5 Teens or Less
“So how many teens can they expect to reach effectively?” I asked him.
“How many leaders do they have?” It wasn’t a question. It was his answer to my question.
The two of us were sitting in a hotel lobby talking youth ministry. He’s the Vice President of Development for a national ministry reaching a few hundred thousand young people for Jesus. He has spent the last three years looking at ministry models and putting a hundred thousand dollar research project to the test to see if its conclusions worked in real world youth ministry applications.
They did. And the simple version is this: for every one volunteer leader, up to 5 kids can be reached and discipled effectively.
Sure, we’ve seen ministries have worse ratios than that and still make an impact, but when you really measure them out… the math always wins.
One adult=5 or less kids.
I remember having a few hundred kids in a gymnasium with only 12 volunteers. I would speak and divide to small groups. And I use the word “small” loosely. It was about 20 kids per leader.
Impossible to engage kids in deep discussion.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we can’t “preach” to crowds of kids. We can. But once a seed is planted, discipleship is best done one-on-one. And one leader can effectively disciple 5 or less kids.
So what’s this mean for us?
Recruit and train more leaders.
You can argue the math if you want, but research aside it just makes good sense. If you have a female volunteer who has 5 teen girls in her small group, it’s going to take a good amount of time for her to connect and invest in each of these girls individually. She might be able to engage them in some pretty good conversation with all 5 at once, but any experienced youth worker knows that those girls will open up even more when they are one-on-one. Effective care is often expressed in home visits, milkshake conversations, or cheering from the sidelines of a water polo match.
How many leaders do you have spending this kind of care?
This kind of care starts at the recruiting level.
What do you communicate when you recruit? Are you simply asking for “Wednesday night” chaperones?
Why not ask for 5 hours a week, of which only half is spent on “Wednesday night” youth group or small group, and then the other half is investing in one kid per week one-on-one. With an average of 4.2 weeks per month, a dedicated youth leader might be able to reach 4 or 5 kids with this kind of individual attention, engaging them in faith conversations with real life application.
So let me ask you the same basic question my friend asked:
“How many leaders do you have?”
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Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.