Statistics in church are an uncomfortable subject for some. Yet, every church keeps stats. I have yet to visit a church that does not track attendance. Every church tracks their giving–not just for the year or month, but week-by-week and likely service-by-service. At your church, you can probably find out how many kids/youth/adults were in Sunday School last week. Not only that, they probably break that number down class-by-class. So you see, we all track our stats. But, why do we do it? What use are those numbers? What can we learn from statistics? Can tracking our numbers lead us astray?
In answering these questions, I’ll focus on using statistics in youth outreach. I’m intentionally using the term “outreach” instead of “evangelism” so that we can distinguish our efforts to make social connections from those instances of speaking the gospel into someone’s life. In other words, inviting youth to a dance at your church is outreach. Talking with one of the youth (or all of the youth) at that dance and telling them about a God who loves them and forgives them is evangelism.
So, with that introduction, here are some key questions (with answers) about statistics in youth ministry:
What do you measure?
We ought to measure the things we want to see more of. Here are some things you might consider: first time guests, second time guests, baptisms, youth returning to church, how youth heard about your church, number of youth at your events who attend church here/elsewhere/nowhere.
Why do you measure these things?
We track numbers so that we can budget and plan appropriately. If I want to buy food for our next youth night, I need to know how many youth we’ve been averaging the past few weeks. (That’s a pretty obvious one.)
We track some of these things so that we can follow-up. At my church, our first and second time guests get a text or email within 24 hours.
We track numbers so that we can change our practices. If a primary goal of ours is to reach youth who have no church home, and almost all the youth at our volleyball tournament (for example) claim a local church as their own, something needs to change. Maybe we need to reexamine the event. Maybe we need to revisit our advertising.
We track numbers because they prompt us to ask questions. If we consistently have first time guests at our events, but second time guests are a rarity, it will prompt some questions. If we have high numbers of youth attending events who claim no church home, but we haven’t baptized any youth, it will bring up questions as well. (Maybe we’ve got lots of lapsed Christians who were baptized as infants, or maybe I haven’t been talking about Baptism and teaching youth about it lately. Maybe we’re doing a good job at outreach, but we’re not actually doing evangelism. The stats should highlight the need to ask questions.)
What things change based on stats?
Depending on what you’re seeing in the numbers, there are a lot of things that could change. You might change the way you talk to youth, the avenues for establishing relationships, the emphasis reflected in your budget, the time you spend on certain tasks/events or even the clothes you wear. Stats–and the questions they raise–could drive changes in your schedule, your community involvement or your teaching topics.
What things do not change?
The Gospel does not change. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is the one active in conversion does not change. Our complete reliance on God for the expansion of His Kingdom does not change. Never allow statistics to cloud these things. We are called to be faithful stewards, and the numbers and comments we track can help us do that. But, we always rely on the promises of our God and His activity in bringing others to faith. My actions have a huge impact on who I meet, how many people I speak to and whether or not they view me as a friend. I want to share the gospel with youth, but I’m not in control of how that message affects them. I trust that God will use His Word as He has promised (see Isaiah 55:10-11). I want to be as strategic as I can in bringing that Word to youth who have not heard it. I trust Him with the results–and His results are good.