youth ministry

It’s About Measurables

“Ministry isn’t about numbers.”

There’s some truth to this. But it’s also a cliche. It’s a mischaracterization of reality that is absolutely killing youth ministry. You can’t read the book of Acts and say… “Yeah, it’s not about numbers.” You can’t check your belief about hell and conclude, “It’s not about numbers.” You can’t check your ecclesiology and decide, “It’s not about numbers.”

And, you can’t look at current movements in non-profit funding and conclude it’s not about numbers.

The Lie That It’s Not About Numbers

Ministry isn’t about numbers like Thanksgiving isn’t about turkey and stuffing. Yeah, sure… without it it’ll happen. But it won’t be any good.

At it’s heart, ministry isn’t about numbers but it is about effectiveness. And you’ll never be effective until you measure stuff.

Whether it’s articulated to you or not you are held accountable, not just for the quality of your ministry, but by your ability to create an effective ministry that reaches an appropriate amount of students for the amount of money invested.

Here’s what I experience: Youth workers who are frustrated, burnt out, feeling misunderstood, and sold out to the idea of “ministry isn’t measurable, it’s about relationships.” But when I press them, when I say… “If you were a board member and you spent $50,000 last year and the only measurable outcome is a few testimonials shared, a wishy-washy leader who can’t cast a vision for what they are trying to do, and a mission trip video… what would you do?

Literally, what would you do? If you were in their shoes and you weren’t getting the data you needed… You’d take measurements for that leader. You’d count butts in seats, it’s a default when nothing else is defined as measurable. You’d give them the benefit of the doubt for that season. And you’d ask them, “Hey, in the next year we’d really like to see a stronger plan for what you are doing.” (See the previous paragraph for what happens next)

Here’s what I know: Youth workers avoid defining measurables because their biggest fear is being held accountable for their ministries failures and their second biggest fear is that someone else in youth ministry is going to say, “Your ministry is all about numbers.

This isn’t kindergarten. Failure is an option.

And you know what? Those who say it isn’t about numbers usually aren’t trying to earn your paycheck from your church. You feel me? 

A lot of youth workers have got a very mid-1990s, cavalier attitude, about youth ministry. We think it should be funded because it’s important. (well, whipty-doh!) We want it to be funded but we don’t want to have a fundable plan.

Drop the cliche and get comfortable with this: People fund things that are effective. You don’t do ministry because of numbers. But you do get a paycheck because of numbers. (A paycheck is a number, am I right?)

Measure Effectiveness

Want to get funded? (cough, or even a raise of COLA?) Want to keep your job? The plan is simple: Lead your ministry towards measurable effectiveness. (Here’s a starter list of what to measure)

Bottom line: Ministries that thrive– measure stuff to get more and more effective.

Effectiveness isn’t about avoiding failure but it is about dealing with failures.

You won’t know you’re doing something ineffective until you begin measuring stuff. That’s what professionals do.

Not measuring effectiveness?

You’ve got 5 weeks until January 1st.

Get on it.

A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunnWant to learn about what people are giving to, funding, and excited about? I recommend reading Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn’s book, A Path Appears. It isn’t about people giving to church. But it is about celebrating and funding NGOs and NPOs that are embracing evidence-based programs that improve the lives of people all around the world. It’s a book I think every church leader in America should read to better understand modern, responsible giving


By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

3 replies on “It’s About Measurables”

Good stuff. I also like what Brock Morgan has to say about measurements of success in his book “Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World.” Great, practical ways to think through how we measure success in youth ministry.

I can’t remember ever hearing a youth worker who has experienced longevity, gained trust in their church and seen fruitful ministry proclaim that it’s not about numbers. Instead, it’s (usually) a naive proclamation at best and a lazy one at worst.
This post is a keeper!

“Effectiveness isn’t about avoiding failure but it is about dealing with failures.
You won’t know you’re doing something ineffective until you begin measuring stuff. That’s what professionals do.”

You make some excellent points. How can you evaluate the effectiveness of something without metrics? If you wanna get paid like the private sector you gotta be accountable like in the private sector.

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