One thing I am far too interested in for my own good is numbers. Specifically, I tend far too much to quantify the success and vibrancy of what I am doing by the numbers involved.
It's the cricket fan in me. I just love stats. And that's why I keep an eye on our site's Alexa ranking and on how many 'uniques' we have every day; that's why I try to count how many young people turn up to the voluntary Mass in school each week; and that's why I can tell you off the top of my head how many young people turned up to our latest youth evening in the parish (21).
I often wonder though, whether youth ministry is a little too obsessed with numbers, to the detriment of other, more important markers.
There's a little voice in my head - and it's an intelligent voice - which tells me not to worry about numbers. As somebody-or-other said, we are called to be faithful, not successful. And so that little voice often tells me to just focus on creating quality experiences, publicising them well and then letting God do the rest.
None of this is borne of frustration. All of my stats are pretty healthy, as it happens, but rather it's borne of a fear that I focus on numbers to the exclusion of stuff that really matters.
The most important aspects of youth ministry are identifying need, shaping quality provision around those needs, publicising what's available and then making sure that things 'hang together' well and link in with other things.
Numbers, after all, are a funny thing. One thing I've spotted over the years is that when you start something off, you often start with a lot of people turning up. Then, over the first few months, the numbers drop and you are suddenly able to see your core group - the young people who make up the first serious nucleus of the group from which the real, sustainable group will grow. The hugh numbers brought in by the initial buzz are often just a product of the initial hype, rather than your actual group - if that makes sense?
I've also spotted over the years, that small groups can often have a great life to them. At the minute I run a young adults group. We have a few hangers-on, but basically we have about 6 committed members. Now, that's not many, but it's a great group. There is a real heart and a real spirit to it and I know that it will grow. Not because it has to, but because when more people come along to see what's what, they will see that the group has life and they'll probably stick around.
If you produce quality, then the numbers game, I guess, will take care of itself.
Don't get me wrong, I still love the numbers game. I really do. The trick is to make sure that you realise it's not everything!
[image hotlinked from Flickr user MervC]