Reversing the Ratio

When youth pastors gather volunteers for youth ministry they typically try to maintain a ratio of approximately 1:7 - meaning 1 adult for every 7 students. Sometimes, even this can be challenging to bring together, so forgive me if what I'm about to suggest seems beyond possibility.

The standard 1:7 ratio, while useful for crowd control, only perpetuates the isolation of the youth group from the larger church body. For example, when I first joined a church, I was 17 years old. Later that same week I received a letter and a notebook in the mail from a deacon at the church. The letter said something to the effect of, "I'm your deacon. Here's your notebook of this church's history, schedule of programs, and behavioral expectations. Call me if you need anything." I NEVER met that guy in person. I assume that we were in the same sanctuary on a weekly basis, but that letter turned out to be more of a form letter than the start of a meaningful relationship. He wasn't involved with helping in the student ministry, so our paths never crossed.

This is indicative of the 1:7 ratio. I did, however, know one adult in that church (besides the youth pastor) because he was the Sunday School teacher for my age group. As I've gotten older and seen the value of intergenerational relationships for building and sustaining the life of faith, I have come to see the 1:7 ratio as useful for crowd control, but deficient for ministry.

We must reverse the ratio.
Instead of connecting 1 adult to 7 students, we must introduce 7 adults to 1 student. This doesn't mean that 7 different adults are teaching Bible studies. It means that (at least) 7 different adults in the congregation know a student, can call that student by name, and can ask about certain events in that student's life.

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon point out that the main task in orienting students to a life of faith in God is "putting [them] in proximity with exemplary older Christians...who will invite these younger Christians to look over their shoulders as they both attempt to be Christian" (Resident Aliens, 105).

Do you think that's possible in your church?


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