I used to be acutely aware of how many students we had attending our major ministry events, for better or for worse. On high-attendance days, I was riding high. On low-attendance days, I wondered what I was doing wrong, why I was failing, and sometimes whether God had really called me to this ministry. The hardest days were the ones when I was doing everything I could think of to improve a lackluster gathering, while watching the interest from students fade slowly. Our numbers were declining and we were running out of ideas and energy. Looking back, my key metric was the number of students we had in our weekly gathering. Were we to grow from 80 to 800, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I would be feeling too good about myself to reach for greater self-awareness.
We count what is most important to us. However, I had never asked any questions about what we were counting and why.
I would routinely receive questions from church leaders and friends about how our ministry was doing. The key question sounded something like this,
“How many do you have?”
This well-meaning question fueled my focus on the wrong metrics. But then I started noticing that whether we had low attendance or (especially) if we had high attendance, we were seeing little direct growth in most of our students as followers of Jesus, and we couldn’t remember the last time anyone decided to follow Jesus as a result of our work.
“How many do we have doing what?”
If we aren’t making disciples, nothing else matters.
We were counting
- Attendance at our large group gathering
- Number of small groups
- Number of students attending small groups
Now we are counting
- Encounters with students on campus
- Number of gospel shares
- Number of seed sowers*
- Number of people we have trained to make disciples
- Number of times any given student has modeled engaging and sharing the gospel for another younger student*
We celebrate any report we get of the latter set of metrics. It is helping to build a culture of gospel-engagement and disciple making. Believe it or not, some of our most committed and faithful disciple makers are first-semester freshmen. They know the mission, we have equipped them, and we are celebrating with them and coaching them as they live out their identity as disciples who make disciples immediately. This has only been possible because we have become laser-focused on our #NoPlaceLeft mission. Because if we aren’t making disciples who make disciples, nothing else matters.