When it comes to church and youth ministry, numbers matter. They aren’t all that matters though. The question isn’t should we count; it’s what should we count?

I don’t see this as a tension to resolve as much as it is a tension to manage. Churches that are anti numbers tend to be uninformed and unmotivated, while churches that focus too heavily on numbers can be distracted from the mission and dangerous. The key is to hold the tension in balance by counting the right numbers.

I’m not one who believes God is anti numbers. This is mainly because Luke chronicles the growth of the early Church in Acts from 120 to 3,000, and then again from 3,000 to 5,000. If Dr. Luke’s numbers are inspired, then it can only mean one thing: somebody was responsible for a headcount!

Don’t take this too far though. While it’s good to use attendance as a metric of growth and health, I don’t think God wants us to use it as the only metric. The key is not in the numbers, it’s in the right numbers.

The mistake comes when we let numbers drive our thinking. Don’t let the numbers drive you, let them inform you. The right numbers will help you to gauge the health, growth, and impact of your youth ministry.

So if the key is finding and measuring the right youth ministry numbers, then what are they? Here are the four youth ministry numbers that I believe matter most.

4 Numbers that Matter Most in Youth Ministry

1) New Students

One of the first numbers I look at is the number of new students who have connected to our youth ministry. New students attending is a sign that our students are inviting others and sharing their faith outside of the walls of the church. The number of new students will show you a lot. I call this a growth number, because it directly measures your youth ministry growth.

2) Salvations

This is my favorite metric because it’s a spiritual number! At the end of the day, we are only successful if people are putting their faith in Jesus and committing to follow Him. This number shows us if students are doing just that. It also let’s us know how we are doing when it comes to carrying out the great commission.

3) Retention

This number may be the most difficult to understand and count, but it might also be the most important number we can track. Retention is important because it’s a quality number. This is essentially the number of students we keep connected to the church, and I like to measure it in two main categories.

The first category is what percentage of our new students did we retain after their first visit. We do this by taking the new student number from above and tracking how many times each student returns over the next 6-8 weeks. Students who return once are much less likely to stick than those who return three times.

The second category is a little trickier. It’s where we measure how many of our students stay connected to the Church after youth ministry. What percentage stays involved in the life of a church through college instead of dropping out. The number of our students leaving church after high school is staggering, and I want to know how we are doing in this regard!

The most difficult part is figuring out how to measure this. In a small youth ministry context it’s easier to keep up with students individually. In our context, we do this by measuring the percentage of students from youth group that attend and serve on the weekend. This shows us who is connected more to the church than our youth ministry, and our goal is to keep 75% of our students connected on the weekend.

4) Volunteers

The last number is one that most youth workers probably know but don’t know what to do with it. This is a vital metric to track because it tells us more than we generally realize. Here’s why it’s so important. Show me the number of volunteers you have and I will show you the size of your ministry.

I’m a firm believer that God will not give us more students than we are quipped to shepherd well. If you want to see 100 students in your youth ministry, your going to need at least twenty quality volunteers. If you have less volunteers than that, you’re not ready to handle the students you are praying for God to send you. Your ministry’s volunteer number is a future number.

One of the best ways to grow a youth ministry and reach more students is to recruit and train more volunteers! How many volunteers do you have in your youth ministry? Is it enough to get you where you want to be?

When it comes to youth ministry, numbers definitely matter. Let’s just make sure the right numbers are the ones that matter to us. What numbers are you tracking now? Which ones matter most to you? What did we leave out? If you have questions or thoughts, let us know at jeff.cochran@ministryarchitects.com.