So, how many kids are coming to your youth group? How many do you have?
These are taboo questions in the world of youth ministry. We don’t want to compare the sizes of our youth groups. Why? Somehow we have it in our heads that our expertise has a direct correlation to the size of our youth group. We hold those with giant youth groups in high esteem. They must be doing something we are not doing. Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong!
If we were to subscribe to the first century model of church, those that can comfortably fit into a house qualify as a church. So, a good church, back in the day, might range between 10 and 30.
So, what are the benchmarks of size for youth groups? And, what do we do when the youth group grows beyond the size our current configuration can handle?
10-30 This sounds more like a motor oil than a range of potential youth group attendees. But, like motor oil this range is when a youth group operates at an optimal level. Groups this size know each other well. They often act more like a family than groups larger. Their bonds are tighter. They have the potential for a more holistic experience. High schoolers tend to mentor and care for the middle schoolers in a group this size. What might be sacrificed in depth of discussion because of the age range is replaced by living out the Gospel with one another.
30-60 When the group consistently hits 30 in attendance, begin discussing how you might split the group. My first summer at one church, I took a mission trip with nearly 30 people. It was a great first trip. Upon returning I realized this group was going to be larger than 30. We immediately split the group and attendance spiked. Having separate middle school and high school lessons enabled us to customize the material based on the developmental needs of the group. To accomplish this, we empowered our adult volunteers to teach the lessons, choosing to bring the whole group together for announcements and worship.
60-90 It took a decrease in high school attendance for me to realize the next plateau. We weren’t able to stay above 60 consistently. And, it was our high schoolers who became more erratic in their attendance. The adult volunteers tended to connect with the same youth instead of getting to know youth on the fringes of the group. We moved to a small group model which meant more adults were responsible for delivering the lesson in a discussion format in the high school groups. These groups consisted of 15 potential attendees, usually averaging 8-10. With the middle schoolers we ended their group lesson with a 10 minute small group divided by grade and gender. Here they shared highs and lows and prayed together. As a result the group spiked to hover around 90-100 within a year.
90+ Here is the plateau I have not been able to conquer. But, I have observed other youth groups grow to consistently be above this number. To get above 90, a youth ministry has to concern itself more with production aspects. Worship becomes a greater focus. It is more stylized and engaging. Videos and music have a more professional feel. There is a more corporate approach to youth ministries this large. Small groups are still important in this model. In fact, it may be more important in order to keep this size sustainable. The financial and people resources needed for this model are substantial but well worth the outcomes.
We no longer ask each other about the size of our youth groups. It isn’t polite. But the number of youth coming to your youth group matter! You are responsible for creating the most optimal environment for young people to form their faith. There is no greater responsibility.