Photo by Mark Pan4ratte
“What’s something stupid you did in ministry that could have gotten you fired?”
In a recent gathering with youth leaders, this question became the focus of our discussion. I’m not proud of this, but most of mine involve driving.
As a youth pastor, one summer Thursday I drove students back to church after a fun-in-the-sun beach day. Only as students piled out of vans in the church parking lot did I realize we had left a student behind.
On another evening, as I pulled up to a red light I yelled to the kids in my sedan, “Everyone run around the car.” All four high schoolers hopped out of their seats, circled my car, and sat back where they started. As we were giving each other high fives for completing the task before the light turned green, bright lights appeared in my rearview mirror. And then we heard a siren. A police car had been parked behind us the whole time. Luckily, the two officers let me off the hook with a stern lecture and a warning.
While those two events were plenty embarrassing, the most humiliating thing I’ve done that could have terminated my job didn’t involve a car. Sunday after Sunday, week after week, I was tempted to lie—to my church, to my supervisor, and to our pastoral team.
Every week we were required to submit our Sunday morning attendance number. I was college pastor at the time, and our numbers would fluctuate wildly week to week. My heart would sink when the number dipped 20% lower than the week before.
I never actually lied in what I reported, but it was sure a temptation.
That single number felt like my report card. All the meaningful relationships I developed, all the conversations, all the miracles, all the transformed lives boiled down to that one number.
If you think about it, it’s somewhat silly that we judge so much of what we do by attendance. What if we could truly measure our mission instead?
We need a better report card.
Is your aim merely to get people to show up and sit still for 75 minutes? If I visited your church website, would it say that your most important goal is getting someone to plant themselves in one place for an hour or two? No, of course not.
I bet if I heard your vision for young people and adults, you wouldn’t say, “We want people who attend.” No, you’d say you want people to be changed by Christ to change the world around them. You want people of all generations to be transformed by the love and grace of Christ and then share that transformation with others.
As leaders, we focus on what we measure. So let’s measure our actual impact, and not a person’s ability to sit in a chair while we count them.
A Growing Young Report Card
In the midst of so many US churches aging and shrinking, we at the Fuller Youth Institute studied 250 churches who aren’t aging or shrinking but are Growing Young. As we sifted through the data indicating what these churches did right, we were able to identify six core commitments that help them attract and keep young people.
Ultimately, I want you to measure the key components of your own mission. But if you need a case study, imagine that you wanted to align your metrics for healthy ministry with our six Growing Young core commitments. Here are some questions you might ask yourself and key people in your church and ministry:
1. Developing keychain leadership
Instead of centralizing authority, empower others—especially young people.
Potential metrics: How many young people are currently being trained for meaningful leadership? How many are being given the opportunity to handle an important aspect of your ministry? What percent of those in your church who are over 30 are training or apprenticing someone younger?
2. Empathizing with today’s young people
Instead of judging or criticizing, step into the shoes of this generation.
Potential metrics: How many adults in your church have meaningful relationships with young people? What percent of the young people in your church feel understood and supported? What words do we hear adults use to describe young people in our church?
3. Taking Jesus’ message seriously
Instead of asserting formulaic gospel claims, welcome young people into a Jesus-centered way of life.
Potential metrics: How many young people understand grace and can describe it on a personal level? How familiar are young people with the core teachings of Jesus?
4. Fueling a warm community
Instead of focusing on cool worship or programs, aim for warm peer and intergenerational friendships.
Potential metrics: How much of your staff time and energy is directed toward being welcoming, accepting, authentic, hospitable, and caring? How warm does your environment feel to those under 30? How about those over 30?
5. Prioritizing young people (and families) everywhere
Instead of simply talking about how much young people matter, look for ways to tangibly support and involve them in all facets of your church.
Potential metrics: How often are parents invited to be actively engaged in your ministry? How often are young people invited to participate in weekly all-church activities? How much of your budget is focused on young people and their families?
6. Being the best neighbors
Instead of condemning the world outside your walls, enable young people to neighbor well locally and globally.
Potential metrics: How much of your church’s resources serve communities in need? How many partnerships with community organizations does your church have? How many people are serving their local or global neighbors?
If you want to develop your own improved Growing Young report card, choose any of these possible metrics and develop questions that fit your context. For example, let’s take that last metric mentioned in the above paragraph: How many people are serving their local or global neighbors? There are a number of ways to gather information and measure progress. You could survey your people and ask how often they serve others. Or you could determine a preferred frequency and calculate what percent of your church family was serving every week or two. You might even assess your people’s commitment to service by asking them to rate certain items on a 1 to 5 scale.
I’m not advocating that we eliminate attendance as a metric altogether. Rather, I’m suggesting that we measure attendance PLUS other facets of our mission and impact. Let’s assess what we care about most so what we treasure becomes what we measure.
Bring Growing Young off the bookshelf and into your church.
In our NEW 9-episode series, you’ll gain insight and teaching from Growing Young authors and hear stories from real-life leaders and churches. Complete with discussion guides, your team will have powerful next-step conversations. The Growing Young Core Commitment Video Series is now available in our online store.
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