I know, I know. Numbers has become a dirty word in some circles of our faith. Certainly there are real dangers in relying solely upon numerical growth as our only metric for success, but we might be overreacting. It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s true: numbers matter because people matter.

Here’s seven thoughts on how to grow your group:

Grow your leaders. I’ve heard it said: Staff to your vision, not to your need. If you don’t have enough leaders in place to sustain potential growth, the growth may never come. And the quality of your leaders matters even more than the quantity. Pour your life into leaders.

 for the students you already have. What’s the point of adding more teenagers to a group of teenagers who have nothing uniquely Christian about the way they live or share their lives? If you focus on reaching the ones “out there” at the expense of growing the one “in here,” everyone loses.

Make your gathering seeker intelligible. Are you expecting visitors and using language and programming that anticipates their perspective? Are the songs you sing loaded with insider language? Do you use an understandable Bible translation? Do you explain why you sing, give, listen, pray…? 

Focus on growing your middle school group. In my experience it is much easier to grow a group of middle schoolers than high schoolers. They have a pack mentality that makes them move in groups, they have less activity options (and no jobs or cars), and they’re in a more formative stage of life. Plan growth minded activities for middle schoolers and watch the group grow.

Check your systems. Who greets visitors? Who hosts them? How is their contact info collected? How do you follow up? How do you assimilate new students into the group? Those things don’t happen on accident. You need thought out and communicated systems. 

Get out of the church. Find opportunities to go where students are and to join the rhythm of their life. Encourage your leaders and student leaders to do the same. Growing isn’t only about more people coming to a youth service. Growing is measured in Gospel conversations being had everywhere. Celebrate those stories!

Pray. Pray that God will send workers. Pray that the Spirit will prepare hearts. Pray that you won’t become overly dependent upon programs and events. Pray that you won’t look for validation in numbers. Pray that God will add numbers. His work is the only work that lasts. 

David Hertweck is the District Youth Director of New York Youth Ministries.