Why track attendance?

At 5:12 AM today, I laid in bed, wide awake, my mind racing through options on how to respond.

I had never thought that this question would exist, but not only did it exist, it won’t let me sleep.

Here’s what happened…

Last night I did a little late night search on Facebook. I like to see what other youth pastors are up to and what the bloggers are sharing.

Since creating Youth Ministry Tracker, it has been interesting to see the conversation around technology and youth ministry and the various places that the app pops up in conversations on the internet.

There was this post that I’ve seen before called 5 Apps for Youth Ministry from YouthMin.org. It had been re-posted a few times and had random amounts of comments and likes on each post.

As I tapped through the re-posts, comments were light, enthusiastic and somewhat predictable. But then I saw this:

Nothing here really pops.

Our app was on the list, but I’ve learned to not take criticism personal. There was a great app from The reThink Group called Lead Small that takes a different approach to attendance tracking and communication.

The other apps (Slack, Asana, and Ultratext) are actually really sweet apps for communication, project management and easy gif creator for announcements respectively.

It’s actually a great list.

But then there was the question that had my mind racing this morning:

Why track attendance?

First, a story about Disneyland.

When my sister was really young (maybe 2 or 3), my parents lost her in Disneyland. They found her, and I think that everyone involved has fully recovered.

Fast forward a few decades, and I’ve got 2 kids of my own now. So when I go to Disneyland, I make sure that I don’t lose my kids. It can happen so fast, there are so many people, and losing track of them is a HUGE deal.

But I’m also human. So is my wife. 2 years ago when we were at Disneyland, we went into the giftshop at the end of Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, and before you know it, my son Jace was nowhere to be found. He had just walked out into Tomorrowland where some great people returned him to us.

Then, it happened again. We just got back from another trip to southern California, (btw, getting free passes to Disneyland is amazing!) and now my kids are 4 and 6. Once again, we completely lost my son after going on Toy Story Midway Mania! We found him talking to some nice people that were trying to help him find us. Again.

(Not sure, but I think Pixar is out to get him.)

My point is…

Even if you are convinced that keeping track of those you care a great deal for is of utmost importance, we all still need a little help.

So, why track attendance?

Maybe some youth pastors don’t care for their kids?

I can’t imagine that.

There has to be something else here. I think there is actually something behind tracking attendance that has nothing to do with checking kids off when they show up.

Metrics are great. Tacking trends is helpful.

But the real value in attendance is a smart group that I set up in Youth Ministry Tracker that looks like this:

Every time I open that group, it automatically loads all the students that were added within the last month but happened to miss our most recent youth group event.

While I’m at MOTUS (our mid-week youth group) on Wednesday nights, I encourage and challenge and care for and pray for the students that showed up. But when Wednesday night is over, and I’ve dropped off the last kid on my route home, my attention turns to those that weren’t there.

Every month, we have new students show up once or twice and then try to drop off. I seem to remember a story about a shepherd that went out to find a missing sheep. Chances are that this shepherd didn’t just count 99 and wander around to see if he could find which one was missing.

He went out to find Jonathan that hangs out under the green bridge. Or he went to find Ashley that sometimes stays home because she can’t handle the drama. Or he went to find Jerel to remind him that he is wanted and missed. Or he went to get Tasia from that situation that she couldn’t get out of on her own.

I can’t always remember everything about everyone. But having tools that help me and help my volunteers gives us information that we can build our ministry on.

Youth pastors aren’t event planners; we’re spiritual care-takers. We are shepherds that find the missing sheep.

So why track attendance?

Because some kid somewhere wonders if you’ll care that he wasn’t there.

And it can change their lives forever.

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