by Stephen Ingram

Stephen is a 25+ year youth ministry veteran and the Sr. Director of Resource Development for CYMT.

The Blessing of Small

I work in a big church.  I mean a really big church.  My church has more members than my hometown has people!  I love my job.  It provides me many incredible opportunities and joys that I cherish and that continue to excite and energize me.  While I love my church and my youth group I would be lying to you if I said I did not, sometimes, miss the joy of doing youth ministry in a smaller church setting. 

I do not miss it in a nostalgic sort of way, but I do miss the necessity of the youth in churches that are smaller. 

Here is what I mean:  Smaller churches do not have the option of letting youth silo and create the one eared Mickey Mouse as easily as larger churches do.  Most smaller churches I have worked with or in have to use their youth in larger ecclesial practices like being in the choir, reading scripture, serving on boards, helping lead children’s moments, children’s Sunday school, being in the Christmas and Easter productions, running sound and a myriad of other activities that ingrain them into the life of the congregation.  It is often said that churches “use” their youth to do the things they do not want to do.  While in some cases this is true, it can also be thought about as a way of furthering the responsibility and ownership of the students in the ministry. 

In smaller churches there is such a great potential for the students to acquire, develop and practice leadership in an ecclesial setting. 

I owe so much of who I am in ministry and leadership to having grown up in a small church where I was given the reins of many projects at a youth group age.   We know from research that my story was not an outlier story but is often the product of smaller youth ministries.

Whole Church Youth Ministry

I would challenge you, if you are reading this and you consider yourself being in a smaller church group, to consider the ministry you have as a gift.  Understand the number of students you have as a tool and an opportunity to do intense developmental and leadership training with your students.  Instead of seeing the “extra” things the church has your students doing as an add on find ways to focus on them, emphasize them and make them a centerpiece of your program.  This not only helps the students have more ownership and integration into the congregation but it prepares them to be leaders in the church when they become adults.  You have one of the most prime pieces of real estate when it comes to developing disciples and leaders for the church now and in the future.  I would encourage you to get with the leaders of the different ministries in the church that have opportunities for your students and talk about how you can be intentional in facilitating your students into these roles through out the year.  Talk about and promote these avenues as parts of the youth ministry’s offerings and help your students and parents understand them that way as well.  You have such a unique opportunity to help your students not just come and act as consumers of the product of youth ministry and to actually be contributors to the worship and work of your congregation.

The Beach, Shark Week and One Awesome Room

Often times I hear leaders of smaller church youth ministries wanting the benefits of a larger group.  They want to do bigger trips, bigger worship and bigger events.  I totally understand this.  I remember taking a group to a beach retreat center and having one of those massive groups there along side of us.  In some ways I was annoyed and in others I was envious.  What I found that week was pretty special.  Our whole group could hang out in one of the rooms that we had rented, there were around 20 of us and so every night we would all pile into that room, watch shark week, play cards and laughed until we cried.  It was awesome.  Myself and the other leaders had real and deep meaningful relationships with each one of those youth.  We knew them and they knew us.  As I looked at that other group I knew that was not something they could have said or have done, and I was proud of my group, my church and myself.  I found the beauty in the small thing that day just as I hope you will with your group!

This is a reposted article from Organic Student Ministry