Do you want to know the most common questions a youth minister gets asked? “How many kids came to youth group last night?” or “How many kids signed up for the retreat?” Throughout my 10+ years of working as a parish youth minister, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked these questions as a way to evaluate the success of the parish youth program. Now, typically a youth minister responds to the most popular question with the most popular answer, which is “Youth ministry isn’t about numbers; if we change one heart it’s worth it.”
Unfortunately, “nickels and noses” (money and numbers), as Gil Rendle puts it in his book Doing the Math of Mission, are two of the quickest and simplest ways to evaluate ministry. Rendle, however, makes the distinction between counting and measuring, saying that counting is “more about resources and activities than about outcomes,” whereas measuring is about “change… it is more about call, purpose, and possibility.” Whether clearly articulated or not, I don’t think anyone would argue that “change” is what ministry is all about. Conversion, growth, holiness: these are about change, not numbers. Isn’t this what we want to see happening in the lives of our teens?
As our culture degenerates into a post-Christian, secular humanist society, youth ministry becomes more difficult. Some studies show that Gen Z is the “least religious” generation in our country today. Youth ministers have to work harder and be more creative than ever before to connect to students. Students are busier than ever. No longer are Wednesday nights and Sundays reserved for “families and faith”; school and club teams schedule events during these previously hallowed times. Because students are more connected through social media and the internet, why go to youth group when they can watch a well-edited YouTube video or do a simple Google search to find their answers about God?