How to grow a youth group

1. Be passionate about your own personal relationship with Christ.
2. Develop and train volunteers who are also passionate about their relationship with Christ.
3. Hang out with kids and pray like crazy that your passion become contagious.
4. Expect the Holy Spirit do some awesome things to spiritually grow your kids through your influence.

(What, did you think this was about numerical growth? Are you a little disappointed that it’s not?)

The first point is this: it starts with us, the youth leaders. To take our kids to new levels of spiritual maturity means we have to be at that level first. I’m convinced that most Christianity is caught, not taught. We can stand up in front of a group and say a lot of good things about God and, although that’s significant, none of that will leave the impact that the presence of a passionate sold-out-for-God youth worker will who gives students a chance to see a relationship with God lived out in daily life.

The second point is that spiritual growth is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit. There’s nothing we can do to force a kid to grow. The best we can do is pray like their lives depend on it (because they do) and seek the Lord’s wisdom in creating environments that facilitate spiritual growth. Beyond that, the best we can do is remain open for the Lord to use us however possible in communicating His Truth and let Him be the one that makes the Truth penetrate their hearts and souls.

Posted on September 11, 2007

  • Great words of wisdom Tim. Too often we focus on "numerical" growth. The thing we have to remember is that healthy numerical growth comes from healthy and thriving relationships with Christ.

  • I totally don't understand this concept of numbers. I think our greatest asset is the fact that we are about taking kids deeper rather than focusing on having the biggest youth group.

    Sometimes we get lost in the comparison game of "that youth group has more kids and more impact than my youth group" and I think that is totally wrong. Aren't we here to reach kids for the sake of the gospel over and above reaching "the most kids?"

    I often pray that I won't get caught up in the comparison game and play russian roulet with a loaded gun. I think God places in my path kids who need to be reached with the love of Jesus Christ so that I know that is my mission and not how many actually show up.

    Isn't there a sense of pride though if we have that big elusive youth group? Isn't there some alterior motive if we do that though? Who gets the glory if "we" have that large youth group?

    I think you hit it right on the nose Tim. Live for the sake of reaching kids, developing relationships, leading as an example and letting the glory of God become fully reflectant in our lives. Thats the most important thing and I am glad that you posted this as a reminder that we need to be challenged about how we choose to reflect God and the youth in which we lead. As usual, this is inspiring Tim! Thanks for posting! And I will get off my pedestal!

  • Tim

    Yes, as long as promoting spiritual growth doesn’t become the means to building our numerical growth. If it is, we’re still missing the point! Spiritual growth is not the means or a strategy for reaching our end result of numbers. Spiritual growth is our desired end result.

  • right. what i meant though was that numerical growth will be a natural byproduct of spiritual growth.

  • Curious…what is so wrong with numerical growth? What is wrong with wanting to reach out and and impact lives and teach our students to do the same? Chris you are dead on…and Tim so are you…

    I want numbers because I want lives impacted and changed and not be on track to a path that leads away from God. Maybe it comes down to terminology. I also want to be faithful to those numbers and help them grow to be full disciples of Christ and then teach them to reach out to their generation. I guess I’m also no longer afraid of saying I’m about numbers. I’m about numbers of teens and adults no longer going down a path of death and destruction.

    I also think that it is really the heart of people that want to make true impact. It does come down to a heart thing. If it is only numbers for the pride of having numbers than yeah, it’s wrong. If it’s numbers for the sake of Christ impact…than no.

    • Andrew Norrod

      I think you make a great point,especially at the end…. The more peaple that are in church, the fewer that will be in the wrong place…

  • Tim

    @ Jason: I get what you’re saying and I agree with you. I like how Perry Noble puts it, “Numbers matter because numbers represent souls!” But for too many people, numbers are the primary focus, although they’ll never openly admit it. People tend to get all excited about material that shows them how to grow a larger ministry because that’s success that can be easily measured and provide a sense of accomplishment. It’s almost impossible to measure and quantify spiritual growth and in an American culture that places so much emphasis on accomplishments and checking off to-do lists, that just doesn’t sit as well. My parenthetical comment in the post was more of a joke for those who read the title and were then disappointed because it’s referring to spiritual growth, not numerical growth. We’d all agree that growing toward Christlikeness is the most important thing, but there’s nothing wrong with having a large ministry with lots of people either. But just because a ministry is large, though, absolutely does not mean that it’s more effective than a smaller ministry down the street.

    @ Jeremy: Exactly. Focusing on numbers for the sake of comparison to someone else is totally missing the point and is also pretty arrogant and conceded. Likewise, feeling down because there’s 5 kids in your group is no reason to feel down! Get excited about those who are there!

  • Jeremy-

    we can’t escape the fact that numbers happen. no matter how big or how small. the numbers game is a sad thing to get involved in and i can only speak for myself but that’s not what i am in it for. i hate talking to youth pastors becuase we are prideful and arrogant when it comes to numbers. one of the first questions i always hear is, “so how big is your group.” i hate that. hate that.

    for me numbers are important for a few reasons. (1) i focus on numbers to see if we are being effective. i constantly look at attendance so i can see if we are going through any “trends” in attendance and look at dates to see if maybe we’re slipping and not as effective or it was something else. (2) i love seeing kids come to know Christ. with that brings excitement. i am focussed on how many kids accept Christ in our student ministry. (3) i feel called by God to reach as many students as I can before he calls me home. it’s not MY student ministry it’s his.

    i think one of the lies we buy into (from the devil) is that, “smaller is better.” there are several ways he throws this at us. i fully believe in John 3:16, “For God so loved the WORLD…” he didn’t just love a few quality students he loved the WORLD. that’s a lot of people. to me this says that God cares about the numbers. He sent Christ to die for a LOT of numbers.

    numbers as a sole focus though is bad. if we go after numbers for the sake of having the biggest student ministry and that’s it we have been deceived…you are right. But lets be honest when we reach students they come. when they come we equip them to win souls. when the win souls we multiply. it’s a natural thing that SHOULD happen in every student ministry. we should NEVER stop growing both numerically and SPIRITUALLY….spiritually being the first one.

    Jeremy I totally respect your heart and I think if we sat down we would both agree. It’s not about the numbers but in a physical sense but as the shepherd of my students I focussed on the numbers of them that we are impacting with the Gospel.

  • I agree Tim…there is a huge balance…and there are some who see the success of others…and desire that.

    THAT IS WRONG….it is success for the wrong reason.

    If we keep our eye on eternity and our heart is in it for reaching souls and growing them…numbers will be a byproduct.

    I often wonder though…how counted in acts and made sure we knew exactly how many were saved. They counted the number of people Jesus fed loaves and fishes twice…and it was important enough that they said daily people were saved. It didn’t say daily we were growing people closer to God.

    Again…not hitting on anyone here. If we keep a kingdom perspective and reach and grow disciples numbers will be a by-product. And a great one I might add.

  • oops forgot to say…Tim right on with the last comment and with the post…and also Chris…great points…

  • Tim

    @ Chris: The first question I usually ask youth workers I meet is, “How are you doing personally?” or “How’s ministry treating you lately?”

    @ Jason: Just thought I’d point out that numerical growth is not necessarily a by-product of spiritual growth. A group can grow spiritually and never grow in size. In fact, I was part of a youth group years ago that finally starting growing spiritually and actually lost half it’s members because of it. Spiritual growth does not equal numerical growth.

  • Ann

    Also, the opposite can often be true -having a large group doesn’t mean necessarily that students are growing in their relationship with Christ. It could just mean that your group is the fun place to hang out. I think that’s what Tim is getting at when he says that he once had a group when they started to grow spiritually, half dropped out. High energy, fun that attracts new students are important to a youth group but it is not THE most important attribute (otherwise we are just like the city-run youth program). I once was part of a HS ministry that had 80-100 kids coming out regularly mid-week, however now 10+ years later, less that 10 of those kids are still walking (or even pretending to walk) with Christ today. One student, who was in student leadership and led worship back then, refers to her youth group experience as “something we all did in HS, but have since out grown.” (She lives a very hedonistic lifestyle and actively campaigns for gay rights/marriage.) Some of her older peers are the most committed atheists/agnostics I’ve ever met.

    Instead we should be asking ourselves in what ways are our students growing to be like Christ, how are they becoming better followers of Him? This may make certain students uncomfortable and cause them to seek an “easier” youth group.

    I think one of the “signs” related to numerical growth that is positive is when the students are themselves reaching their friends for Christ – where they are the ones presenting the Gospel and helping make disciples. According to the Center for Youth Ministry at Fuller Seminary, the two most correlating factors to whether or not faith follows them into adulthood is them having a significant, Christ-modelling realtionship from an adult AND that the student has had a ministry of their own OUTSIDE the YM.

  • 5.) Meet the parents to gain their trust.

    6.) Pray that the parents don’t drive you nuts.

    No rhyme intended.



  • Mat Chapa

    Tim, I appreciate what you wrote. You just articulated what I have not been able to. I just started working with the youth ministry again and I woke up to the thought that I can’t take students where I myself have not been. John Maxwell wrote, “As leaders, if we haven’t won the personal battles, we’ll never be able to lead others to victory in their battles. If we haven’t ourselves experienced a breakthrough we can’t lead other people to their breakthrough.” It always begins with the leader.
    I talked a good game. But like a parrot, talked much and flew little. We have to remember that this is a God thing. The closer I am to Christ the more effictive I can be for Him in ministering to teens. Thanks for the wisdom and the wake up call. Keep up the good work. It’s making a difference.

    For Youth Revival,

  • Wow. Great conversation. First, I feel challenged and blessed to be an active part in this conversation. Way to think outside the box in all regards.

    My response:
    I think you and I are speaking the same language with a different emphasis. I agree that numbers means we are reaching more students but the flip side of that is what is the purpose behind that? My heart in youth ministry is about reaching kids for the sake of transforming lives…as is the case for every youth leader in this generation. My deepest fear is how can we reach all of those kids, meet every need, and spend ample time making sure that each kid is fed for a lifetime…..
    NUMBERS ARE NOT A BAD THING! I fully understand that 100%. I wouldn’t disagree with that for a moment. Where we neglect these students is when we leave them out to dry by not meeting their needs, focusing on them when we don’t have the time or volunteers, and seeking after these kids with reckless abandon. I think we need to see numbers…but to do that….we need to see more volunteers, more youth staff, and more people with the same passion and conviction as youth leaders have.

    Now the real reason I write this: I work in a community with a 200+ youth program with an incredibly gifted youth leader that I respect highly! The problem is that youth attend, learn and grow, and then can’t get ahold of the youth leader when life hits the “suck.” Yes, I know this is the problem of the youth leader, but my heart breaks for kids that get let down and can’t find someone to relay their problems and their struggles to. This is a dilema of a HUGE youth program. If someone has a LARGE highly successful ministry that adequately reaches every kid when they have needs then AMEN! I BLESS YOUR MINISTRY ENTIRELY! I respect that fully. But, if we are not reaching them when they are struggling then we are letting them down.

    I appreciate your insight, comments, and thoughts. This is one of the more inspired conversations that I have! Blessings!

  • Jeremy why can they not get a hold of him? I always try to make it known that I am always available. My cell phone number is on every piece of literature we hand out, every email, website everything.

  • He’s always too busy! He is an only youth leader without a lot of help. Students cannot seem to connect with him, reach him, or get ahold of him.

    So what do they do? They come to other youth leaders in the area to get things resolved and theny leave again to join his group.

  • Wow. I can’t imagine being too busy for our students. Sounds like he needs a good recruiting plan.

  • Thought I’d break back in…this is a great conversation going. Jeremy those are some great points you made…

    One of the dynamics that youth pastors do need to have is a structure in order to handle the growth. You are right a youth pastor cannot handle 200 plus…truth is I couldn’t properly handle more than 15…and we have had in the past a youth ministry that averaged 75 and one that averaged 90.

    That is why a youth pastor must structure leadership. Was I there when most kids needed me yes…but there has to be a funnel of leadership where teens are being led by adults whom you have equipped.

    The role of the pastor (even the youth pastor) is not to do the work of the ministry…it is to equip others to do the work of the ministry. That is why point #2 in Tim’s list is so vital. It is ok…if the structure is in place for kids not to have to get a hold of the pastor for everything. Otherwise you end up like Moses…it is also not a very good excuse to not reach out and have your ministry grow.

    I think all of us are saying the same thing…all of us are also trying to say the humble thing…

    I think the truth is: God has called us to reach out…grow those we reach…and put into effect the proper leadership structure to care for those…

    But to not reach out…and say I can only handle these few…I think is missing the mark…which is the point I think Chris is trying to make of why we should be stretching ourselves and growing our team.

  • Tim

    Nicely put, Jason.

  • Thanks for the honesty Jason. I respect that!

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  • jeannine

    getting back to the past conversation about numbers vs spiritual growth… of course spiritual maturity is the goal, but the reality is, that opportunity won’t be there unless i keep my job. numbers are the evaluation tool of choice, no matter what we say. so – how ’bout some practical assistance… websights? ideas? prayers, please?

    • esmy

      Well, I would start by asking your current group if they are saved. Perhaps you have assumed they are saved, maybe they are only churched. When we started with our youth group we asked this question and only 2 raised their hand. Wow, that explained a lot.

      We focused on bible lessons that spoke to our need for a savior.

      believers by default attract other non-believers (students won by their peers will grow deeper roots in your youth group)

      focus on God and over-look apathy within your youth group

      teach God's word…period…go back to the basics and keep it fresh by giving it a relevant title…I'd rather attract 10 young people who love God's word than 1,000 who want to join another club…whatever you attract them with…is what they will hunger for…

      your faithfulness and consistency in presenting God's word will go further than any short term fix

      students that come to your youth group are needing a consistent adult in their life; most students do not have that in their own families ( be the adult) they secretely want boundaries

      remain teachable-


      the only thermometer available for spiritual growth: desire to share Christ with others (this can't wait until we have it all figured out) are they baptized shortly after receiving Christ -public confession of their faith, vital

      we can't wait until our youth mature to grow our youth group: all this happens simultaneously. This is why ministry is not simple and why we are all blogging away…ha! ha!

  • @ Jeannine: “but the reality is, that opportunity won’t be there unless i keep my job.”

    It’s unfortunate that you feel like the students’ spiritual growth is so dependent on you. The reality ACTUALLY is, the whole point of your job is to work yourself out of a job!

    • jeannine

      More unfortunate that your feel justified being so very condescending. Perhaps your folks have already made it to the mountaintop. Mine haven't. And would never presume to say they are close. -So, ACTUALLY, I will always have a job; it's more a matter for me, of always being open to an approach that takes God and God's people seriously – NOW. Not in the past or future. Now. Where I am evaluated by real people, crunching real numbers and asking – are we getting what we're paying for?

  • @Jeannine I wrote a series on my blog that deals with this the link is

    I do agree with Tim…this is a tough balance. My series is geared around some practical things to do but ultimately the goal is winning the lost and growing them to be fully devoted followers of Christ. I believe you can do both but that has to be drive by you.

  • You guys keep up the great work of dialogue. I’ve always hit these issues on all of my rap ministry albums in a universal tonage since my 2live crew days and few churches couldn’t find their noise or the youth group , let alone the needs of their community. Peace, Salvation and Prayers.
    —-Miami Mike Devine

  • I know the numbers thing can really be a discouraging factor when you are trying to reach kids and when you or your pastor/elders set high expectations on you to “fill the building” they just spent a million dollars on. Numbers, to most onlookers, are an easy gauge to show your effectiveness. I got into youth ministry in the mid-nineties and numbers were the only thing at that time that I thought mattered. Then I ran into my first rut of not getting any kids “on the bus”. Not to mention other youth pastor friends that were burnt out in ministry because of the high demands on them to create a audience. It is a daunting task for young guys to have that type of enduring influence. And even if they do generate some buzz most young bucks don’t have the infrastructure in place to take care of all of the students or they implode by having even a little success. We have to remember that our students are around sharp teachers and dull teachers alike all day and it doesn’t take them long to figure you out. I am just now feeling like I know how to wisely spend my influence after years of beating my head against the wall.

    After all this time I am back to numbers but I count differently now. It is not about counting vertically (number of kids at one program). It is about counting horizontally (students going through a process). If you are connecting students with the next step successfully than you can count all you want. In fact you should! It is the only way to test your effectiveness.

    If you are frustrated with numbers you really should check not your leadership quotient first but your spiritual quotient. It is imperative that you not only believe that students spend somewhere forever but to hold with conviction that God is specifically using you to connect students with their creator. I recommend reading one chapter out of C.H. Spugeon’s book – Letter’s to my students – the chapter is entitled Earnestness ~ It’s marring and maintenance. Spurgeon says that the cleverness of the preacher is unimportant compared to the passion in his heart.

  • I bless the name of the lord for this discussion. Yes the most important thing is how many life’s are entering into a genuine relationship through our youth ministry, although rightly said numbers are also important. I get this from the thread of the discussion, an increasinly deeper personal relationship of the youth leader with God will not only draw students to a deeper relationship with Christ but will sooner or later cause a numerical growth ,this, as emphasised in the discusion is not the goal.
    Everybody remain blessed and rapturable.

  • Josh M.
  • esmy

    I think that we can learn from the story of the violin that was played by the master. As long as the master did not take hold of that instrument, the instrument had no value. The same holds true for a young person who does not know the Lord as their savior. We will never see the potential of that instrument. We have a student in our youth group who is a magnet for people. All whom he invites to youth service accept the Lord. He has probably brought over 50 students. Yes, 20 in his own vehicle at times. He and another young girl have been faithful and consistent: the others come and go. Yes, they all have their reasons. When we ask his friends why they came, they say they wanted to find out what had changed Cesar. I want to say that this young man has blessed my life. It is because of the beautiful music he makes with his life that my husband and I have not experienced burn-out in youth ministry. New people transformed by the grace of God, even if we do not see the whole process, will ignite a group more than any ice breaker, motivational speech, etc. I came to the Lord as a result of a bold public school teacher who wrote John 3:16 on the board. The rest is history. She does not even know I ever became a christian and that my life was transformed. You see when the "oldies in the Lord" see that others want what they have, one has to re-consider the value of what one possesses. My husband and I vowed to God that we would make God's word the main attraction in our youth service and that our goal would always be that others be reconciled with God.

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  • michelle

    i was ask to become a youth group leader and im a beginner even with my christainity im so confused out to become one i think my pastor expects too much from me. i think i have become boring to the kids i only have seven kids at a time but it seems too difficult for me to handle but i want to become a great leader and learn more to help my group

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