like a success then? Could you really pat yourself on the back knowing that half the students you see on a typical youth group night end up being spiritual corpses?

I’ll admit that it’s easy to focus on what we can count easily. But, we need to stop counting bodies and start counting souls instead. We need to consider different ways to measure success in ministry.

In his book “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith,” David Kinnaman writes, “What would it look like to begin measuring things like teens’ and young adults’ knowledge of and love for Scripture, their clarity about their gifts and vocation, their willingness to listen to the voice of God and follow His direction, the fruits of the Spirit in their lives, and the depth and quality of their love and service to others?”

What would that look like? That question has been stirring in my head for a long time now. It’s made me ask some tough questions about ministry and what really is a “successful” church or youth group in God’s eyes. How would He measure success? What numbers would He count?

The fact is I think He’d look below the surface at what’s really going on in a person’s heart. And, He’d say the same thing to us as He said to Samuel right before he anointed a shepherd boy as the next king of Israel. “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

Ministry is and always will be about numbers, because numbers represent people. And, people have souls. But, at a time in our culture when young people are walking away from their faith in increasing numbers, we need to reconsider the way we measure success in ministry.

“Numbers don’t lie.” What are your numbers telling you?

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Church, Discipleship, Youth Leadership, Youth Ministry

Forced Christian: Why Church Kids Walk Away From Church

I was a church kid.

I was born into a Christian home.

I grew up going to church like clockwork every Sunday.

I did church things…went to Sunday school, memorized Bible verses, and volunteered to help out around the church.

I checked off boxes and jumped through hoops.

I followed the Christian list of do’s and dont’s.

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I was a forced Christian.

Fast-forward to 2014…

I still live in a Christian home.

I still go to church like clockwork every Sunday.

I still do church things.

I still wrestle with the boxes to check off and the hoops to jump through.

But, I am a Jesus follower.

I am also a 40-year old youth pastor who has been working with church kids for a long time now.

And, a lot of the students I work with remind me of me.

Forced Christian.

I’ve been around long enough to hear the numbers.  All the surveys and studies out there that tell us that anywhere from 40-80% of students walk away from their faith after high school.  The numbers are alarming…but not for the reasons you might think.

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We tend to measure stuff that we can see.

So, we track stuff like how many times a kid shows up at church or youth group.

We pat ourselves on the back when we fill our youth rooms with students “on fire” for God.

We pile them into church vans and buses and take them on mission trips.

We put them on youth worship teams.

We encourage them to “get involved” and “plugged in” with the church.

We give them verses to memorize and Bible studies to read.

We train them to share their faith story with their peers.

In other words, we make the lists and the boxes they check off and the hoops they jump through.

And, then we wonder why they walk away.

A wise man once said, “Don’t judge by appearance…the Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  (I Samuel 16:7)

God doesn’t measure stuff we can see.

He is not a God of lists and boxes and hoops.

He never has been.

The Gospels are full of encounters Jesus had with the religious leaders of his day who measured spirituality with lists and boxes and hoops.  And, Jesus had this to say about them…”Everything they do is for show.”  (Matthew 23:5)

Thousands of years later, we’ve gotten pretty good at putting on a show.

Our youth groups are full of church kids who put on a show every Sunday, but haven’t ever gotten past the lists and boxes and hoops.  We might think they’re Jesus followers, but in reality, many of them are nothing more than forced Christians.

They are born in Christian homes.

They go to church most Sundays.

They do church things.

They follow the rules we’ve set, but they don’t have a personal relationship with God.

And, so they graduate from high school and leave the church.

Why?

Because we taught them that it’s more important to show up once a week than it is to submit their lives to God every day of the week.

Because we taught them that praying a prayer is all it takes.

Because we taught them that complying to the rules of the church is better than conforming to the image of Christ.

Because we taught them that Christianity is more about the things you can and can’t do and less about having a personal relationship with the only One who can promise you true freedom and a “full life.”  (John 10:10)

The bottom line question is this…

Are students really leaving the church (and everything it stands for & believes in), or are they simply escaping from a way of life they never truly embraced in the first place?

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Our calling as youth workers is the same one that Jesus gave His disciples back in Matthew 28…to make disciples.

Not rule followers.

Not church goers.

Not youth group groupies.

Not forced Christians.

Disciples…Jesus followers.

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It’s time for us in youth ministry to ask questions like these…

What exactly is my ministry making?

How do I measure success in my ministry?

Is my ministry contributing to students leaving the church or is it compelling them to follow Jesus?

Am I raising a generation of forced Christians or Jesus followers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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