First Third Conversations

What are you counting?

By Dr. Nancy Going, Director of the CYF Distributed Learning Program at Luther Seminary  

Here at First Third we're taking time once again to celebrate the Exemplary Youth Ministry study. Because we now have our Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry book available as an e-book. But also because we feel compelled to keep the things we learned from this study in front of the church. Welcome to the conversation. 

And as you are starting your program year, I'm sure you are getting (and tempted to be asking) the standard question. “How many students do we have involved in our youth group?” Churches ALL want to be doing quality, (yes, even exemplary) ministry with young people. That's why you and other people ask that questions. BUT….

What if you are counting the wrong thing? 

The “markers” of successful youth ministry have often been, and still are the number of students we have attending our youth group.

As if youth group=committed faith.

And as if faith grows by group.

AND, concerned about our youth ministries, (and JOBS) we go to conferences and read books to find new ways to meet THAT goal: more students in our youth programs. We are constantly on the lookout to find NEW ways to meet the same old goals. 

We’d like to assert here, that one of the most significant things about the Exemplary Youth Ministry study is that it began with a very specific and different set of markers.   It set out to find churches where young people scored higher on a measure of 34 Characteristics of Mature Christian Youth.

You can find the measure among the documents at

Some of the churches they found when following these success markers didn’t even have a youth room.  Several had volunteer leaders only. But they were all focused on the FAITH of youth people. That’s a different goal than youth group. 

What could that look like at your church?

Join the conversation on!

Nancy Going is a life-long youth minister, who loves Jesus, other people learning to love Jesus, her husband Art Going, and the two new families that are her kids and grandkids. See more >

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