like king david counting the troops (which, if we’re reading the bible correctly, sure didn’t have a happy response from god), youth workers and other church leaders tend to be obsessed with counting. i do not believe that numbers are useless. they are an indicator of something. we just have to be very, very careful not to quickly assume what that something is.
it kills me when i hear a youth worker (especially a young youth worker) say something like, “we have about 37 kids right now.” that kind of accuracy is usually a reflection of number obsession. when pushed on this, some will respond with, “yeah, but each of those numbers represents a real kid. numbers are a reflection of people. i really care about people.” no. you are wrong. people are not numbers. numbers quantify people, dehumanizing them. numbers are not a reflection of people; they’re a reflection of our own need to justify our youth ministry jobs and feel good about ourselves. dang, i wish i could wave a magic wand and deprogram this youth worker self-image building block.
often, the question of numbers is one of comparison. as in, “i have more kids that that church, so i must be amazing.” or, “i have less kids that that church, so they must be amazing.” or, “i have less kids than that church, so something must be wrong with me.” we wrongly do this math: quantity = significance.
again, i am not saying that numbers have no place. if your youth group suddently swells from 4 kids to 72, you should probably ask some questions about what’s going on. it could be that the spirit is moving. or, it could be that something is significantly wrong, like they’re only coming because you got a couple sweet new nintendo wii’s for the youth group room. if your numbers steadily drop over a few years, it’s probably a reflection of something. but it could be that god is winnowing the group down to a size that makes sense for your gifting and calling. or, it could be that your group is inbred and exclusive, and that there’s no place for outsiders.
i’m thinking about this today, because i read a wonderful — really, fantastic — response on len evans’s blog. he was sitting at a youth ministry roundtable event the other day, at a table of 8 youth workers. during a discussion time, this discussion ocurred:
I did get asked the numbers question by somone. “How many students do you run?”
I said, “Somewhere between 2 and 1,000. I’m not sure, I’m still new”.
way to go, len. i love it.