Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Revealing Conversation

About a year ago I ran into a 23-year-old former student from our youth ministry on my way to visit one of our youth cell groups. This young man was a 9th grader when I was hired as youth pastor. The conversation went like this:

Him: “So, how many you got coming now?”

Me: “There’ll be between 10-15 guys there tonight.”

Him: “No girls?” Me: “No, it’s a guys-only cell group.”

Him: “Oh, I was talking about your big meeting. You still meet on Sundays, right? How many do you have there?”

Me: “Usually between 30-40.”

Him: “Oh (pause) Must be pretty hard to get them to come, huh?”

It was obvious what this young man viewed as success – more bodies at a meeting. He was a part of the youth program when we were operating under the “pack them in at all costs” mentality.

At this point in the conversation I felt it was time to challenge his thinking. I wanted him to begin seeing that numbers were not necessarily an indicator of success. I threw what I thought was a thought-provoking statement at him. The conversation continued:

Me: “I’m convinced we could double our discipleship crowd if we’d start a dodgeball league.”

I had hoped he would see the irony in my statement. I had hoped something in his mind would have said, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s not necessarily all about how many people you have in a meeting or how much fun you have.” Instead, here’s what I got:

Him: “That’s a great idea! You should do that. The YMCA does that and they pack them in every week. That’s a good idea!”

Unfortunately, this is what we’ll find in many of our churches – an inaccurate measurement of what successful ministry looks like. And in many churches there's an extreme amount of pressure to pull this kind of numbers-based ministry off. It becomes a real problem when our leaders – especially youth leaders – view success only in terms of numbers.

I can’t ever remember anyone ever asking me any “fruit questions” about youth ministry. I don’t think anyone has ever requested, “Tell me about a kid in your group that has had a complete life-change.”

That's a conversation I’d love to have!


Mike said...

I think that rather than packing them in, we should focus on making disciples who will in turn go into the world and the university and the work force and make disciples.

Think about it: a killer program might attract 100 kids. Maybe 10 or 15 will continue following Jesus after high school, and maybe 5 of those will be the types who will in turn make disciples.

A discipleship-focused program might only attract 30 kids. But if 20 of them develop deep roots...We train them, teach them, disciple them, and release them into the community. These 15 or 20 make disciples, who will in turn make disciples...the end effect is significantly more substantial. Plus this is how Jesus did it--he trained 12 and then released them into the world.

Besides, if we think that we have a bigger influence in the lives our our students friends' lives than our friends do, we're fooling ourselves.

Mike said...

One more thing...

We live in an increasingly post-modern world. Our kids (and their friends) are much more interested in community--in belonging, in knowing and being known--than they are in messy and wacky games anyway.

Heidi said...

I agree~way too much emphasis on numbers. I was just talking today with a former co youth group volunteer about our kids. We were in youth ministry from 1995 to 2000 and so many of those kids are following Jesus and doing good and loving and giving back today. It was great to look at an old picture and say, 'she married Dave and they are at seminary, they just bought a house and she teaches school, etc....'