Mos Def, Jesus, and the Numbers of Youth Ministry

Every minister I know is obsessed with numbers.

I have spent a dozen years in ministry counting and recounting: butts in seats, kids at camp, decisions for Christ, volunteers, dollars, and on and on. I know my value, by the numbers. I know your value too! Love it or hate itthis is what we do.

Mos Def, Jesus, and Numbers

We sense that we are good when the bus to camp is full, or we are failures when no one comes down at our response time. The problem isn’t our numbers, it’s our insecurity.

Numbers Are Tools

There are plenty of things numbers cannot do, but one thing they are capable of: Numbers keep us accountable. That’s a simple fact. When you choose to measure an aspect of your ministry, you are opening yourself up to comparison, and that is okay. We are admitting that it is possible to quantify parts of what we do.

Some youth ministers run from numbers in order to ensure their performance won’t be measured. After all, you can’t use numbers to describe how God’s Spirit moves, right? But how do you know if you are achieving what God has called you to do if you’re not evaluating? And how do you evaluate without data? Numbers aren’t inherently virtuous or vile, they are tools. And we need all of the tools we can get.

Don’t Measure Yourself

Numbers aren’t out to get us—they don’t care how we feel. Numbers are not the problem. The problem isn’t that we count, the problem is that we tie our identity into our performance. We sense that we are good when the bus to camp is full, or we are failures when no one comes down at our response time. The problem isn’t our numbers, it’s our insecurity. We don’t measure distance with a hammer, so don’t beat yourself up with an attendance roster. Use the right tools for the right jobs!

Mos Def and Jesus

It was the mighty Mos Def who taught me “it’s a numbers game but $h*t don’t add up, somehow.” It is impossible to find validation in a head count. Although your budget may be cut, your self-worth doesn’t have to be. Was Jesus a success because multitudes gathered to hear him preach? Was Jesus a failure because of the 1:12 ratio of disciples at the crucifixion? Did Jesus really tell me to leave the 99 for the 1? That doesn’t add up at all!

Crunching the Numbers

Because numbers are tools, they can do fantastic work when used correctly. But to use them correctly, we need to know what they can and cannot do.

Numbers can:

  • Reveal your priorities—what are you counting?
  • Indicate changes and patterns (you have to figure out what those changes may mean)
  • Inform future planning
  • Clarify your goals
  • Impress your boss
  • Feed or destroy your fragile ego—if you let them

Numbers cannot:

  • Give your ministry meaning
  • Comfort a grieving kid
  • Keep you in ministry for the long-haul
  • Coax God into loving you more or blessing you more completely

Go Forth, and Multiply!

Don’t get cocky when your attendance roster looks good, don’t give up when the bus isn’t full, and do good work. Be brave enough to measure it, and don’t measure yourself by it.


About the Author: Tyler Fuller
The only job I have ever pursued is vocational ministry. I spent over a decade doingtyler fuller Young Life and church Youth Ministry. I am now the Missions Pastor at a megachurch in the panhandle of Florida (who still gets to work with youth every day!)

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