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.


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?

Aiming for Kingdom Impact: 4 things you can do this summer that will help you hit your target in the fall

Summer’s here, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that means fall is just around the corner.

And, while summer offers a change of pace for many of us, fall means the start of another ministry year full of program nights, small groups, outreach events, service projects, and whatever else you fill your ministry calendar with.


If summer is time to slow down and put the brakes on, I imagine fall is like getting shot out of a cannon—it’s an adrenaline rush every time, but you have to know where you’re going and hit the target. Otherwise, you’ve just made a lot of noise and a big mess.


Ministry is a lot like that—you have to know where you’re going and aim for something. And, you better be prepared too.

Jesus gave us all something to aim at—His Kingdom. Ultimately, He wants us to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). He wants us to make an impact in people’s lives beyond this life. For those of us involved in vocational ministry, that means that we’ve got to be ready when fall rolls around and our ministry calendar starts all over again…

God’s Kingdom is at stake.

So, while you’re thinking about what you’ll be doing during those hot summer days in front of you, let me give you four things to do to prepare yourself for fall. Remember, you have to know where you are going and aim for something. If your aim is to make an impact in God’s Kingdom, then consider adding these four things to your summer:

REST. You need rest. Your body, soul, mind, and spirit cannot maintain the pace of ministry year-round. You need rest. In a typical ministry year, there are generally two blocks of time that are ideal for you to rest—the summer months and Christmas break. So, take a vacation and go somewhere and rest. Leave your smartphone at home, grab a book or two, and go. One book you might check out is Leaders who Last by Dave Kraft (especially chapter 5!).

RELATE. The summer is a great time of year to spend time with students and leaders. You can make huge investments in kids’ lives by hanging out with them over ice cream, throwing a Frisbee around at a local park, or even surprising them at their work if they have a job. The possibilities are endless. But, the great thing about summer is that your schedule is more flexible and students’ schedules are wide open. So, go find some students and hang out with them! You’ll be glad you did in the fall.

RECRUIT. When fall comes, you will need help. You can’t do ministry alone. And, you can’t wait until Labor Day weekend to recruit your leaders for next year. Start the recruitment process now by making a list of potential student leaders and adult volunteers. Then, take that list and make personal contact with each person—talk to them about your ministry and how you see them fitting in it. Be clear about what you’re asking them to do and give them time to pray (and think) about joining your team. Remember, you can’t do ministry alone. God didn’t design the church to function that way anyway (Ephesians 4:11-16).

RELOAD. Like I said before, I imagine fall is like getting shot out of a cannon. And, if the cannon is empty, all you’ve done is made a lot of noise with no lasting impact (except for some deaf ears). You need to take the summer to reload your ministry—to have everything* ready to go when the ministry calendar starts all over again. And, just like in recruiting, you can’t wait until Labor Day weekend to do this. The best time to reload is the summer months, because you actually have the time to put some thought and prayer into where you’re going in your ministry (and how you’re going to get there).

* “Everything” includes working on stuff like: overall program, teaching topics, small groups, outreach activities and special events, service projects, and student and volunteer leadership development.

Think about it this way…how you use your time this summer will have a huge impact on how effective you will be in the fall.

If your desire is to make an impact in God’s Kingdom—to see it explode in your ministry—then what are you going to do this summer to make that happen?