Mama Caro

Stephanie "Mama" Caro's humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects and author of "Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches" and "99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker." Her next book, “Ten Solutions (to Ten Common Mistakes Small Churches Make)” comes out in 2015. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX.

From my heart to yours, friends – small youth group

My back story is that I went from serving a coupla hundred youth to a church where there were nine students from 6th-12th grade. Nine! I had no idea what to do with that. The truth is being the youth director wasn’t even in my job description, but I couldn’t help myself…so we started to casually meet on Wednesday nights for study, projects, event planning, etc. Ya know – youth group. I had NO idea what small churches went through to have any kind of ministry to its youth…but I caught on pretty quickly.

You have a hard calling. Some of you get paid; most of you don’t. Yet all of you put WAY more hours into your youth ministry than many of your churches realize. I would bet that if you had to stop volunteering as the leader and your church had to hire someone to do what you do, they couldn’t afford it on the $1000-$2000 they have allocated towards youth. (Not a complaint; just a reality). You struggle with low numbers, volunteer inconsistency, few resources, no dedicated youth space…and did I mention a small budget? (I know: these struggles are similar to large church struggles, but its just not the same. Try planning an event thinking you’ll have #12 and then #2 show up. It’s different. Try teaching a Sunday school class with 3 students who are spread across 7 years of age.)

Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Don’t think your ministry is any less valuable because its not the “big ministry down the road.” Don’t imagine your impact is any less than a paid youth worker’s. Don’t think you’re not as good at ministry as “the pros.”

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Here’s the litmus test: Do you love your kids? Yes. Do you give them the best of what you have to give? Yes. Are you making ministry happen with a “2 fish/5 loaves” kinda budget and resource closet? Yes. Do you have students that are growing, serving, loving? Yes. Are you having fun along the way? Yes. (Usually. There are still church politics, board meetings, etc 🙂

You’re doing great. Keep it up. Don’t quit. Get ready for another great school year of ministry to students. How can I help? No, really – How can I help?


How service-minded are your teenagers? Take this short quiz to find out!


  • Charity says:

    Thank you! Came across this after reading another article you recently wrote and deciding I wanted to see more of what you had to say. I needed this article today! My hubby and I are the youth leaders at our church and we have 10 – 12 kids of youth group age and average about 5 – 6 per week in Sunday school class or at youth group. (some are every other week due to parental week switches, others now have jobs and work on Sundays) It’s hard when you plan an event with 12 committeed and end up with 2. Shifting gears and feeling like you aren’t doing what the kids need is a constant struggle.

  • Melanie says:

    Thank you for this post. I went from a mega-church in the USA to a church-plant in a poverty-community in South Africa. My experience in youth numbers, budget, enthusiasm … all shrunk. While I’m still putting my heart in service, there are more disappointing days than successful fruit. Praying for God to grow me as I seek to serve youth here in Africa.

    Thanks for this encouragement!

  • Jason says:

    Thanks for this! It’s 1030pm on a Saturday night and I am laying in bed with my 2year old with my mind rushing about what to do with my first lock in for a new youth group that can run from 2-16 depending on the mood! I have lived in the same town my whole life, grew up in the largest church in town, and after a few years of serving at a church in a neighboring city, I am back to my town but in a tiny church on the ‘other’ side.
    Running Youth group as I am accustomed isn’t working!

    Thankfully I have ran across your blog for smaller churches and am realizing #1 I might not be failing and #2 I might not be alone

    So yeah, thanks!

    • Mama Caro Stephanie Caro says:

      Jason, thanks for sharing. What you’ll find in the difference between the two size groups? Teenagers are still the same. The biggest initial hurdle is to slow down the feeling like you should be preparing for “more.” Enjoy the fact that you get to spend REALLY quality time with each student. Isn’t that great? (Let me know how it turned out, brother!)

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