While I was on a coaching call with a volunteer youth director from a small rural church, she said: “I don’t think we’re meant to have a youth ministry at our church.
We only have 10 teenagers on our church rolls and I’ve never been able to get more than seven of them to come to anything!”
I was (almost) speechless. Not from her perceived low number, but because she didn’t know what a big win she’d been experiencing! So, we spent a little time going over national averages—for example, the average size church in the U.S. is around 75 members, and the average size youth ministry is 6-8 students. She was shocked to know that she was actually beating the averages.
The best youth leader’s example we know is Jesus himself. Small-church friends, he had great advice for us: “You can do what I do, and even better.” We must recognize and celebrate the good that happens in our more intimate settings. Keep in mind that the average-size congregation in U.S. mainline denominational churches is 75-76. Know what that means? Your church isn’t the out of the norm; you’re the typical, the average, what people expect. With that in mind, set aside any “we can’t compete” narratives and move ahead, knowing Jesus gives us the power to do more than he did.
So, dare to dream, expecting more than you can imagine. Set a higher bar. Here’s how:
- Never forget that everything is easier with a smaller group. Arrangements come quicker, less vehicles are needed, every face can fit on a Zoom screen, close relationships are built faster, and on and on.
- Make a list of the advantages your church has available and maximize each one. For example, recruit the experts in your church who have gifts they can share with your teenagers, like woodworking, horseback riding, gardening, movie-editing… you get it.
- Excellence is possible. Just because your church is small doesn’t mean what you produce can’t be excellent. Strive for the best in technology. Do less “off the cuff” and lean towards practice-makes-(almost)-perfect. Don’t settle for less than the best in how you share the Good News.
- You have time to go “old-school” youth ministry. You can see each teenager in their environment, write each student notes for achievements made, send birthday cards, ding-dong-ditch each kid’s home, have coffee, and other quality-time wins.
- Do the best you can. It may sound like I’ve been telling you to go big or go home. Sometimes that’s not a bad decision; sometimes you do your best and you let God do the rest. Maybe your youth don’t produce a worship service quite as slick as the big, fancy churches. Know what? Your people LOVED it and God’s Word was still shared. That’s good day, right there, my friend.
So, go. Do big things. Do small things. Do good things. Do them in the name of Jesus and really, that was all the big win you ever needed.