Obituary For The American Church

Obituary For The American Church – Mike Breen

7 Youth Ministry Numbers You Really Should Know

This article was originally published October 4, 2011.

One of my favorite pastors had always noted, we need to be ministering to who we are accountable for, and that isn’t always who is on our rolls. Rolls are a terrible statistical number.
In the business world a good “ROI” or return on investment in a project is considered pretty successful if it reaches the 5% mark (sometimes less, sometimes more depending on the endeavor). That doesn’t transfer very well to the church world, where every person counts and everyone has to be involved. This is the reality we live with as youth workers.
Years ago my friend Mark DeVries suggested me to a church in my area that was looking for a youth leader. His Youth Ministry Architects had done consultant work with that church and in their report (which Mark gave to me & was made available on the church website) gave me some new understandings to “numbers” in ministry and what is feasible. I have carried much of those numbers with me in keeping some idea on the growth and health of the ministries I have been a part of.
Some numbers have been around for years, and you will probably hear similar in some youth ministry workshop that you go to in the future. Some of these Mark has written more extensively in his bookSustainable Youth Ministry.
1. 10% of the worship congregation makes up a healthy reflection of numbers in the youth ministry. 200 people in church on Sunday then you can range around 20 teenagers. Sure you can be healthy and be higher or lower for varied reasons, but that’s a good measure. It is important to distinguish the worshiping congregation over the church rolls. An unhealthy congregation cannot expect to have a thriving youth ministry that exceeds its own metrics. If it does it may not be sustainable. Churches that look for youth to be the magic pill saving their church are going to be disappointed. Rolls then become your new outreach focus, not group.
2. 7 the amount of Friends a teen needs to have in the youth group. (This I believe picked up from on of the myriad of Chap Clark writings) You know the question every teen asks when signing up for an event or deciding on signing up, “Who is going to be there?” They need to know that there will be a collection of friends there to talk to and hang with. This number ensures that someone will be there that they know. Small groups, and small youth groups, help to fill this need. The hospitality of a group helps with this. Cliques are killers to this. Notice who isn’t there, list out their friends from the group, are those friends coming? Can you list seven teens? If that sounds silly just think about where you go that doesn’t have some friendships involved. It is a number that is important.
3. 4-6 is the amount of teenagers that an adult can know intimately in a spiritual mentor type role. This makes a great case for the need for many youth leaders in your ministry. Jesus, though he had 12 disciples, is known to have kept just a few of the fellas closer to him and invested in them more than the whole group. This is fluid, a teen you are tight with this month you might have fallen away from the next because you have started to invest in another teen. That’s natural progression and perfectly okay in my book, but you want other leaders in place to fit that spot. So if you have a ministry of 25 youth, then you need 5 adults who are fully invested in the lives of the teenagers, that is if they are equally spread out. Best to have 6 or 7 so that everyone is known.
4. $1,000 per kid per year. The folks at Youth Ministry Architects through their work over the years have given a range of 1,000 per kid per year spent on youth ministries in the budget & staff salary for the youth ministries. In the case of my small church, we have 32 youth on rolls, 3 that are irregular attenders (family dynamics), so for the 29 I feel we are accountable that would be $29,000 a year for the budget. We do not quite meet that, but we certainly know it and we work to fill gaps as we can. We also know that we are not going to have bust out growth years without some financial investment.
5. 50 the general ceiling of teenagers that a paid staff person can keep up with on an effective basis. Do you see business managers who manage 50 people on their own? No, businesses know it’s a stretch and ineffective so they’ll throw structures/positions in place to help. Youth ministries are generally without that. The solo youth pastor at a 200 youth church (active) might be the manager of 50-60 adults throughout the year. Not to mention the programming and administrative tasks. If this is you, you need to be asking for some help. If help is not available in paid help then search out ways to fill in some gaps with parents gifts and talents. But again, that becomes more people in the equation.

6. 20% ceiling for youth ministry is where numbers can begin to become unpredictable. At this point the numbers associated with investment do not always work directly with growth.

7. 1 Family is what you have so don’t sacrifice them. If you are like me then had some ceremony that was before God where you took some vows to another person and thus created a family. You probably didn’t have anything in the vows to uphold, protect, and nurture a youth ministry. If you are single with/without a child/ren similar applies. There is a responsibility to that relationship first no matter what the church says. That isn’t to say that your family cannot do that for a youth ministry, just remember where your priorities and commitments stand first and foremost. Way too often I am seeing youth leaders get caught up with the youth culture and being the ‘everything’ for the teenagers that they are leaving nothing for their family, and sometimes leaving all together. Keeping up with numbers, growth, friendships, and other metrics are great, but the most important number is your family.
As with any statistic you can claim it means something different, but these are pretty observable if you go through writing down who you know really well right now. It probably isn’t that many if you are honest about it. If there are kids who come infrequently then write down who their friends are in the group, it probably doesn’t come to 7. Numbers can fluctuate depending on contexts of environment. Areas that have a single set school system (one junior high and high school) could bring in higher numbers than those who have a spread set of school systems.
So have fun playing with some #’s.
Gavin Richardson is Digital Community Builder for YouthWorker Movement and the Short One at YouthWorker Circuit.  He has been in youth work for almost two decades now, has been a writer and consultant on numerous internet and published projects for the church. He’s often a speaker around the country on church communications and community building. His current projects are working on developing online Youth Disciple Groups and finishing a new book “Sticky Sheep.” He is the part time youth guy at Good Shepherd UMC in Hendersonville, TN.  If you ask, he will say that he is a “misfit” of the church. He lives in Nashville with his wife Erin, son Brooks and dog Crimson. You can connect with Gavin (and he’s totally cool with that) through

Stop Stereotyping/Ignoring the Poor

Who Are “the Bottom Billion”?

By Tony Chen

When we co-founded Movement121, and we first set out to fully flesh out our vision of transforming the lives of 1 billion people trapped in unfathomable poverty to become self-sustaining, we started digging into who these people really are. Who should we work with to start this venture? Whose lives should we begin to knit our lives with?

Both my business partner, Brad, and I had seen unfathomable poverty up close—Brad in Africa, and me in Haiti and rural China. For those who’ve been, you know what I’m talking about. That kind of poverty cannot be captured with a camera or a news segment, or even a documentary. The direness, the endless hopelessness, the putrid stench, the complicated back stories, the deep, systemic brokenness and, personally most haunting for me as a dad, the faces of young children who’ve known no joy. I don’t mean to be overdramatic about it, but basically it is exactly 100 percent unfathomable.

Nonetheless, three things really surprised me about the poorest of the poor: the “bottom billion,” as experts have labeled them (which makes them sound so … sterile)—the 1.3 billion people living (and dying) off of $1.25 per day.


In fact, they live in (often rapidly) developing countries whose GDP per capita has grown tremendously. These countries have begun to arrive on the world’s stage, but the wealth has not distributed evenly. They’re just as poor (if not poorer) then before, but now to make matters worse, they have rich neighbors. They’ve been left behind. They live in countries like India, Pakistan, and others you might not expect. It didn’t used to be this way—back in 1990, 93 percent of the poorest lived in poor countries. This has huge consequences as to how to think about the poor and how to eradicate poverty in our lifetime.

One manifestation of this dynamic we saw on our recent trip to India was watching the poorest of the poor talk on their cell phones. Plans are cheap—free incoming calls and one cent per hour of outgoing calls. So if a dad walks 15 miles to find a job and actually finds one, he can call back home to say he won’t be back for a few days or weeks.


Yes, more comfortable. Definitely more safe. But not more joyful. Why is that? A weird thing happened to me when I was in Haiti. Despite all the poverty, we met some people who showed me something I hadn’t seen for a long time—authentic joy. They didn’t have nice cars, or barely a working bicycle. They didn’t have nice houses, or barely three mud walls. But they had each other. They were thankful for the days they had together. Here I was in Haiti trying to help them, but in fact, they helped me more. I had no idea how fragile and superficial my definition of happiness was until then.

The same thing happened to me in India. I can’t stop thinking about the time we spent in the slums with the kids. Yes, we feel tremendous compassion for them. It motivates me to no end to work as smart and creative and hard as I can. But oddly, I also felt some envy. These kids—all they know is a life depending on God. Depending on each other. Living in community. It’s simple. It’s actually a life I desperately want for my family and me. Sure, there is brutal violence and all kinds of nastiness that happens there. But it’s clear to me now—we need them just as much as they need us. God created us to need each other.


So much of my preconceived notions about the poor was that they weren’t smart and didn’t work hard. But when I dug deeper, I saw them as the exact opposite. They have a lot to offer—except they live under a system that systematically, unfairly and brutally keeps them down.

In India, we watched a tailor sew up a school uniform in front of his “hut” with a foot-powered sewing machine. It took him only five minutes to sew the entire uniform perfectly. It was masterful—as if the cloth and his hands were one—and in a snapshot, it portrayed the tens of thousands of hours he’s worked diligently (and even happily) to support his family.

At the end of the day, the surprise we at Movement121 felt has given way to a deeper-rooted desire—a passion to work as hard and creatively and wisely as we possibly can to give fight poverty in a truly sustainable way.

Have you seen the poor face to face? What was your experience like? And more importantly, how did it change your outlook on life and family when you came back?

Tony Chen is Co-Founder/Servant of Movement121, a social innovation company with a vision to transform the lives of 1,000,000 people trapped in unfathomable poverty to become self-sustaining. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.

RELEVANT Magazine – Our Top 10 Books of 2011

Who Is My Enemy: Questions American Christians Must Face About Islam – And Themselves, by Lee C.Camp

The starting point for Lee Camp’s stunning new book is that Christians should take Jesus at His word when He said, “Love your enemies.” This requires a commitment to self-examination as well as the practice of empathy—“empathy that may not agree, approve, or necessarily even tolerate, but nonetheless seeks to understand.” Camp suggests taking the question that was on everyone’s lips after the 9/11 attacks (“How could they do this to us?”) as an authentic agenda for understanding: “What in their experience, in their presuppositions, in their vision, could contribute to the deeds or words or actions we find so unjust and horrid?” Reading Who Is My Enemy reminded me of the growing pains I’d get as a kid, usually at night. It was going to be uncomfortable for a while, but I knew I was going to wake up bigger.

via RELEVANT Magazine – Our Top 10 Books of 2011.

I took my first college Bible class from this guy, great teacher!  The book could be a great read so I figured I’d pass on the recommendation..

disaster relief

some days i just feel compelled, desire, wonder what life would be like or how it could be possible to…..

just quit my job and travel to tuscaloosa, alabama or joplin, missouri, or even still places affected by Katrina and just be there with people.  rebuild, search through, comfort, wash clothes, provide a meal, and walk alongside people through disaster.

there was a time where i contemplated moving to gulfport, mississippi after college. after the experience i had on the mission trip where we rebuilt homes.

i have a heart for the forgotten, the neglected, the overlooked. and many times that has caused me to be burdened with this feeling that when disaster strikes, i want to help. i want to be with the people affected, build relationships, see their needs and find a way to meet them. bring others with me.

this is my heart today.  it weights even more heavily upon me when i see the ‘struggles’ i face in my day to day life revolving around things such as ‘will the copier work today’ or other things.  that is my heart. there is a disconnect.  i pray i will be able to reconcile the disconnect and God will reveal to me how this burden can be lived out.  red cross? i don’t know. i just have a measly bachelor’s in psychology, i’m looking into social work, but is that where I’m called?  or can I serve the way my heart longs without it?  i don’t know. please pray alongside me.