You might not have noticed yet, but September is almost over. By now, summer is a not so distant memory and we are well into fall. Fall typically brings with it a major transition in everyone’s schedule. School, fall sports, church programs, and other things all start back up and we all settle into a new schedule and day-to-day routine.
As I look at my own life and schedule, I realize that some things have made the cut and are a regular part of my new routine. There are also things that didn’t make the cut. Some of them are not a big deal and don’t need a place anyway–like playing words with friends on my phone. Others that for whatever reason didn’t make the cut need to find a place–like blogging. This is something I want to do, but up until this point has not been a part of my new routine. At this point in the fall it is time to take a step back, evaluate what made the cut and what didn’t, and decide what changes I need to make.
As I look at my church and youth ministry, I realize that for some students and families church has made the cut in their new schedules and not for others. I fully understand that church attendance does not automatically reflect someone’s spiritual health, but it can. If church has not made the cut into their new schedule, it is my job as a spiritual leader to ask why. As I evaluate my own life and schedule, I need to encourage others to do the same.
What has made the cut in your new schedule? What is there that shouldn’t be? What isn’t there that needs to be? Who do you need to help ask these same questions in their life?
I don’t know about you, but I have some rearranging to do in my schedule and some phone calls to make. My guess is you do to.
I have recently seen a few different blog posts about numbers and youth ministry. One of them at youthmin.org and one at dougfields.com. I encourage you to read both of these posts, as they both offer some great thoughts and insights. As I read both of these I can’t help but get excited because I see more and more people asking (and writing about) the right questions. I see youth ministry taking steps in what I consider to be the right direction.
My book is making progress towards it’s debut to the world, and in it there is an entire chapter devoted to this topic. Here is a sneak peek:
Every time I get into a conversation with someone I don’t know very well, like on an airplane, or with a new neighbor, or with the random stranger you get teamed with at the golf course, eventually the question gets asked—what do you do? When I blurt out “youth pastor,” I can tell a lot about the person by their next question. If the next question is “a what?” then I know they have not ever been around church. If they have been around church, their response to my career choice is, “oh cool, how many kids are in your youth group?” Most youth workers will tell you that this question bothers them, yet we usually always give an answer—which is inflated by at least ten percent. We have heard the mantra chanted over and over that “it’s not about numbers,” yet we all know that isn’t entirely true.
Numbers are a big deal. Numbers is how our society and world track everything. If you are successful, or you are a dismal failure, the numbers will reveal it. We have all heard the phrase “the numbers don’t lie,” but they don’t always tell the whole truth either. Many things that are a part of a successful church, especially if you are challenging the paradigm, cannot be tracked by raw data. Spiritual growth is hard to chart, how much of a message actually sunk into a student’s heart isn’t measurable. However, there are two things in the world of the church that are very measurable: money and attendance. These two things are exactly what most churches track the closest. Since mentioning money is a common party foul, and teenagers don’t have a lot of their own money, our conversations as youth workers center on attendance. As important as programs are in a church and a youth ministry, the most important thing is how many people are attending those programs.
Another of the several ways the paradigm defines success is by how many teenagers show up. It tells me that the more students that are in my group, the better the youth worker I am. If this were actually true, then mega church pastors and youth workers would be perfect people; they would never have a moral failure or a ministry failure. And if this were actually true, the lead youth worker would have complete responsibility on how big or small the group is. The size of church, type of facility, what sports season it is, or the students’ own life decisions would have no bearing. We all know this simply is not true, yet we still judge our own success based on the size of our mailing list.
The truth is that most of the numbers we keep track of and that we throw around to other youth workers are based on hype. Our goal needs to be health, not hype. The numbers we should be focusing on is how many teenagers there are in our area that are not attending a church and don’t know Christ, the number of students that are falling through the cracks in our churches, and the number of students that are genuinely sharing their faith on a regular basis. Those are numbers that will reflect health. Those are the numbers that should get us jazzed up or sick to our stomach.
How much do you tend to talk about numbers? What numbers keep you up at night? What numbers do you pray about?
I also must admit that I have had virtually no experience with or knowledge about Orange, but the more I hear, see, and read about it I need to check it out. I might already be more Orange that I ever realized…