Saturday, April 5, 2008


How many times have you been asked the following question:

"How many kids do you have in your youth group?"

The implication is that bigger is better (or more successful).

Admit it or not, the fact remains thatyouth ministry (and for that matter, churches) use all kinds of scorecards to measure success.

Nearly every denomination sends out some sort of "local church scorecard" at the end of the year. With it you can quickly pick out the successful churches from those who are – well, success-challenged. These scorecards measure things like number of first-time commitments to Christ, numbers of recommitments to Christ, numbers in Sunday School, number in worship, and, of course, number in youth ministry programming. Our denomination lets us throw out our two lowest scores for the year and still count our high scores at Christmas and Easter.

Then there's the financial scorecard. We measure how much we give to missions, how much we raised in tithes, and how much was raised for the new building project. And some churches get special recognition if they pay a certain percentage of their annual income to featured denominational projects! Our denomination even keeps track of how many missionary books are read by church members each year.

Youth ministry uses scorecards too.

But Jesus' indicator of success is fruit.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:16-20

Good fruit comes from good trees. Bad fruit from bad trees. Sounds simple, right? We should be measuring fruit. But how do you measure good fruit? What makes an apple good? Is it good simply because there aren't rotten spots? Is a shiny apple a good apple? Does goodness have to do with texture? Taste? A lack of worms?

See how hard this is? We should be asking what kind of apples we're producing. But that's way too hard to measure. So the default measure of success is to count how many apples there are on our trees.


Dave said...

Our denomination uses a Yute Group of the Year kind of an award and yes, numbers play a big role. I have always wondered how we got to the place that a metric like the number of kids showing up proves anything of spiritual importance.

jerlight said...

I think the pendulum is swinging to say that smaller is better. I've heard a lot of comments recently that go along the lines of, "We successfully grew our youth group from 75 to 15." I think smaller and bigger are just different. Each provides its unique challenges to fulfill the mandate that Jesus gives us: to grow disciples of Jesus (which implies quantity and quality).